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    Published on: December 10, 2009

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    Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, available on iTunes and brought to you this week by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.

    I’ve been trying to figure out how to do this particular commentary for about a month now, because it makes a point worth making but I don’t want to offend too many people. So here goes....

    In early November, Michael Sansolo and I were giving speeches almost back to back in Las Vegas and Palm Springs, and because I’d never done it before, we agreed to make the drive across the desert rather than flying. It actually was a great trip - the scenery was definitely worth it, and we had time to talk about our new book and other issues face to face rather than using our cell phones, email and texting, which are our usual modes of communication,.

    Anyway, we’re driving the four hours and change across the desert and the car had satellite radio. I could’ve listened to Margaritaville Radio for most of the trip, but Michael doesn’t share my love of all things Buffett, so we started searching the dial...and found ourselves listening, against all odds, to Playboy Radio.

    Now, I gotta tell you...there were things talked about and described on that radio station that I’ve never heard about before...and in some cases, could never even have imagined. But what was really interesting - and, in fact, instructive - was the call-in show conducted by a woman who, of course, was named Tiffany. (Apologies to anyone else named Tiffany, but trust me...this woman was not helping the image of your name.)

    The callers to this show seemed to mostly be truck drivers who were motoring all over the United States and had a lot to complain about when it came to their wives and girlfriends. Tiffany’s job seemed primarily to a) reassure them that they were good guys, b) reassure them that their women needed to be more understanding and adaptable, and c) give them advice about how to, shall we say, spice up their relationships.

    In other words, she was telling them what they wanted to hear. Michael and I have each been married for more than a quarter-century to smart women (who, by the way, at this moment are appalled by our choice of radio stations). And we found ourselves yelling at the radio, telling these bozos that they sounded like self-centered fools who were lucky to have any woman even look at them, much less enter into a relationship with them.

    Which made us think. How often do we look for advice or counsel only from people who will tell us what we want to hear, or will reinforce our own opinions? How often do we avoid making the tough call, the trenchant observation, the critical remark, because it is easier to get along than to challenge the way things are done? How often do we let sacred cows live longer than we should, ignoring Mark Twain’s comment that “sacred cows make the best hamburger”?

    The answer? All too often.

    It’s why we need to seek ideas and innovations from the unexpected sources, and listen to people who disagree with us and challenge our view of things. That’s how we learn. That’s how we grow.

    The good news is that it didn’t take us long to come to this realization, and we turned off the radio. And talked about business. And our book. And what the Mets need to do in order to actually be competitive in 2010, which was almost as distressing as listening to Playboy Radio.

    So that’s the lesson of the week. it came from an unexpected place, though one I don’t plan on visiting anytime again soon.

    But a lesson, I think, worth remembering, taken from a drive across the desert that I won’t forget for a long time.

    For MNB Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 10, 2009

    Brand Week reports on the latest edition of the Retail Service Quality Index, which says that US retailers’ customer service index stands at 48.2 out of a possible 100 - a measurement that by almost any standard would be a failing grade.

    According to the story, many of the problems detected had as much to do with a lack of imagination as anything - possibilities undetected and opportunities ignored for employees to provide a modicum of service: “The results showed that in more than a quarter of interactions measured, employees failed to see a service opportunity that was at hand, or ignored the customer at the time of expected interaction ... Associates performed poorly when they were expected to exercise greater observation and engagement skills.

    “Specifically, they had trouble seizing opportunities to demonstrate customer service when it required identifying and responding to indirect signals (1.3 out of 10) or handling multiple shoppers on the sales floor (4 out of 10).”

    The Index was compiled by the Salt & Pepper Group, a retail sales and strategy consultancy.
    KC's View:
    To be fair, this survey did not look at food retail...but the results remain instructive. How many employees are trained to look for and then act on the moment at which they might have the greatest impact on the shopping experience? Training and reward systems tend to have more to do with things like punctuality and efficiency, and not the ultimate in effectiveness - consumer engagement - that tend to be a differential advantage for those that get it right.

    Published on: December 10, 2009

    The Miami Herald reports that Ireland’s Superquinn supermarket chain has struck a deal with the Florida Department of Agriculture to promote the state’s strawberry crop.

    According to the story, “After an August meeting between state officials and Superquinn administrators, growers were enlisted to cope with increased demand. Berries are being shipped from Tampa and Orlando directly to Dublin.

    “The venture is the latest in the state's ‘Fresh from Florida’ marketing campaign, which has featured more than two dozen products. Participating grocery chains agree to include ads for Florida products in their advertising pages.”
    KC's View:
    I mention this story not because it represents anything highly unusual, but because my first reaction when I saw it was the issue of eating local, which so many people have pointed to as being the best way to both insure high quality and save the planet.

    But, of course, it isn’t that simple. They probably don’t grow a lot of strawberries in Ireland, so the quality issue is moot. And what’s the point of living in a global economy if it doesn’t give you access to interesting foods from other places around the world?

    I’m not even sure there is a moral high ground in this discussion. There are perspectives, and arguments, on both sides. What’s interesting to me is the idea that the issue even popped into my mind when reading what should have been a fairly innocuous story,

    These are things we need to think about. All the time. Because promotions like these aren’t just about strawberries anymore. You have to think about them in the context of something larger.

    Published on: December 10, 2009

    Interesting piece in the New Haven Independent about a battle taking place in that Connecticut community over the proposed opening of a new Save-A-Lot limited assortment grocery store.

    The opposition says that the opening of a Save-A-Lot would doom the local supermarket that is just a block away, and which presumably be unable to match Save-A-Lot on price. What makes the argument intriguing is that the other grocery store is a Shaw’s - which is owned by the same company that owns Save-A-Lot, Supervalu.

    Which is the argument that the pro-Save-A-Lot forces make - that Supervalu would never open a store designed to put another one of its stores out of business. Save-A-Lot, proponents say, caters to different customers than Shaw’s, and there is no reason that the two could not co-exist.
    KC's View:
    Unless, of course, Supervalu’s plans include the possibility that it could sell the entire Shaw’s chain to one or more buyers. in that case, it would not be competing with itself....and would be going with the format that the company’s new leadership seems to believe is best positioned to take advantage of the “new normal.”

    Published on: December 10, 2009

    Crain’s Chicago Business reports that Kraft Foods, still intent on landing the big fish that is Cadbury PLC, is offering concessions to European union regulators concerned that the proposed $16.1 billion acquisition of the British chocolate maker could be anti-competitive.

    The concessions include divestitures, though none that Kraft labeled as major.

    Meanwhile, Hershey is said to be close to making a decision about whether to launch a competing bid for Cadbury.

    The Kraft proposal has been met with skepticism and downright hostility by the Cadbury board, which has said that it is insufficient.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 10, 2009

    The Los Angeles Times reports that “after several years of decline, 2009 is on track to mark the first year that coupon use has grown in the U.S. since 1992. Coupon clipping for the millennium isn't just for detergent and cereal. Retailers of all stripes, including Walgreens and Neiman Marcus, have latched on to the coupon to entice consumers to spend. And the Internet and mobile devices are making coupons more widely available ... Searches on Google for ‘printable coupons’ and ‘online printable coupons’ have more than doubled this year. Of consumers surveyed by the National Retail Federation, 42% said they planned to use a coupon for their holiday shopping.”

    "Coupons are just more accessible to more consumers than ever before," Todd Hale, senior vice president of consumer and shopper insights at The Nielsen Company, tells the paper. "Without question, the economy has caused consumers to make pretty significant shifts in where they shop and how they buy and use promotions."
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 10, 2009

    General Mills announced that it plans to reduce the amount of sugar in its children’s cereals to 11 grams per serving or less by spring 2010, improving on a previous commitment to get the sugar content down to 12 grams per serving.

    "Ready-to-eat cereals, including presweetened cereals, account for only 5% of the sugar in children's diets," Jeff Harmening, president of General Mills' cereal unit, tells the Wall Street Journal. "Still, we know that some consumers would prefer to see cereals that are even lower in sugar, especially children's cereals."
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 10, 2009

    • The Chattanooga Times Free-Press reports that the Tennessee community is getting a new Earth Fare supermarket, the 17th opened by the organic chain.

    Here’s the line from the story that grabbed MNB’s attention:

    “Earth Fare also believes in sharing its prosperity with the communities it serves, which (CEO Jack) Murphy said is already happening by investing more than $2 million in the local construction industry while preparing the space to open. The store will employ about 110 people from the local area.”

    “Prosperity”? Qu'est-ce que c'est?

    • In western New York, the Brighton-Pittsford Post reports that Wegmans will open its new Next Door Bar & Grill to the public tomorrow. The new restaurant features “a larger bar and dining room” than the old Tastings restaurant that the chain closed down last month, as well as “a Robata grill and sushi bar ... and four private party rooms.”

    The restaurant is adjacent to Wegmans’ Pittsford store.
    KC's View:
    Count on Wegmans to bring a relatively exotic technique like Japanese Robata grilling to its stores and restaurant. I’ve only seen pictures and read about it...and it sounds wonderful. Yet another reason to drive to Pittsford. (Though I may wait until the spring when I can put the top down...)

    Published on: December 10, 2009

    • Ahold USA has promoted Rick Herring, the executive vice president of finance and chief financial officer at Giant-Carlisle, to be the new president of the division. He succeeds Sander van der Laan, who has been named general manager of Ahold’s Albert Heijn division in the Netherlands.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 10, 2009

    • Costco reports that its first quarter profit was $266 million, up from $263 million during the same period a year earlier. Q1 total revenue increased 7.9 percent to $17.3 billion from $16.4 billion, while Q1 sales, excluding fuel and membership fees, were up 5.5% to $16.92 billion. Same-store sales were up three percent in the quarter.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 10, 2009

    ...will return.
    KC's View: