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    Published on: November 2, 2010

    by Michael Sansolo

    Today’s headline would ordinarily be my attempt at a clever play on words to make a point about business’s inability to look at problems in a different way. While it is partially that, the headline is really literal, linking to a most unusual and eye opening shopping trip.

    The background is this: A week ago a business trip brought me near an 89-year-old relative who sadly is now legally blind due to macular degeneration. She needed to do some grocery shopping and, because she knows I love visiting stores, she knew I would help. Through her failing eyes, I saw shopping in a whole new way.

    The store we visited was a wonderfully well merchandised, lit and serviced Publix in a suburb of Tampa. It’s a store that I’d happily shop any week, but for my relative with a visual handicap, it’s a challenging trip. For her, the incredible bounty of a supermarket is simply overwhelming. For her, the stunning variety of products in each successive aisle becomes a staggering burden.

    Our conversations throughout the store were an endless version of the following:

    Relative: I need apples.

    Me: Do you want Macintosh, Fuji, Gala, Delicious, Golden Delicious…etc.


    You get the idea. Every product created a lengthy discussion of choices, prices, brands, sizes, expiration dates (where appropriate) and more. We bought maybe 25 items on a shopping trip that took well over an hour. Suddenly the beautiful store seemed a challenge to me too. It was an incredibly different way to see a store and to understand how beauty really changes in the eye of the shopper.

    As I contemplated the trip, two conflicting thoughts came to mind. At first I was unsure what a supermarket could do to serve people with issues like my relative’s. I think it is great that most stores do a vastly improved job of merchandising products that fit specialty needs such as allergies or gluten-free, making it easy for folks with those concerns to find what they need. Yet I can’t imagine how stores can deal with every ailment and find a way to properly offer the level of assortment and choice most feature today.

    Then again, maybe these are issues we must take on. If we examine all the demographic groups growing rapidly in the coming decade, nothing stands out like senior citizens. As my generation - the now inappropriately named Baby Boomers - ages, the ranks of seniors will swell like never before in the US and throughout the developed world. While that means challenges with everything from health care to Social Security, it also means incredible opportunity.

    It’s not surprising that great examples abound in a Florida town with a preponderance of senior citizens. At the Publix store we visited, it was clear that staff were well trained in dealing with seniors. Store associates routinely interacted with my relative, pleasantly helping her find various items or providing appropriate samples to help her make a decision. When we went to her bank a few doors away, a well-trained teller counted out cash with patience and care that I have never experienced in all my years of banking.

    Clearly, more can be done. It might be time for larger type labels and shelf talkers in areas where senior populations are large. Many stores that already offer transportation to stores might add in services to slowly guide those same shoppers through the store. It’s a win-win situation. My relative explained that my willingness to talk her through product choices helped her buy a number of items she usually avoids in a regular shopping trip, simply because she can’t find them. By helping her shop, I helped her buy.

    If nothing else, shopping through the eyes of someone who can barely see was an experience I won’t soon forget. It was difficult, time consuming, slow and frustrating. And it was eye opening.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 2, 2010

    Interesting story in the Wall Street Journal about a survey of more than a thousand front line managers that suggests that “many are over-estimating their skills, with surprisingly little self-doubt. Seventy-two percent said they never questioned their ability to lead others in their first year as a manager.

    “Managers were also unlikely to rate themselves as weak in a number of leadership attributes, such as planning, communication and adaptability, according to the study by consulting firm Development Dimensions International Inc.

    “Front-line managers believe that their biggest strengths are in setting work standards and planning and organizing, according to the survey.”

    In fact, according to the survey, no more than 15 percent of those questioned said that they needed to develop their skills in areas such as delegating and coaching.

    The numbers are reminiscent of the documentary Waiting for Superman which in its criticisms of the American educational system observed that US students rank low in almost every category...except self-confidence.

    There is a point, of course, where self-confidence morphs into arrogance.

    Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

    It is a fair bet that the executives and managers who are brimming with confidence in their leadership may not be overestimating their own abilities. But it also falls to the companies that employ them - and the people to whom they report - to figure out where the shortcomings lie and with whom.

    And then, of course, disabuse these execs of their overconfidence/arrogance, and bring them along on the path to enlightenment.

    In other words, open their eyes.

    - Kevin Coupe
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 2, 2010

    The Chicago Tribune reports on an old-world communications tool that seems to have continued relevance in a technologically advanced world - the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line.

    “In contrast with food Web sites such as FoodNetwork.com, which expects about 25 million visitors in November, AllRecipes.com (about 20 million) and Epicurious.com (about 7 million), the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line remains old-school,” the Tribune writes. “Its experts field inquiries mostly over the phone. On Thanksgiving Day alone, 10,000 calls come in, roughly one-tenth the call volume Butterball has received each holiday season for the past nine years.

    “It responds to about 5,000 e-mailed questions, and about 1.2 million visitors are expected on the company's Web site during November. But those numbers are dwarfed by other outlets.

    “Still, Butterball Turkey executives believe the company has a strong niche and claim they are undaunted by the competition. In addition to selling turkey, they say, Butterball's core strength is providing live advice from calm experts about cooking, thawing or what side dishes to make.”
    KC's View:
    Thanksgiving is an old-fashioned holiday; it is unique (and my personal favorite) because it isn’t tied to any sort of commercialism. For people who are enjoying an old fashioned turkey dinner (which would not be my family), it is nice to have the old fashioned reassurance of the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line. And even if numbers are down, Butterball is smart to continue occupying this traditional niche.

    Published on: November 2, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal reports on how discount grocer Aldi Sud is raising temperatures in Germany with a new automated baking machine that, for 15 cents, appears to vend a fresh baked roll.

    Except that Germany’s 15,000 traditional bakeries are engaged in a war of words with the chain, saying that the rolls may be warm, but they’re not fresh-baked, and that Aldi is deceiving shoppers.

    “Aldi markets the rolls and bread the machines dispense as "fresh out of the oven - direct into the bag,” the Journal writes. “But to thousands of German bakers, Aldi's freshness claim is half-baked. Worse, they charge, it misleads customers who might equate the German discounter's baked goods with the bread they and their employees knead, shape and bake through the wee hours of every morning.

    “The German Bakers' Confederation, steward of the country's centuries-old bread-making tradition, is taking Aldi Süd - one of the two companies that make up the Aldi empire - to court on claims of deceptive advertising.”

    Aldi Süd tells the Journal in an email that “the automats represent a ‘technological innovation’ in automated baking. A large industrial baker supplies the already shaped dough, which is partially baked outside the machines, the company wrote. Once inside, a ‘lengthy build-up of heat allows the flour to gelatinize…therefore a baking process is taking place,’ Aldi Süd added. "The goods are not merely being ‘browned’.”

    In Germany, the Journal notes, bread is more than just a food - “it's a prized cultural institution ... In a year, the average German consumes 192 pounds of the stuff, compared with an average of 121 pounds for the baguette-eating French, according to German government data. German bakers, and even most of the salespeople behind the traditional bakery counter, train for at least three years to join the craft.”
    KC's View:
    I’m not sure that this is actual baking. But I also wonder to what extent the German public - which seems to be highly committed to buying fresh bread - is being fooled.

    Published on: November 2, 2010

    Advertising Age reports that Walmart seems to relying on Justin Bieber to help in its sales rebound:

    “Walmart is increasingly dominating the market for all things Bieber heading into the holiday season -- including exclusive lines of nail polish and a fragrance designed or inspired by the 16-year-old Canadian tween idol and Twitter phenom. Mr. Bieber has developed a very special if not entirely exclusive relationship with earth's biggest retailer, though Walmart declined to comment on just how extensive the partnership may yet become.

    “On Oct. 27, Mr. Bieber told his 5.6 million followers on Twitter, where he ranks No. 5, just behind Barack Obama and just ahead of Ellen DeGeneres, that his acoustic album will go on sale first at Walmart Nov. 22. That's a day ahead of the general market release. Specifically, he Tweeted: ‘ACOUSTIC ALBUM hits WALMART on NOV 22nd!!!’.”
    KC's View:
    I know this is the best way to show my age, but here’s my question.

    What the hell is a Justin Bieber?

    I know I can Google him, or check him out on Wikipedia. But I just don’t want to.

    Just from the Ad Age piece, I gather he is a 16 year old male teen idol who is selling nail polish and a fragrance. Which is already too much information.

    Published on: November 2, 2010

    The Consumerist reports that an unidentified Dunkin’ Donuts store has decided to do its best to stop trafficking in pennies, posting a sign that says:

    In speaking to our customer base and to help speed up service, management ... has decided to eliminate the use of pennies.

    We’ll be rounding your change to the closest nickel. For example, if your change is $2.03, we’ll give you $2.05. If your change is $2.22, we’ll give you $2.20.

    For any customer who would still like their pennies, please just ask the cashier and we would be happy to accommodate you.


    The story notes that the anti-penny movement continues to percolate, with those in favor of the elimination of the coin noting that it costs 1.7 cents to make a penny.
    KC's View:
    Not sure why the location of the Dunkin’ Donuts needed to be kept secret, but since they posted a copy of the sign, I’ll accept on faith that this is an accurate story.

    This just seems like a common sense move. Let’s see if the movement spreads.

    Published on: November 2, 2010

    • The Associated Press reports that Walmart appears ready to relaunch price wars in time for the end-of-year holidays, using flat screen televisions as a stalking horse. According to the story, “The nation's largest retailer said in a statement Tuesday that a 26-inch Vizio LED HDTV, which was selling most recently for $298, will be $198; a 32-inch Vizio LCD HDTV will drop from $348 to $298; and a 55-inch Vizio LCD HDTV TV that was selling for $1,098 will be $898.”

    Bloomberg reports that the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers’ Union has pledged to fight Walmart’s stated intention to acquire -or at least invest in - Massmart Holdings, a South African retailer.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 2, 2010

    • Spartan Stores reportedly has launched its fifth on-line ordering event at five of their retailer websites: dwfreshmarket.com, familyfaresupermarkets.com, glensmarkets.com, vgsfood.com and glensfreshmarket.com.

    Previously the events had only been placed on the D&W Fresh Market and Glen’s Fresh Market websites, but the success of the earlier events, Spartan said, led it to roll the feature out to its other corporately owned retailers ... As of Monday, the ordering web pages had been viewed over 6,500 times and Spartan had already sold thousands of dollars in product.”

    Full disclosure: Spartan’s websites are served by Webstop, which powers MorningNewsBeat as well being an MNB sponsor.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 2, 2010

    • The Business Review reports that Wegmans has once again said that it has no plans to open a store in the Albany, New York, market, rejecting speculation that had appeared in a Syracuse newspaper. However, Wegmans isn’t ruling out the possibility that it could happen someday...just that it is not in their immediate plans.

    Bloomberg Business Week reports that Trader Joe’s has opened its first store in Maine - in Portland. The story notes that Trader Joe’s now has close to 350 stores in more than two dozen states.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 2, 2010

    • Walmart-owned Asda Group said that Simon King, the CEO of Panda Retail, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia-based Savola Group, has been hired to be its new COO, taking over the role that was played by Andy Clarke before he succeeded Andy Bond as Asda’s president/CEO.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 2, 2010

    Responding to yesterday’s story about Supervalu selling Bristol Farms to its CEO, Kevin Davis, Bristol’s management team, and an investment group, MNB user Jean Forney wrote:

    I had the pleasure of speaking with Kevin a few years ago…right after the SVU / Alberstons deal….He is one of the most passionate CEO/Merchants I have had the pleasure to speak to . He really gets it…from his ability to know what will work in the stores and what will retain and motivate the team- he is humble and real. Kevin had a vision for the company then, as I am sure he does now. He was very dedicated to the company and its employees. He maintained that as long as SVU let him run things the way he wanted he would be around…I guess buying it is the easiest way to make sure that doesn’t change…Good for him and good for Bristol Farms. Too bad that Farm Fresh and Shoppers couldn’t have gone the same direction.

    I cannot agree with you more about Kevin Davis - he is one of the food industry’s real class acts.




    We had a piece yesterday about how food expert Marion Nestle has criticized the FMI/GMA initiative to create a new standard for front-of-package labels; she said that it was just a way of accentuating the positive and avoiding government regulation.

    MNB user Jerry R. Dewey wrote:

    Marion Nestle is sadly misinformed. The heads of GMA/FMI, FDA and the Obama administration have had numerous meetings together to work out the details of the FOP labeling. There is no battle line drawn here or preempting of government regulators.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Every initiative I have seen thus far fails to dimensionalize what I believe is one of the root causes of obesity, appropriate serving size.  The obesity epidemic has many root causes inclusive of the quality of the average US diet, but in the most simplistic explanation caloric intake counts!  NLEA panels clearly state what a serving is for each product on the market, but consumers don’t seem to react to that.  Restaurants happily pile significantly more than a recommended serving onto each plate in a quest to keep check averages up.  If all of these efforts were placed on simple portion control, I believe we would make far more progress in countering the obesity epidemic than any of the front of package labeling initiatives.

    Front of package labeling as a panacea to our obesity crisis continues to make me wonder how the individuals focused on this initiative aren’t asking questions about the continued use of a product that has the following statement conspicuously placed on all packages ... Surgeon General’s Warning...


    And another MNB user chimed in:

    In regard to front of package food labeling, GMA/FMI or FDA.   FDA is notoriously slow.  FDA has yet to issue regulations implementing the 1992 Congressional changes to the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act.  If you want to see something in your lifetime better to go with GMA/FMI.

    Agreed.

    The line can be simply drawn, I think. If the FMI/GMA program is done right, it makes the most sense. If it is not done objectively and with the consumer in mind, then the industry will get the government interference it deserves.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 2, 2010

    The San Francisco Giants defeated the Texas Rangers 3-1, decisively winning the 2010 World Series by a 4-1 game margin.


    And in Monday Night Football action, the Indianapolis Colts beat the Houston Texans 30-17.
    KC's View:
    I’ve been circumspect since the beginning of the Series, trying to report the scores without crowing too much about the results.

    So will you permit me now to offer a little “Yippee!”

    Congrats to Giants fans...and to all folks who believe in the purity of national League, no-designated-hitter baseball.

    Published on: November 2, 2010

    Some might call this an ingenious promotional idea. Others might think of it as shameless self-promotion. Either way, we think this is a fun idea...

    Since we wrote and published The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies earlier this year, it has been gratifying how many organizations have bought cases of books to hand out to employees, customers ands conference attendees. And one of the things we keep hearing is what a great end-of-year holiday gift people think The Big Picture would be, and we were encouraged to come up with a clever, out-of-the-box marketing concept.

    So, we decided to raffle ourselves off.

    Here’s the deal.

    Buy a case of books (32 copies) and your name gets entered in a raffle to win either Michael or me as a guest speaker on the subject of The Big Picture at your next meeting or conference, subject to availability. No charge, except for travel expenses. (This is a pretty good deal. We’re not wildly expensive, but we’re not cheap, either. We’re also very low maintenance. We fly coach. And we’re a really good time.)

    The more cases you buy, the more entries you get in the raffle. It’s that simple.

    BTW...if you buy a case, the per-book price is discounted 33 percent from the single copy price. And we’re offering free shipping. (This deal just keeps getting better and better...)

    So click here for details and purchase information. We think this is an innovative way to spread the word about The Big Picture, and a fun way for you to land an entertaining speaker at low cost for your next event.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 2, 2010

    The Washington Post this morning reports that if Republicans recapture control of the US Congress as a result of today’s mid-term elections, they plan to deliver retribution to companies that have cooperated with the Obama administration.

    Specifically mentioned: Walmart.

    Here’s how the Post frames the story:

    “Several years ago, (Walmart) began to break ranks with industry groups by speaking out in favor of an increase to the minimum wage and health-care reform. And, for the first time in its history, it gave more money to Democrats than the GOP for Tuesday's elections.

    “The corporation's moves caught the eye of Republican Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan. During a phone call with company lobbyists last year during the fight over the health-care bill, Camp bluntly reminded Wal-Mart of its unpalatable position on the issue, according to sources familiar with the conversation.

    “Now, Wal-Mart's political team finds itself in an awkward position. Camp is poised to become the next chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

    “Companies that worked with the Democrats over the past two years would face a far less sympathetic audience from Republicans, who are expected to make significant gains in the midterm elections. If they gain control of Congress, party leaders have pledged to revisit the health-care bill and lower taxes for businesses.”

    And, the Post adds, “Corporate America often views Washington politics as a bane. But over the past two years, many companies and industry groups felt compelled to get more involved as the Obama administration pushed an aggressive agenda on issues central to their economic well-being. Some said they had few options but to seek a seat at the table.”
    KC's View:
    If the GOP actually pursues this strategy, then its control of Congress is likely to be short-lived...because this is precisely the crap that Americans will be rejecting by voting against the Democrats, who are perceived as having been arrogant and anti-compromise when they took control.

    All this does is add to the incivility and insanity.

    Walmart, and a lot of other companies, engaged with the Democrats because a) it would have been irresponsible not to, and b) because it is better to engage and influence than to be so rigid that nothing gets accomplished.

    As much as this election cycle may be a repudiation of Democrats, it also is a repudiation of how politics is practiced in general. Politicians who focus on politics - as opposed to governance and the serious business of legislating and compromising - do so at their own peril.