retail news in context, analysis with attitude

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: