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    Published on: August 13, 2010

    I think I have been living near Washington, DC, for too long.

    Driving through the Philadelphia area recently I saw two billboards with a simple white message on a black background: “I Hate Steven Singer!”

    So I assumed Singer had to be a member of Congress.

    I was wrong.

    Shawn Ravitz, a local retailer who was showing Kevin Coupe and me stores in the area on our way to a New York Mets-Philadelphia Phillies game, explained the details. Steven Singer, he said, is a local jewelry store and the billboards are a clever ad campaign. In fact, when I asked why people hate Steven Singer, Ravitz replied, “and the ad worked again.”

    I’m no advertising specialist, but I do understand the key is to make a lasting impression. Singer’s ads definitely do that, although sadly you don’t get the story behind the campaign unless you find just the right spot on the company’s website. (It involves an anniversary ring, a new child nine months later and a tired father/husband.) By using a creative billboard campaign, Singer no doubt has managed to establish his company’s presence in the marketplace and give it a clear identity, even if on first viewing the billboards are anything but clear.

    It reminds me of a great line from the original Pirates of the Caribbean movie, when a British officer pronounced Captain Jack Sparrow “the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of.”

    Sparrow’s response: “But you have heard of me.”

    And that’s my Friday morning Eye-Opener.

    - Michael Sansolo
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 13, 2010

    The Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal reports that Supervalu CEO Craig Herkert and a number of senior executives from human resources, technology, real estate, supply-chain services and finance have moved out of the company’s corporate headquarters and into leased space about a half mile away in the company’s East View Innovation Center, located in Best Buy’s former corporate headquarters.

    The move puts the executives in the same place as Supervalu’s top marketing and merchandising people, and Mike Siemienas, a Supervalu spokesman, tells the Journal that “we did this move to ensure cohesion among the executives by having them all in one location.”

    According to the story, “Inside the East View building, Supervalu built a mock store and a large number of test kitchens where it develops company-branded products.”
    KC's View:
    I could be cynical about this, and suggest that the best way to intimidate people and stifle innovation is to move in a bunch of senior executives (especially the finance guys).

    Or, I could be optimistic and say that maybe this is Supervalu’s way of trying to create a culture of innovation that permeates the company.

    Let’s go with the latter. It’s Friday, and I’m tired of being cynical.

    Published on: August 13, 2010

    USA Today reports this morning that OnStar, the vehicle communication system owned by General Motors, is out with a list of the most requested destinations during July 2010. They are, in order:

    • Walmart
    • Holiday Inn
    • Home Depot
    • Walgreens
    • Marriott
    • McDonald’s
    • Bank of America
    • Starbucks
    • Target
    • Hampton Inn

    OnStar also said that it had two million destination requests during July, up from 1.4 million during the same month a year earlier.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 13, 2010

    The New York Times reports that “doctors at three health centers in Massachusetts have begun advising patients to eat ‘prescription produce’ from local farmers’ markets, in an effort to fight obesity in children of low-income families. Now they will give coupons amounting to $1 a day for each member of a patient’s family to promote healthy meals.”

    According to the story, “Massachusetts was one of the first states to promote these markets as hubs of preventive health. In the 1980s, for example, the state began issuing coupons for farmers’ markets to low-income women who were pregnant or breast-feeding or for young children at risk for malnourishment. Thirty-six states now have such farmers’ market nutrition programs aimed at women and young children ... Although obesity is a complex problem unlikely to be solved just by eating more vegetables, supporters of the veggie voucher program hope that physician intervention will spur young people to adopt the kind of behavioral changes that can help forestall lifelong obesity.”

    The Times notes that “the pilot project plans to enroll up to 50 families of four at three health centers in Massachusetts that already have specialized children’s programs called healthy weight clinics,” and will run “until the end of the farmers’ market season in late fall.”
    KC's View:
    The question is what happens to these folks after the farmers’ markets close down to the winter. Do their improved eating habits persist? Or do they fall back into old habits?

    Maybe this is a place where supermarkets can step in and play a role. After all, a lot of stores are working to improve the connection between food and health, and this seems like a clear way to do it.

    Published on: August 13, 2010

    The Des Moines Register reports that Canada’s Alimentation Couche-Tard is criticizing c-store chain Casey’s General Stores “for a financing deal that the company said was intended largely to make Casey's more expensive to buy.

    “The statement, a response to Casey's announcement that it had found financing for a $500 million buyback of its stock, said the deal includes a ‘poison put’ feature that would require Casey's to pay noteholders about $95 million in penalties if any party acquires 35 percent or more of the shares. According to Couche-Tard, ‘the financing makes it almost $2 per share more expensive to acquire Casey's - that is $2 that would have gone to the shareholders but instead is designated for noteholders in the event of any such acquisition.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 13, 2010

    The San Francisco Chronicle reports on a move by that city’s government to ban the handing out of free toys with children’s meals that do not meet specific nutritional guidelines.

    According to the story, “The restrictions would pertain to all restaurants but effectively would target the dozens of fast-food establishments in the city, among them McDonald's, Jack in the Box and Burger King ... For example, no single item could contain more than 200 calories or 480 milligrams of sodium. An entire meal could have no more than 600 calories. That would wipe out all but a handful of the Happy Meal offerings at McDonald's - and none of those options include a small hamburger. Several meet the calorie count, but would fail on the sodium content.”

    “Our legislation will encourage restaurants that offer unhealthy meals marketed toward children and youth to offer healthier food options with incentive items or toys," Supervisor Eric Mar, chief sponsor of the legislation, tells the Chronicle. “It will help protect the public's health, reduce costs to our health care system and promote healthier eating habits.”

    The restaurant industry disagrees.

    “The San Francisco Board of Supervisors seems to have an insatiable appetite for punishing the restaurant industry. However, the widespread ridicule that this proposal will receive should give them a case of heartburn," says Daniel Conway, director of public affairs for the California Restaurant Association, adding, “Toy bans are only proven to disappoint kids, frustrate parents and generate headlines for ambitious politicians. The Board of Supervisors needs to stop gorging on political gimmicks and instead focus on creating jobs in their city."
    KC's View:
    There is, I think, an irony about all the restrictions that have either been passed or considered by the city of San Francisco.

    When I was there with my daughter a few weeks ago, I explained to her that I’d always thought of San Francisco as the place in the United States where anyone could go and fit in, because more than any other city it seems made up of people who might have trouble fitting in elsewhere; it has always struck me as one of the country’s least judgmental cities (along with New Orleans). It is one of the reasons that I love it.

    And yet, in some ways, it is becoming one of the country’s most restrictive cities when it comes to environmental and nutritional issues. Go figure.

    Published on: August 13, 2010

    The Chicago Tribune reports that litigation has been filed over the estate of Treasure Islands co-founder Christ Kamberos, who died last October at age 83.

    According to the story, “A daughter, Christi Kamberos Matthews ... is suing her stepmother and accusing her of scheming to reduce Kamberos Matthews' inheritance ... Kamberos Matthews claims the estate is worth ‘in excess of several million dollars,’ but said in the suit she didn't know exactly how much. She claims her stepmother, Maria A. Kamberos, who now runs Treasure Island, engaged in a decades-long scheme to manipulate Christ Kamberos into eliminating Kamberos Matthews as one of the major beneficiaries of his estate.

    Maria Kamberos has not yet commented on the suit.
    KC's View:
    I have no idea whether this lawsuit has any merit, but I have to admit that the name Christ Kamberos made me smile.

    I can remember years ago producing a piece for the old “Supermarket Insights” video series about Treasure Island, and he went on camera to explain that when he designed a store, he thought of it as the gentle and romantic seduction of the female shopper. It was this great sound bite - probably lost now, since the owners of “SI” saw fit to throw out all the tapes when they closed down the video division because they thought there was no future in video and that they should sink all their money into print magazines. (No, I’m not bitter...)

    Anyway, Kamberos was great. I’m sorry his family doesn’t see eye-to-eye.

    Published on: August 13, 2010

    • In Richmond, Virginia, WTVR News reports that Ahold-owned Martin’s Food Markets is closing down the six dry cleaning services that have been operating inside stores that it recently acquired from Ukrop’s. Ahold had acquired all 24 Ukrop’s stores, but only six of them had dry cleaners operated by Handcraft Cleaners.

    • In California, the Press-Enterprise reports that Stater Bros. Holdings “will hold off on opening new stores until the economy improves, but the company is digging its heels into existing markets by remodeling or rebuilding some stores and sacrificing profits to keep prices in check.”

    In a conference call with analysts, “Phillip Smith, executive vice president and chief financial officer for Stater Bros., said sales continue to be affected by intense competition and a tough economy, particularly in the Inland region, where unemployment hovers near 15 percent. Customers are coping by trading down on grocery items to manage a limited food budget -- for example, by opting for whole fryers instead of boneless skinless chicken breasts, he said. And the company is sacrificing short-term profits in order to retain customers through the downturn by maintaining consistent prices and service.”

    Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports that a group of KFC franchisees is revolting against the company’s emphasis beginning last year on grilled chicken and sandwiches that are perceived as being healthier for consumers, as opposed to the traditional fried fare on which the company built its business. They say that consumers are confused, and the franchisees are suing to get back control of their merchandising and marketing efforts.

    • The New York Times reports that negotiations between Barnes & Noble and Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa Cos., have broken down and “may leave Barnes & Noble open to a messy fight with one of its largest shareholders at a time when the company, the nation’s largest bookstore owner, is trying to sell itself. If Mr. Burkle wages a proxy fight and wins, he could gain considerable control over the company — and succeed in unseating Leonard Riggio, the company’s chairman and a probable bidder.

    It was expected as late as yesterday that the two sides were going to reach an accord.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 13, 2010

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 13, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning on the growing number of cooking camps in the US, where young people can learn and hone cooking skills. The trend seems to be a response both to foodie parents who are raising their kids to appreciate good food and know how to cook, as well as to the success of the Food Network.

    The story quotes author and cooking show host Devin Alexander as saying that “so many people now see cooking as a way to become a star. Before, if you wanted to be famous and you wanted to be on TV, you had to become an actress."

    I agree with her.

    But in some ways, I find this distressing. Because it speaks to the lure of reality television, and how so many people seem to make a priority of gaining their ten minutes of fame via one of these shows.

    Now, I have to admit something here. I never watch this stuff.

    I keep hearing about this person called “Snookie,” but I’m telling you that I could not pick her out of a police lineup if my life depended on it. I’m not even entirely sure why she is famous; I guess she’s on some show that is supposed to be about New Jersey, but it is like my inner radar keeps me from reading any stories about it, and I could not even tell you what cable channel it is on.

    “The Real Housewives of ...” is something that I never will watch.

    I don’t even like shows like “Survivor” or “American Idol,” though I’m aware of their existence and occasionally will watch a few minutes if my wife or daughter have them on.

    I know that I probably should know more about this stuff, but I can’t bring myself to look at it. If I want reality TV, I’ll watch news or sports.

    I have nothing against people who accomplish something and end up getting famous. But it is the yearning for fame for fame’s sake that I find to be just plain weird.

    And it does not speak well of our culture as a whole.

    Then again, maybe it is a reflection of an economy in which people get rich selling stuff, but not actually making stuff.

    “Inception” is an amazing movie - the kind of film that has people debating its meanings and ending long after they leave the movie theater. Even people who don’t love the Christopher Nolan film seem interested in talking about it afterwards. The look of the film is gorgeous and highly innovative, and you’ll wonder how some of the scenes were even shot. I do have one bit of advice - see it on a big screen with a great sound system. “Inception” is worth the effort.

    My 21-year-old son was amazed to find out the other day that I’d never seen an Angelina Jolie movie from start to finish. In fact, I was a little surprised by this - I’ve seen clips from a lot of her films, but none of them from start to finish.

    Which is why he took me to see “Salt,” which is a James Bond-Jason Bourne wannabe that is, nevertheless, very entertaining with enough twists and turns to keep the audience engaged and prepare the ground for possible sequels. Jolie is very good...though I have no idea why she’s become such an icon. Still, “Salt” is worth a visit, especially on a hot summer day when the cold air conditioning of a movie theater seems particularly inviting.

    To follow up on one thing mentioned by Michael in his “Eye-Opener”...many thanks to Shawn and Jason Ravitz, who took us to visit stores (including their ShopRite store in South Jersey), eat cheesesteaks at Tony Luke’s, and then to a New York Mets-Philadelphia Phillies game last Friday at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. We had a fabulous time right up until the eighth inning, when the Mets - in their inimitable fashion - gave up the lead.

    Great day...great night...and great guys. Thanks.

    I’m not sure which of the following things is more insulting.

    An MNB reader informed me yesterday that he knew of a “few supermarket executives” who have called me a “Pinko Commie.”

    This same MNB reader said that he believes that I write the things I write just to be outrageous, and that my “opinions are about as real as pro wrestling.”

    Actually, now that I write them down, I’m very sure which one is more insulting.

    The second one.

    You see, if someone reads MNB and thinks I am a “Pinko Commie” (a turn of the phrase which itself seems dated and anachronistic), then they aren’t paying attention ... or are so locked into their own ideological perspective that anyone who disagrees ends up being assigned a label that I assume they think is the worst kind of insult. Either way, I can live with this.

    But fake opinions?

    What have I ever done to deserve this?

    You may think I’m right, or you may think I’m wrong, but please rest assured that the opinions expressed here are authentic, hand-crafted opinions. Some people may like to say outrageous things just to get noticed (and in certain cases, draw attention to their consulting businesses), but that’s not the goal here.

    And that’s it for this week.

    Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

    Fins Up!

    KC's View: