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    Published on: September 10, 2010

    It is one of the great mysteries of the hospitality business.

    In expensive hotels, you pay for internet access - often through the nose. But in moderate or even discount hotels, the Wi-Fi access is usually free.

    What’s interesting about this is a new JD Power & Associates survey that shows that free Wi-Fi is the most important thing to hotel guests - no matter how wealthy they are and how luxurious the hotel they are patronizing.

    (It is a good guess that this survey was conducted before the recent outbreak of bedbugs around the US. Lack of bedbugs in the sheets and mattresses has probably leapt to number one these days.)

    But the luxury hotel chains seem unwilling to change their policies. They say they’re discussing options, but nobody has made the first move. (When one does, you have to figure that the rest will follow.) The reason is easy to guess. They used to make a lot of money from phone call charges, but that revenue stream has gone away since everybody brings their own cell phones. So they had to replace it, and internet access seemed like the best choice.

    They’re thinking about themselves. Not about their customers.

    It is important, I think, for every business to examine their own policies and ask themselves, how many things do they do that are good for them...but not necessarily good for their customers - even when customers are on the record about how much they dislike the policies.

    Betcha it happens more than you think.

    And that’s my Friday Eye-Opener.

    - Kevin Coupe
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 10, 2010

    Publishers Weekly reports on how HE Butt is aggressively marketing children’s books, focusing on literacy as an important cause, and turning some of its stores into important stops for children’s authors on book tours.

    The magazine writes:

    “‘I’m always looking for children’s events,’ says Jim Dahlen, senior buyer, publishing and audio/video electronics. ‘Our whole culture for the company is family and community.’ That translates into 16 feet of children’s books in 140 out of 300 HEB grocery stores in Texas. ‘I don’t just want coloring books. I want young children reading in our store,’ Dahlen adds, citing studies indicating that the number one reason for low children’s literacy in the state of Texas is the lack of reading material in the home. Based on his own research, he’s found that if HEB stocks inexpensive children’s books - mostly Golden Books and paperbacks - people will buy.
    “‘Literacy for me is important, because I love my company and the future for any company is having an educated work force. With all the video and gaming, a lot of kids have forgotten how important reading is,’ says Dahlen.”

    The story goes on:

    “At the end of July, HEB opened its first children’s literacy center inside its store in Tomball. The 300 sq. ft. space, located between toys and publishing, is dedicated to children’s reading. Parents can see their kids sitting at tables or lying on the floor reading, but it’s outside the traffic area. No shopping carts are allowed.

    “Not every store or community is large enough to support a literacy center, but those that can will also have programming every weekend aimed at children. When the Laredo store is remodeled later this year, it will add a literacy center, too. And Dahlen is also beginning to experiment with ways to promote adult literacy.”
    KC's View:
    I love this story. I love it when retailers go beyond the simple selling of food and establish for themselves a mission that makes sense as well as sales.

    It is only through literacy that we learn, we grow, we are exposed to ideas other than our own and we come to grips with the world around us. And, by the way, we become smarter people and even better customers.

    Published on: September 10, 2010

    Bloomberg reports that Wegmans will offer free replacement reusable bags to customers who bought more than 725,000 bags at its stores that have been found to have high lead content.

    According to the company, notices will be posted in its stores and on its website today.

    The move came after the Empire State Consumer Project in Rochester found that the original bags had a lead content eight times higher than that allowed by New York law.

    Wegmans spokesman Jo Natale said that the retailer was not aware of the state regulations and is now rewriting its internal standards based on New York law.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 10, 2010

    Reuters reports that Walmart’s new US CEO, Bill Simon, has decided not to replace John Fleming, the former chief merchandising officer, who left the company on August 1, as he tries to reverse a period of sluggish sales increases.

    Instead, Simon told employees in an email that there will be “four merchandising areas to be led by ‘seasoned merchants’.”

    According to the story, “The four merchandising units are general merchandise and replenishment; food; softlines; and a group that includes consumables, health and wellness and

    “The executive vice presidents heading those segments, respectively, are John Westling, Jack Sinclair, Andy Barron and Duncan MacNaughton, who was brought in from Walmart Canada. Westling and Sinclair have been with the company since 1988 and 2008, respectively, and Andy Barron since 1993.

    “The executives will report directly to Simon.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 10, 2010

    • The Financial Times reports Tesco is “experimenting with further beefing up its Clubcard loyalty scheme as it fights to boost sales growth in its home market. Britain’s biggest retailer has issued high-spending Clubcard holders with a coupon to earn triple points on their shopping. The move follows a scheme to let customers double the value of Clubcard vouchers in certain product areas ... The move has raised questions among some analysts as to whether Tesco is considering a more permanent shift from double to triple points to continue the sales momentum from the loyalty scheme last year.”
    KC's View:
    The question seems to be whether Tesco, which has seen some slight UK market share slippage in recent quarters, is trying to “buy” new customers through these Clubcard promotions.

    Published on: September 10, 2010

    The Washington Post had a fascinating piece the other day about how the owners of the Gallery Place mall there were concerned about teenagers loitering and causing trouble at one of its entrances. And so they bought a gizmo called The Mosquito that “emits a high-pitched, headache-inducing sound that only young ears can hear.”

    The technology is having mixed success, according to the story - it annoys some young people, while others feel less bothered, and some older people are able to hear it as well.
    KC's View:
    I’m fascinated by the notion of using technology to chase potential customers away ... though I guess the real targets are kids who won’t be spending any money at the mall. But isn’t the real problem that these kids have no place to go, no jobs that they can work at, and maybe even no parents who care enough to monitor their behavior and make sure they’re doing something more productive than loitering at a mall?

    Published on: September 10, 2010

    Bloomberg reports on a study from he University of Texas in Austin
    and Stanford University, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, saying that “drinking two or three glasses of wine, beer or cocktails daily helped older adults live longer than teetotalers.” The study found that “moderate and heavy drinkers were less likely to die than abstainers over 20 years ... Moderate drinkers were defined as having one to two a day while heavy drinkers had three or more daily.”

    The Bloomberg story notes that “older adults who didn’t drink at all had a 49 percent greater risk of dying during the 20 years of the study than those who drank moderately, the researchers found. Heavy drinkers had a 42 percent increased risk of dying compared with moderate drinkers.”

    According to the story, “the results refuted a common criticism of previous findings that results were skewed when researchers included former problem drinkers with poor health in the abstainers group. The results held up even after excluding results from past problem drinkers those with poor health status such as obesity.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 10, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal reports on a new age vending machine in Tokyo:

    “Inside the bustling Shinagawa train station here, a futuristic-looking vending machine has replaced rows of drink bottles and cans with a 47-inch touch-screen monitor. When a person stands in front of the screen, a camera captures his image and a sensor determines the person's gender and approximate age. Based on that reading, the machine ‘recommends’ drinks that fit the customer's profile.”

    In other words, the vending machine is actually looking back at the customer, and “the idea is to transform billboards and the like into sophisticated marketing tools that identify and target a specific audience ... using facial-recognition technology that can determine how many people looked at a particular display, their gender and even their level of attentiveness.”
    KC's View:
    This is cool ... and a little bit scary. I won’t be a bit surprised to find out that these vending machines were all built by Cyberdyne Systems and are all linked together via Skynet, and that our troubles are just beginning.

    Published on: September 10, 2010

    • Matthew Wohl, general manager of blade and razor systems innovation for Procter & Gamble’s Gillette division, has been hired by Welch’s to be its new chief marketing officer.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 10, 2010

    Responding to my piece yesterday about the US Open giving free parking to Mercedes owners, and linking it to a past rant/whine, one MNB user wrote:

    Let me get this straight, it's ok for Whole Foods to give preferred parking to hybrid car owners but wrong for the USTA to give a break to Mercedes owners?

    I think they're both wrong but at least they each show loyalty to something. You, on the other hand, seem to ride the fence.

    Green's ok, but rich isn't? I don't even know if there is such a thing or not, but what about a hybrid Mercedes? Would that get you a front row, free, parking spot?

    Make up your mind, please.

    Are you asking if being rich is morally equivalent to being green? If you are, I think I’m going to dodge that question. At least for the moment.

    I would argue that the USTA is being inconsistent and unwise by adopting policies that made the sport seem like a rich person’s indulgence rather than one that tries to bring in a more diverse and sustainable audience. Whole Foods, on the other hand, is being entirely consistent - giving preferred parking to green cars is precisely in line with its overall marketing message.

    On the same subject of tennis not following a sustainable path, MNB user Dave Moore wrote:

    Just like professional sports, we often make long term brand building take a backseat to short term profit. Baseball has long paid lip service to marketing to the next generation of fan, yet consistently schedule World Series games to start later in the evening as they chase TV revenue. Whether the Trekkies are correct or not, baseball is risking its long term future for a lucrative today. How many brands and retailers are pursuing the same strategy?

    MNB user Steve Panza wrote:

    The new ownership of the Texas Rangers have rolled back prices on everything - tickets, parking, food, gift shop, etc. in order to make the game more fan friendly. The fans are responding, too. Who would of thought that more people would buy when prices were lowered?

    And, from another MNB user:

    I agree with you on the mixed messages at the US Open regarding helping kids and parking your car for $19 unless you drive a Benz.....This mixed message is done at all major sports now as they talk about the kids and sell to the adults. This is why you see empty box seats behind home plate at Yankee Stadium... Did anyone ever think to save a hundred of the unsold seats at game and have kids in those seats or maybe young adults or students who are active in the game?  Professional sports is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing....what what they say and see what they really do..Corporations are starting to crack down on costly season tickets or PSL’s when they can call a broker anytime if a really good client is in town. Then they can invest in the seats behind home plate at Yankee stadium. It is still a lot cheaper in the long run.

    On another note what I found interesting was the Start Trek comment of baseball losing its life in 2042...... Remember in the 1985 movie Back to the Future??  A line in the movie predicted Florida would win the world series in 1997.... Well in 1985 there was not even a Florida team in baseball.. Well in 1997 Florida Marlins won the World Series..Keep that quote in your pocket...... But in 2042 most of us will not remember or care anyway!!!

    I’ll only be 88 in 2042. I have every intention of being around.

    We’ve gotten some interesting emails responding to the cuts made by SaveMart this week, with one MNB user writing:

    Save Mart is doing the classic slash and burn, 'beatings will continue until morale improves' A&P two-step.  These latest cuts, the third in a row; are in a company that never did this in 50 years. They may put on a strong face for the market, but the company is in disarray and individual morale is deeply shaken at every level.  Tightening store labor (service) and capriciously raising margins are a recipe for disaster.  Up to 40+ year employees at all levels are being whacked, for cost savings ... For those of us left, we are almost all universally looking elsewhere.

    And MNB user Lynn Olsen wrote:

    The article on the restructuring at Save Mart Supermarkets initiated two reactions from me.

    First, I think the notion of bringing Marketing, Merchandising, and Operations under one leader will bring the major benefit of promoting strategic alignment. In my nearly four decades of industry management experience, turf battles born of different functional perspectives of what’s right for the business have been one of the single most debilitating influences on company performance. There is an old saying, “What you see depends on where you sit”.  By having these three customer-facing functions sit all at the same table, Save Mart will have a chance to learn whether or not the new team operates with one voice on behalf of the customer.

    Second, I wonder about the 36 people who suddenly became expendable. How much intellectual capital will walk out the door with them? Restructuring due to new enablers such as technology or process improvement initiatives helps to free up capacity for growth. But the elimination of long-term associates and company leaders often also brings downside effects: confusion, fear, and inertia while the survivors wait for the next restructuring to come. My question is: rather than try to just cut their way to success, what are companies doing in tough times to develop their emerging leaders and organizational capabilities to improve their longer-term market share and return prospects?

    And, regarding the decision by A&P to sell seven Connecticut stores to Big Y, MNB user Ellen Feldman-Ornato wrote:

    Good riddance to them in Middletown, CT. A&P has disinvested in that store over the past 3 years  and the opening of Price Chopper’s gorgeous new store across the street sealed that store’s fate. It will be interesting to see who moves in next – one mile from Wesleyan in a part of town that exploded during the last housing build out.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 10, 2010

    In the opening game of the National Football League season, the defending world champion New Orleans Saints defeated the Minnesota Vikings 14-9.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 10, 2010

    Maybe we’re ready for a Long Ranger revival.

    I had a piece not long ago about how a reference I made to the masked man and his faithful companion, Tonto, fell on deaf ears with my daughter, who had no idea what I was talking about. As is my habit, I turned this into a metaphor about how business needs to speak to its customers and employees in a language and using touchstones that they actually understand.

    Well, an MNB user yesterday pointed me in the direction of a Washington Post piece noting that politicians routinely use the phrase “no silver bullet” to describe the lack of an easy solution to various problems. In fact, President Barack Obama has used the phrase more than 60 times in the past few years, and it also has been uttered by officials such as David Axelrod, Condoleezza Rice, and Donald Rumsfeld.

    Silver bullets, of course, were the Lone Ranger’s projectile of choice because they served as a reminder of the value of life and should not be taken away cheaply.

    (They’re also the only way to kill a werewolf ... so maybe they have some currency with “Twilight” fans, though I have no idea if they ever come up in the books.)

    I’m guessing that for whatever reason, the phrase “silver bullet” may have some resonance with people who have no idea about the Lone Ranger or werewolves. (Werewolves? Where wolf?)

    But this is another good example of how we have to be careful with our words and metaphors. What speaks volumes to us may not communicate quite so powerful a message to be people with whom we are speaking.

    There was a terrific profile of William Shatner in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. To be fair, he comes off as just a little bit nuts...but also hugely entertaining and in love with his life and career.

    It is this last part that I admire - his ability to keep reinventing himself, to repackage his talent and image in ways that give Shatner sustainable appeal. He’s almost 80, but he’s starting a new TV series this fall, his first situation comedy. Asked by the author when he planned to retire, Shatner was not amused:

    “Retire! Retire! You mean go fishing in Montana? What does that mean: you hated the whole life you lived? I love to act, write, generate ideas. I’m crazy about horses, my wife, my kids” — he has three grown daughters — “my grandkids, my next part, the words that I learn so that they come out indigenously.”

    I’ve always thought that the day my father retired from his job as an elementary school principal was the day he started to get old. Before that, he was always on the playground, shooting baskets with the kids, tossing the football around, keeping an eye on things while the teachers were inside having lunch. Engaged.

    Read Shatner’s words, and I can almost hear his voice. And I love the sentiment - that to look forward to retirement is to somehow say that you do not love the life you are living. Is retirement death? Not always, and certainly not for everyone. We’re not all lucky enough to love what we do, the life that we lead, the people with whom we spend our time.

    It’s nice when we don’t look forward to the final frontier, but the frontier that we’re actually exploring every day.

    Not sure why the Shatner profile made me contemplative. But it did.

    The Boston Globe reports on how Aramark is trying to upgrade the foodservice offerings at Fenway Park, at least in the more expensive restaurants, sourcing product from local farms and fishermen. The trend is slowly finding its way into the more traditional concession stands (though they still tend to source most of their product from major foodservice providers). And other baseball stadiums - such as Citi Field - apparently have been taking note, looking to improve and localize some of their food offerings. (Sansolo and I would prefer that they start by improving the baseball at Citi Field, but that’s another issue.)

    I find this heartening, and a reflection of the fact that people are taking a greater interest in the food they are putting into their mouths. One of my big disappointments this summer is that I did not get to Minnesota to see the new Target Field where the Twins play...and where you can apparently get some great Byerly’s wild rice soup.

    I’m not going to speak specifically about this subject, but I do want to say one thing because I cannot help myself.

    Burning any book is never a good idea. I do not believe that there has ever been a time when the burning of a book advanced a culture, improved a civilization, or matured a people. Ever.

    Enough said.

    A big shout out to the folks at the Utah Food Industry Association, who were kind enough to host me this week and allowing me the privilege of speaking to their conference. Not only that, but they gave the opportunity to emcee their Best Bagger competition, which was a hoot - and won by Andrew Hadlock of Macey’s, who’ll be heading back to Vegas for the finals. (He won 3rd place in the national finals last year, I’m told.)

    I had a blast. Thanks.

    I opined yesterday about the mixed messages being sent by the US Open, but there was one point I did not make, and that also is worth mentioning because it is a good business metaphor.

    Whoever designed the seating for the outlying courts ought to be shot. (Not really, but you get my meaning.)

    They are solid metal. Last week, when we were there, the temperature was around 100 degrees, as if often can be during late August in New York City.

    The metal seats were so hot that it was almost impossible to sit on them. There was no shade, no relief - just a lot of people either standing up or lowering themselves gingerly onto benches and hoping that their rear ends would not suffer serious burns.

    The designers of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center could easily have seen this coming from a mile way. All they had to do was think...or spend an August in New York City. And they would have made the benches out of something else.

    End of rant.

    I have been looking forward to the new George Clooney movie, “The American,” all summer ... and when it opened last week, I was not disappointed.

    Know this, however. This may be a thriller about an assassin, but it is nothing like a Bond or Bourne movie (though I love both those franchises). Rather, it has a deliberate, European pace - it unfolds rather than explodes, and takes its time exploring the characters and the Italian village where it mostly takes place. There are moments of violence, to be sure ... but mostly the emotion that I felt while watching “The American” was tension.

    Clooney plays an assassin who is holed up in Italy waiting for a new assignment; he is stoic, but in a kind of withdrawn pain; he wants out of the game, but knows that for people in his profession, the end of a career often means something a lot more permanent. It is, I think, a very different performance for him; he is not the cocksure Danny Ocean, nor does the character have the sense of humor that often infuses his characters. He does, however, have a kind of weary irony about him ... as if he were from a Hemingway novel. I kept thinking that in the sixties or seventies, actors like Steve McQueen or even Burt Lancaster would have played this part. Clooney makes it his own, with authority.

    “The American” also looks gorgeous. The director is Anton Corbijn, and this is just his second feature. I’m not familiar with his previous work as a photographer, but I will tell you this - I cannot remember the last movie I saw that seemed to be composed with such care and precision.

    If you go, just be prepared. It ain’t Bourne, and it ain’t Bond. “The American” is something else - a movie for adults that is what it is, and does not pretend to be something else. After a movie summer that was largely forgettable, that is not a quality to be minimized.

    I have two wines for you this week. The 2009 Robalino Albarino, from Spain, which is a little different than most of the albarinos that I have enjoyed - it seemed to have a heavier peach flavor, but that mellowed out a bit with time, and it was quite good.

    And the 2008 White X, a blend of sauvignon blanc, muscat blanc, chardonnay, and roussanne from California’s X Winery...which was just brilliant and perfect with a spicy seafood dish.

    Enjoy. And thank me later.

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

    KC's View: