retail news in context, analysis with attitude

We continue to get email about my rave for Jimmy Buffett’s free concert down on the Gulf Shores, which was used to create tourist enthusiasm for an area devastated by the BP oil spill. Some folks objected to my enthusiasm because they are upset that Buffett blamed, in addition to BOP, the Bush administration for having allowed vampires to run the blood bank (to use his metaphor). I actually think that there is plenty of blame to go around when it comes to allowing what I termed “corporate greed and mismanagement” to run amok and cause the spill through irresponsible behavior.,

And again, some folks object to my language.

MNB user Tom Devlin wrote:

While  Jimmy Buffet blamed Bush for the BP mess, he forgot to mention the other Presidents as well and the millions of Americans that keep asking to stop depending of foreign oil.... Lastly, he also forgot to mention the millions he invested in a hotel that his killing his business. I am a HUGE Buffet fan but he is a business man as well.

He’s hardly been hiding the fact that he owns the new hotel in is all over the news, and he’s been saying that he’s standing up for the businesses there because, in part, he is one of them. One thing that Jimmy Buffett doesn’t seem to have is a hidden agenda.

Another MNB user wrote:

While I too wish there was blame all around - there isn't.  I doesn't really matter, does it?   At this point, 90 days plus in, the oil is still flowing and the gulf is getting worse by the day.   There's no sense of urgency on anyone's part - especially the government.   Worse, even, the government forced yet another burden on 200,000 direct (not including indirect) jobs by yet again trying to halt drilling with no apparent reason other than to pander to the political left.  All is beside the point.

The problem is, child of the gulf and all, that if the motivation were honorable (and I believe it was) one might consider that tact of 'Shut up and sing'.  Honorable or not, folks came to listen, forget only for a moment the disaster surrounding them that will burden them for decades.   His statements opened the door to question the motivation as being other than its purest of intent (which I am sure it was).

Recently, amidst the disaster, yet another entertainer (of unmatched stature)  blasted a former president while being honored at the White House.   A bonehead thing to do.   He probably always was one.   Maybe I didn't want to believe he was because of the mystical magic around his music and wanted to believe otherwise.  I held out hope while knowing otherwise because I wanted the music to still feel the same.  Somehow, it doesn't.  He stepped way down several notches in respect in my view.   Sad.   We're all imperfect, but we do, I think hold out hope otherwise sometimes for some figures. (Right or wrong, its reality.)

Somehow following the 9/11 disaster and the political fallout that emerged it became easier to divide rather than to unite and conquer.  I'm not so sure how we got here.  Its not a proud place to be.   A wonderful night of music void of political banter might have seemed much more honorable.  It wasn't a night without it.  It leaves one to question.  It shouldn't.  It does.

Just as with McCartney, Buffett dropped down a notch.  Not because of his views, but because it was a time where those that came and those that watched wanted to forget, enjoy, and slip into music if only for one night knowing full well what faced them the next day.   They needed no reminder of it or the political divisions rather than solutions surrounding the whole disaster.  Its pathetic on all parts.

There's no room for silence of political speech - period.   Yet, there is a time to 'Shut up and sing'.   He missed his time.   We all needed it.  Had we had it, we wouldn't be discussing anything other than what a great night and what a great benefit for those impacted it was.  It was; wasn't it?

(Thanks for causing us all to think daily.  Agree or disagree its always fun and worthy of thought.   Thanks for being there daily.)

Another MNB user chimed in:

No supporter of BP, but “corporate greed”…we need oil and almost of its by-products to support our economy… not sure oil companies are any more greedy than Walmart or John’s Corner Drugstore or Kevin’s Coffee Shoppe. 
Mismanagement is another story…

Do we need oil right now? Of course. Has our need for oil potentially put us in an untenable situation, in terms of the economy, the environment, and national security? Seems pretty obvious to me. Have we done enough as a nation - going back to the oil crises of the late seventies - to find alternative energy sources and use them? I think not.

Corporate greed , it seems to me, is the least that BP can be accused of. It seems pretty clear that the company cut corners as a way of maximizing profit. This isn’t a knee-jerk response...just one that seems logical because of the environmental disaster that BP has caused in the Gulf.

(And, by the way, it seems clear that BP is facing another potential PR nightmare, as there are questions being raised about the company’s role in helping to negotiate the early release of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the former Libyan intelligence officer who was convicted of murder for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Megrahi was said to be suffering from prostate cancer and was not expected to live more than three months; a year after his release, he is still alive and kicking, and it appears that BP negotiated the release as a way of clearing the way so it could get permission to drill for oil in Libya’s Gulf of Sidra. If these accusations end up being correct, it will define the company’s level of corporate greed as having reached astonishing new levels. But some folks will probably disagree with that...)

Knowing where to assign blame is important, because it allows you to understand the circumstances that led to a specific situation, and make changes.

Onto other subjects...

Regarding some of the positioning shifts taking place at Walmart, one MNB user wrote:

I think anyone who has worked for or is working for WalMart understands clearly that is a huge company and one that the world watches its every move. As well everyone knows that the company will and must changes as the CUSTOMER needs and wants change. We all know that from time to time people from the outside will be added to add value. I think Mr. Sam would agree with all of these statements, as in fact he did just that, with Jim Donald being a great example of bring outside talent in.

With this said the difference is that Mr. Sam and past leaders such as Mr. Glass allowed many in management to make decisions. Past leaders LISTENED to management and the customers rather than appointing a group of 4 that were the committee that knew all and made all the decision. When Jim Donald joined the company he added value from day one. Not by trying to change the company but by understanding it. He help take hi low pricing to EDLP ( which I might add is now gone and so is Jim). He didn’t bring “baggage” of food ideas that other retailers he had worked for to WalMart. Jim and other food executives rather took basic food skills and knowledge and helped Walmart to build one of the largest food business in the US from the ground up. Look at what they did - case ready meat, new produce trays, best selling store brand in the US, and the list goes on.

But what have the recent folks brought to the company? Hi / Low pricing, asking for marketing and advertising money, their” baggage” from the companies they worked for and note many many of them are NOT from retailers, but from the other side of the table - suppliers like Kraft, Pepsi, and P&G. They were brought in to “help”, hum didn’t know that all that much back then was broken and seems to me they haven’t helped much. A concern one must have today is that the company under current leadership has the company going in a total new direction that the suppliers ,associates and customers don’t like nor understand ...

MNB user Bob McMath wrote:

As a long time stockholder (very small holdings) and shopper at Walmart, we have been surprised to see the changes that Walmart is making in its stock. One of our local stores in Oceanside, California -- only recently built -- has undergone a major revamp for the past few months. The way the shelves have been replaced makes it more appealing as an entrance -- but the cosmetics and things you have to walk through now are of absolutely no interest to me, and of little interest to my wife. But they make an interesting= approach!

We have noted that the stock of things we normally purchase has disappeared, too. Some shampoo items I want for my gray hair, and moisturizers, etc., have gone, or are presently in such low stocking numbers, that I can look for them and they are not there.

Some of the departments have been split, so looking for some household items in what department you would think they would be in -- they are not. Several times now, I have had to walk around most of the store to find what I wanted -- if it was there. A range of drain cleaners, for example, has been reduced to only one or to.

I also find that in asking clerks where something might be found, often they no longer know, either. And worst of all, their pricing policies are apparently increasing. I used to NEVER find a local supermarket with a lower price -- but that is no longer true. And low priced greeting cards we liked to purchase from Walmart are no longer evident. I guess they decided that if I want a card, I'll pay whatever they want to charge.

As a shopper and a stockholder, I no longer enjoy my shopping there. Now if I need something, Jean and I will purchase it at Stater Bros nearby when we shop, instead of saving it for a shopping visit to the Walmarts farther away. They have my prescription business, but I no longer save much of anything else until I am going over for a pick-up. But given the three months policy, my trips are much fewer and my purchases are much lower now.

Wake up, Walmart.

I know one thing. You just made Jack Brown’s day.

Regarding a new iPad app about cooking and nutrition launched by Kraft, one MNB user wrote:

Wasn’t Kraft’s Lunchables a favorite target of Jamie Oliver in his Food Revolution reality TV series aimed and changing and challenging the mindsets of parents, schools, and kids about food and healthy eating?  Maybe I’ve become jaded over the years but having a Kraft iPad app isn’t going to shave any inches off America’s collective waistline. I’d venture to say that the Brand Manager for Lunchables is directly compensated, bonused and motivated by the performance of that line.  That app is like lipstick on a pig.  Call me when Kraft takes Lunchables off the shelf and Kraft promotes Broccoli, Spinach or Carrots first.

MNB user Ken Thornton had some thoughts about a story detailing years of mismanagement at Kmart:

One major piece missing in this story , a company by the name of Pace Membership Warehouse , owned by K-Mart.     It was highly profitable and successful  warehouse club ,until Kmart management started to meddle.     We ( Pace)were aware what Sam Walton was up to , and told Kmart management.   But as with everything else they blew us off.

We’ve had an extended here discussion about the future of the post office, postcards, and other vestiges of times past. And it continues...

MNB user Carla Baughman wrote:

How about one last perspective… I love sending postcards to friends and family back home. Not so much to make them jealous, but it gives me the time to sit down at a lovely sidewalk café in Paris and pass the time.

Another MNB user wrote:

This is my first time writing in. However, there were two points made that I believe needed to be addressed. One I believe there will always be a need for the post office (or some version of it). Packages will need to be delivered and invitations or thank you cards will need to be sent. For example, can you imagine your daughter sending an Evite to her friends and your family regarding her future wedding? I just do not see that happening now or in the future. Likewise, you mention that postcards will be dead as Super 8 MM film. I think that is not the case as well. I think there is possibly a romantic notion of sending postcards in foreign countries and receiving postcards from foreign countries. In particular this experience is not replicated via an email or a Facebook posting. Or the joy that a grandson or granddaughter would get from sending or receiving a postcard from a grandparent. I believe there will always be a need and a place for such mail services, but I agree they may not be the same or in the same form as today. Likewise, you mentioned the reinvention of the post office in Ireland. It is interesting that the Irish Post has more services than our US Postal Service, such as being a bank.

MNB user Deborah J. Maestu wrote:

I think you are right about postcards going the way of Super 8, 8 track tapes, etc. Actual books will go someday soon - sure there will always be a "boutique" appeal for a certain number of hard copy books. There is absolutely something beautiful about the feel of a new book, the turning of the page, etc. But it will be a luxury item, not an everyday purchase.  There is always a market for the necessities of past generations.  Check last Sunday's NY Times article on actual jousting tournaments in the US and around the world.

You’re right, there will always be a role for some sort of post office. But will it be the current structure? Or something different? I’d bet the latter. Not sure what the structure will be, but it is an unsustainable business model in its current form. I’m only suggesting that to raise postal rates by two cents, or to eliminate one day of delivery, as a way of closing the budget gap is like putting a band-aid on a fatal wound.

Sure, there are jousting tournaments. But would you use the concept as a model for a progressive business concept? I think not. Romantic notions are fine, as are niche businesses. But I’m not sure that this is the model for a 21st century postal service.

One other thing. I think it would be fine to get an e-invitation to a wedding. It wouldn’t bother me at all.

But maybe that’s just me.
KC's View: