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    Published on: January 4, 2011

    by Michael Sansolo

    The age of transparency cuts both ways. It can help or it can hurt; it all depends on how you use it. But in any age it’s important to remember one simple rule: losing your temper is rarely a good idea.

    Just before the holidays, a restaurant owner in Los Angeles tried to turn transparency on its head. He noticed that the restaurant reviewer from the LA Times was in his restaurant and promptly threw her out. Not only that, but he took her picture and posted it on line, making certain that the reviewer’s ability to visit restaurants unannounced would be forever compromised. He did it all, the owner said, because he found her reviews overly critical and unsympathetic to the challenging job of running a restaurant.

    It’s easy to sympathize. I’ve had bad reviews in my life and each time I could justify them away by saying the critic didn’t respect the time, effort and challenges that went into my work. But I was wrong ... and so was this restaurant owner.

    The critic is simply doing a job and the real key comes down to how the reader reacts to the information. I read restaurant reviews knowing full well that I lack the sophisticated palette to have the same experience as the critic. Likewise I am usually far more forgiving of service lapses than most critics. So while I find the articles interesting, I frequently look to see if they write about anything that really hits my hot buttons, such as too much noise, too little lighting or, heaven forbid, lax food safety standards. I feel the same about movie reviews. They are helpful, but frequently there are movies I know I’m going to see no matter what the reviews say and I suspect I’m not alone. (The Die Hard movies didn’t win many Oscars as I recall.)

    But the real problem in Los Angeles wasn’t the critic. It is how this restaurant owner thinks of his clientele. They, too, don’t judge a meal based on how hard the staff worked or what challenges they overcame or how hard it is to operate a restaurant. Rather, they decide based on whether the food tastes good and was a good value for the money.

    The Los Angeles case is even more interesting because it clearly has issues. The reviewer was kept waiting 45 minutes for a table even though she had a reservation. Again, regular patrons might find that one more reason to give this restaurant no more than one try, if they even stayed long enough for that.

    Let’s be honest. We all love praise and hate criticism, but in many cases the bad reviews are those that really require our focus. If we can force ourselves to face our shortcomings, we’ll get a lot further than we do by simply slapping ourselves on the back.

    Two sage bits of wisdom come to mind regarding the Los Angeles story. First, don’t blame the messenger; that hardly ever works. Instead assess and fix the problem. Doing well is always the best revenge.

    Second, remember that those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make angry. Your outburst may feel good for a moment, but in the long run you are sure to lose. Especially in the age of transparency.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . 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: January 4, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    USA Today reports that while the internet has the image of being a place where people believe they are entitled to get something for nothing, the Pew Internet & American Life Project has released a new survey saying that “almost two-thirds of adult Internet users in the U.S. have paid for access” to so-called intangible things such as news, video or other applications.

    According to the story, “About a third of respondents said they have paid for digital music. Same for software.

    “Behind that came mobile apps for cellphones or tablet computers at 21%. Then digital games at 19% and newspaper, magazine or journal articles at 18%.

    “The survey found that among people who paid for content, the typical user spent about $10 a month. However, there are some extremely high-end users, such that the average among those who have paid for content is about $47 a month. That includes subscriptions and individual files downloaded or accessed.”

    This is good news for businesses - such as newspapers and magazines - looking to generate income from online enterprises that gradually are replacing their traditional venues. And it probably should not be a surprise, since Apple’s iTunes service has been an enormous success selling content that can be accessed for nothing in other places.

    But the real lesson here is that people will pay for value. It has to be sustainable and real, not illusory. And it almost certainly requires some level of salesmanship on the part of the business - we are long past the “if we build it they will come” days. But you have to figure out what the value proposition is, you have to be willing to make the pitch.

    One example. The Washington Post offers a superior application for the iPad that I find to be invaluable - easy to navigate, with all the stories I want to read from one of the country’s best newspapers. For the moment, it is free because it is sponsored ExxonMobil...but it shortly will require a subscription, and I am more than willing to pay it. (I’ll pay it if it is within reason, that is ... The New Yorker also offers an iPad app, but it is priced way higher than the print magazine, to the point that it is prohibitive. And this, too, is a lesson.)

    That’s my Tuesday Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 4, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal reports that “Google Inc. and Apple Inc. have stepped up their battle to win over publishers, as the two companies vie to become the dominant distributor of newspapers and magazines for tablet computers and other mobile devices.

    “Google is trying to drum up publishers' support for a new Google-operated digital newsstand for users of devices that run its Android software. With the effort, it is chasing Apple, which already sells digital versions of many major magazines and newspapers through its iTunes store.”
    KC's View:
    The real lesson here, it seems to me, is that companies like Apple and Google are willing to go after customers wherever they are, looking for access to every consumer dollar they they possibly can get.

    I wonder how long it will be before we see a “Google Grocery” initiative. Google already provides access via its search engine to all the various e-grocery alternatives that are out there, but eventually they may decide that they ought to find a more direct connection to the hundreds of millions of dollars that people spend on food each year. And retailers are going to have to figure out how to compete with Google on that playing field.

    Think this can’t happen? Remember the cautionary line spoken by Jean-Luc Picard: “Things are impossible until they’re not.”

    All the talk about the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is that a wide range of tablet computers, similar to the iPad but priced cheaper, are about to flood the market. That kind of mobile computing power, added to the enormous power of the emerging smart phone market, has the potential of opening up new markets and creating new opportunities.

    Published on: January 4, 2011

    Reuters reports that the British government has unveiled a $390 million (US) plan, financed by a range of retailing and manufacturing companies,, designed “to promote good eating on Sunday under which millions of people will receive vouchers offering discounts on healthy foods ... offering discounts on foods such as low-fat yogurts, wholegrain rice, frozen vegetables, fruit and alcohol-free lager.”

    According to the story, “The coalition government is promoting the scheme as part of its Change4Life programme, aimed at combating Britain's high obesity rate by encouraging people to eat healthier food and exercise more.”

    Among the companies involved: Asda, Kellogg, Unilever, Nestle, Mars, and Bird's Eye.
    KC's View:
    While there are some folks criticizing the effort as being better at polishing certain brands’ images as opposed to encouraging healthy eating, it strikes me that in this case it is better to do something than nothing ... and when government and business can team up like this, it probably is a win-win.

    Published on: January 4, 2011

    The Harvard Business Review has an interview with Whole Foods’ John Mackey, in which he makes some interesting observations about what he calls “the prosperity circle”:

    “I think it’s kind of deep in human nature to think in terms of the zero sum. If one stakeholder is winning, someone else must be losing. It comes from sports, where there is one winner and lots of losers, and this idea of a fixed pie, where if someone is getting a bigger piece, someone else has to be getting a smaller piece, and what’s needed for social justice is to make sure people get equal pieces. But a conscious business recognizes that you can have an expanding pie, and potentially everyone can get a larger piece.

    “I’ll give you a simple example: Management’s job at Whole Foods is to make sure that we hire good people, that they are well trained, and that they flourish in the workplace, because we found that when people are really happy in their jobs, they provide much higher degrees of service to the customers. Happy team members result in happy customers. Happy customers do more business with you. They become advocates for your enterprise, which results in happy investors. That is a win, win, win, win strategy. You can expand it to include your suppliers and the communities where you do business, which are tied in to this prosperity circle. A metaphor I like is the spiral, which tends to move upward but doesn’t move in a straight line.”
    KC's View:
    This at the very least raises a series of questions that every retailer should ponder:

    Are your employees creating advocates?

    If not, why not?

    How many of your customers are raving about your store (for whatever your value proposition happens to be)?

    If not enough are, what needs to be done to create those raves?

    And if these are not cultural imperatives within your organization, why not?

    I’m just askin’...

    Published on: January 4, 2011

    The Boston Globe reports that Ahold-owned Stop & Shop “will probably eliminate or move scores of positions at its Quincy headquarters as part of an ongoing reorganization, its parent company said yesterday ... A spokeswoman for the parent company...said the company sought to move 100 workers to Carlisle, Pa., where it operates its marketing and merchandising hub. So far about half the workers have opted to move to Pennsylvania, with some others accepting jobs in newly created local divisions or agreeing to remain temporarily with the company during the transition.”

    According to the story, “Stop & Shop’s 10-story building on Hancock Street will remain one of the company’s two major office hubs in the United States, hosting workers in finance, real estate, construction, legal, human resources, and other departments. Indeed, the company has added jobs in Quincy over the past two years. It also plans to move its New England division headquarters from Braintree to Quincy later this year, further bolstering employment at the site.”
    KC's View:
    Stop & Shop can move its people anywhere it wants. The key is making sure that its stores in places like New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts capture a local flavor, and don’t feel like they’re being managed from Pennsylvania. In other words, avoid the mistakes made with the Giant of Landover division of the company...since the definition of insanity is making the same mistakes over and over and expecting different outcomes.

    Published on: January 4, 2011

    President Barack Obama is scheduled to sign the just-passed food safety bill into law today, and the Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “is already working to write the regulations needed to enact the bill ... The FDA already has several hundred million dollars to begin writing and enacting some new food-safety provisions,” according to the story, but additional funding by Congress will be required in order to fully implement the bill’s provisions.
    KC's View:
    Good luck with that “additional funding” piece, because the folks in DC doesn’t seem to be in the mood to write many checks, no matter what they are for.

    Published on: January 4, 2011

    • The Houston Chronicle reports that “in 2011 Kroger will aim to build on what's been working.

    “The grocer will open a big Marketplace store in Willis, north of Conroe, do five major and six minor remodels on well-performing stores in the Houston area, and close two underperforming ones.

    “‘We're continuing to invest in Houston, with a new Marketplace store and upgrades of existing stores,’ said Gary Huddleston, consumer affairs director of Kroger's southwest division.”

    • The Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal reports that “the Twin Cities market is one of 10 urban areas in which Target Corp. wants to build small format stores.

    “The list includes cities where Target has already announced 2012 store openings — San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles — as well as other markets with densely populated central business districts such as Boston, Chicago and New York.”

    • The Dayton Business Journal reports that Dollar General plans “to open 625 new stores this year, creating 6,000 jobs as it expands into three more states” - Connecticut, Nevada and New Hampshire.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 4, 2011

    If you plan to attend the National Retail Federation (NRF) Show in New York next week, I hope you’ll let me know. I’m thinking that it might be a good occasion for one of those casual MNB get-togethers...I find a bar, tell you when I’m going to be there, order a beer or a glass of wine, and just hang out and chat with whoever shows up. If you’re going to be at NRF, let me know...I’d love to find a way to connect.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 4, 2011

    Anne Francis, who defined a kind of 1950s sexuality with her role in Forbidden Planet, a sci-fi retelling of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” and then embodied an early form of women’s liberation as television’s “Honey West,” which ran for just one season on ABC from 1965-66, died over the weekend. She was 80.
    KC's View:
    This one caught my attention for two reasons. One is that for some reason, I vividly remember “Honey West.” (Actually, I do know the reason. It wasn’t the character’s pet ocelot.)

    But the other reason is that Anne Francis was 80 when she died. Today is the day my mother would have turned 80. (She died of cancer in 1998.) It never would have occurred to me that my mom and Anne Francis were the same age...but they were.

    Actors are defined by their roles, and their youthful images often are burned into our memories - which can be good, but also hard to live up to. This morning I’m smiling, even though I miss my mom, because in my memory she is not ravaged by a horrible disease, but a lot more youthful and energetic. A tough cookie, to be sure, and a force to be reckoned with. But the memories make me smile.

    Published on: January 4, 2011

    Responding to yesterday’s piece about nutrition labels being required next year for various cuts of meat, one MNB user wrote:

    As great as it sounds but there is a problem with putting Nutrition Facts on raw “commodity” foods like ground beef and chicken breast.

    Let’s sort of use your example: 70/30 ground beef (you used a 73/27).

    Raw at 4 oz serving is 372 calories, 304 from fat. But who eats raw ground beef? Once its broiler cooked the same 4 oz serving becomes 304 calories, 184 from fat. 120 calories from fat gone. Big difference.

    People are going to be making a choice based on how it is RAW. It’s not realistic. The act of cooking plus its cooking method changes the nutritional value. THAT is what we need to get to people so they can make wise choices. Who cares in the raw state since I am not consuming it raw.

    But how do you put all the info based on cooking options on a label????

    There has to be a better way. Kiosk in the stores, maybe?

    But another MNB user wrote:

    Actually most retailers have been supplying this information for quite some time. It has been a voluntary program for I believe over 10 years now, and I have read that over 70% of all retailers have this information posted in their stores currently. In fact I would guess that it is posted in the stores that you shop somewhere on or around the meat case. Most retailers use placards with the most common cuts on them with all of the nutritional information included, there is one for beef, pork, ground beef, chicken and even lamb and veal. Take a look around the next time you are shopping and I am sure that you will find them. Making this mandatory will just make the remaining retailers that have not posted this information have to do what the rest of us have been doing for a long time now.

    And, regarding calories counts being required for chain restaurants in California, one MNB user wrote:

    We have a Jack-in-the Box about a mile from where I live.  While I don’t go there often, maybe 3 or 4 times a year, there are occasions when we need a little something to eat in a hurry and head that direction.  I happened to run in to get my wife and I something to eat a few days ago, and they already had the nutritional information on the menu board.  I have to tell you I have mixed feelings.  Is it the right thing for us to know what we are eating?  Absolutely.  I really didn’t know what I wanted to eat before I got there.  However, after SEEING the information right there for each item, I was in a little bit of shock!  While I thought about a burger perhaps, when I saw the amount of fat and calories, I couldn’t do it.  There was no way I was going to enjoy eating that, knowing what was going into my system.  And forget about any fries to go with it.  And there lies the problem!  I don’t eat there often and while I always knew it wasn’t the healthiest  thing I could eat, if I didn’t see it, I could claim ignorance (at least in my mind so I could enjoy eating it!).  I stood there for what must have been 5 or 6 minutes staring at the menu board trying to figure out if there was anything there I could feel good about eating.  I ended up getting this little pita pocket chicken snack thingy – and ate it, but didn’t really enjoy that either. 
    It took me a while, but  I think I have figured out what to do next time…  find a drive through so I don’t have to see that what I am about to eat may just kill me!

    On the subject of online holiday shopping, one MNB user wrote:

    Ditto on the positive on line experience for the holidays. Orvis came through with on time deliveries to 3 different locations, iGourmet delivered hard to find items for my goat cheese loving wife, and Wine Country did baskets for close relatives. Razorgator even got me Miami Heat ticket for a bored wedding party stuck in Florida on a 50 degree day (Lebron and company beat the Knicks). All done from airline clubs while traveling to 8 different offices for year end meetings. These would have been hard to pull off with in person shopping.  I have always assumed that all the Black Friday craziness has had the unintended consequence of driving people to online shopping.  Do you really want to be part of that mob?

    Not me. Not ever.
    KC's View: