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    Published on: February 4, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    There are headlines that I never expected to see, but this is one of them ... and it ran in the Wall Street Journal this week:

    Sports Illustrated Tries to Add Horsepower to Swimsuit Issue

    It seems that over the past few years, as the lure of seeing provocatively clad (or almost clad) women on the world’s most beautiful beaches has dulled because there are so many other options available, the legendary swimsuit issue has been losing advertisers, who want more for their money than just pages of advertising.

    And so, Sports Illustrated is trying different approaches - producing television specials, offering interactive options, and providing cross-merchandising opportunities to sponsors.

    According to the story, “This year, print ads will account for just 55% of the revenue generated by the swimsuit edition. Another 30% will come from digital initiatives, with the balance coming from so-called experiential marketing, which lets consumers interact directly with a sponsor's products or services at an event. As a sponsor for this year's issue, for example, Sony over its PlayStation network and other channels will distribute 3-D video and more than 12 hours of current and archival footage of swimsuit-issue photo shoots.”

    This is a good lesson for any marketer - that there is no such thing anymore as an “evergreen” business, and we all have to stay ahead of the curve, looking for the weaknesses in our own businesses and compensating for them with innovations that will keep us fresh and new.

    And that’s our Friday Eye-Opener - that sometimes even girls in and out of bathing suits aren’t enough to guarantee marketing success.

    Go figure.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 4, 2011

    The Nielsen Company is out with some new Super Bowl-oriented research:

    • Nine out of 10 US households surveyed say that they will watch the game either in their own home or at the home of a friend or relative - as opposed to at a restaurant or bar.

    • Thirteen percent of households say that they plan to spend less on Super Bowl snacks, food and beverages this year, compared to a year ago, while 72 percent say they plan to spend the same amount. Only five percent say they plan to spend more.

    “Consumers adjusted their behavior during the recession, and we see that trend playing out with the Super Bowl,” said James Russo, vice president, Global Consumer Insights at Nielsen. “Still very concerned about jobs and rising gas prices, consumers remain pragmatic with their spending. They are reducing their spending on entertainment and take-out, spending less on clothes and cutting back on expenses where they can, especially in mid to lower income households. That said consumers overall are cautiously optimistic so we don’t expect to see consumers cutting back as dramatically as they did last year.”
    KC's View:
    I did find it interesting that according to Nielsen, Super Bowl Sunday is the 7th biggest holiday for beer sales - behind Labor Day, Memorial Day, Christmas, July 4th, Thanksgiving and Halloween.


    For the record, we always watch the Super Bowl at home, always spend about the same amount of money, and always eat the same thing - red beans and rice. Only the beer changes.

    (BTW...I got some criticism from the MNB community on my choice of food. See “Your Views.”)

    Published on: February 4, 2011

    The Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal reports that Target’s decision to expand its grocery operations and invest in its own distribution network, including an Iowa warehouse that is serving some of its Illinois stores, has forced Supervalu to offer buyouts to 57 employees at one of its own Illinois facilities that will be losing some of the business it has been doing with Target.

    According to the story, “The buyout offers of a one-time lump-sum payment were made Monday, and employees have until early next week to decide.”
    KC's View:
    More tumult at Supervalu. Go figure.

    This week, buyouts. next week, layoffs?

    Just asking.

    Published on: February 4, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal reports that BJ’s Wholesale Club is saying that “it will consider options, including a potential sale of the company, a decision that comes several months after a private-equity firm urged the warehouse-club retailer to look for ways to enhance shareholder value.

    “The Westborough, Mass., company said there is no timetable for its decision, which was reached upon the recommendation of a committee of independent directors. BJ's has hired Morgan Stanley & Co. as its financial adviser.

    “It has been speculated that Los Angeles private-equity firm Leonard Green & Partners is considering a bid for the retailer.”
    KC's View:
    It is no longer a matter of “if.” It is a matter of “when.” Though sources say that nothing is likely to happen very quickly, and it will probably be months until any decisions are made.

    Published on: February 4, 2011

    • The New York Times this morning reports that when the New York City Council yesterday held its twice-delayed (because of snow) hearing into the potential economic impact that Walmart opening stores could have on the city, Walmart wasn’t there to make its case or defend itself.

    “Our decision not to attend today’s hearing has nothing to do with our willingness to answer questions or our belief that our stores would be good for New York City,” the spokesman, Steven Restivo, tells the Times, “and everything to do with the hypothetical nature of the proceedings and the fact that it ignores the hundreds of similarly sized stores that exist in the city today.”

    The Times writes that Council speaker Christine Quinn “wasted no time pointing out Wal-Mart’s absence. ‘I want to say how deeply disappointed I am that one very important part of the equation, Wal-Mart, decided not to join us here today,’ she said as the hearing began. She said the company’s ‘refusal to attend, sadly, only leads me to be further skeptical about them as a company’.”

    The story that notes that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg “has said that New York should be open to any legal business that wants to come here. “

    “You should let the marketplace decide,” he said yesterday. “Anybody who has tried to manage the marketplace, it has not turned out very well. I think the Soviet Union is as good an example as you’d ever need of that.”
    KC's View:
    Woody Allen, as prototypical a New Yorker as you are likely to find, once said that “90 percent of life is just showing up.”

    That might be a good lesson for Walmart to learn as it looks to establish a New York beachhead.

    Published on: February 4, 2011

    The Middletown Journal reports that Marsh Supermarkets has decided it will change the name of six of its 99 stores, converting them to a “MainStreet Market” banner. According to the story, “According to the company, there will be a new logo on buildings, road signs and display signs and tags throughout the stores that have the change.”

    “Operating under the name MainStreet Market will enable us to take the best of what Marsh stands for in these communities and add a much more customized marketing approach for these stores,” said Frank Lazaran, Marsh chairman, chief executive officer and president, in a news release. He added, “Consumer research has consistently indicated that while our initial strategy aimed to better position and differentiate our stores according to their size and varying consumer demands, the fact that both banners continued to operate under the Marsh name limited our ability to do so.”
    KC's View:
    I was thinking of changing my name to George Clooney, figuring that this would instantly make me more successful and popular.

    But then reality set in, and I realized that I’d have to lose weight, get plastic surgery, get my teeth fixed, learn how to act, and spend a dozen or years or so doing bad situation comedies before getting a hit TV series and using that as a launching pad into the movies. Just changing my name, I guess, won’t do it. At least, not all by itself.

    I trust the folks at Marsh know this.

    Published on: February 4, 2011

    Bloomberg reports that “The U.S. jobless rate unexpectedly fell in January to the lowest level since April 2009, while payrolls rose less than forecast, depressed by winter storms.

    “Unemployment declined to 9 percent last month from 9.4 percent in December, the Labor Department said today in Washington. Employment rose by 36,000 workers, the smallest gain in four months, after a 121,000 rise in December that was larger than initially reported. Payrolls were projected to climb 146,000, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey.”

    • The Chicago Tribune reports that “Kraft Foods Inc. said an appeals court agreed to hear arguments over whether Starbucks Corp. can proceed with taking over distribution of its bagged coffee as planned on March 1.

    “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Thursday said it would hold an expedited appeal, according to Kraft, which must file its argument by Feb. 9. A final ruling on the appeal could come by the end of the month. Kraft planned to appeal last Friday’s ruling, where the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied a preliminary injunction that would block Starbucks from taking over the distribution from Kraft in just a couple of weeks.”

    Starbucks has accused Kraft of dropping the ball in its distribution of Starbucks products to grocery stores and other retailers; Kraft has denied the charges. While Starbucks reportedly offered $750 million to resolve the dispute and end their relationship, Kraft is said to be holding out for a bigger payday and hoping that the courts would prevent the coffee giant from ending their deal before some sort of mutually agreeable resolution could be reached.

    Starbucks has said it plans to expand and strengthen its distribution to retailers on its own.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 4, 2011

    • Ahold USA has named Bhavdeep Singh executive vice president of human resources. Singh replaces John Bussenger who has been appointed to the newly established role of executive vice president and assistant to Ahold USA Retail chief executive officer and chief operating officer Carl Schlicker.

    Singh brings more than 30 years of grocery retail experience to his position with Ahold USA, where he will oversee the company’s Human Resources and Labor Relations functions, in addition to fostering associate engagement. Most recently, Singh was chief executive officer for Fortis Healthcare in New Delhi, India, a leading health care provider in Asia and one of the largest private hospital operators in the world.

    In his new role, Bussenger will continue to support Ahold USA’s overarching business strategy, acting as a liaison between company leadership, the executive committee and key stakeholders in driving strategic initiatives. Bussenger has held a variety of leadership positions in his more than 30 years with Giant Food Stores and the former Ahold-owned Edwards chain.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 4, 2011

    Got a number of emails regarding yesterday’s video commentary about how the growth in people working by themselves and/or from home means that they not longer have access to the “community of work,” which could be a big opportunity for retailers that can provide those connections in various venues.

    MNB user Frederic Arnal wrote:

    I think you nailed it with this commentary.

    I left an intensive corporate position years ago to start my own company. We've done well but I spend a great deal of time working alone.  I find myself becoming almost pathetically grateful for the occasional vendor meeting, trade show or customer contact.  I can't believe how much I miss the interaction I had with colleagues and clients.  I miss the "hassle" of air-travel, presentations, hotels and dinners in different cities.  In the final analysis, we are social creatures which explains some of the phenomenal success of Facebook and other social networking milieus.  I sense there is a real opportunity in this growing cyber-workplace for some savvy innovator to address this need.

    MNB user Rich Heiland wrote:

    When I left corporate world back in the 90s I loved the freedom but had a hard time adjusting to the loss of connectivity. I still do miss it and since I spend my road time in client offices, or up in front of large audiences, I do get my people fix.

    But locally, my gym has sorta become the business you reference. I often spend as much time yakking with guys I have come to know as I do exercising, and that's OK.

    Starbucks actually started out as a gathering place and that, to me, was the brand...before they put Starbucks in airports and grocery stores where it became just another expensive cup of OK coffee.....

    The old corner bar also filled that need but in a lot of places, those are disappearing. I am curious - you like the "noise" of the place you went, but do you know folks there, mingle, chat...does the staff know you? That's the key...

    Absolutely. Few things I enjoy more than hanging out with Terry, the manager and sometimes bartender at Sails, a new restaurant near me.

    In fact, I cultivate bars and bartenders who know me (and I know them). Morgan at Etta’s in Seattle. Jimmy at Bin 36 in Chicago.

    They’ve been my community of work.

    MNB user Ken Wagar wrote:

    I appreciated your comments about solitary pursuits this morning and having worked for the past 15 years from a home based office, I recognize a latent need for some face to face contact. However, we are all a bit different in our social styles. While I crave time with good friends, family and associates, I have no interest in being in a crowded, noisy, jostling group of strangers any more than is necessary. This is not to say I won’t go to a favorite restaurant or bar that happens to be noisy and crowded but it does mean I am there for something other than the crowd and noise. This was not always the case, there was a time when I enjoyed those kinds of places and events and found them energizing, but I think what has happened is because I spend the days reasonably isolated from other direct contact I have become much less tolerant of rudeness, the lack of civility, poor service and the lack of courtesy I am often exposed to in such situations. I rarely have to make the many small accommodations to and for others or carry on the myriad small negotiations with others that come with working in an office or other situation where one is constantly involved directly with other people and I am afraid this has made me somewhat less tolerant of certain behaviors than I might have been previously.

    I think your idea of businesses finding a way to create a sense of community has great value, unfortunately, like many ideas I fear people will define community in enough different ways that one may find those community centers in business already exist but aren’t recognized because we are searching for mega communities when the trend today is more toward micro communities, for better or worse.

    Keep us thinking……THAT has great value.

    MNB user John Domino wrote:

    You are definitely on to something with your column that highlights the opportunity out there for retailers that can create a sense of community in their stores.    At a FMI Retail Store Development conference that we had about five years, one of the general session speakers spoke about creating a Third Place, not work, not home, but a third place to go, where you have a sense of belonging and community.  Starbuck’s, Panera Bread and other retailers have been very successful in doing this.  Some supermarkets, Haggens in the northwest with their fireplace decorated seating areas, Wegman’s and the Freshgrocer near the University of Pennsylvania have also been successful in achieving this Third Place feel.

    This is particularly relevant to me since I am currently working on my own doing consulting work in the supermarket industry.  Those days when you go into an office (be it at home or somewhere else) where you have minimal contact with the outside world can be pretty lonely.  For people working for themselves/by themselves the Third Place has become the Second Place.  It is an important place to have a business meeting over a cup of coffee or to spend a few hours finishing a project.  Many stores have community rooms, in store prepared foods, coffee and bakery items and would be great alternative location for a business meeting rather than renting a conference room at a hotel.

    So many companies are trying to find ways to build brand loyalty other than by lowering prices.  Quality, variety, and great service are the current alternative strategies.  But supplementing them with community involvement and becoming a community gathering place will definitely make a difference with your customers.

    MNB user Dave Ahrens wrote:

    I work out of my home office also and am on  the phone or email all day long. That does not fill the gap of the human contact. I'm not craving the 15 minute water cooler conversations but, let's just say, I think this is one reason why I enjoy your video. I think the video email/conference will be used for marketing to achieve a somewhat personal touch. But, nothing works better than a hand shake.

    On another subject, MNB user Jeff Folloder wrote:

    Just want to make sure that I understand the scenario.  By all accounts, Safeway is complying with all the laws that they can, to the extent that they can.  CSPI is suing them to expand the use of the "club card" for super-legal activities.  A couple of things come to mind:

    The data associated with the club card is supposed to be private and sacrosanct.  Unless folks have specifically given permission for this type of contact, there's going to be an issue.

    Most folks are very wary of the privacy issues surrounding the club card and similar affinity marketing programs.  A significant percentage of folks register the cards with bogus information just so they can receive the "discounts".

    These type of lawsuits are notoriously expensive to litigate.  Who's paying for it on the Safeway side?  (Hint: the cost of ketchup is going up.)

    Instead of ineffective drubbing, how about hosting an industry conclave on what can be done to effectively improve the recall landscape?  I've got ideas and would be happy to help...

    For the record, I don’t think Safeway can be held accountable on this one. But if a supermarket asked me if they could use my card data to get in touch me about recalls - and I think they should ask - I would answer with a resounding “yes.”

    On the subject of Marriott walking away from the previously lucrative adult entertainment business that it made available in its hotel rooms, one MNB user wrote:

    It used to be that hotels made a fortune when people made phone calls from their hotel rooms, but the advent of cell phones means that this money generator has pretty much gone away.

    But that doesn't mean they aren't still trying.  At the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood, FL where I recently stayed (thanks to local and toll free calls were $2.50, long distance $10.62 plus $1.72 a minute, and international calls from $22 to $36 per minute. 

    On the adult movies, I don't remember the hotel, but I remember seeing a notice that the particular movie you watched would not be identified on the hotel bill.

    Responding to our piece about NYT columnist Mark Bittman’s food manifesto, one MNB user wrote:

    Bittman makes a ton of sense. There is no question that there is too much government agency duplication, and sooner or later someone has to recognize that we can no longer keep supporting every representative, senator, or industry “pet” subsidy.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    To your piece on Bittman, my view is “AMEN”!

    But another MNB user disagreed:

    This is a joke, isn't it--a modern parody of BRAVE NEW WORLD?  You'd have to be very brave to live in it . . . or very foolish.

    Agree or disagree with him, I think you are going to find that Bittman is going to be an influential and visible voice on the subject of food policy ... and so, attention must be paid. He writes and speaks in a way that I find to be sensible and accessible, and he strikes me as provocative without pontificating, which you can’t say for everyone in this debate.

    And finally, regarding my choice of red beans and rice as Super Bowl food, one MNb user wrote:

    That is like having pot roast on Labor Day, eating frozen pizza for Thanksgiving or Spaghetti on Independence Day.  Just like a proper wine for a meal, there are proper foods for American holidays.  And red beans and rice are not proper for the American holiday Super Bowl!  Have the need to eat something healthy, have scallops.  Just, and please, wrap them with bacon.

    I respectfully disagree. (Red beans and rice especially seemed like a good choice last year, when the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl...) This dish comes in a big pot, smells great, is spicy, can last the whole game if you pace yourself, and goes great with beer.

    What more can one ask for?
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 4, 2011

    I was really looking forward to Sofia Coppola’s new film, Somewhere, mostly because I was enormous fan of her Lost in Translation.

    Sad to say, Somewhere isn’t in the same class. It is the story of a hard-living, self-indulgent Hollywood actor, played by Stephen Dorff, who begins to reconsider his ways after spending time with his 11-year-old daughter, enchantingly played by Elle Fanning. But it has the problem of being a 97 minute movie that feels like a 197 minute movie.

    There are things about it I liked, especially the Woody Allen-like approach to setting up shots. Coppola tends to put the camera in one place and then let the action unfold within the frame; she doesn’t believe in a lot of fast cuts, and it is an approach that I like, depending on the project.

    But in Somewhere, the subject matter is less than compelling. It is hard to work up any sympathy for an emotionally distant movie star who drives around in a Ferrari, stays in sumptuous hotel suites, gets pretty much anything he wants, and yet is not happy. (I kept hoping that Cher would come into the movie in Moonstruck mode, slap him a couple of times and say, “Snap out of it!”) It’s been speculated in the press that Coppola is commenting on her own life and father, the legendary Francis Ford Coppola of Godfather fame, but if so, she should have saved the introspection for the therapists’s office.

    One of Sofia Coppola’s central metaphors in the movie is the Ferrari, which Dorff’s character drives on the LA freeways but never seems to be able to get our of second gear because of all the traffic. But it’s also a good metaphor for the movie itself, which never gets out of second gear.

    I am so tired of snow. And ice. And cold.

    And there’s another seven or eight weeks of winter left.

    I hope the groundhog was right. But I’m not counting on it.

    I know this sounds like I’m whining. And I suppose I am. But I cannot help myself.

    (Tell you one thing, though. If I am going to endure a winter like this one, I’m glad I own an insulated Flying Tiger leather jacket from LL Bean...which is an amazingly warm garment that stands up to pretty much anything that nature throws at me.)

    Good to see that “White Collar” has begun a new season on USA - this terrific series is “It Takes A Thief” for a new generation. Well acted and written, and filmed in the New York City that seems a lot brighter and stylish than it looks on “Law & Order.”

    BTW...everybody needs to start watching “Fringe” on Friday nights. Now. Because this is a TV series that has hit its science fiction and metaphysical stride, is tons of fun, but now is in danger of getting cancelled because it has what some folks call the “Firefly” time slot on Friday night, which is where TV shows go to die. (You may need to catch up its previous seasons via DVD or iTunes...but it is worth it.)

    As much as I hate to say it, Fox ought to give “Fringe” the time slots that it has been sliding “Human Target” into ... because “Human Target” has steadily gone downhill this season, getting sillier and sillier with each passing week. They ought to just cancel it ... and let Mark Valley go off and play “Spenser” on the rumored reboot of the Robert B. Parker TV series.

    My wine of the week - the 2009 Dolcetto d’Alba from Granducato, which is wonderfully robust and perfect with dishes like lasagna and chicken parmesan, which I’ve been making a lot lately as a way of bearing up against the cold and ice. Fantastic - and at about $16, a bargain.

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend...

    Until Monday ... Slainte!
    KC's View: