retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Got a number of emails yesterday regarding our story about how Arkansas supermarket chain Harp’s created a little bit of a controversy by covering up a magazine rack that featured an Us Weekly issue featuring singer Elton John, his partner David Furnish, and their new adopted baby.

The card in front of the magazine read: “Family Shield. To protect young Harp’s shoppers.”

Someone took a picture of the “shield,” it made it onto the internet, and suddenly the controversy went viral and Harp’s was getting phone calls questioning why it would cover up the picture of a mainstream singer who, it should be noted, recently performed at Rush Limbaugh’s fourth wedding.

Kim B. Eskew, president/COO at Harp’s, said that the shield was only put in place in one store, and the decision now has been reversed.

My comment:

Lesson number one is that even a single move by one store manager can instantly become a much bigger deal because of the internet. You may not like it, but there isn’t much you can do about it. One of the thing you have to tell your people is that they have to factor this kind of thinking into their decision-making process.

Lesson number two, I think, is this. When I was a kid, if I saw a sign saying that it was there to protect me from seeing something, the first thing I would do is look behind the sign. (I once got into trouble during a class trip to FDR’s home at Hyde Park, NY, when I went up the stairs past a sign saying “do not enter” because I was curious what they did not want me to see.) I would expect no less of my children.

There are a lot worse things kids could see than picture of two people in a committed relationship raising a family.

One MNB user wrote:

Sometimes the stores can’t win! Customers complain about the cover being to tantalizing or provocative. Then the management reacts by covering it up, and then some one else gets their panties all wadded up.  I believe it would have been easier to pull the offending magazine, pretend you sold out. Some battles just aren’t winnable.

I still find it amazing that anyone would find that rather benign cover to be tantalizing or provocative. But that’s just me.

Another MNB user wrote:

Really…sometimes it seems no matter what a person does, it  offends someone.  In this case, who is more important to this store, the first people to complain or the “Internet connected” people to complain? They both are! But, because of the power of the Internet…the “Internet connected” person’s  opinion counted more than those that did not go to the Internet with their complaints. Could this person who went to the Internet, and not to the store manager, be considered a bully? I don’t know either. What about the store manager; he thought he was doing the right thing for his complaining shoppers…only to have HQ tell him to reverse his decision. How does this make him look to the original shoppers that complained? It’s not so simple!!!

MNB user Geoff Harper wrote:

I followed the Harps story with interest, and not because my name contains “Harp”.  I was not familiar with Harps, since they are in Arkansas and two neighboring states, while my experience was in New England.  It seems to me that Harps responded quickly and correctly.

In my former life, we used magazine covers to obscure all but the title of selected magazines (Cosmo for one), in response to customer complaints about what they wanted their children to view at checkout.  We did NOT put any words on them, for the reason that you cite – encouraging curiosity.

I found the Harps website very interesting.  They have been employee-owned for about ten years, and the employee-owned stock has quadrupled during that time.  Their website specifically says that they compete successfully with Wal-Mart – whose HQ happens to be a few miles down the street.

It struck me as a great example of how to motivate employees, and an example of confidence in one’s mission.  Good story.

Also got some email regarding Michael Sansolo’s Eye-Opener yesterday, in which he asked why, in the 21st century, the US Congress was reading President Obama’s State of the Union address on paper, instead of on iPads, which would have been a powerful statement about technology and innovation. (Plus, wildly entertaining, since a lot of those folks probably have no idea how to use one.)

One MNB user wrote:

Nice job on today’s Eye-Opener. It truly is by definition an eye opener.

I have watched numerous state of the union addresses and this was the first time I took note of this “read along” or “read ahead for that matter” behavior. Perhaps it was because of the new seating arrangement that the cameras were showing more of the crowd or some other reason I’m not sure. But for whatever reason it became a more obvious behavior to me. I found myself becoming more disturbed by it the more I saw it. I simply found it to be such a disrespectful site to see. This from what we consider “leaders” of our democracy. Are these people simply lacking in the art of listening and what it means to afford anyone, let alone the President, the time and effort to be heard? Apparently and arrogantly not!

Ok with that said, you could not be more right regarding what all this paper is costing all of us. That is something that can and should be addressed. But I think the electronic alternative under specific circumstances could lend itself to even less “listening” to one another at a time when listening to one another counts the most.

I have sat in too many meetings where Blackberries were far too often the focus and distraction of VPs and Directors, in a word disrespectful. Most of us would not condone such behavior from our own children at the dinner table or a family gathering. Yet it appears to be acceptable to some companies to allow this behavior in a room full of people that are being paid to attend a meeting.

I would personally prefer to see an empty chair with someone’s name on it, be it in a conference room or the House of Representatives, then an empty suit sitting there reading, simply full of self importance.

IMHO, there needs to be boundaries for the time and place for paper and electronic devices. We must not lose our ability to connect as human beings and the first and primary way we do this is by listening to one another.

All legitimate points ... except that it is not always accurate to say that people are distracted by their iPads, Blackberries and other gadgets. There is an entire generation that uses them to take notes - just because they are not looking up does not mean they are not paying attention.

We all have to be careful about making presumptions that say more about us than they do about the people and behavior we are observing.

MNB user Todd Toombs wrote:

If they all had iPads instead of printed notes, what would they have the President sign as he is leaving the chamber? 

Slightly off your main point, but whether Republican or Democrat, it is ridiculous to me that we treat our public-servant-in-chief like a rock star.  Fawning acolytes crowd the aisle trying to get him to sign their speech notes, shake his hand, or touch the hem of his garment.  To his credit, President Obama at one point was confronted with some sort of a picture that one lawmaker wanted him to sign and he refused.  The picture was hastily replaced with the speech notes, which he then signed.  But, the whole process is just undignified and looks more like the Oscars than an address to Congress.  There is a big difference between respect for the office and adulation.  If we continue to treat the President like a monarch, the more he or she will feel entitled to act like one.

We actually got a lot of email yesterday from folks suggesting that the reason the printed copies are necessary is because people want to get them signed.

Which may be true.

But if I were Obama, here’s what I would say:

“Innovation is more important than memorabilia that a number of Congressmen probably are going to put up on eBay.

You want my signature? Send me some damn bills that I want to sign.”

Got a lot of email about our report on Jimmy Buffett’s misfortune in Australia, where he fell of the stage during the final encore of a concert, cracked his head, and ended up in the hospital overnight.

One MNB user wrote:

Sing to the tune of “Margaritaville”:

Blew a big stage flop, landed on head top.
Cut short my concert, had to send the crowd home.
But there’s booze in Australia,
And if mosh pits should fail ya,
I’ll sing all my songs with a bump on my dome.

MNB user W. Patrick McSweeney wrote:

It was Jimmy’s changes in altitudes in a southern latitude.

From another MNB user:

May have been looking for his lost shaker of salt or his lost verse “Old men in tank-tops…..”

MNB user Randy Scott wrote:

“Blew out a flip flop…Stepped on a pop top…” and you know the rest….

In my commentary, I wrote:

Not sure if this was real or not, but a friend told me that Buffett’s manager was quoted as saying, “Some people say that there was a woman to blame, but it was his own damn fault.”

MNB user Colleen Ulinger wrote:

While I’m sorry to hear of Jimmy’s fall and injury, I’d like to say thank you, Kevin, for bringing a little levity to my day.

And MNB user Krag Swartz wrote:

Isn’t that line your own reality?  It explains the typos, dated references and clunky video efforts.  Your use of it was clever and cracked me up!  And it’s definitely in the running for the most memorable Kevin Quote of 2011.

I guess if I have to choose, I’ll take being funny ... even if my efforts are perceived as being somewhat lacking.

Dated references? Jeez...
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