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    Published on: April 6, 2010

    by Michael Sansolo

    Where have you gone, Bob Garfield? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you…

    Odds are many of you haven’t heard of Bob Garfield (and sadly many of you have no idea what song I just mimicked. Rent The Graduate!) But let’s get back to Garfield, who announced yesterday he was ending a 25-year run as the advertising reviewer for Ad Age magazine.

    Garfield’s reviews were always worth reading. They were funny, insightful, provocative and occasionally incendiary. (Remind you of any news service you get daily?) Mostly they were great because they were honest. Garfield was unafraid to pull back the curtain on bad or overdone advertising. He would lambast ads that were far too clever and forgot to sell their products and he would gush over great advertising that was memorable and moving. Remember: “Wassup!”

    A few years back I hired Garfield to speak at a Food Marketing Institute (FMI) function and he was everything I expected. He irritated some people, enlightened others and left no one feeling ambivalent. My only regret was that in the process of preparing his speech he asked me if he could do a montage of company presidents acting as television spokespeople for their companies - a role Garfield felt few, if any, played well. I asked him not to for fear of having the entire board of directors in the montage. Garfield agreed, but in the end I was wrong. It was a message that should have been heard.

    What makes someone like Garfield so fabulous is honesty and the willingness to ask the question what everyone else sees, but no one asks. It’s an uncomfortable role, but essential and far too many companies could use a Garfield around simply to keep them honest. (The good news for at least some companies is that he apparently will spend his post-Ad Age life as a consultant ... “my brian is for rent,” he wrote yesterday.)

    An example of asking the uncomfortable question: this past Sunday evening, my daughter and I were in our local supermarket, which serves a community with a sizable population of very observant Jews. Our local Giant store does an excellent business in selling challah, a bread that is most widely used at the start of the Jewish Sabbath on Friday nights. But on Sunday, my daughter pointed out, there was an enormous display of challah - which struck her as unusual since this past week was Passover, the holiday when Jews don’t eat bread. (One has to believe that Giant founder Izzy Cohen was not resting in peace over this mistake...)

    Clearly, nobody pointed this out to the powers that be at this store. Nobody asked the question. And the betting here is that, unless there was a stunning shift in Easter Sunday dining habits, there was a lot of Challah going to waste at this particular store.

    That’s why we have to question and encourage questions all around us. Because sometimes the most obvious mistake is missed by nearly everyone and we need someone to point it out.

    At the risk of doing yet another a plug for “The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies” ... the reason Kevin and I mention it so often is that we believe the lessons have relevance. In this case, consider the lesson of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which may be the worst film mentioned in the book, but demonstrates the importance of asking the uncomfortable question in a critical scene toward the end, when Captain Kirk makes as query that everyone around him sees as impertinent, rude and disrespectful. Until they realize that he is right to challenge even the ultimate authority.

    It’s the absolute right question. Ask yourself if you’d do the same or, worse yet, how you’d react if someone questioned you.

    Yesterday, Kevin took note of a New York Times interview in which Andrew Cosslett, CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group, said much the same thing: “There’s a lot of perceived wisdom in most industries that haven’t hasn’t been challenged for years. The trick in business is not to care too much. Because if you care too much, you won’t ask questions and you won’t challenge because you’ll care too much about your position and what someone’s thinking about you.”

    So best of luck, Bob Garfield. Enjoy the world of consulting and don’t stray far with those caustic comments. Honesty is never in oversupply.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . 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: April 6, 2010

    Forbes is out with its list of the nation’s ten fastest growing retailers:

    • Apple Store
    • Amazon.com
    • PriceSmart (which operates club stores in the Caribbean and Latin America)
    • Urban Outfitters
    • Netflix
    • Chipotle Mexican Grill
    • BJ’s Restaurants/Brewhouses
    • Buffalo Wild Wings
    • The Buckle (a midwestern clothing chain)
    • Texas Roadhouse

    Forbes says that the list is based on “sales growth of major retail chains over the past three years using data compiled by the National Retail Federation, Stores Magazine and company annual reports. Companies that derived sales growth primarily from acquisitions, such as grocer A&P with its pickup of Pathmark, were omitted.
    KC's View:
    So what do these retailers have in common? Interesting, I think, that six of them sell food (though Amazon is hardly a traditional food retailer in the sense of the other five).

    I have not patronized all of them, but I am a regular or semi-regular customer of a different six - Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Chipotle, BJ’s, and Buffalo Wild Wings. In each case, I feel good about doing business with them. I never feel demeaned by the transaction, and I never feel that the experience is commoditized (though Buffalo Wild Wings can be hit-or-miss, depending on which unit is being visited). In three cases - Apple, Amazon and Netflix - there is an actual relationship with the company that creates enduring loyalty on my part, even though only one of them (Apple) has a location in which there are actual people with familiar and friendly faces.

    These are important distinctions, I think. At least, they are to me. My sense is that a lot of people feel the same way, and retailers looking for some level of significant growth would do well to keep these differential advantages in mind. Because even in a recession, during which the conventional wisdom has been that price means everything, the companies on the list are not necessarily the ones that focus just on price. Value, yes...though not necessarily value as defined by a price tag.

    Published on: April 6, 2010

    FreshDirect.com, the New York City-based pure-play online food delivery service, will expand into Greenwich, Connecticut, the company plans to announce today. At the same time, the company will double its presence in next door Westchester County to 21 communities.

    "FreshDirect has grown consistently since we launched in New York City eight years ago and we're excited to begin serving new neighborhoods in Connecticut and Westchester County," CEO Richard Braddock says in a prepared statement. "Our core mission is to change our customers lives by giving them a superior online shopping experience and this is another significant milestone as we look to saturate the tri-state area and beyond."

    The move will further put FreshDirect into greater competition with Ahold-owned Peapod, which is operated with its Stop & Shop chain in this marketplace, though FreshDirect seems to put a greater emphasis on fresh and prepared foods, while Peapod’s focus is more on packaged grocery.
    KC's View:
    FreshDirect had better do a superior job in fresh foods, because it appears to me that its grocery prices are a little out of whack. I did a quick check this morning, and discovered that FreshDirect is selling an 18-ounce package of Oreos for $5.19, while Peapod is selling the identical package for $3.29. (On the other hand, Amazon doesn’t carry that small a package, but does sell a 52.5 ounce box of Oreos for $16.19, which breaks out to about $5.55 for 18 ounces. In this case, at least, Peapod offers a vastly superior deal.)

    Industry expert Frank Dell tells the Danbury News Times that he believes that the biggest challenge to FreshDirect will be generating big enough orders to make the business profitable. He’s right about that, but the bar may be slightly lower in the suburbs than it is is in New York City; someone with good knowledge of such things once told me that FreshDirect spends a million bucks a year just on parking tickets, which is a problem it won’t have on the gently rolling and oh-so-wealthy streets of Greenwich.

    Published on: April 6, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal reports that “the new ad campaign for Coca Cola's Vitaminwater hints at a use for enhanced waters and sports drinks that is part of conventional wisdom among many college students and young professionals: hangover relief ... One of the new spots, called ‘Epic Night,’ features a young male character getting knocked in the head with a hammer, while a voice over asks, ‘Have you ever woken up on the wrong side of the bed, minus the bed? Your brain's throbbing, and your face is in a pile of nachos?’

    “The voice-over goes on to assert that Vitaminwater's purple ‘Revive’ flavor has B vitamins and potassium, and will help rehydrate you after ‘these apparently epic nights’.”

    The story notes that the ad campaign is aimed at reversing a decline in Vitaminwater sales, which were down 22 percent last year after a decade of steady growth.
    KC's View:
    For me, when I was in college, hangover relief came in the form of burritos and chocolate shakes at Jack-In-The-Box ... a combination that makes me sick just to think about it right now.

    I have no problem with this ad campaign. Critics say that the science is questionable, and I suppose there will be a review by federal regulators to make sure that Vitaminwater has not crossed the line.

    However ... I do have a bit of a problem when a Vitaminwater spokesman tells the Journal that the ad doesn’t explicitly say that the “epic night” in question involved drinking, and that this is being inferred by viewers. Give me a break. The campaign is good, but the caveat is too clever by half.

    Published on: April 6, 2010

    The Contra Costa Times reports that while “most supermarket chains participate in hunger-relief programs, liability concerns severely limit the amount of surplus food that they donate to the needy. As a result, vast amounts of food go to waste across the state, an examination by California Watch and the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at University of Southern California found.

    “Fearing liability if someone were to get severely ill, major retail grocery chains and restaurants are more likely to throw away meats, fruits and vegetables than donate to distribution centers.”

    The story notes that the law generally protects food companies from being sued if donated food makes people sick, but that litigation-shy companies still are being overly careful about putting themselves in a situation where they can be put in jeopardy.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 6, 2010

    Kronos Inc. is out with its monthly analysis of retail hiring levels, saying that “the 68 retailers representing 27,034 distributed locations across the U.S. that make up the Kronos data sample recorded 49,185 hirings (on a seasonally adjusted basis) in March 2010, an increase of 8.89 percent from the February 2010 seasonally adjusted figure of 44,113. This number was 26.63 percent higher than the 36,088 hirings recorded in March 2009.”

    At the same time, “The supply of applications decreased 16.37 percent to a seasonally adjusted level of 1,175,169 in March, an acceleration of the trend of declining application levels seen between January and February 2010. The March 2010 figure represented a 7.51 percent increase over the 1,263,376 applications processed in March 2009.”

    Dr. Robert Yerex, chief economist at Kronos, says that “in the next 18-24 months, we expect to see retail sales and hiring increase, though not to the levels they were at in 2008. We expect that a full 20 percent of the jobs lost in the recession are not likely to return.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 6, 2010

    The New York Times reports that the Grand Hyatt New York on East 42nd Street, just above Grand Central Terminal, has created “an elegant new market offering designer pastries, salads of baby greens and hot meals to go. With sleek, dark wood floors, white stacked-tile walls and pillars bathed in sky-blue light, the space - designed by the architectural team behind the restaurants Craft, Gramercy Tavern and the Modern - feels more like a specialty food shop than an alcove in a chain hotel.

    “Called simply the Market and set to open on Monday, it welcomes the public and will eventually be open around the clock, providing an upscale dining option for office workers and Grand Central commuters in an area with few choices after 9 p.m.

    “But that is not the point. For the Hyatt, the Market is a reinvention of room service, a prototype the chain hopes to replicate in major cities across the country. The idea is that rather than waiting for a meal to be delivered with a bud vase on a tray, guests can simply grab what they want and go, a do-it-yourself approach that hotel executives believe is more in keeping with what customers want.”
    KC's View:
    It is smart for businesses to continually find ways to reinvent themselves, or at least elements of their offerings. That seems to be what the Grand Hyatt is doing...and since I have more than occasionally found myself in Grand Central in the middle of the night with a gnawing hunger and an insistent thirst, it is good to know that there is a new option.

    Published on: April 6, 2010

    Drug Store News reports that “retail-based clinic operator The Little Clinic has stated for the first time that it is a wholly owned subsidiary of grocery chain Kroger.” The statement reflects an expansion of Kroger’s original position in 2008, when it made an unspecified but “significant” investment in the in-store medical clinic company.

    At the same time, Drug Store News notes that “The Little Clinic confirmed that it has exited five markets -- Indianapolis, Houston, Toledo, Detroit and Richmond -- and closed five additional clinics in three markets, effective April 2. With these closings, Kroger and The Little Clinic stated that they are focusing on ‘strengthening the business model to better service the healthcare needs of customers in an affordable, convenient manner’.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 6, 2010

    Whole Foods Market has announced a wine cork recycling program, which it says it designed to make it easy “for wine enthusiasts to properly dispose of corks. The first national retailer to launch a cork recycling program, Whole Foods Market will accept natural wine corks at all of its 292 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Whole Foods Market is partnering with Cork ReHarvest to help collect and recycle some of the 13 billion natural corks that are produced each year.”
    KC's View:
    I have a new Whole Foods opening up around the corner from my house and down the street from my office. Good to know that I have a local place to recycle my corks.

    Published on: April 6, 2010

    Crain’s Chicago Business reports that MillerCoors is out with a new beer, Colorado Native Lager, which it says is made from 99.9 percent Colorado ingredients and is being marketed “exclusively through digital and word-of-mouth channels.” The company “is using the model that worked for MillerCoors' Blue Moon: seeding the brand through word-of-mouth and letting consumers feel as if they ‘discovered’ the beer for themselves, which encourages them to introduce friends to it. To do so, it's putting the entirety of its tiny Colorado Native budget into mobile and social-media channels.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 6, 2010

    USA Today reports that KFC will today “announce plans to nationally roll out a breadless chicken sandwich that uses two boneless chicken fillets as the bun - then squeezes two pieces of bacon, two slices of cheese and some sauce in between.” The sandwich costs five bucks, is called the “Double Down,” and is initially designed to be a limited time offer.

    According to the story, “the sandwich, which comes complete with 1,380 milligrams of salt (about 60% of what the federal government recommends for an entire day's consumption) and 10 grams of saturated fat (about 50% of a day's supply), would seem to be a slap in the face to nutritionists - and nutrition advocates such as Michelle Obama - calling for more restraint from the nation's foodmakers.”
    KC's View:
    It sounds awful. I’m just amazed they could find a way to get congealed chicken gravy into the mix, just to make it really disgusting and unhealthy.

    Yuk.

    Published on: April 6, 2010

    • The Cincinnati Business Courier reports that Kroger is saying that “it will no longer be able to take a certain tax deduction as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, impacting its 2010 tax expense.

    In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said it won’t be able to deduct expenses it incurs to provide prescription drug coverage to retired employees, which are reimbursed under the Medicare Part D retiree drug subsidy program. Kroger said it now expects its fiscal 2010 tax expense to be about $1.5 million to $2 million higher than normal.”

    • The New York Times reports that Bumble Bee Foods is closing down the last sardine cannery in the United States - in Prospect Harbor, Maine - because of what it calls the “federal regulations that have reduced the amount of Atlantic herring, sardines before processing, that can be hauled from the sea.”

    The story notes that “once a thriving national industry - and the backdrop of John Steinbeck’s gritty “Cannery Row” - sardine canneries have been dwindling for the last half-century. They have fallen victim to global competition, corporate consolidations and a general lack of appetite, at least in the United States, for sardines, despite their nutritional value and attempts by chefs to give them an image makeover.”

    • In Massachusetts, the Patriot Ledger reports that Fresh Market is getting ready to open its first store in the state, a 23,500 square foot unit at The Launch at Hingham Shipyard on April 7.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 6, 2010

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 6, 2010

    • In a thrilling NCAA Men’s Basketball Final that went down to the final seconds, the Duke Univcersity Blue Devils beat the Butler University Bluedogs 61-59, to win the fourth championship in its history.

    • And, in the first full day of Major League Baseball regular season play, the NY Mets defeated the Florida Marlins 7-1, which meant that at the end of the day, the Mets were in a three-way tie for first place in the National League East, while the NY Yankees were tied with the Toronto Blue Jays for last place in the American League East.
    KC's View:
    I recognize that this positioning is highly unlikely to last. But here at MNB, where both Michael and I are Mets fans, we have to enjoy the moments as they happen.