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    Published on: January 20, 2010

    by Michael Sansolo

    Walking through our neighborhood shopping center the other day, my wife noticed something that in years past was completely unremarkable, but today seems completely irrelevant. It was a delivery many leaving new phone directories at the door of each retail establishment.

    Janice (my wife) was stunned. “Why do they even bother? Do you even remember the last time you used the Yellow Pages?”

    I had to admit she was right. I have nothing against the companies that produce the Yellow Pages or all its competitors, but why exactly do they still produce it in the day and age of Google? It reminded me immediately of a scene from Ocean’s 13, and I promise this isn’t a gratuitous way to reference the new book Kevin and I have co-authored: The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies.

    In the scene, master thieves Danny and Rusty (played so wonderfully by George Clooney and Brad Pitt, respectively) admit they are stumped. They have countless ideas to beat the new security device at the hotel they hope to rob, but their British consultant Roman Nagel (Eddie Izzard) keeps explaining why none of their ideas will work. In short, they just don’t get it because, as Nagel says, their thinking is antiquated.

    “Basically, you are analog thieves in a digital age.” (Of course, this being the movies, the gang figures out a way to beat the amazing digital security device named the Greco by its inventor of the same name.)

    Analog in a digital age. I can freely admit that there are times I am an analog guy in a digital age. For instance, while I own and frequently wear a digital watch, I know I’m much quicker at picking up the time by simply looking at a watch face. And I still find it off-putting somehow that my car tells me my speed in a digital read out, which allows my wife or kids to tell me with specificity just how much I am over the speed limit. Somehow, the old dial seemed friendlier.

    But in business, we can’t afford to be analog people in a digital age. Again, I know nothing about phone books, but I have to believe that if Yellow Pages wants to defend its franchise they had better figure out a way to deliver the information to my computer in a format that somehow blows Google away. Use geography, use creative search terms or use something, but don’t drop a seven pound book on my doorstep. (And, as my wife pointed out, the only people who might actually use the book can hardly read it anyhow because the type is always too small!)

    Retail must do the same. I find it fascinating that people who look up my book on Amazon are also visiting What Would Keith Richards Do?: Daily Affirmations from a Rock and Roll Survivor. But that’s how Amazon creates creative sales and positive linking of shoppers to information. How can brick and mortar retailers do the same?

    More importantly, how can brick and mortar retailers afford not to?

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2010

    Food Lion and Bloom shoppers are able to earn up to $10 in free groceries every time they buy private brand products in a new promotion running through February 2.

    According to the announcement, each time customers shop at Food Lion or Bloom during the Private Brand Super Sale and purchase at least four Food Lion, Bloom or Home 360 products using their Food Lion MVP or Bloom Breeze card, they earn a money-saving coupon. Customers get $1 in coupons for the first four private brand products they purchase and 25 cents back for each additional private brand product they buy – up to $10 – during the promotion. During the first week of the program, the company says, customers earned more than $180,000 in free groceries.
    KC's View:
    Just as a matter of interest, I will be in Chicago this weekend, moderating a panel discussion about private label at a marketing conference being run at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

    The panel includes Mike Ellgass, senior director of private label grocery at Walmart; Christina Hennington, director of merchandise planning at Target; Doug Miliken, vp of global brand development at Clorox; Pat Simmons, vp of consumer marketing at General Mills; and Scott Gordon, director of marketing at Daymon Worldwide.

    It looks like it should be a fascinating discussion...and if you happen to be attending, I hope you’ll stop by and say hello.

    Published on: January 20, 2010

    The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that some Ukrop’s employees are meeting with their new bosses from Ahold USA, getting training and human resources information.

    Ahold has entered into an agreement to buy 25 Ukrop’s Super Markets in Virginia, a deal expected to close within a month. Part of the deal requires Ahold to keep Ukrop’s employees.
    KC's View:
    Having gone through these sorts of meetings myself over the years, I’m sure that at some level the sessions are intensely painful for the Ukrop’s folks, who are worried that the culture to which they have become accustomed - and that they have helped mold over years of work - is going to vanish. (I always felt like I’d been sent to a re-education camp. You might gather that I wasn’t always the most cooperative student, especially because I could never shake the feeling that I was being lied to.)

    Here’s the one thing that I’d suggest. It is as important - maybe more important - for the folks at Ahold to listen during these meetings as it is for them to talk. Despite its somewhat ignominious end, Ukrop’s has a lot to share with the new ownership, and it would be foolish not to take advantage of it.

    Published on: January 20, 2010

    A new study sponsored by Catalina Marketing on the subject of weight management reveals that “devotees of name-brand diets or lifestyles spend, on average, more than $3,400 on groceries per year. However, those who eat largely low-fat foods, regardless of brand, as a lifestyle choice spend just over $800.”

    According to the report, the unprecedented number of Americans trying to lose weight can be a coup for manufacturers– if campaigns are focused on the most relevant consumer segment.

    “The goal for CPG brands becomes less about selling to as many shoppers as possible and more about encouraging high purchase volume from a relatively small core audience,” said Sharon Glass, Catalina Marketing’s group vice president of health, beauty and wellness. “By communicating with each consumer based on individual preferences, loyalty is sustained and real profitability is recognized.”
    KC's View:
    What this means, I think, is that supermarkets ought to be more directly targeting all the various weight loss systems and programs that are promoted with such alacrity in magazines and on cable television. It will take aggression and ambition. But the numbers are compelling.

    Published on: January 20, 2010

    NuVal, the nutritional scoring system, announced yesterday that its program has been endorsed by the American College of Preventive Medicine (ACPM).

    "ACPM supports evidence-based and meaningful nutrition labeling that can guide consumers to healthier eating,” said ACPM President Mark B. Johnson, MD, in a prepared statement. “ACPM has reviewed the NuVal nutritional rating system and found that it meets the ACPM criteria for support."

    The NuVal system gives all foods a score from 1 to 100; the higher the score, the higher the food’s overall nutrition. All NuVal scores are provided on the supermarket shelf, with a goal of making it easier for consumers to compare the overall nutrition of the foods they buy at a glance.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal reports that “Florida farmers will sustain at least a 30% crop loss due to freezing temperatures, resulting in losses of the hundreds of millions of dollars, according to preliminary data from the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services ... Everything from fruits and vegetables to nursery plants and shrubs to tropical fish felt the effects of the freeze. Tomatoes were particularly hard hit, with about 70% of the crop in southwest Florida, a main growing region, likely wiped out.”

    In addition, the Journal writes, “some products will be in short supply and prices will be higher, as crops such as citrus, tomatoes, sweet corn, bell peppers, snap beans, strawberries and squash were hurt. Businesses that rely on Florida produce may have to scramble to get products elsewhere.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2010

    • NewYork-based, the pure-play online grocer, announced that it is teaming with Union Square Wine & Spirits to offer almost 200 wines for under $20, all of which have been chosen to complement FreshDirect’s prepared meals and fresh foods. New York retailers are not allowed to sell wine, and so the deal sidesteps legal restrictions in a way that makes sense for consumers.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2010

    • Arizona-based Bashas’ reportedly has submitted a preliminary reorganization plan to the US Bankruptcy Court. The plan now must be studied by its creditors before being finalized.

    • The Business Journal of Milwaukee reports that “Roundy’s Supermarkets Inc. laid off an undisclosed number of employees at its downtown Milwaukee headquarters on Tuesday.” The company cited tough economic times as the rationale for the move; the specific numbers were not revealed by the company.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2010

    • CVS Caremark has hired David Casey to be its Vice President and Diversity Officer, a new role at the company. Casey most recently was chief diversity officer at WellPoint.

    • Rite Aid Corporation announced that Bryan Shirtliff, currently the company’s Senior Vice President of Category Management, has been named to the new position of Senior Vice President, Business Development.

    In addition, Tony Montini, currently Executive Vice President and COO of the national advertising agency Marc USA, which has been Rite Aid’s agency of record since 1997, will join Rite Aid as Senior Vice President, Category Management.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2010

    Robert B. Parker, who created one of literature’s most enduring series of crime novels, about the Boston private detective Spenser, as well as a range of other books over a 37-year career as a novelist, died yesterday at age 77. The popular and prolific author reportedly was at his desk, in his Cambridge, Massachusetts, home, when he passed away of a heart attack.

    In addition to the Spenser novels, he also wrote a series of books about Jesse Stone, an alcoholic police chief (played by Tom Selleck in a lauded series of TV movies), and his fourth western is due out later this year, about gunslingers Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. (The first in the series of westerns was “Appaloosa,” which was turned into a much-praised movie written and directed by Ed Harris, who also starred as Cole.) In all, he wrote more than 60 novels in a career that only started when he was in his forties.

    In a wonderful appreciation published in the this morning, Tom Nolan wrote:

    “He wrote dialogue that at once informed, amused and gave a sense of character; and he conjured characters a reader wanted to spend more time with—especially Spenser, a fixed point in a footloose world, take him or leave him. A pragmatist whose ethics were situational. A tough and decent type who did what needed to be done in the service of a moral cause, affirming the worth of the individual regardless of race, sexual orientation, social status, age or occupation. He made timeless points that need to be remade every generation, in a society ever able to find ways to betray the public and private trust.

    “The books were addictive, entertaining, amusing—and, in their low-key way, moving. Critics prefer the earliest ones as being more substantive. Readers gobbled up the later ones for their sensibility, tone of voice, and point of view: that wised-up, can-do attitude, with no phonies allowed.”
    KC's View:
    Longtime readers of MNB will know that I have long been an enormous fan of Parker’s, and looked forward to each of the three books he published each year. If there is a silver lining, it is that Parker was a workhorse; he had three novels already scheduled for publication in 2010, and there reportedly are at least a couple more Spenser novels in the pipeline.

    As a fairly young journalist, I once had the opportunity to interview Parker; I think it was in conjunction with the publication of “A Catskill Eagle.” I can vividly remember driving to Boston to meet him at the bar of the Ritz, a location often used in the Spenser novels. He was kind and patient, and answered every question as if he’d never heard it before, though I’m sure that at some level he’d heard all the questions before. He wasn’t a tall man by any means, though his thick muscularity wasn’t disguised by the natty navy blazer he wore. Parker also had an enormous grin that suggested he was enjoying his life more than anyone had a right to.

    When the interview was over, he insisted on paying for the beer; it was just the capstone on an afternoon that remains one of the best I’ve ever had as a reporter - meeting and talking to, and being taken seriously by, someone I idolized. Parker used to say that he believed that the reason people liked his books was that the language had almost musical beats, and they could hear it even as they read it. For me, and a lot of people like me, that language was part of the soundtrack of our lives. Short, punchy sentences. Colorful dialog. Vivid characters. Literature’s comfort food, may be the best way to describe it.

    It’s funny. Just the other day, a young reporter called me up and asked if we could meet so he could interview me about our new book, “The Big Picture.” I had an inspiration. I told him about Parker buying me a beer at the Ritz, and confided that it had always been my fantasy to be on the other side of the table, to be the one with the book, and to have the opportunity to buy a young journalist a beer. So we agreed to meet at a place called the River Cat Grill, which happens to be mentioned in “The Big Picture.” I’m going to buy him a beer.

    These arrangements were made before I found that Robert B. Parker had died. When we do it, tomorrow afternoon, it will have even greater resonance for me. And I’ll quietly toast Robert B. Parker for being such a big part of my reading life. He hasn’t been gone long, and there still are books of his to read. Spenser and Hawk and Susan and Jesse and Virgil and Everett will live on, even if just in our minds and imaginations, as all memorable fictional creations do.

    But I already miss him.

    Published on: January 20, 2010

    Responding to yesterday’s piece about health care reform and the Safeway approach, one MNB user wrote:

    Health care. Don't get me started! My husband just found out that our insurance will not cover him for the Great Indignity (colonoscopy) anymore because his first such exam, eight years ago, found a polyp. It was removed, which removes the threat of cancer, which is the point of these exams.

    You'd think they would want to cover his future exams to keep him from getting cancer, which is much more expensive than the Indignity and removal of polyps.

    But no. Now he has a "risk factor" so we have to pay for it out of our HSA, all in the name of making consumers more responsible for their own health. The way it works is that the insurance covers any "routine" tests (i.e. there is no reason to think we need it) but not tests recommended because of our health history or symptoms.

    Since he is unemployed, he is reluctant to spring for the test himself, which means he may go longer between such exams and run the risk of a future polyp having time to get dangerous. That is called health care reform. Go figure.

    How many other people will forgo tests under these new convoluted rules, and end up sicker by the time they finally get to a doctor?

    I’m fed up with the whole health care debate. As far as I am concerned, most people get it wrong. While the US may have the best health care in the world (depending on where you live and what your insurance happens to be), the system is dysfunctional. There are too many stories like this one.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Interesting discussion of the "Safeway Amendment" to the pending healthcare reform bill.  In particular, the divergence between "business groups" who favor the personal-accountability aspects of tying health insurance rates to people's lifestyles, and opponents like the Heart Association and Cancer Society who fear adoption of the provision would upset the notion of health insurance rates (apparently) no longer hinging on individual's health status.  Which presumably, to one extent or another, directly although certainly not entirely results from their personal life choices.

    A slippery slope appears on the horizon, I suspect: regarding health-insurance rates, if I choose to live an unhealthy lifestyle (a fat-laden diet, for example) of my own free will, why should you be forced to pay the same health insurance rates as I do?  If I choose to drive habitually recklessly (speed and tailgate, for example), why should you be forced to pay the same auto insurance rates as I do?  If I choose to engage in high-risk behaviors (skydiving, for example), why should you be forced to pay the same life insurance rates as I do?  (All other salient factors assumed equal in the above examples.) If health-insurance rates do, in fact, become uncoupled from one's lifestyle choices affecting health status, can similar uncoupling regarding auto and life insurance rates be far behind?  Might there also be other similar contexts wherein this same notion of "equality for all" can and likely will be applied, appropriately or not?

    I'm as much for minimizing my own -- as well as your -- insurance costs as the next guy; why not?  But not if such equilibration of rates has to rely on situational ethics to pass.  Situational ethics here as in "I'm for whatever is good for me, logically defensible or not."  Far too much of America runs on such tainted ethics, I'm afraid, and I can't help but call it out when I see it.  So when I see something like this "Safeway Amendment" which, on the surface of it, seems for all the world to be "rewarding good behavior", how bad a thing can that possibly be?  Maybe it still needs tweaking, maybe not; I don't know.  But if the Heart Association and the Cancer Society are at all suggesting it should be DOA, I just can't see that.

    I wrote yesterday that Kraft CEO Irene Rosenfeld ultimately will be judged on whether the Cadbury acquisition works, which led one MNB user to point out:

    And if she isn't successful, there still awaits a generous severance package as she is led out the door.


    Regarding another MNB story, MNB user J. Schindler wrote:

    In regard to Walgreen's push into food - their ad last week included Oscar Mayer Bacon.  I was going to pick some up but thankfully noticed that all of the packages on the shelf had a Dec. 29, 2009 expiration date.


    We took note yesterday of the passing of Glen W. Bell Jr., the founder of Taco Bell. Which led MNB user Mark Walton to write:

    While I know Mr. Bell is famous for founding “Taco Bell,”  to my family he will always be noted for Bell Garden in Valley Center, Ca.  My sister lives in that town, and for many years our visits included a stop for the fresh produce and a free train ride or hay ride for the kids around the property.  Occasionally, I would see Mr. Bell at his farm engaged in light conversation with the many visitors.  Most people never knew who he was.  He gave back in a simple way.  Thank you Mr. Bell!
    KC's View: