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    Published on: March 3, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    Content Guy’s Note: Below is a commentary on the same subject as the video piece, but it isn’t word-for-word the same. You can look at both, or is up to you. I look forward to hearing from you.

    There is a new book coming out that I’m looking forward to reading. It is by movie producer Peter Guber, and is entitled “Tell To Win: Connect, Persuade & Triumph With The Hidden Power of Story.”

    According to the New York Times, Guber has come to the conclusion that “we are wired to organize our lives” around the notion of story, and that when you discover or define a narrative, it can drive one’s professional life and success. The paper writes that Guber “theorizes that we respond to story - an aspiring executive’s self-description in a job interview, a digital entrepreneur’s pitch to a potential backer, a team owner’s plea for a city-financed stadium - because we can’t help it. Eons of genetic and cultural programming compel us toward a narrative form with beginnings, endings and moral lessons, whether or not those are in sync with the random ways of the universe.”

    Now, I know a little something about this subject. After all, Michael Sansolo and I wrote a little book called The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies, which uses movie metaphors as a way of creating narratives that can help business thought leaders express their vision and strategies. (The Big Picture, by the way, is available on and makes a great St. Patrick’s Day present. But I digress...)

    This continues to be an important lesson for businesses, and I’m glad to see that Guber is advancing the cause. I spent a lot of time in retail stores, and it is fairly easy to identify the ones in which ownership has a sense of story, and those that do not. The ones with a sense of narrative almost always are the most engaging and compelling shopping experiences.

    I’ve been on the road lately, and there are two independent retailers that I’ve visited that do an excellent job in this area. One is Sendik’s, in Milwaukee, where I was impressed by the fact that the company has essentially created its own in-store television network ... not simply outsourcing the enterprise, asking some media company to simply create programming, sell ads and write them a check. It is more expensive to do it the way Sendik’s is doing it ... but it is controlling the story, controlling the delivery, and the company seems to feel that the investment will benefit it in the long term.

    The other is Metropolitan Markets in Seattle, where the story is simple and compelling from the moment you walk in the front door: we’re all about food. There are few stores that do it was well as this six-store company ... and I’ll say something that I’ve said before: They make the best cioppino that you can imagine, and the smell and taste informs the entire experience.

    The power of storytelling cannot be overestimated, and should not be underestimated. It is what creates an experience, and is one of the most compelling ways to define a differential advantage.

    That’s what’s on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what’s on yours.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 3, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal offers an example of what happens when a business narrative goes out of control, and leaves consumers with more questions rather than fewer.

    “Increasingly, retailers are weighing in with guidelines to indicate which fish are harvested according to seafood-sustainability standards,” the Journal writes. But “now it's more complicated than ever, with new government recommendations encouraging more fish consumption, and a wide and expanding array of guidelines for what is healthiest and most environmentally friendly. For the growing number of consumers who want to enjoy the taste and health benefits of fish without feeling like they are speeding the decline of ocean life, straightforward advice may seem to be in short supply.”

    Part of the problem is that there is no national standard, and the government doesn’t always agree with standards established by groups like Seafood Watch and the Blue Ocean Institute.

    The Journal writes, “No effort to create a single, national guide to sustainable seafood has yet emerged. Companies including Safeway Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp. are putting in place new guidelines to simplify fish buying for consumers, and to promote their ‘green’ credentials. Wal-Mart Inc. and Kroger Co. have both said they are working to stock more environmentally friendly seafood, and SuperValu says it is developing a sustainable-seafood strategy.

    “Safeway is implementing standards developed with the nonprofit group FishWise. The second biggest traditional U.S. supermarket chain by sales after Kroger is aiming to have nothing but sustainable seafood on its shelves by 2015.”
    KC's View:
    I think this is both an excellent point and a great object lesson. And it brings me back to what Bob Johansen of the Institute for the Future likes to say, that we live in a “VUCA” world, one that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

    It ought to be the job of the food business to make the world less so ... and the seafood category amply demonstrates that sometimes things get worse even when people are trying to make it better.

    Published on: March 3, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    There was an interesting and thought-provoking piece in the Chicago Tribune the other day about the challenges of the electric car movement. It is, the Tribune suggests, a chicken-and-egg situation: “Consumers won't buy electric vehicles without somewhere to charge them. But no one will build charging stations without electric vehicles to use them.”

    The paper notes that “to solve this quandary, local governments...and the federal government have pumped millions of dollars of public subsidies into building charging stations.” But the business that are creating these charging stations are aware that public subsidies will only give them the initial charge, and that there has to be a certain mass.

    For these companies - and retailers that have installed charging stations in their parking lots as a way of offering one more convenience to their shoppers, as well as establishing their environmental credentials - there are some interesting statistics in the story:

    • “(Charging station builder) 350Green's business model relies on consumers, especially renters without garages, paying $50 to $60 per month to charge at its stations. Relying on data from Nissan, 350Green projects that 7 percent, or 334,188 vehicles, in the Chicago metro area will be plug-ins by 2020. The company expects to share the revenue it collects from these customers with partners that allow the stations to be installed on their properties. Most likely these partners will be retailers or the owners of parking lots that serve large retailers.”

    • “So far, electric vehicles are rolling out at a trickle, though manufacturer ECOTality is preparing to install 15,000 charging stations by midyear in cities across the country. By next year, a nationwide electric car rollout is expected to be in full swing, led by Nissan's Leaf electric vehicle.”

    Adding to Americans’ interest in electric cars is the rising cost of fuel; there are more than a few predictions that $5 per gallon gasoline is not far off, and the unrest in the Middle East is fueling concerns.

    It is an eventuality to which Americans need to keep their eyes open.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 3, 2011

    British retailer Tesco has opened its first Northern California Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets, in San Jose and Danville.

    The openings are the first of more than a dozen Fresh & Easy stores set to open early this year in Northern California.

    "We opened our first stores in 2007 with the goal of creating a modern, 21st century grocery store," said Fresh & Easy CEO Tim Mason. "Fast forward to today, and we have 166 stores and more than 4,500 employees. We know our fresh prepared meals, our less processed foods and our very competitive prices will be very well received by Northern California shoppers. Today marks another significant step for our business and we couldn't be more excited."
    KC's View:
    While I can appreciate Tim Mason’s optimism and excitement, maybe “fast forward” isn’t exactly the phrase to use, since the Fresh & Easy rollout has not been as fast and as smooth as the company hoped and expected. It has been a rocky road, and the company has had to tweak its approach more than might be expected, given the vaunted amount of consumer research that Tesco did before entering the US.

    That said, I give Fresh & Easy and Tim Mason a lot of credit for staying focused on its goals and not packing it in. They keep working the west coast, expanding slowly and trying to get the mix right.

    Published on: March 3, 2011

    The New York Times reports that “American shoppers did not shed their reliance on credit cards over the year-end holidays.

    “While the average debt on credit cards in December decreased by 4 percent compared with the same month a year before, Americans still carried an average of $4,284 on credit card statements in December 2010, according to data released this week by the credit monitoring company Experian.

    “The data offers conflicting versions of the economy’s already mixed picture. While some consumers spent more during the holidays because the economy was rebounding, others were still unable to cover expenses without leaning on their credit cards. And while holiday spending also appeared to have been more robust than in the last several years, even more recent data has shown a bit of a slowdown in consumption this year.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 3, 2011

    Internet Retailer reports that online shoppers spent $13.8 billion during February, 13.2 percent more than the same month a year earlier, and more than the $13.1 billion spent online during January.

    According to the story, “February is the fourth consecutive month with double-digit online spending increases.  Plus, customers spent more money online in February this year than February last year in every category measured except department stores.”

    The numbers were published by MasterCard advisors, the credit card company’s consulting business.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 3, 2011

    • The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Walmart is reaching out to California affiliates of as the online retailer threatens to cut ties with them because of an ongoing dispute over the collection of state sales taxes.

    As reported yesterday, Amazon is threatening to sever relations with more than 10,000 California based affiliates - companies that place ads for Amazon on their websites and then get paid when people click through and make purchases - as it battles the state over internet sales taxes. Two years ago, Amazon severed its relationship with affiliates in Rhode Island, North Carolina and Hawaii over precisely the same issue.

    Not only is Walmart looking to poach Amazon’s affiliates, but Raul Vazquez, Wal-Mart's executive vice president of global e-commerce, tells the Journal that the company “strongly supports a change in the law to level the playing field for all retailers. The company added that it would continue to collect and remit all sales taxes due on all sales.”

    "We encourage state legislators to support retail fairness legislation," Vazquez says.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 3, 2011

    Bloomberg reports that “as McDonald’s Corp. morphs into a more upscale chain, there’s one person you won’t see munching salads, sipping a cappuccino and surfing the Web: Ronald McDonald, age 48.

    “While Ronald still plays an ambassador role, he isn’t tied to the menu, says spokeswoman Danya Proud. Even as mascots like Burger King’s King shill on TV and the Web, Ronald has ceded the limelight to budding singers and dancers who sell mochas and frappes -- not Happy Meals ... Amid intensifying concern over surging obesity rates, the chain has distanced itself from its fast food origins, adding café-friendly items such as fruit smoothies and dolling up restaurants with free WiFi and padded seats.”
    KC's View:
    And so, it seems that the bottom line has done what Ronald McDonald critics could not do - get rid of the clown.

    It was less than a year ago that some people suggested that Ronald ought to be retired because he was enticing kids to eat poorly and get obese, and the company’s CEO had to come out and defend him as a “force for good.”

    Maybe so, but not, apparently, a force for profit.

    Published on: March 3, 2011

    • The Dallas Morning News reports that Joseph Scalzo, who became the president of Dean Foods six months ago, has left the company.

    According to the story, “The firm’s announcement, which came after the market closed Tuesday, marks an abrupt end to the rapid rise of Scalzo. He had joined Dean in October 2005 as president and chief executive of the company’s WhiteWave division.

    “It’s also the third departure of a major Dean corporate executive in the past five months.

    “A terse news release said the 52-year-old Scalzo left Friday, about a week after the nation’s largest dairy producer reported a fourth-quarter loss of $20.74 million, largely due to charges.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 3, 2011

    Got the following email from MNB user Chris Dean regarding yesterday’s story about Vera Jane Mayne, wife of the late Calvin Mayne, who founded Dorothy Lane Markets in Dayton, Ohio, in 1948, who passed away on Monday. She was 105.

    He wrote:

    I reiterate your comments on Mrs. Mayne, having had the privilege to visit the three stores run by the Mayne family and talk to the staff and customers. You could see the strength of the family coming through the business. It was not always about the bottom line. As one staff member told me, Norman Mayne not only knew her husband’s name but also that of her dog and would ask about them when they met in store.

    These are the life experiences that stick with you and from over here in Australia I still use the philosophy and practice of the Mayne family and their staff when talking to retail industry representatives as one of the exceptional models they should base not only their business but their life dealings on.

    Exceptional family, and an exceptional legacy.

    And on another subject, I got about fifty emails yesterday about the commentary I offered about the ice-cream-made-from-human-breast-milk story.

    And all I can say is this.

    Thank you. Thank you very much.

    I’m appearing here Mondays through Fridays...
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 3, 2011

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