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    Published on: February 9, 2010

    by Michael Sansolo

    No doubt many of you have heard and used the phrase “hoisted on one’s petard” without knowing the origin of the saying. Based on the Middle French word for flatulence, it relates to building a bomb to harm one’s enemies and getting blown up by it yourself.

    Yet, it best refers to those of us with too many opinions who occasionally (or frequently) have to eat our own words. Well, dear readers, allow me to start mealtime.

    I cannot possibly count the times that I have talked about the importance of being pro-active. Years of speeches, articles and even the book I did with Kevin all repeat this lesson again and again. Plan ahead and honestly face the facts I always say. Failure to do so never, ever works out well unless you are stunningly lucky; which most of us simply are not.

    (Get ready, the petard is ticking...)

    Six weeks ago, I wrote about my own lack of planning in failing to get my snow thrower tuned prior to the winter. But living near Washington, DC, snow is really something we don’t worry about all that much. Usually we get a couple of inches, panic and move on. My snow thrower spends most winters getting as much action as my New York Mets World Series bunting. So I figured this would be another winter where getting the snow thrower ready was simply a waste of time and money. And I passed on doing it.

    Of course, just before Christmas it snowed like crazy and despite my prayers and best efforts, my snow thrower never lurched into gear. Instead of walking behind it and watching it do magic, I shoveled load after load of snow mixed with regret. Of course, I didn’t rush to fix the thrower in the subsequent weeks. After all, what were the odds that Washington would get a second big snow storm in the same winter? I mean, that never happens.

    Assuming you saw any news this weekend, you know Washington got a Buffalo-like snowstorm. It was such a big storm that it got its own logos on the news and names like “Snowpocalypse,” “Snowmageddon” and “Tsownami.” And guess what: my snow thrower didn’t use the six weeks since the previous storm to heal itself. So once again, I grabbed my shovel, averted my wife’s annoyed glance and headed out time and again to try moving the endless snow falling from the sky. (In truth my wife helped each time and remained mute on the snow thrower. My daughter was a different story however. She sat by and reminded me to wave to the idle snow thrower each time.)

    So, yes, my petard blew up right underneath me. Countless words spent urging action before, not after the problem. Countless time reminding people that problems rarely cure themselves. Countless articles and speeches on the danger of denial as a strategy. And countless times my wife and daughter reminded me this weekend that I was supposed to take care of the snow thrower weeks ago.

    Well, no pain, no gain. Right?

    In my case, it meant some sore muscles, some cold digits and lots of time spent digging out. For business, the result is rarely so simple. As my lesson suggested, luck is never a strategy. Get the snow thrower tuned when the sun is shining because while you can’t prevent the snow, but you can clear it so much easier. There’s a fabulous metaphor for meeting the challenges early, isn’t it?

    This time I promise to heed my own words. Although, what’s the chance of another storm in Washington this year? It has to be small, right?

    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: February 9, 2010

    Ahold said yesterday that it has completed its acquisition of Ukrop’s 25 stores in Virginia, and that it will convert all the units to its Martin’s banner and begin opening them on Sunday and selling beer and wine.

    "Though the name on the front of the store will change later this spring, customers can expect to find the same friendly store associates including pharmacists," says Rick Herring, president of the Giant-Carlisle division of Ahold, which will operate the stores. "Will associates be available to carry customers' bags to their car if they would like? You bet they will!"

    The Ukrop family reportedly will continue supplying fresh foods and bakery products to the chain.
    KC's View:
    It is a shame that one of the nation’s iconic independent food retailers has now been relegated to history.

    On the other hand, you have to figure that the sales at these 25 stores are going to increase by 10-20 percent almost overnight ... just because they are selling products that Ukrop’s would not sell and staying open on days that Ukrop’s remained closed.

    Published on: February 9, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that First Lady Michelle Obama plans to unveil her anti-obesity campaign today, which is described as “part of a government effort to reframe the debate about the nation's expanding waistlines,” shifting the conversation “away from achieving a particular weight or dress size and instead emphasize the benefits of good nutrition and physical activity.”

    According to the story, “In an event at the White House scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Obama plans to outline an effort months in the making to improve childhood nutrition and physical activity. The White House in recent days has contacted some of the nation's largest food companies to prepare them for its push ... Ms. Obama's plan has four planks, according to people briefed on it. She wants to improve nutrition and physical education in schools; promote activity such as walking and biking in community planning; make healthy food more available, particularly in poor areas; and make nutrition information on food packages clearer.”
    KC's View:
    The notion that the conversation needs to be made less negative and denial-focused and steered in a positive direction simply makes sense to me.

    The effort is going to require everybody working together. Which leads into our next editorial story...

    Published on: February 9, 2010

    The New York Times reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “wants to encourage manufacturers to post vital nutritional information, including calorie counts, on the front of food packages.

    “The goal is to give people a jolt of reality before they reach for another handful of chips. But the urgency of the message could be muted by a longstanding problem: official serving sizes for many packaged foods are just too small. And that means the calorie counts that go with them are often misleading.” Which means, according to the Times, that “the FDA is now looking at bringing serving sizes for foods like chips, cookies, breakfast cereals and ice cream into line with how Americans really eat. Combined with more prominent la
    KC's View:
    One health expert tells the Times that serving size listings are “inconsistent and unintuitive,” which strikes me as being an understatement.

    It is rare that posted serving sizes match up with reality...though I have to concede that I’ve always sort of suspected that my reality may be different from most people’s. But the truth is that probably is not the case. On the other hand, any changes made by the FDA should not cater only to what people want...a serving size needs to be reasonable and accurate without being so large that it encourages people to eat more than they should.

    Published on: February 9, 2010

    • Kroger said that it has reached tentative agreements with more than 19,000 unionized employees in its Atlanta and Savannah stores. Terms of the agreement have not been released, pending ratification of the tentative contract by the rank and file.

    US News and World Report reports that a new study suggests that drinking two or more sugared sodas a week could increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. The sugar in soda, the report published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention says, “could boost the body's insulin levels and spur cancer cell growth.” Critics opf the study say that it is based on too small a sample - 140 participants - to be credible.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 9, 2010

    • Daymon Worldwide announced yesterday that Alex Miller, the company’s president, has been named CEO, succeeding Milt Sender, who has been in the job since the company;s founding 40 years ago. (Sender shared the job of co-CEO and co-chairman with the company’s co-founder, Peter Schwartz, until Schwartz’s death in 1994.)

    “This is an important transition in our history, and the start of our next 40 years,” said Sender, who will continue to serve as chairman. “It’s particularly fulfilling to see this position transition to Alex, who I’ve worked with for 30 years. I see this as a tremendously exciting time for our company.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 9, 2010

    Advertising Age reports that “after years of talking about how it's targeting young males who consume prodigious amounts of fast food,” Burger King now is getting more expansive in its description of its core/target consumer - “anyone who eats fast-food nine or 10 times per month” - as the fast feeder targets its media buys at people between the age of 18 and 49.

    There are two reasons for this. One is that Burger King has seen its sales and market share slip, and so it needs to define its audience more broadly so that it can generate more sales. At the same time, it makes sense to try to sell more fast food to people who already are eating its products, and so when Burger King found out that 29 percent of its patrons were 50 years old or older, it simply followed that marketing efforts needed to follow the money.
    KC's View:
    I know I’m going to be accused of being a gastronomic elitist, but I find it profoundly depressing that anyone - especially people my age, who ought to know better - would eat fast food nine or 10 times per month.

    Published on: February 9, 2010

    • Weis Markets said that its fourth quarter sales were up eight percent to $671.4 million, on same store sales that were up 1.9 percent. Q4 earnings were $15.5 million, down from $17 million during the year-ago period.

    The retailer said that its annual profit was up 34 percent to $62.8 million, on annual sales that were up to $2.52 billion from $2.42 billion during the pervious fiscal year. Annual same-store sales were up 1.8 percent.

    • CVS Caremark reports that its fourth quarter net income was $1.05 billion, up from $949 million during the same period a year ago. Q4 net revenue was $25.8 million, up seven percent from a year earlier, on same-store sales that were up 4.9 percent.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 9, 2010

    This is why I love the MNB community. It is smart, savvy and picks me up when I miss stuff.

    Case in point. Yesterday, we had a story about Walmart editing its selection in categories such as food bags and spices, and we referred to a Wall Street Journal story that said that the retailer would be focusing on top brands and private brands, and contained the following sentence:

    ”The key question is whether Americans will stick with generics if the economy improves.”

    I got a phenomenal number of emails pointing out that anyone who would use the word “generics” as a synonym for private brands clearly is out of touch with the reality of the current marketplace....something with which I would agree. Profoundly.

    Of course, it is not necessarily a surprise that newspapers would be out of touch with Main Street. To a great degree, journalists are trained to pay much more attention to Wall Street...

    One MNB user made the following observation:

    Retailers now have BRANDS - not "generics", a term that disappeared years ago. It is easy to find Retailer brands with clear positionings, careful thought given to package design, promotions that generate trial and loyalty... The brand management process that fueled the last fifty years of CPG growth is alive and well. Proof of its power is how smoothly it moved across the desk and fueled a whole new generation of retailer-based brand managers. Walmart isn't offering one brand of sandwich bag and a generic poor man's option; that would be insulting to their shoppers. They are offering two strong choices and they know it.

    Another MNB user wrote, referring to an April Fool’s gag that I played in 2004 that eerily reflected the current reality:

    I agree that every CPG out there should be very worried about this article today.  While your statement from 2004 was in jest, I experience the truth of one statement in particular every day:
    "What none of these manufacturers seemed to comprehend," he added, "was that while everyone was worried about us putting a lot of smaller retailers out of business, they should have been figuring out how to keep us from putting manufacturers out of business."

    I call on many very big CPG's who continually want to focus their marketing and promotion efforts on the top 5-10 retailers-especially Wal-Mart.  They want to do "bigger, better, fewer" promotions to support their business in just these 'top' chains.  What each of these companies forgets is that the basic blocking and tackling that builds your brand's business, should be done every day in ALL chains.  For some smaller chains, they stay relevant by offering more selection (be it local favorites or not) to some shoppers.  You can bet that the other 'top' chains are going to follow Wal-Mart's lead.  Brands that hold the second, third or fourth share of market should be doing whatever they can to build their businesses elsewhere.  Wal-Mart has already walked away from their brands.

    And another MNB user chimed in:

    As companies are forced to chose sides and carry less items, the whole total mix of suppliers and retailers will change. Some will win, while others will be thrown into a tail spin on profit and sales if they don’t know how to manage the change or have a plan for it. Let’s be honest, for those who have worked or managed a smaller format like the grocery stores of the 70’s, small stores were tough to run. For those of us who have club experience  we know all too well that limited sku’s many be nice inventory wise, but get the wrong items at the wrong time or in the wrong amount along with a down turn in the economy and watch out.

    Be interesting for companies whose Marketing teams are spending big buck right now, how they plan to finance ongoing spending since marketing dollars are tied to cases ? Also the CEO of supplier who now must decided how large a percentage of their business do they want a retailer to have before the just hand them the keys… Also it seems the days of brand loyalty from both the retailer to supplier and retailer to the customer is fading fast. How will a CEO convince his board, shareholders, bankers to invest in his business for what a retailer wants since that business can change every time another suppliers drops his price a nickel ??

    What is really happening here is that you’re seeing the death of EDLP and seeing the last of the players who never had a “ funding needle” in the arm just get hooked. Their now going to play the same games as all the rest in hopes of drying up all the marketing , advertising funds, demos, in store TV, etc that there is out there. In hopes that this will get the suppliers attention on their business and in their mines get them their fair share of the money that they feel that the suppliers have been keeping and or supplying the competition with.

    The next shoe to drop will be to split a company up into two to three parts and play the supplier against each other, then after you feel you have the best “program” in the US, turn it over to a Global sourcing team and let them have a go at it.  Yes, Piñata buying is back… time will tell just when this retailer will be checking in to the Betty Ford Clinic for Buying….

    In a story yesterday about personal service during last week’s DC snowstorm, I made a reference to a young woman in her twenties who recognized the value of small retailers that create a relationship with shoppers, and said, “hope springs eternal.”

    Which led one MNB user to write:

    I like to do some part time work at an on-line support forum that allows people to support each other in everything from MS or Fibromialgia, to PTSD, suicide, depression and addictions.   I often wonder about the teens & 20 somethings who feel life is so bad they're sure death is a better alternative.  So we chat for a while, and I offer my 60 years of advice which is usually met with at best, humor, but more often with "you're old, what do you know about kids today".

    Then every once in a while, I run across a young person with such vision and fortitude, that I think, there's hope for this generation yet.    They're out there, we just need to find and nurture them.  Like me, who tends to lump all teenagers into the same "miserable excuse for a human" group, they also seem to think there are no coherent seniors left.  A view I'm finding more & more credible all the time.

    I try though, to dispel this myth, and at the same time work on improving my own age-related prejudices. I truly believe, I receive as much help from these kids, as I impart, and for that I will be forever grateful.

    Hope really does spring eternal.  I believe you are wise to recognize it, and even wiser, having been bold enough to print it.  We need ALL of the generations to "come together" more now than ever.

    You never get “all” of any generation to come together and show that kind of moxie.

    I had an uncle once who thought that being a night watchman was the best possible job because you could sleep through most of your workday. And he was part of a so-called more resolute and work-focused generation.

    But I have to say that I spend a fair amount of time with young people. My kids, their friends, the students who I get to meet when I speak at colleges around the country, and the many young people who write to me here at MNB.

    And I have a lot of faith in generations younger than mine. They are smart, informed and committed. They may get their information differently than I do, they may have different expectations from their work life and careers than I do. But they are terrific...and I’m challenged by them at almost every turn.

    Hope does spring eternal.

    Finally, I got this email about my commentary regarding commercials shown during the Super Bowl:

    While I agree on your take regarding the commercials, the one showing the “green police” and Audi left me feeling different than you.  It reminded me that our big and growing government has decided what kind of light bulb we have to buy (compact fluorescent), has told us what kind of car to drive (hybrid, SUV’s are evil), is telling us what kind of energy to use (wind & solar),  what kind of healthcare we are going to have or at least trying to (government run “public option”), how much money people can make (limitations on CEO pay), and more.  I realize that good humor is based on reality.  The reality of the “green police” is too close to reality for me and I don’t find it funny.

    Not only did I find it funny, but it made me want to buy an Audi. Not that I can afford one, but it made me want one.
    KC's View: