retail news in context, analysis with attitude

We continue to get email about my commentary last week about how the growth of people working at home or for themselves means that they have lost the “community of work,” which could be an opportunity marketers could use to build traffic.

MNB user James P. Kiehm wrote:

I think you have stumbled onto something bigger than you may have thought originally.  The Wall Street Journal recently had an article on spouses who spend a lot of time working out and its causing issues in their marriage.  My wife is giving me a lot of heat over my workout schedule.  She thinks there is some hottie I am hooking up with.  But, I work the normal office grind and travel but I like to stop at a local gym and run on their treadmills.  We have the identical equipment at work.  Its a nice room with everything the local gym provides but has no atmosphere or energy.  No one is ever in there working out.  It’s kind of sad the company spent so much money on numerous locations like this in our buildingsI but they seem to be rarely used.  I suspect I know why.

I like to go to a local gym on the way home from work because there is an energy there that I wouldn't get if I was the only person running in the company facility after work.  There is something about the gym community that keeps me going on a regular basis.  I really don't chat with anyone there.  By the end of the office day I am pretty much chatted out.  I show up, run and go home to my angry wife wondering who she is.  But there is no one.  Up to now I have not been able to articulate to my wife why I have this need to pay $50 a month to go to a gym vs. using the company equipment for free.  But its the energy of the gym community that keeps me coming back.  They have all sorts of programs going on after work.  There are young and old and handicapped people all trying to get or stay fit and healthy.  It’s not a meat market like some are though I suspect some relationships have developed there and I won't deny there is some eye candy there occasionally.  But I am hands off and focused on just working out and listening to tunes on my iPod.

For me to continue my regimen of running I need the energy the gym community gives me.  Hopefully I can convince my wife that all is pure in my going to the gym and that there is no one I am hooking up with and not fall victim to the issues the WSJ talked about.
Another MNB user wrote:

...Comments on the concept of a "Third Place" rang a bell with me after a recent conversation I'd had with one of my clients…..a semi-retired woman whose husband is still working full time as a university professor.   I was attempting to track down her husband for a phone call when I heard her utter the comment, "of course, he is likely at his 'de facto office' ".    When I asked her what she meant by the term "de facto office" she replied, "he just loves to spend so much time at Panera Bread that I now refer to it as his "de facto office".   It seems that the Panera locations that are in or near college towns have a magnetic attraction for university students and staff.

One MNB user wrote:

As a home-based consulting business, one of the ways I build community is by having interns and sub-contractors.  I get my people fix in smaller doses.

Interns get real-world and fast-paced experiences outside of the classroom and I ‘hone’ my mentoring skills.  It is a job to select the right candidate---but it works on so many levels.

MNB user Dave Howald wrote:

I have worked out of a home based office for over 25 years.  I know many people now who also work at home.  My only question is despite all the people we know who work out of their homes how come traffic is still so bad?

Regarding Starbucks’ complaint that Kraft Foods dropped the ball when selling its packaged coffees to grocery stores, one MNB user wrote:

Dunkin’ Donuts retail coffee was introduced in August, 2007.  For the latest rolling 52 week period Dunkin's all outlet sales are over $350 million dollars.  Although there is no way to confirm exactly how much of these sales came directly from Starbucks' retail packaged coffee, suffice it to say that a reasonably large amount of these sales came directly from Starbucks.  I seriously doubt that if Starbucks had anyone other than Kraft representing their product at retail that the impact to the Starbucks brand would have been any less.  Dunkin' Donuts retail packaged coffee has been the biggest news in the premium coffee segment in 15+ years.

A fair point.

I wrote last week about being surprised that Sports Illustrated has to find new ways of merchandising its swimsuit issue, since sales have been declining for the iconic publication. One MNB user wrote:

I’m disappointed that you made not one mention of the inherent sexism in the swimsuit issue and societal implications of treating women like objects.  How would you feel if, upon turning 18, your daughter were featured “almost clad” on a beautiful beach?     The swimsuit issue is the magazine equivalent of Hooters in my opinion: openly sexist yet generally passing as “mainstream” and even family friendly.

Also a fair point.

I had a little fun last week with a story about Marsh deciding to change the name of some of its stores as a way of changing their image, and it led one MNB user to write:

Kevin, nice little chuckle you gave me on proposing to change your name to George Clooney and expecting great results.  When will retailers learn? Now, I'm not educated on the particulars on how Marsh Supermarkets do business; I will assume that since they are a 100 store chain, they do some things (OK, a lot of things) right.  To compete in the 'home' territories of Kroger and Meijer speaks good things as well.  And lastly, I think that it's great that the chain has remained a privately-owned company.  Kudos!

The article indicated that this name change would signify a distinction between the philosophies that the stores operate on.  So the question arises, does the average customer see the difference between the two operations and respect the company's decision on a name change?  Shoppers today are astute and perceptive.  They realize that everything different under the new name, be it signage, employee uniforms, ads, logos, all cost money, and customers will assume they will be paying for that new logo with higher prices.  I can see Sally Shopper at the checkout right now, "What?  You're raising prices in this economy?"  Yikes!!

Now, I don't own a store chain, my phone hasn't rung with CEO's wanting to offer me outrageous consultant fees, I can only offer a little bit of reason from 30 years around the business.  If you want something to, and I quote Frank Lazaran, "stand for in the community", "and add a much more customized marketing approach for these stores", then do it.  Offer outrageously clean stores with top-notch customer service and happy employees.  Offer expanded selections and items that work in their neighborhoods.  Refresh tired stores and re energize your employees with contests, promotions.  Hey, remember the old philosophy that the reason people shop your store is how they are treated by the employees?  It still works.  Make grocery shopping and grocery employment fun again.  I bet these ideas would cost a lot less and yield bigger results than a name change and it's inherent expense in this economy.

By the way, I'm thinking of changing my name to Andy Richter and offering my services as his vacation fill-in on Conan's show.  Wait a second, I look like him already and I'm not nearly as funny, so maybe I would just be wasting my money on a name change........?

I noted last week, after Walmart did not show up for a New York City Council hearing into the economic impact that could occur if it is allowed to open stores in the city, that Woody Allen once said that “90 percent of life is showing up.” Which led MNB user Steve Paris to write:

While Woody Allen may be correct, I think the point that you are continually trying to make with your Eye Openers is that manufacturers and retailers that “just show up” will become less and less relevant.  We are moving quickly into a world where the information and choices available to consumers will put them firmly in control.  Retailers will need to understand and communicate with their customers in a deeper and more meaningful way if they hope to engender the loyalty that will be the true differentiator in the future.  Perhaps that is the extra 10%...

Absolutely. Under almost no other circumstances would I suggest that “showing up” is 90 percent of the battle. It just seemed appropriate to the moment...

I love it when I get email about my movie reviews....

I read with great interest your review of the new Sofia Coppola movie, Somewhere.  I have not seen this film (and have no interest in doing so) but I have found that a great number of films being released these days lack a critical key element: sympathetic characters or characters that exhibit some humanity.  The last movie I saw was Ben Affleck's The Town.  Granted, this isn't an art house drama and the main characters are bank robbers, but the movie left me cold.  I have to admit that I am an aficionado of classic films, especially the film noir genre.  Although many of the film noir movies of the 40's-50's-60's were shot on a shoestring budget with B-movie actors, a good number of them are more compelling than the slick, Dolby-Digital products that are being churned out today.  I am all for High Definition, 3-D, IMAX and Dolby-Digital, but give us some characters that the average hard-working American really cares about and can identify with unless you want to limit your audience to the Hollywood elite and film festival audiences.  Compare a drama like Leo McCarey's Make Way For Tomorrow (1937) to Somewhere and you'll see what I mean.  Call me old-fashioned (I am in my early 40's) but, in my opinion, the lack of humanity (and decency, for that matter) in a good number of films (or television programs) these days is more a reflection of those who are producing this stuff.  Just like the fast food business which you comment about from time to time, if the entertainment industry would produce a "healthier" product, I have no doubt that the public would embrace it.

A legitimate point of view, though I respectfully would disagree with you on the broad point.

I think we have the tendency to romanticize the movies and TV shows of the past as being superior to much of what is produced today, but I’m not sure it is fair. I happened to like The Town a lot, though I’m not sure I would compare it favorably to the best film noir efforts of the past; it also isn’t close to being on the same level as a movie like Bonnie & Clyde, which a lot of people said when it was released that was indecent and overly violent and simply not a good movie, but which I think has proven to be one the greatest Hollywood movies ever made.

Movies and TV programs are a product of the times in which they are created. Some are good and some are bad and most should not be compared to the classics of the past, not because they don’t stand up, but because it simply doesn’t make sense.

Another MNB user wrote:

USA Network has found two devoted viewers of the shows "White Collar" and "Burn Notice" in my two high school-aged sons.   I kept seeing the episodes of both shows accumulating on our DVR and didn't bother to watch them until I read your comments on your website.    Between your favorable feedback and the enthusiasm our boys have for watching the show, I've seen most of the episodes of the last three years for both shows and can follow both story lines fairly well.    It's fun to watch them in hi-def with the sound turned up…..and they seem to have a handle on their use of gratuitous sex and violence, as opposed to some other shows.

And the best thing about shows like these is that you can share them with your kids. When my sons lived at home we’d watch these kinds of shows together, and I miss that. A lot.

For my daughter and me, it is “Castle” that is appointment TV ... and I’ll miss that a lot when she goes off the college.
KC's View: