retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Responding to yesterday’s story about Procter & Gamble’s decision to roll out its Tide Dry Cleaners concept after a successful test, one MNB user remained skeptical:

I'll stick my neck out and predict that Tide Dry Cleaners will meet the same fate as General Food's Hardy's and Borden's Borden Burger fast food restaurant chains.   In recent years attempts to launch chains of funeral homes and florists have also floundered. 

Moreover, the trend towards clothing that does not require dry cleaning and more casual business attire would indicate that dry cleaning is a declining industry.

Regarding a study suggesting that gas prices continue to affect other spending, though not as much as a year ago, MNB user Steven Barry wrote:

This sounds like just another distraction from what are problems really are.  You could associate these numbers with just about factor.   The real problem remains jobs and the roll Washington is playing in slowing or stalling any type of rebound.

We had a piece yesterday about A&P’s continuing troubles, which it may try to address by selling Food Emporium, one of the few “jewels” it has left. I’m not sure it makes sense to sell something that works, though that may be one of the few options left for the troubled retailer. One MNB user wrote:

A&P has a history of taking the money from the disposition of their A&P Canada group and Farmer Jack’s and squandering it.  I doubt that they will do more than postpone the inevitable by keeping the company afloat for another year or two with the cash from Food Emporium.  Food Emporium is the only chain that really provides a great customer experience and is a “temple to food” as Mario Batali would say.  It is in the market where A&P has leading market share; and it is the chain that the rest of A&P could really learn from.  Better that they should sell the Super Fresh stores in Philadelphia to Angelo Gordon to be a southern extension of Kings (Judy Spiers knows Philly) or the Long Island Pathmarks to Fairway (they will eventually get to Long Island and kick their butt anyway) and convert the Waldbaums on Long Island to Food Emporiums.  At least they would have a defensible plan to move forward.  A&P has been selling their stores in DC/Balt for 10 years.  The ones that they still own are the ones that they thought were worth more than people were willing to pay.   The problem is, these stores are now worth far less than the value they would have received 10 years ago. They need to sell the dogs and invest in the stars; not the other way around.

Regarding the California State Senate’s decision not to adopt a statewide ban on plastic disposable shopping bags, MNB user Jim Veregge wrote:

Kevin, the grocery industry's main "gripe" regarding these types of ridiculous laws is that grocery stores are being the only ones targeted.  Convenience stores, electronics stores, fast-food restaurants and others that use plastic bags are conveniently left out of the narrowly targeted legislation.  If these laws apply to your local neighborhood grocery store, then they should also apply to all other businesses that use the same type of plastic bags (probably produced by the same plastic bag manufacturers).  Kudos to you for "walking the talk" in terms of using cloth bags when you visit the grocery store; this needs to catch-on with others.

One question though: do you also take those bags with you when you visit non-grocery stores to purchase product?

I agree - such laws need to apply to everyone.

And yes, I do ... not always, but as often as I remember, which is fairly frequently. And I try to do better.

And, about my personal use of canvas shopping bags, one MNB user wrote:

I also carry a Reisenthel Market Basket, a collapsible basket. You can easily see what’s in your basket and not have to worry about those pesky germs on the store’s baskets. Check them out. They should be one of your sponsors…

From your lips...

I’ll check them out.

Of course, not everyone is so enlightened. One MNB user wrote:

Finally the govt. got defeated in something. Praise the lord. As for me I will NEVER bring my own bags to the grocery store and yes I use plastic.

Fascinating how you invoke “the lord” in making a statement that some of us would view as tantamount to saying, “screw the environment, I’ll do whatever I want and is convenient for me.”

Of course, not everybody views the choice that way. Nor the lord, for that matter.

And another MNB user wrote:

Right on Kevin…use your bags because you think it’s the right thing to do, that’s grass roots.  As far as the millions of ad dollars being dumped to “convince” the shopper plastic is good…well the eternal struggle of good vs. evil goes on.

Yesterday’s Eye-Opener concerned the likelihood that the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary will be online only, which led one MNB user to write:

Your eye opening comment on the Oxford English Dictionary going digital comes just days after my boss commented on the fact that I have a dictionary on my desk. He didn't find it odd that I use one, more the fact that I use a physical dictionary rather than one on-line.  I have to say that I often look up words that pop into my head in order to make sure that I am using them correctly. When I do so I find it so convenient to just reach over and grab my 10th edition of the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. I'm not sure if I can find words any quicker in the book vs. on-line, but I get kick out of thumbing through the pages and seeing all of the words that I have looked up in the past (because I underline every word that I look up in red ink). An on-line dictionary would be convenient, but it just wouldn't give me that same feeling of consulting a wise old friend.

MNB user Richard Thorpe wrote:

Love to hear your view (thoughts) on whether all books/mags/newspaper eventually being 100% digital will further divide our society. Technology costs and many American families cannot afford internet access at home. Therefore, we must increase our availability of access at libraries and schools, government buildings and perhaps even private businesses. This will cost society (taxes). If we separate our populace we risk much in a free society.

Seems to me that we are rapidly reaching the point where internet access is going to be like indoor plumbing and electricity - a standard utility that every household will need to have in order to survive.

Will this cost money? Sure. But I’d consider it an investment in the future. In one of those houses, some kid will get access to the internet, which will spark his or her imagination, which will lead to the kind of innovation that will keep our nation relevant and vibrant. If we don’t make the investment, we risk falling to the wayside.

All sorts of folks like to talk about “American exceptionalism,” as if it is some perpetual right. I’ve always believed that it is something to be earned, every day...and when you start considering it a right as opposed to a privilege, it is the first step down the path to complacency and national decline.

I referred to the paper and ink that make up a traditional dictionary as mere wrapping paper - that what is important is the words and the communication of knowledge. Which led one MNB user to write:

Sort of like accepting that high quality wine will one day only be offered in a box because it is more environmentally friendly, will keep better if unused and uses less store space to merchandise.  The bottle and cork are simply wine’s “wrapping paper.”  While I agree that a box does not seem as romantic as a bottle, what difference is there really between wine from a box poured into a craft and placed on the table and an actual bottle, as long as it is a quality vintage?   The simple truth is, like a dictionary’s mission is to educate people about words, wine’s mission is to bring enjoyment to those that drink it responsibly.

Welcome back from vacation, I’m not trying to take a cheap shot, but simply wanted to point out that all of us have things of the past that we cling to in a changing world.  The important part is to not allow those feelings interfere with making intelligent business decisions.

Point taken.

Am I entirely consistent on these issues? Of course not.

I can wax rhapsodic about the romance of corked wine bottles until the cows come home, but I recognize in my heart that maybe I’m becoming something of an anachronism. Hey, I still buy physical books from specific authors because I want their reassuring presence in my hands and eventually on my shelves...and I still get the newspaper delivered each day because I love that experience.

But I accept the inevitable. And try to move with it, best I can.

Which is all any of us can do.

And, we continue to get email about my Lone Ranger joke and the lesson I think it teaches about generational communications.

MNB user Ted File wrote:

Oh boy, you hit the hammer right on the head.    For some time when our kids were growing I told them about the Burma Shave boards on the highways and they said "Burma Who?"    But when I told them some of the messages on the signs they said WOW those are great and it added a little fun to the drive.   Then there was Hap Harrington, Gulliver's Travel and many kids books still lying around the house that my dear wife is hoping that some day some child will want them.    But guess my wife will some day give them away as memories of days gone by. But that is life isn't it?

And I loved this email from an MNB user:

I was in a presentation about a new database management application.  The presenter closed his 25 minute pitch a compelling summary of all the new capabilities and ended with the line, “so Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

A gentleman in the front--an Indian national--raised his hand and politely asked when the business was moved out of Kansas and for what reason.

An excellent point. There are cultural divides as well as generational divides, and we have to be aware of them.
That’s not to say that we throw away all those allusions and touchstones. Far from it. (Look at all the pop culture references that I throw into MNB, knowing that a certain percentage audience of the audience may not know what I’m talking about. But that’s what Google is for...and I try to explain the references and metaphors whenever necessary.)

All I am saying here is that it makes sense to understand the cultural languages of the people with whom we are trying to communicate, so we don’t end up talking to ourselves.
KC's View: