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    Published on: March 25, 2010

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

    The Chicago Tribune had a report the other day about how the troubled Borders bookstore chain has unveiled a program that “invites book club groups to convene at its cafe spaces instead of in club members' homes. The step is geared toward helping the money-losing bookstore chain drum up sales and reshape itself into a local gathering place instead of a faceless superstore.”

    According to the story, “Signs and posters telling shoppers to bring their book group to the store have gone out from corporate headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich., to Borders' 507 outposts.”

    As the Tribune notes, the book selling business is an increasingly brutal one, with the nation’s two major chains - Barnes & Noble and Borders - increasingly under pressure from the likes of Amazon.com, Walmart and Costco. Here’s something I didn’t know - both Barnes & Noble and Borders have finished each year since 2002 with fewer stores than they started the year with.

    In other words, the prognosis ain’t good.

    However, I have to say that I like the book club gathering idea. It is a smart approach to creating some measure of loyalty among shoppers. I think they could do more - like suggest that if all the members of the club buy their book at Borders, they can get free coffee during their meeting. Or offer better discounts to club members that book tables in advance.

    The key here is to create a sense of community around a common purpose or theme, and then do everything possible that the retail entity has a role in that community. It is a good ideas for a bookstore, just as it would be a good idea for a drugstore to create an area where people with common medical issues could gather for support group meetings. Or supermarkets to create an area for people to chat about health and nutrition issues, or to learn how to cook.

    There is no unassailable business model. There are only temporary differential advantages. It may be that Borders has waited too long, and that it won;t be able to pull out of the sales tailspin in which it finds itself.

    But that’s a mistake that other retailers in other venues should not make.

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

    Published on: March 25, 2010

    As originally reported on MNB yesterday, the confirms that Supervalu-owned Shaw’s Supermarkets plans to lay off four percent of its workforce in New England, “in an effort to stay competitive and make its stores more efficient.”

    The move comes as the company is selling off its Connecticut stores. However, Supervalu says it has no intention of selling the rest of its Shaw’s stores.
    KC's View:
    If you had a meeting of all the people who actually believe that Supervalu does not want to sell the rest of Shaw’s, you would not need a very big room. Like maybe a phone booth.

    (For those of you so young that you have no idea what a phone booth looks like, feel free to Google it. But keep it to yourselves.)

    Published on: March 25, 2010

    There have been a couple of interesting stories this week about examples of how business leaders are paying attention...and responding...to their customers.

    USA Today had a piece about how the owner of the Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix - a hotel that normally gets pretty good reviews from guests - responded to complaints registered online by a highly dissatisfied customer.

    “Ben Bethel, who owns the hotel that has an average rating of four from more than 240 reviews, wrote a lengthy response two days later. He promised changes would be made. He added a person to the front desk, and reassigned his assistant general manager to the evening and weekend shift ... "We just didn't have enough people," Bethel says.

    The broader point is that business leaders have to add “managing online reputation” to their list of responsibilities, since the public airing of complaints can have a significant impact on business. In addition, customers have become highly intuitive about raising issues in a public forum...and about seeking out the comments of others. Task-specific sites - such as travel sites for people booking hotels and flights - create a public forum in which consumers can create what one expert calls a “tidal wave of whispers.”

    The bottom line - if you engage with these highly verbal customers, it can create a differential advantage. if you ignore them, you run the risk of looking irrelevant.

    The other example - the New York Times reports that Apple CEO Steve Jobs makes a habit of responding to a select number of fans and critics via email, often with perfunctory answers that nonetheless have a kind of emotional wallop because of who he is.
    KC's View:
    A couple of things here...

    One, it is interesting that in the case of Steve Jobs, the people interviewed by the Times largely got emails that didn’t agree with their arguments .... and yet they walked away satisfied because they felt that someone was paying attention. That’s a good lesson. Maybe these days the customer isn’t always right, but the customer is always someone who must be engaged.

    The other thing that I can tell you from some personal experience is that user reviews do matter. Michael Sansolo have been gratified by the number of people who have reviewed our book via blogs and on Amazon.com ... they have been generous in their comments, and it has resulted in steady sales growth.

    Attention must be paid.

    Published on: March 25, 2010

    The Baltimore Sun reports on a new initiative in that city called the Virtual Supermarket Project, in which “residents of two Baltimore neighborhoods that lack supermarkets will soon be able to order their groceries through a free delivery system that operates with the click of a mouse from the library.”

    The goal is to give people living in so-called “food deserts” access to healthier and more nutritious products. Not only can the residents order from computer libraries, but they also can pick up the groceries at the library.
    KC's View:
    This is interesting on a number of fronts. It allows retailers in reach into neighborhoods in which they ordinarily might be a little reluctant to build stores. And it gives residents of such neighborhoods even greater options, which is a major part of the anti-obesity initiative being driven by First Lady Michelle Obama.

    This may seem less important, but I think it also is good for libraries. In an age when most of us can access as much information from our computers, laptops and smart phones as we can from the library, it is critical that libraries find new ways to be relevant to their neighborhoods, and not be reliant on what may be an obsolete business model. If that means offering different kinds of services - like grocery ordering and delivery - that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    Published on: March 25, 2010

    HealthDay News reports that European scientists have identified a chemical in coffee that may actually inhibit the production of stomach acid - and that, if properly manipulated, could result in coffees that could cause less gastrointestinal discomfort.

    Tests are expected to begin later this year.

    According to the story, “The potential market for a kinder, gentler coffee is huge. About 40 million people in the United States alone avoid java, often because of acid reflux disease, a common stomach problem for coffee drinkers, according to background information from the American Chemical Society. Stomach-friendly coffees are already on the market, but some doctors don't recommend them for people with aci
    KC's View:
    Thank goodness nobody has ever recommended to me that I stop drinking coffee for acid reflux - because if I don’t drink high-test in the morning, it is a lot less likely that MNB is going to be posted. (Of course, I’m also on a daily dose of Nexium ... but such are the realities of lots of years and lots of mileage...)

    Published on: March 25, 2010

    Big news out of Minneapolis, where the Minnesota Twins and Target Field - the brand new stadium where the Twins will begin playing next month - announced that one of the foodservice offerings will be the popular private brand Wild Rice Soup from Lunds and Byerly’s.
    KC's View:
    I love this story on so many levels.

    First of all, it speaks to the power of great food ... and that supermarkets that look to transcend so-called “supermarket food,” which often can be vanilla and lowest-common-denominator, can be big winners.

    It speaks to the power of private brands...an area in which Lunds and Byerly’s have long been leaders.

    It gives me yet another reason to find my way to the Twin Cities this summer, where I will continue my quest to visit every major league baseball stadium.

    The only thing that is missing - and for which I will continue to lobby - is the inclusion on the Target Field menu of one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had in my life - smoked turkey, Jarlsberg cheese, a slice or two of bacon, topped with cranberry mayonnaise and served warm on toasted thick cinnamon bread. I had it at Lund’s, and, as I’ve said here before, I dream about it.

    Published on: March 25, 2010

    Advertising Age reports that PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi told an analysts meeting that this week that despite a number challenges during 2009 - including an aborted rebranding of Tropicana and and total refresh of the Gatorade brand - the results will prove during the next couple of years that the effort was worth all the trouble.

    "The good news is most of that work is behind us," Nooyi said. "As of now, let's look forward."
    KC's View:
    Coincidentally, the Symphony IRI Group was out this week with its annual list of the past year’s best performing new brands, Gatorade Tiger Focus - which was built around Tiger Woods before the sex scandal that engulfed the professional golfer - was number six. PepsiCo, of course, discontinued Tiger Focus, saying that the brand had not performed well enough in stores...and it denied that it had anything to do with the scandal.

    Not sure about you, but number six on any “best performing new brands” list seems like a pretty decent showing. So maybe the scandal and a little something to do with it...

    (That and the slogan used for Tiger’s brand: “Is it in you?”)

    Published on: March 25, 2010

    The Chicago Tribune reports that “Walgreen Co. is about to get a new look as the drugstore chain expands a test to make the stores more open, more colorful and easier to shop ... adding more food and wine, expanding its beauty aisles and preparing this summer to bolster electronics. The retailer is also lowering the heights of shelves and installing bigger and more colorful signs to help shoppers navigate the aisles.”

    According to the story, there are about 700 Walgreen stores featuring the new look, but that number should grow to as many as 3,000 by this fall.

    "This is an ongoing process with many checkpoints along the way to allow us the opportunity to tweak and refine as needed," says CEO Gregory Wasson. "As we move into the next phase, we'll continue to build sales, take work out of stores, lower inventory and, most importantly, improve our customers' overall shopping experience."
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 25, 2010

    Supervalu has named Dan Sanders, the former CEO of Texas-based United Supermarkets, to be the new president of Acme Markets, succeeding Judith Spires, who resigned earlier this month.

    Spires has since joined Kings Super Markets in New Jersey as its new president/CEO.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 25, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal reports that the United States Postal Service has taken the first formal step toward cutting out Saturday delivery, asking the independent Postal Regulatory Commission for an opinion on the move, which it says will save $3 billion a year.

    No matter what the opinion, the US Congress will have to approve the move in order for it to be implemented.

    The USPS reportedly could lose as much as $7 billion this year.
    KC's View:
    I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again.

    Nobody under 30 will notice. Nobody under 30 will care.

    The USPS is asking the wrong question. The issue isn’t whether or not it should eliminate one or two or even three days of delivery. The question should be, what is the right business model for the 21st century?

    Published on: March 25, 2010

    Bloomberg reports that the Florida Attorney General’s office is leading a multi-state task force investigating the CVS acquisition of Caremark in 2007, which created the nation’s largest provider of prescription drugs.

    USA Today reports that the new CEO of Ben & Jerry’s has committed himself to keeping the Unilever-owned company in Vermont, where the company was founded. "We're 100% committed to the community, of staying here and being here," Jostein Solheim says. "The economy is tough, and it's going to remain tough. But we have a small and loyal following. I'm not nervous."
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 25, 2010

    Robert Culp, who starred back in the sixties with Bill Cosby in the groundbreaking adventure series “I Spy,” died yesterday at age 79. He reportedly fell while taking a walk, hit his head and never regained consciousness.
    KC's View:
    There was a time, during the “I Spy” heyday, that Culp and Cosby were the epitome of cool - wandering the globe as CIA agents working undercover as tennis pro Kelly Robinson and his trainer, Alexander Scott. The series was largely shot on location in exotic foreign locations, and the relationship between the two men - one white, one black - was one of color-blind brotherhood, highly unusual for that time. The series is available on DVD, and while it is a little dated, the electricity between the two men is undeniable. And still very, very cool.

    One other note. Culp had lots of other roles - notably as Bob in Paul Mazursky’s “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” but among my favorites were the various villains he played on the “Columbo” TV series, sparring with Peter Falk’s rumpled detective. Just great stuff.

    Published on: March 25, 2010

    Regarding Michael Sansolo’s column about simplicity and complexity, MNB user Keith Gleason wrote:

    It reminds me of a quote from Albert Einstein: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”  Time for some new thinking across the spectrum.

    Agreed.

    He also said, if I’m not mistaken, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”



    On the subject of the new Jamie Oliver TV series designed to get kids to eat healthier foods, MNB user Anjana Nigam wrote:

    It was interesting to watch Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution on ABC. His first stop, Huntington, W Virginia, was called the most unhealthy city in USA, possibly the world. He cooked a meal from scratch for the elementary school kids consisting of grilled chicken (looked delicious), celery, carrots etc. – all made from scratch. It competed against the regular school lunch - thawed and baked pizza.  And no guesses required to figure out what happened. The kids chose the processed food over fresh food, since they have been conditioned not to eat fresh. It will be interesting to see how Jamie Oliver wins them over.

    My daughter does not touch school lunches as she finds them “gross” and “unhealthy” but she’s one of few kids who are like that. Mostly because we cook many more fresh vegetables at home and she knows their taste and craves them. If we have to bring change we will have to change ourselves first.


    Sounds like she was raised right.



    Walmart reportedly is looking to add items to its shelves after a brief period of SKU rationalization that led to some consumers shopping elsewhere because of what they perceived as diminished choice at Walmart. one MNB user observed:

    We have heard from CPG insiders that Walmart is now approaching suppliers with this line: Since we reduced your assortment we are willing to now bring back X, Y, Z as long as you now offer us new deeper discounts on the flagship items. It would seem that this was not a strategy to clean up the shelves but rather one aimed at gaining additional funding all along.




    On another subject, one MNB user wrote:

    Regarding store brands, I have kids in university (yes kids with an “s” – God please help me win the lottery) as well as I live in a university town.  When I visit the kids, their pantries are full of store brands such as bakery, canned goods, toiletries, frozen food, nuts, and breakfast cereal and on and on.  I visit my local Publix maybe three times a week (prefer this over a single get everything shopping visit on a weekend) and notice every single basket being wheeled by a college student contains store brands.  Having spoken with my kids and their friends, they have never known there to be a difference when buying the store brand that is less expensive and tastes/cleans the same as stuff they had growing up.   These new consumers are in it for best price and convenience.  Lastly, I was amazed (probably shouldn’t be) at the amount of non perishables (napkins, paper towels, shampoos, etc.) they will shop for and purchase on-line.  Electronic coupons are traded like crazy.  I guess no going back now.

    Nope. Ain’t gonna happen.

    Besides, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.
    KC's View: