retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: August 12, 2010

    Now available on iTunes…

    To hear Kevin Coupe’s weekly radio commentary, click on the “MNB Radio” icon on the left hand side of the home page, or just go to:

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

    I’ve been thinking a lot about that Jet Blue flight attendant who, after a dispute with a passenger, got on the public-address intercom and let loose a string of invectives, then grabbed two beers from the beverage cart, pulled the lever that activates the emergency-evacuation chute and slid down, having what can only be called a Howard Beale moment.

    A lot of attention has been paid to the flight attendant, and with justification. On the one hand, it may have been one of the best “I quit” moments ever, but it also pointed out how people on the front lines have the ultimate impact on how people perceive a company.

    But for a moment, let’s think about the customer, who, according to the reports, got up before the seat belt sign went off. She also hit the flight attendant on the head with her suitcase - one assumes by accident - and refused to apologize.

    What the hell is wrong with this woman?

    We’ve spent a lot of time here on MNB in recent weeks bemoaning the lack of civility in politics, which seems to make governing almost impossible from either side of the aisle. But maybe we ought to consider the possibility that political dysfunction is simply a reflection of how horribly people behave in general. The examples range from the mildly annoying to the truly disgusting.

    That woman on the airplane. Would it have killed her to stay in her seat for a few more minutes, or to apologize when she hit the poor flight attendant who was just trying to do his job? She must have thought so, because she seems to have behaved in a way that had absolutely no resemblance to compassionate, decent human conduct.

    I’ll give you another example, from the mildly annoying end of the spectrum. At the Whole Foods near our house, there is a row of parking spaces that is reserved for energy efficient cars - and almost without fail, when I drive by, at least half the spaces are taken up by SUVs that are not hybrids. Don’t these people read signs? Or don’t they care? I’m guessing it is the latter...which also make me think that the spaces reserved for pregnant people or families with small children are actually being used by single folks or empty nesters who don’t give a damn what the signs say.

    Some will say that this is a pretty benign violation of basic rules of civilized behavior. And it is. But things also get a lot worse.

    I see a lot of weird stories as I prepare every day for MNB. Like stories about people who tried to sell their kids in the parking lot of a Walmart.

    Or the story about the guy who recently was arrested in a Giant supermarket for going around using a small plastic bottle to spray women with - how shall I put this delicately? - his reproductive fluids and then take pictures of them with his cell phone.

    Or that story earlier this week about the woman who got abusive and hit two employees at a McDonald’s because it was too early to get the McNuggets she craved.

    Or another story about the guy working in a supermarket meat department who was discovered by a customer to be pleasuring himself behind the counter.

    I see this stuff all the time, in newspaper reports from all over the country. I never cease to be gobsmacked by them. But you read enough of these stories, which range from the awful to the truly disgusting, and you start to develop a really jaded view of the human condition.

    I like to think of myself as being guardedly optimistic about humanity’s future, but I’m getting less so lately. There are just too many examples of people behaving horribly toward each other, of only thinking of themselves, of crossing the line that separates decent people from animals.

    When that flight attendant swore at those airplane passengers, in some small way he was giving voice to a growing frustration that I think exists among many people with how our culture and civilization is going to hell in a hand basket.

    And we can’t blame it on politicians, or the media, or anyone other than ourselves.

    End of rant.

    For now.

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

    Published on: August 12, 2010

    If you have any doubts about the impact of a manager, make time to see Toy Story 3. It’s hard to recall another movie that so clearly delivered a story about how an embittered, mean-spirited boss can turn a workplace into a nightmare.

    Based on ticket revenue, the odds are that many of you have seen this delightful film that targets kids and adults with a wonderfully winning story. (In fact, I’m willing to bet that it will be the second consecutive Pixar animated film to get a best picture nomination next winter.) But since many of you haven’t seen it, I won’t divulge any details of the plot.

    This much I can share. When Kevin Coupe and I wrote The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies, we hoped managers and employees could use the book to find new and easy ways to deliver lessons in the workplace. I don’t know if the message is working nationally, but it took hold with my most important audience. That would be my 20-something daughter, who is new to the workplace.

    These days she asks me for the business lesson from every movie I see. After we went to Toy Story she did the same. While I talked about the impact of a negative manager, she did me one better and talked about how a well executed transition (in this movie between two kids and the toys) demonstrates how a great workplace can operate.

    And she’s right. The movie delivers a wonderful story on how an exiting manager can speed a transition with energy and information that works for the new manager and the entire team. It too is a lesson that every manager should see and consider.

    I guess those movies do have lessons.

    - Michael Sansolo
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 12, 2010

    The Chicago Tribune this morning reports that Target Corp. is in ongoing trouble with the gay community because of its perceived support of anti-gay causes.

    According to the story, Target has “apologized over its $150,000 donation to an organization backing a Republican candidate with a long record of opposing gay rights.” It also remains “locked in closed-door negotiations with largest gay activist organization in the country, the Human Rights Campaign, which is demanding that the giant retailer make an equivalent or greater donation to groups supporting equal rights candidates. And the group seems to have found a powerful lever: The threat to come out against the construction of two new stores that Target has planned in San Francisco – a city in which gay rights groups have exceptional political influence.”

    Target is promising to pay more attention to the organizations to which it donates money, but it may not be enough. The Human Rights Campaign has some negotiating power here, since, and the Tribune writes, the gay community has long embraced Target as a more progressive alternative to the famously conservative Walmart.
    KC's View:
    Yet more proof how transparent the world is these days. You have to be careful about pretty much everything you do, because if you make a mistake and alienate a segment of your customer base, you are almost always going to be called to account.

    Published on: August 12, 2010

    The Chicago Tribune reports that Mayor Richard Daley and executives at Walgreen have come to an agreement that will have the drug store chain “adding fresh fruit and vegetables at four stores by next week, bringing to 10 the number of such outposts on the city's South and West sides. Those impoverished areas of Chicago have been plagued by the lack of grocery stores after major chains closed some locations over the years.”

    The stores “will offer more than 750 new food items, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen meat and fish, pasta, rice, beans, eggs and whole-grain cereals,” the paper writes.

    "I want to thank Walgreens for its commitment to making Chicago a better place and helping Chicagoans to live healthier lives," Daley said at a press conference outside one of the stores.

    Mark Wagner, Walgreens executive vice president of operations and community management, added: “Walgreens has taken great pride in meeting the needs of Chicago communities since opening our first store on the city’s South Side 109 years ago. Today, we couldn’t be more pleased to provide additional basic staples that will inevitably help improve health outcomes for many in these previously underserved communities.”

    The move by Walgreen comes as Walmart has brokered a deal with the unions and the city that will allow it to build dozens of stores in different formats around the city.
    KC's View:
    The picture in the Tribune, which features Daley and a Walgreen exec walking down the amply stocked food aisle of a Walgreen store, sends a powerful message - that this drug store chain offers an oasis in the food desert. Since expectations are that Walmart will take much the same approach, one has to wonder what the mainstream supermarket chains are thinking...

    Published on: August 12, 2010

    ABC News reports that a number of California wineries are concerned about “the Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act, a bill in Congress which ensures that states retain control of alcohol laws.” The proposed law would address a Supreme Court ruling six years ago that allowed for direct shipment of alcohol across state lines, and would reassert state’ rights in this area.

    However, according to the story, “California's smaller wineries and microbreweries think the proposal opens the door to prohibiting shipments of wine or beer to out-of-state consumers and forces them to use wholesalers if they want their products sold beyond state borders. A wholesaler, though, might not want to represent a business that does not make him a lot of money ... Being cut out could mean fewer choices and higher prices for consumers. And for California's small alcohol producers, they would lose a chunk of their business.

    “Shipping is key to many of California's smaller wineries. According to marketing and research firm Wines and Vines, California accounted for 75 percent of all wines shipped directly to consumers in the last year.”

    The legislation is supported by the wholesaling business. Both sides, ABC reports, are ramping up their lobbying and political contribution efforts.
    KC's View:
    Two points here.

    First of all, it is typical of certain kinds of businesses that, faced with a reality that means they’ll have to offer more and give consumers greater choice as a way of competing, decide instead to invest in passing legislation that will curtail choice. Rather than competing, they choose to try to restrict the competition.

    Second, this strikes me as really, really dumb legislation. The Supreme Court made a decision, and the system right now is working for consumers and allows small businesses to compete on a level playing field with bigger players. So why mess with it? (Because highly paid lobbyists tell them to...)

    Published on: August 12, 2010

    Sainsbury said this week that it is rolling out "eco-friendly milk bags and jugs across its entire product range in a multi-million pound move to reduce the carbon footprint of milk consumption,” according to a story in the Guardian.

    The bags - which fit inside a plastic reusable jug also sold by Sainsbury - are said to have the potential to save more than three million pounds of packaging every year; the retailer said that tests have suggested that the bags have proven to be twice as popular as expected.

    The Guardian also reports that Tesco plans to begin testing the milk bag concept this week.
    KC's View:
    I’d try this if my local store offered it. It is sort of like reusable canvas bags - I’m willing to change my behavior if it strikes me as good for the environment.

    Published on: August 12, 2010

    • As reported earlier this year, Tesco is releasing next month the film adaptation of the Jackie Collins novel “Paris Connections,” a direct-to-DVD production in part produced by the retailer and available exclusively in its stores.

    The company plans to also make a version of Judy Blume’s “Tiger Eyes,” and also reportedly has signed deals with authors Phillip Pullman and Felix Francis. Tesco is working on the video series with Ileen Maisel, a former New Line Cinema producer, who says that “the film industry needs to recognize that the paradigm has changed. Our responsibility is to provide different kinds of content to the consumer” in different kinds of venues.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 12, 2010

    Emboldened by the success of its Kindle, reportedly is “looking into building other gadgets that it could sell to consumers.”

    According to a New York Times story, sources say that “building more hardware products would be a means to an end,” and that “Amazon wants to make more devices for consumers that would enable simple purchasing of Amazon content including its digital books, music and movie rentals and purchases.”

    The Times suggests that while there is some internal frustration at Amazon that its hardware plans are not further along - especially as other companies ranging from Apple to Google seem to be introducing new products - it remains entirely possible that Amazon could introduce movie and music players, and even cell phones.
    KC's View:
    It is all about control. (This is the Apple lesson.) If you offer both the hardware and the software, and they add up to a compelling consumer experience, then you have the chance to lock in user loyalty for an extended period of time.

    There is a question that needs to be answered about whether single-use devices are the way of the future. Is the Kindle viable in the long-term when things like the iPad are more versatile?

    I honestly don’t know. I love my Kindle. I cannot imagine giving it up, even when I eventually get an iPad. But you never know.

    Published on: August 12, 2010

    • Market analysis from comScore suggests that US online sales during the second quarter were up nine percent to $32.9 billion, the third consecutive quarter of increased e-commerce. According to the figures released by comScore, upper income households (those making more than $100,000 a year) increased their online spending 17 percent, or almost twice the national overall growth.
    KC's View:
    Adding to the general sense that whatever recovery has taken place has been a lot better for rich folks than for the less affluent.

    Published on: August 12, 2010

    • Price Chopper Supermarkets announced its partnership with Hudson, N.Y.-based Local Ocean and, in doing so, the company said, “became the first supermarket retailer in the nation to provide customers with the opportunity to purchase the progressive company’s sustainable, ‘locally grown’ sea bream.”

    Lee French, Price Chopper’s Vice President of Seafood Merchandising, said, “The sea bream will be delivered fresh from Local Ocean’s facility to our stores in less than 24 hours, which further clarifies Price Chopper’s deep commitment both to sustainability and to providing the ‘Best in Fresh’ and locally grown products to our customers.”

    • The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that “Barnes & Noble Inc. is expected to soon announce the settlement of a lawsuit filed by investor Ronald Burkle, who challenged the legality of a "poison pill" plan that would have prevented him from buying more shares of the company, people familiar with the matter said Wednesday.

    “As part of the settlement, Barnes & Noble will add two independent directors to the board, in addition to a director affiliated with Yucaipa Cos., the investment firm run by Mr. Burkle, these people said.”

    Yucaipa is Barnes & Noble’s second largest shareholder. Barnes & Noble reportedly is exploring a possible sale of the company after a long stretch of quarters with declining sales and profits.

    Bloomberg reports that “ Kraft Foods Inc., the world’s biggest confectioner after buying Cadbury Plc, will start making Tang and chocolate next year at a new $50 million plant in Brazil, fueling expansion in faster-growing developing markets.

    The move is part of Chief Executive Officer Irene Rosenfeld’s strategy to use Cadbury’s strength in those regions and prove to investors that the merger makes sense. Kraft now gets about one-quarter of its almost $50 billion in sales from emerging markets because of Cadbury.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 12, 2010

    A couple of telling responses to yesterday’s announcement by Supervalu that the president of its New England-based Shaw’s supermarket chain, Mike Witynski, is departing the company “to pursue other interests,” and will be succeeded by Larry Wahlstrom, the former president of the chain who was himself replaced by Witynski a year ago.

    One MNB user wrote:

    WE ALL CHEERED WHEN WE HEARD LARRY WAS BACK.  But upset a few more were not escorted out. We hope Larry cleans up the Witynski mess and takes out a few of the people still left at Shaw's that helped him orchestrate his "Playbook" for failure.

    Another hope is that this is not a quick fix until SUPERVALU can just dump Shaw's. We were once the jewel in the crown for Sainsbury and Albertsons and we could be again for SUPERVALU. We only hope the proper cleaning up in West Bridgewater and moving on is done.

    I hope things work out for you. But I would be remiss if I did not point out that not everyone would agree with your characterization of Shaw’s as anyone’s “jewel in the crown.” But I’m glad you feel that way about the place where you work.

    In my commentary yesterday, I said that Supervalu seems to be a company in turmoil, which led another MNB user to write:

    To say that Supervalu is a company in turmoil or that people are trying to understand Herkert's vision is a serious understatement.  Led by an executive team that is largely new to retail (except for Herkert) the company is floundering, jumping from one quick fix idea to the next, never really addressing the systemic issues in the business.  Recruiters are finding Eden Prairie to be fertile hunting grounds as people at all levels are updating their resumes.  Betting pools have already started in the office on how long certain recent high profile hires will last.  There is still much that is good at Supervalu, but turning sales around is going to take a discipline and long term focus that has been missing from the business since pre-Albertson's acquisition days.  And a strategy other than cost cutting.

    The people who work at Supervalu and, especially, Shaw’s, can reassure themselves this way:

    At least they don’t work for A&P.
    KC's View: