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    Published on: December 1, 2009

    by Michael Sansolo

    Content Guy’s Note: This column is the first of two to be featured on MNB this week that are taken from the new book, The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies, by Kevin coupe & Michael Sansolo. To learn more about the book - which is exclusively available to MNB readers in time for the holidays - click here

    There is a phrase that should never be uttered in business. It consists of the seven forbidden words:

    “That’s the way we’ve always done it!”

    You know you have heard the phrase and it is possible that you have even said it. The cumulative impact of the phrase is a non-stop assault on creativity, innovation, and rule breaking – the very activities virtually every company should encourage.

    There is a cure for this unbridled corporate conservatism in the form of the delightful movie Babe. Every time the phrase “That’s the way we’ve always done it!” is uttered, force that person to watch Babe. In fact, watch it yourself. It’s worth it.

    On the surface, Babe appears to be a child’s movie. It isn’t, although it is great for children, too. It’s the story of a pig, Babe, who is the runt of the litter destined for the slaughterhouse. Babe is saved from this fate when he is given to a local fair to be handed out as a prize, which is won by taciturn farmer Arthur Hoggett, wonderfully played by James Cromwell.

    Once at Hoggett’s farm, Babe does something unusual: he stops behaving like a pig, for the simple reason that he doesn’t know he’s a pig. He consorts with all manner of animals like Ma the old sheep, Ferdinand the duck, and the litter of sheepdogs living in the barn. With his polite manners and naïve ways, Babe becomes a friend to all the animals, many of whom do not get along and clearly do not respect each other. (Hmmm, sounds more like an office with each passing moment.)

    Farmer Hoggett begins to notice Babe’s social abilities when Babe divides all the chickens in the yard into groups of similar colors. Soon, Farmer Hoggett gives Babe a chance to show his stuff at the most important animal job on the farm, herding the sheep.

    That’s where Babe the pig and Babe the movie shine. By breaking all the rules – “the way things are,” as the animals remind him – Babe becomes an outstanding herder. Although the dogs consider the sheep too dumb to understand anything other than a nasty approach and the sheep consider the dogs too stupid to talk with, Babe bridges the divide with friendship and manners. Slowly but surely, even the most reluctant animals begin to understand the wisdom of Babe.

    Babe is a simple story, but it contains an important lesson. Think of how many businesses have stuck to the way things always are and completely missed the opportunity to become something entirely new, bigger, and better. Some have taken those opportunities:

    • MTV didn’t invent video or records, but pulled them together into an entirely new cable channel. CBS, in contrast, owned a television network and a record company, but missed the chance.

    • Google wasn’t the first company to offer a search engine for the Internet, but its speed and efficiency helped create a cyberspace dynamo that dwarfs AltaVista, Yahoo, or even Microsoft.

    MTV and Google all had their Babe moments. They ignored “the way things are always done” and built astounding success by identifying possibilities and filling them with a value proposition that viewers, listeners, and shoppers learned to love.

    Babe connects on many levels. The parallel of animal and human behavior has been shown often in the movies, from Charlotte’s Web to Animal Farm. But Babe delivered a winning story told in a creative style and with a lesson that could stand the test of time. In fact, the movie was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, an uncommon honor for a “children’s” movie.

    Be on the lookout for those seven deadly words of business, those seven words that limit your horizons and suck the creativity and spirit out of your people. When someone says, “That’s the way we’ve always done it!” launch a counter-attack with the story of a pig that refused to accept things the way they were.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .
    KC's View:
    A quick note here, if I may.

    The original deadline for orders of The Big Picture to be placed in order to have them delivered by the holidays was November 30...but the overwhelming response has led the publisher to extend it by one week, to December 7. So if you’re interested, click here .

    Published on: December 1, 2009

    If you want the world’s best gourmet food, apparently you can skip right over New York and London and go right to...Dayton, Ohio.

    That’s the verdict from Luxist, a luxury goods and lifestyle website operated by AOL, which recently ran a contest asking readers to choose the world’s best gourmet grocer from the following contenders: Harrod’s in London, Zabar’s and Dean & Deluca, both in New York City, Whole Foods, and Dorothy Lane Markets, the three-store, family owned company based in Dayton.

    And Dorothy Lane won.

    In announcing the Readers’ Choice Award for Best Gourmet Grocer, Luxist wrote about company CEO Norman Mayne: “Mayne loved good food, and wanted his customers to enjoy the same. He believed the company should be unpretentious and have an inclusive atmosphere in which its customers would be welcome. Today Dorothy Lane Market is a company of well-known gourmet supermarkets in the Dayton area that are recognized for great food and service ... Dorothy Lane partners with food artisans and others passionate about food. This is evident when browsing its aisles and viewing the impressive selection of gourmet food products from around the world that stock its shelves.

    “They offer an extensive selection of cheese, wine, and chocolate. Its oil selection is impressive, and includes walnut oil from Provence, macadamia oil, and olive oils from all over the world. They feature hard to find premium products in season. In seafood for example, they carry Copper River King Salmon and fresh Alaskan King Red Crab from family co-ops. Produce features golden Aurora apples, long stem artichokes, and jumbo size honeydew melons. The meat department's products are entirely natural, lifetime free of added hormones and antibiotics. Their meats include well marbled pork, free range chicken, and DLM Natural Beef, which almost always grades out as USDA prime.”
    KC's View:
    Norman Mayne’s response to this news was typically modest: “Just proves that luck is more important than brains,” he told me.

    That modesty masks both hard work and passion. Dorothy Lane Market is a wonderful store, the kind of store that foodies love to shop in.

    My only concern about the company winning this award is that it could mask the fact that the stores are highly accessible - they don’t have the kind of rarefied air that one might expect the “best gourmet grocer” to have.

    Congrats to the Mayne family and the extended Dorothy Lane Market family. Good work.

    Published on: December 1, 2009

    Fascinating piece in Advertising Age this morning about how some retailers are facing off with some brand marketers and re-evaluating the importance of certain brand names.

    “Costco's recent decision to strip Coca-Cola products from its shelves in a pricing dispute,” Ad Age writes, “is the highest-profile sign yet that the age-old battle between marketer and retailer is escalating, due to the growing power of private label, looming package-goods deflation in the face of falling commodity prices, rising pressure on retailer margins, and softening volumes. Facing those factors and armed with data from loyalty cards, retailers are getting savvier about which brands to keep and which to lose.”

    At the same time, “CVS/Caremark plans to remove most Energizer alkaline batteries from its stores by early next year ... leaving just Duracell and private label. And Walmart, which stepped up efforts to pare brands from its shelves this year, will reduce assortments even more aggressively next year, according to manufacturers and analysts ... Exacerbated by the recession, the stepped-up U.S environment is starting to more closely resemble the contentious retailer manufacturer relations of Europe, where Delhaize pulled all Unilever products from stores in Belgium earlier this year in a pricing dispute, though Delhaize ultimately relented.”
    KC's View:
    While the Ad Age story points to pricing as a major point of conflict, it has long been the contention here that retailer sought to be paying for attention to the brands they carry and, quite frankly, ought to be more selective. Most stores, I would argue, carry too many brands and too many sizes ... and it isn’t ultimately good for consumers, retailers or even manufacturers. There’s too much undifferentiated product out there, and retailers ought to be more hard-nosed about what they have on their shelves.

    Published on: December 1, 2009, the online service operated by Minnesota-based Coburn’s, said yesterday that it will begin delivering groceries directly to Northstar Commuter Rail travelers at
    the Coon Rapids-Riverdale Station, which it says makes it “the only online ordering and grocery delivery service serving Northstar commuters, who will now be able to grab their groceries as they head home from the station.”

    “Busy commuters can order their groceries online at CobornsDelivers by 10:00 in the morning, and we will have them there fresh and ready to pick up as customers get off the Northstar Commuter Train to head home that evening,” said CobornsDelivers VP of e-Marketing, Sue Westerman. “Our insulated totes keep everything fresh, cold, or frozen for hours, and our delivery truck will be at the Riverdale Station every weekday.”
    KC's View:
    This time of year in Minnesota, you wouldn’t think it would be a problem keeping product cold or frozen.

    But seriously, these are the kinds of efforts that move the ball forward in terms of e-commerce.

    Published on: December 1, 2009

    The San Antonio Business Journal reports that HE Butt is considering opening a number of stores in the Dallas/Fort Worth marketplace, in addition to the Central Market units that it already operates there.

    A spokesperson for the company tells the Journal that it is too soon to know what format it might open there, but that the company is looking for potential sites. A timeline has not been established.

    According to the story, “The first step in the expansion is already under way. In August, H-E-B began construction on a 450,000-square-foot distribution center in Temple, Texas. The facility will house stock for stores in Austin and Dallas.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 1, 2009

    CVS has been charged by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal with selling expired prescription medicines, over-the-counter products and foods - charges similar to those levied at the retailer last year.

    "Especially appalling is the sale of expired baby formula," Blumenthal said in a statement. "CVS' failure to properly police and supervise its shelves - allowing out-of-date medicine and potentially rotten food to remain - is unconscionable and unacceptable."

    CVS said that it has clear policies for removing expired products, and that any violations were unintentional.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 1, 2009

    Interesting story in the Los Angeles Times this morning saying that “spurred by out-of-work cooking enthusiasts seeking training for food industry jobs and by foodies brushing up on their skills so they can eat well without paying restaurant prices,” the business being done by area culinary schools “are starting to recover - even bouncing to pre-recession levels.”

    The resurgence means that one school is even adding classes “such as Everyday Cooking for Families and One-Dish Meals, and booking more private parties and corporate team-building events,” and sold out professional chef and baking programs.

    The Times writes, “The increases locally mirror an upward trend in cooking class enrollment nationwide, said Lacey Griebeler, managing editor of the trade publications Chef Educator Today and Chef Magazine.

    “Interest dropped dramatically during the depths of the recession as people who might have signed up for cooking classes for the fun of it stayed home. Now, people who want to change jobs or save money by cooking their own meals are returning.”
    KC's View:
    Yet more evidence that supermarkets ought to be more engaged with helping their customers know how to cook.

    Published on: December 1, 2009

    • The Seattle Post Intelligencer reports that late in the day yesterday, “sales on what the e-retail industry calls Cyber Monday were up 11 percent from a year ago, according to Web analytics firm Coremetrics.”

    Cyber Monday, the first workday after Thanksgiving weekend, traditionally is a major day for online shopping, especially because a lot of employees took advantage of employers’ broad band capabilities to place their orders.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 1, 2009

    • In the UK, the Independent reports that Tesco is ratcheting up the price wars there by issuing the equivalent of more than $100 million (US) of Clubcard vouchers - the first time since the program began in 1995 that the retailer has sent out such vouchers before, rather than after, Christmas.

    According to the story, “Tesco said the £67m mailout was made possible after it launched a double reward points promotion in August, dubbed Clubcard2, because shoppers had been earning points twice as fast as last year. Tesco customers can use the vouchers for Christmas shopping or hold on to them until they receive a Clubcard statement in February.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 1, 2009

    Here’s a story from the Telegraph in the UK that deserves reprinting:

    “Researchers in the Netherlands have created what was described as soggy pork and are now investigating ways to improve the muscle tissue in the hope that people will one day want to eat it.

    “No one has yet tasted the product, but it is believed the artificial meat could be on sale within five years.

    “Vegetarian groups welcomed the news, saying there was ‘no ethical objection’ if meat was not a piece of a dead animal.

    “Mark Post, professor of physiology at Eindhoven University, said: ‘What we have at the moment is rather like wasted muscle tissue. We need to find ways of improving it by training it and stretching it, but we will get there. This product will be good for the environment and will reduce animal suffering. If it feels and tastes like meat, people will buy it. You could take the meat from one animal and create the volume of meat previously provided by a million animals’.”
    KC's View:
    Speaking as a carnivore, I have to say that there is very little in this story that scintillates my taste buds. (Though I am completely sympathetic to the idea that non-meat eaters may want to avail themselves of this option.)

    Soggy pork? Wasted Muscle tissue?

    Some advice to the folks behind this development: You’d better work on your marketing materials.

    Published on: December 1, 2009

    Advertising Age reports that American Express has developed a new program “that will harness transaction data for its 90 million cardholders to inform both marketing decisions and larger strategic issues,” drilling down on consumer buying decisions to help retailers improve their “customer service management, product innovations, improved procurement and geographic expansion.”

    According to the story, “Transaction-level data is particularly valuable for its detail, as well as its ability to predict what people will spend on. Forrester Research analyst David Frankland said that while a person can say they like swimming, for a marketer, a stronger indicator is whether they join a health club with a pool. Joining a swimming club is even more predictive, and buying swimming gear is more predictive than that.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 1, 2009

    Got the following email from MNB user Jeff Gartner:

    Kevin, this is a response to the posting from your reader who says "it’s not appropriate for employees to shop on company time.  It’s a form of stealing … " I really believe this reflects an anachronistic style of management, where employees are evaluated by their seat (or office) time rather than what they're accomplishing. As long as an employee completes their designated tasks and productively accomplishes their goals or objectives, why should it matter where they do their work or how long it takes (of course meeting required deadlines) or if they take a break to take care of some personal business? After all, many of these same employees have their family time in the evening or on weekends interrupted by their job assignments. 

    Organizations such as Netflix already recognize this, with employees taking vacation time as needed rather than a prescribed amount of days. While acknowledging that not every person may be sufficiently responsible to succeed in the Netflix type of environment, many are and even more will step up to the challenge if given the opportunity. 

    Some educational reform initiatives similarly recognize this, taking their cues from online instructional programs, where content mastery is the objective rather than seat time (some master the content in 4 weeks, some in the usual 16 weeks, and others may take much longer).

    By the way, I've worked from my home since 1990, and consider myself to be very productive and get at least as much done as someone who is required to park their rear end in their cubicle for 8 hours every day.

    On the same subject, MNB user Becky Nichols wrote:

    Of course this comes to you from my office email address, maybe you already have a feel for what I’m about to say. As a company when we brought out servers in house to protect the integrity of our inter office network, we went through a process of figuring out what content to prevent employees from viewing and what to not block.

    We found that in this day in age, our managers are using social networking to communicate with their employees, so we allow employees to use Facebook on company time with the expectation that they are using it for company purposes while they’re on the clock or for personal while they are on break time. We find that many of our managers don’t take breaks so taking a few minutes to make purchases online during the busiest time of the year is just fine for us. Of course, working in a retail environment only buyers and managers have computers in front of them while working; the average employee only has access while in the break room.

    As a response to the opinion of one viewer, this is my way of thinking about it: having someone else clock out for you so you can leave early is stealing from the company, not sneaking a few minutes to order a couple of gifts  when as a manager you don’t get much time to take an actual break in the 12 hour work day.

    I agree. While clearly there can be abuses, the “online shopping at work is stealing” mindset is 20th century thinking...and companies that engage in it will find it harder to compete for 21st century employees.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 1, 2009

    In Monday Night Football action, the New Orleans Saints defeated the New England Patriots 38-17.
    KC's View: