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    Published on: April 7, 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 either...it is up to you. I look forward to hearing from you.

    I experienced a remarkable thing yesterday.

    I was in the Apple Store in Stamford, Connecticut, doing a One-to-One training session. I’m in the “have laptop, will travel” business, and it is great to have access to this service when I have questions that need to be answered.

    So we’re sitting there, and the Apple employee is helping me figure out some new things I can do with my Keynote program, which is the Apple presentation software that I’ve always found to be vastly superior to PowerPoint; inevitably, after almost every presentation I do, someone will come up to me and ask what software I was using.

    Suddenly, almost every employee in the store starts to applaud. And I’m talking big, enthusiastic applause. The guy helping me joined in, and even some customers did.

    Well, I was pretty sure it wasn’t for me. I looked at the front door, which is where all the employees seemed to be looking, and while I saw a few people walking in with sheepish smiles on their faces, it wasn’t like they were recognizable or anything.

    So I asked the guy helping me. “What’s going on?”

    “Those people just completed their training,” he said. “They’re here to start work.”

    Wow.

    That’s extraordinary. Apparently, this happens all the time - it is a tradition at Apple Stores all over the country. They feel strongly enough about welcoming people into their culture that they greet them with applause, bathing them in the soft glow of approval.

    I know teachers who, when being informed that they’ve gotten tenure, have been told via form letter from the school district where they work. Now, we can debate whether tenure is a good idea at another time, but the very definition of tenure is that it is a lifetime commitment, and people are told via form letter. At the Apple Store, where people may work for six months or six years, they get applause ... and I suspect that this is reflective of a broader culture, not just an anomaly.

    More retailers ought to do this. Supermarkets. C-stores. Clothing stores. Hardware stores. Drug stores. Whatever. They ought to develop people-centric cultures, and then use techniques like these to demonstrate them not employees and customers alike.

    The people on the front lines are the most important people in any retail enterprise, and they deserve to be treated like an investment, not as a liability or cost. In short, if you give them applause, maybe they’ll take a kind of ownership in the enterprise ... and will continue to deserve applause.

    That’s what’s on my mind this Thursday morning, and as always, I want to hear what is on your mind.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 7, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    Fast Company reports that “new data from research firm Common Sense Advisory suggests that if your brand is to achieve truly global reach in our online world, your website must ‘speak’ more than 16 languages ... the figure will keep growing, too, as Internet penetration reaches more countries around the world. CSA's math suggests that sites that use 11 languages can only reach 80% of the world, and monolingual sites typically capture just 25% of the world's Net users.”

    The story continues: “If a company really wants to push its message out across the entire world, and hence achieve global sales of products and services, it may have to work a lot harder than merely supplying a website in just the local language and English.”

    Uh-oh. I have enough trouble with English ... which, as the story notes, is only the third most-used language in the world, after Mandarin and Spanish.

    And that’s an Eye-Opener, at least for brands that want to be perceived as having global influence.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 7, 2011

    The New York Post reports that Walmart considered investing in toy-themed “pop-up stores” last year, which would have allowed it open short-term, small stores that would have competed with Toys R Us and other toy retailers.

    Walmart decided not to go in that direction, and how is focusing on the Express and Neighborhood Market formats as engines of growth. However, the story suggests that analysts - and competitors - believe that Walmart could revisit the issue this year and try the pop-up approach.
    KC's View:
    And then imagine if Walmart could figure out a way to use those pop-up locations as delivery depots for products ordered from its website.

    This strikes me as being a strong potential weapon in an integrated competitive strategy. And Walmart is looking for weapons.

    Published on: April 7, 2011

    Convenience store in-store sales grew 4.4 percent in 2010, reaching a record $190.4 billion, according to figures released by NACS. Combined with $328.7 billion in motor fuels sales, total convenience store sales in 2010 were $575.6 billion, or one out of every 25 dollars of the overall $14.624 trillion U.S. gross domestic product.
     
    The industry’s 2010 numbers were announced in Chicago today at the annual NACS State of the Industry Summit, a two-day conference that reviews and analyzes the industry’s key economic indicators.
     
    The 4.4 percent growth rate of convenience store in-store sales, NACS said, “surpassed the growth rates of other competing channels, including warehouse stores/clubs (4.0%), restaurants (3.4%), drug stores (2.4%) and grocery stores (2.3%), based on U.S. Department of Commerce numbers.
     
    “Part of the sales growth can be attributed to an increase in stores. The number of U.S. convenience stores grew 1.2 percent over the past year and stands at a record 146,341 stores, according to the NACS/Nielsen TDLinx 2011 Convenience Industry Store Count, released earlier this year.”
    KC's View:
    A lot of this growth is coming from foodservice, a category in which many c-stores are improving their selections and raising their profiles. There is a redefinition taking place in the convenience channel, as traditional boundaries blur ... something that will affect not just c-stores, but anyone who competes with them.

    Published on: April 7, 2011

    Crain’s Chicago Business reports that Groupon is expanding beyond its deal-of-the-day business model, which sends emails to some 70 million subscribers offering them location-specific coupons based on enough people taking advantage of the promotion. According to the story, a new product called Groupon Now that is category-specific and not just limited to a single day.

    Groupon is starting with the home and garden category.

    This new service gives consumers "somewhere they know they can always find a relevant deal for their home," a Groupon spokeswoman tells Crain’s. “It's a targeted vertical that allows us to feature more of the quality local and online merchants waiting in our pipeline. We created the channel partially in response to customer demand for more evergreen deals and items appropriate for gifts.”
    KC's View:
    Groupon has the potential of being a truly disruptive presence, getting in between retailers and their customers in some really interesting ways. Retailers need to pay close attention, and figure out what they need to do to compete and keep current with shopper expectations.

    Published on: April 7, 2011

    Interesting column in the Oakland Tribune by Drew Voros about the new Tesco-owned Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores opening in Northern California, in which the writer takes a highly critical view of the self-service checkouts used by the chain.

    Excerpts:

    • “In a clear demarcation from other grocery stores, the U.K.-owned and operated Fresh & Easy chain offers only self-serve checkouts. Who needs staff when the shoppers can do all the work at the register ... When you are only buying a few things, self-serve checkouts are bearable and may even get you out of the store faster. But if you have to check out a heavily loaded grocery cart, you might feel like filling out a United Food and Commercial Workers union card when finished.”

    • “Hunting and gathering food throughout the aisles is enough work for many of us. Being conscripted into performing clerical and bagging duties on top of shopping is asking a lot.

    “Unfortunately, you can expect more self-serve checkouts in the future. The idea of replacing
    checkers with shoppers is just too appealing for retail executives trying to fatten profit margins with fewer labor costs.”

    • “Stand back and observe the neophytes taking to the register for the first time and you won't see much laughing or smiling, and no conga line will break out. Instead, you will see shoppers taking on pained expressions that come with doing unfamiliar and unpaid physical labor.”
    KC's View:
    I checked out the picture of the guy who wrote this column, thinking he must be, like 90. But he’s younger than I am.

    Listen, I’ve always felt that retailers ought not use self-checkout just as a cost-savings measure, that they ought to take some of those checkout people and deploy them throughout the aisles. (And BTW...fewer labor costs can translate into lower prices. And that’s what Fresh & Easy is trying to sell.)

    But rather than being so against the technology, maybe the columnist should have recognized that not every retail experience is for everyone...that Fresh & Easy is trying to carve out a distinctive niche, rather than doing what everybody else is doing...and that a lot of young people find self-checkout to be immensely appealing because it makes them feel empowered.

    Published on: April 7, 2011

    In the UK, the Telegraph reports that former Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy said that he believes that the nation’s economy is “in recovery. The economy will grow this year. It will be slow and steady.” He said that stabilization of oil prices will be a major factor in how fast the economy improves; Leahy said that rising oil prices had taken a big chunk out of people’s paychecks both in terms of fueling their cars and heating their homes during a tough winter.

    However, Bloomberg reports that Andy Bond, the former CEO of Walmart-owned Asda Group, is predicting that the “retail recession” is still ahead and that both 2011 and 2012 will be “very tough.” Bond said that he expects “a long, long- term trend of trading down,” and “an extended period of constrained consumption.”

    Both former executives made their comments at the Retail London conference this week.
    KC's View:
    I feel so much better now.

    Actually, I think this tells us more about the difference between the Tesco and Asda mindsets than it does about the shape of the British economy.

    Published on: April 7, 2011

    • The Huffington Post reports that the Seventh Circuit Court has ruled “ that Walmart did not discriminate against the religious freedoms of an employee by firing the woman for caustic anti-gay remarks directed at a homosexual coworker.”

    The case goes back to 2005, when a lesbian employee of a Walmart in the suburbs of Chicago was approached and harassed by another employee who took religious exception to her homosexuality, saying that she will “go to hell.”

    Walmart concluded that the person doing the harassing was guilty of discrimination, which violates the company’s employment policies. And it fired her.

    According to the story, the fired employee, “an Apostolic Christian, responded by filing suit against the company, claiming that her religious beliefs...were violated in her firing.”

    The court concluded that companies are allowed “to set the standard for acceptable speech on the job,” the story says, and ruled that she was fired because she violated those standards, not because of her religious beliefs.

    • Walmart-owned Sam’s Club announced that this week it will award “more than $2.8 million to organizations with programs that help prevent disease and promote healthy living. Prevention and awareness programs that help people from all walks of life make healthy choices and lifestyle changes can make a significant difference in reducing obesity, diabetes, heart disease and a host of other conditions.”

    According to the announcement, “The donations will be given to YMCA of the USA (Y-USA), Sesame Workshop, Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the OASIS Institute. Each of these organizations has sustainable, innovative programs that focus on disease prevention by creating awareness and providing education in an effort to target specific health and wellness issues. Most importantly, these programs can have a positive effect on the communities where Sam's Club Members and Associates live and work.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 7, 2011

    A study out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham suggests that what is being called the “epigenetics diet” - one rich in broccoli, cauliflower, soybeans, red grapes and green tea - is helpful in fending off cancer.

    According to Toronto’s Globe and Mail, “While genetics is the study of inherited genes, epigenetics looks at changes in the activity of genes. Epigenetics investigates how environmental agents – including the foods you eat – influence which genes are turned on or off.

    “The traditional view of cancer is that the disease is caused by damage to genes and DNA mutations. But scientists are learning that other forces – diet, stresses, toxins – have the power to change gene activity in healthy, undamaged cells and ultimately alter cancer risk.

    “Turns out your diet has the potential to reverse negative changes to gene expression, changes that could, over time, lead to cancer as well as other diseases.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 7, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal reports that bankrupt Borders says that it has found more than $30 million in rent reductions through the relocation of its Michigan headquarters and the eventual closing of some 226 stores.

    According to the story, “The business plan is the linchpin of Borders' efforts to make it through bankruptcy proceedings and will need support from leading publishers and landlords on the creditors committee that ship the company books and rent out real-estate for its stores.

    “As part of the plan, Borders is projecting relatively flat total revenue growth in 2011 and 2012, although it does expect to show significant growth in digital books and online. Comparable store sales are expected to be challenged, in part because of the continued industry-wide growth of e-books.”

    The plan, the Journal says, assumes that “by 2015, 38% of books sold globally will be e-books.”

    Also still a possibility - Borders is forced to seek outside investment in the company, and perhaps even put itself up for auction in the same way that bankrupt video chain Blockbuster recently did.
    KC's View:
    I have no confidence in management, especially because top management also wants retention bonuses to stick around and make things work.

    Published on: April 7, 2011

    • The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that Delhaize-owned Food Lion is planning to bring its Bottom Dollar format to the Pittsburgh area.

    According to the story, “The chain is moving ahead with plans to convert a former Foodland store on Frankstown Road in Penn Hills, which it purchased in 2009, after obtaining township approvals for extensive interior work.” And it is exploring other possibilities in the market.

    • The Herald Bulletin reports that Marsh Supermarkets is converting six of its eight locations in Muncie, Indiana, to its MainStreet Market format.

    “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,” CEO Frank Lazaran said in the statement.
    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) “believes he has the votes to pass legislation delaying a controversial Federal Reserve Board rule capping debit-card fees ... (his) bill would delay the start date of the debit-fee rule and require regulators to further study its impact on consumers and community banks.”

    Regulation of what have been described as usurious swipe fees was mandated by financial reform legislation passed last year. The financial services industry has been spending millions in lobbying fees to delay or stop the regulations from going through, while retailer and consumer groups have been fighting back, calling for no changes in the law.

    • The New York Times this morning reports that “each year, an ever larger portion of the world’s crops — cassava and corn, sugar and palm oil — is being diverted for biofuels as developed countries pass laws mandating greater use of nonfossil fuels and as emerging powerhouses like China seek new sources of energy to keep their cars and industries running ... But with food prices rising sharply in recent months, many experts are calling on countries to scale back their headlong rush into green fuel development, arguing that the combination of ambitious biofuel targets and mediocre harvests of some crucial crops is contributing to high prices, hunger and political instability.”

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that after a period during which McDonald’s de-emphasized its mascot Ronald McDonald because it was focusing on adult-oriented products such as those served in its McCafe installations, the company is now “bolstering his Web presence, resetting its sights on kids.”

    The story continues: “However, the new commercials starring the red-headed clown, which began airing Wednesday, may come at an inopportune time as New York City council members attack McDonald's Happy Meals as a ‘predatory marketing technique’ with a bill that would ban free toys from fast-food children's meals that exceed calorie and nutrition targets.”

    However, McDonald’s continues to maintain that there is nothing predatory about Ronald - that he simply reflects the fun of the brand.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 7, 2011

    We got the following email from MNB user Mark Willey about Kate McMahon’s piece yesterday about the Greek yogurt explosion and how it is being fueled by social media:

    I loved your piece about greek yogurt because I just "discovered" it a few months ago and now eat about five cups a week (I'll go with Oikos honey flavored as my favorite). I don't know why you presented it as a product geared more for women though. I was drawn to it because I lift weights a lot and am constantly searching for relatively low-calorie sources of protein and found this product to be excellent in that regard (no contest when compared to normal yogurt!). I feel that many women don't fully meet their protein requirements because they don't eat enough meat and that this is an excellent product for them, but it is also an excellent product for men that lift weights and are looking for a sensible high protein snack.

    I guess the reason why I felt compelled to write is the seemingly prevalent sentiment that healthy means girly and unhealthy means manly. Don’t take Greek yogurt from us too!


    Kate responds:

    Point well taken! And it's the marketers who have pegged women as the main demographic. For example, Fage advertises in magazines such as Vogue and Elle as well as Food & Wine. They should take a page from your training manual...

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Just an additional comment on the surge in Greek Yogurt sales.  Weight Watcher’s has recently totally, totally changed its points system.  Instead of a calculation of calories/fat/fiber, the new calculation is protein/carbohydrates/fat/fiber.  As a result, products w/high protein scores are much more valued---i.e. lower points.  WW is a huge influence in what is purchased at the grocery store, and no fat yogurt, in general, is a favored food group of WW devotees.  They are moving en masse from regular yogurt to Greek yogurt.  It is a hot topic at WW meetings.

    And, just for the record, I favor Chobani 0% fat plain.  The consistency is to die for, and the bite is just right.  And, IMHO, Stonyfield’s offering tastes like sour milk.  Yuck!





    MNB user Adrienne Kramer had some thoughts about Michael Sansolo’s piece yesterday about the banks:

    Thank you for exposing the piece on banks using forged documents.  The bigger question is now that banks and most companies offering financing are using highly corrupt information on credit worthiness with the recent theft of social security #s.  At what point, does the government step in, or some other organization and stop financing companies using social security numbers as someone’s credit worthiness.  The business of correcting wrong information has become enormous, yet, the 3 major reporting agencies don’t properly reflect changes, etc.  So good payers are being penalized for things that are completely out of their control.  Is it time for our local senators and assemblymen to get involved?




    I took a shot at Sbarro, the pizza chain that filed for bankruptcy, saying that it represents typical lowest-common-denominator airport and mall food, which led MNB user Janet Deutsch to write:

    Well, you are certainly doing a disservice to all of us who work very hard to make sure that airport food is not the lowest common denominator.  You may not realize that there is an entire group of people that focus just on food and shopping at airports.  I didn't know/realize all the types of jobs in the supermarket industry until I stumbled across your blog years ago (it showed up on a Google Alert because you made a reference to airport food).  I subscribed, and love it, but you are continuing to perpetuate the myth of bad overpriced airport food.  If you think honestly about food in airports, you have to admit that some of it is very, very good.   Example - Seattle.  We still have a ways to go (at OAK we  have California Pizza Kitchen (blah), but also Firewood Café - if you want quality pizza), but hey - we, as an industry have made great strides over the past 10 years.
     
    Please respect that many of us are working very hard to change this perception, your comment is not helping.


    Fair point.

    Things have gotten a lot better, especially in certain airports. Remember that I raved about one sport about a year ago here on MNB:

    When I was in the San Antonio Airport this week, I had a few minutes to stop in a little wine bar called Vino Volo, which offers a delightful and unexpected respite from the pressures of traveling.

    Not only did I enjoy a refreshing 2007 Chardonnay Carneros from Napa’s Pine Ridge Winery, but also a spicy chorizo and white bean stew as well as meaty pulled pork barbecue served on corn tortillas. Wonderful wine and excellent food - proof positive that even in an airport terminal, you don’t have to settle for lowest common denominator food.


    The sad truth is that I spend a lot of time at LaGuardia in New York ... which is like going to a third world country. And that’s probably colored my perception.

    But I’l try not to paint with such a broad brush next time.
    KC's View: