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    Published on: May 3, 2011

    by Michael Sansolo

    Something very unusual happened at the Pentagon Monday morning, at least for those of us with no connection to the military. To make this simple, essentially nothing happened.

    That may sound confusing, but think about this. The Pentagon is home to the American military, the group bearing the single largest cost in every possible way when it comes to the war on terror. The Pentagon was also the site of one of the three successful terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and no doubt there are many, many people still working in the building who were there that day and remember the explosion, fire and subsequent deaths.

    So it might have been reasonable to assume that there would be some outward display of emotion the morning after the nation learned that terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was killed. Certainly, that’s what the local news radio station in the DC area expected and, as expected, they dispatched a reporter to the Pentagon to capture that reaction.

    Instead, they got something different. As rank and file Pentagon workers emerged from the Washington subway in the early morning hours they had a uniform response to questions about the killing of bin Laden: basically it was “no comment,” just more polite. The news reporter at the scene was surprised at first, but then came to admire the collective silence. It was, he said, a clear display of the discipline the Pentagon requires in times of all news, good or bad.

    It made me think about how the Pentagon enforces a discipline like that. The Pentagon is home to thousands of workers - both military and civilian - and certainly it’s possible they have a rapid communication system that was activated last Sunday night to remind them to refrain from comment about the bin Laden killing.

    More likely though, people who work at the Pentagon don’t need such a message. They work in a place with a clear purpose, with clear rules and clear disciplines. They understand that no matter how lofty or lowly their job; they represent people in harm’s way around the globe. And they understand that their role, no matter how mundane, is to support those troops and do nothing that could create a problem.

    In other words, they knew that Monday was no time for a victory lap at the office. They knew it was time to just get to work.

    The killing of bin Laden is a lesson in organizational excellence for so many reasons. I cannot image all the effort that went into this, the need for extreme secrecy and the incredible details and planning; I do know that am completely unqualified to talk about any of it.

    But I can imagine the training and the clarity of message that it took for ordinary Pentagon workers to understand the importance of public silence the morning after. I think we all can and we can learn from it.

    It reminds us that every person who works for us represents us every day. That even the lowest ranking person in our company impacts our image and our ability to get the job done. It reminds us that everyone needs to understand the power of common purpose and that the job only gets done when all of us give it the right effort. That takes communication, discipline and effort.

    It always matters.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 3, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    The New York Times this morning reports on a new study from the Nielsen Company saying that 96.7 percent of American households own television sets. Which sounds like a lot, until you realize that this is down from 98.7 percent just a couple of years ago.

    Two reasons are cited in the report.

    • The recession. Some low-income households have not been able to buy the new television sets that are a requirement since the nation switched from analog broadcasting the digital in 2009; the study says that the households without televisions generally have income of less than $20,000 a year. There is some historical precedent for this; there apparently was a similar drop in television ownership during the tough economic times of 1992.

    • Technology. The Times writes that “young people who have grown up with laptops in their hands instead of remote controls are opting not to buy TV sets when they graduate from college or enter the work force, at least not at first. Instead, they are subsisting on a diet of television shows and movies from the Internet.”

    This shift in consumer behavior isn’t just an issue for the companies that sell television sets.

    The story notes that this creates a problem for Nielsen, which measures the audience levels of the shows watched on traditional televisions ... which is hard to do if fewer people are watching traditional televisions. At the same time, it affects all the marketers that traditionally have used traditional television to reach consumers, and have done so based on measurements of who is watching what and when.

    And, people who view television programming on their computers generally are not watching commercials ... which creates another layer of issues.

    Marketers of all stripes and in all venues need to pay attention. There are fundamental changes taking place in how consumers consume, and that means that marketers have to change the way they market. One has to be willing to cast a skeptical eye on almost facet of a business operation, to look at both the obvious and subtle ways in which cultural shifts affect the delivery and consumption of products and services. The definitions of “need” and “want” are also changing, and traditionalist approaches to business are more likely to be outmoded with every passing day.

    It’s an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 3, 2011

    The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Charles Lieberman, a former official with the Federal Reserve now with Advisors Capital Management, has a unique take on what potentially is an enormous new market for retailers and manufacturers.

    According to the story, “new households are being formed at the fastest rate since 2007.” And they’ll all have to buy stuff.

    Lieberman says, according to the Chronicle, that “lots of young people were forced to move in with their parents during the recession, and now they're starting to leave the nest and set up their own apartments. Between 750,000 and 1 million new households will be created this year, UBS Securities predicts, more than double the 357,000 in the year ended March 2010.”
    KC's View:
    Not only will these households have to buy stuff, but they may actually be looking for guidance about what to buy, about how to be intelligent consumers. This is a great opportunity for marketers to use information as a sales tool, helping people to make smart choices about how and where they spend their money.

    I remain convinced that in the long run, an information-driven economy means that intelligence-driven consumers will be looking to do business with companies that respect what they know, understand what they don’t know, and are willing to help fill in the gaps.

    Published on: May 3, 2011

    The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that “discount grocery stores are moving into the American shopping mainstream,” with chains like Aldi and Save-A-Lot demonstrating a lot of appeal to even traditionally affluent consumers who suddenly are finding their lifestyles affected by high fuel prices.

    Both Aldi and Save-A-Lot are in the middle of major expansions, and experts tell the paper that the latter is the “brightest spot” for Supervalu, which owns and franchises the limited assortment discount format.

    The real question, the Post Dispatch writes, is what Lexus-driving consumers do if/when the economy improves.

    “Some may go back to their spendthrift ways, food analysts say, but many will stay with the discounters if they have good experiences there,” the paper writes.

    “Discounters ‘won't retain all of their customers who have traded down during the recession, but we think there will be a certain amount of stickiness,’ said Craig Johnson, president of consulting firm Customer Growth Partners.”
    KC's View:
    Since companies like Aldi and Save-A-Lot are in many ways anti-brand, it will be interesting to see if consumers’ allegiance to them - especially if it continues beyond the economic downturn - translates into broader non-brand-driven behavior. It is something that brands need to think about.

    Published on: May 3, 2011

    The New York Times writes about what it calls “a new breed of e-commerce sites” that combine “old-fashioned and new-fangled methods for luring customers. They present users with a limited selection of jewelry, shoes and accessories by coupling software algorithms that determine personal style with strategies culled from home shopping TV channels and CD-of-the-month clubs.”

    Essentially, the sites use quizzes and tracking software to analyze what people like and buy, and then use the information to offer them more targeted merchandise that is designed to appeal to their sensibilities ... and, in many cases, get them to move beyond buying just what they need and inspire them to buy what they like and want.

    According to the Times, “The sites are the latest example of retailers inventing new ways to shop online. The recent flurry of innovation in e-commerce has also produced private sale sites like Gilt and daily deal sites like Groupon. Like those, these shopping clubs aim to filter the seemingly infinite options online and show a small selection, catered to an individual’s taste.”
    KC's View:
    Retailers that do now know who their customers are, what they are buying, when they shop, and how their attitudes and priorities are formed, are probably working from a competitive disadvantage. Over the long run, it may be an untenable position to maintain.

    Published on: May 3, 2011

    MarketWatch reports that Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and one of the world’s most respected investors, said this week at his company’s annual shareholder conference that Tesco should take a “hard look” at its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets chain in the western US, and said that the effort had been “foolhardy.”

    Berkshire Hathaway holds a three percent position in Tesco.

    According to the story, “Charlie Munger, vice-chairman of Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway investment business, was even more forthright, saying that Tesco's West Coast adventure had been ill-advised, adding: ‘I could have told (Tesco) if they had asked me, but they didn't’.”

    The comments are seen as having a potential impact on Tesco’s new CEO, Philip Clarke, who is perceived as being less enamored with Fresh & Easy than his predecessor, Sir Terry Leahy, who launched Tesco’s American experiment.
    KC's View:
    Tough words. I still think that Tesco is not close to pulling the plug on its not-so-excellent adventure ... though I think this all could change is someone offered to buy the whole division, and it were a number that Tesco could live with. That may be the wild card in the deck...

    Published on: May 3, 2011

    The Lakeland Ledger reports that Publix is preparing to announce a “uniform” policy on coupon usage and acceptance, with expectations that it could go into effect in just a few weeks.

    According to the story, Publix currently accepts store coupons, manufacturer coupons, competitor coupons and online coupons, but the policy can vary from store to store.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 3, 2011

    Walgreen announced that it “is now offering daily testing for total cholesterol and HDL (high density lipoprotein), blood glucose and A1C at more than 1,400 pharmacies in 33 states, as well as Washington, D.C. Each test also includes a free blood pressure reading and personal consultation with a Walgreens pharmacist ... Tests are available to those age 18 and over at select stores during pharmacy hours daily with no appointment necessary.”

    Walgreens pharmacists administer tests by fingerstick. Cost for testing is $30 for cholesterol and HDL, $20 for blood glucose, $35 for AIC testing (for self-identified diabetics only).
    KC's View:
    Yet another example of information-driven marketing.

    Published on: May 3, 2011

    • Supervalu announced that it has signed a deal with Coinstar that will expand on a pilot program that began early last year in the Pacific Northwest. The agreement will allow Supervalu customers - at some 1,000 stores under various banners - to cash in their coins for free when they choose the Supervalu gift card option at the Coinstar kiosk. The fee-free coin counting service also applies to other gift cards and e-certificates from a variety of national retailers.

    • The New York Times reports that a new campaign is under way to support the Tillamook brand of medium cheddar cheese sold by the Tillamook County Creamery Association, a cooperative of farms in Oregon. The campaign - which includes television and social media - is described as a “light-hearted” look at what other food thinks about being paired with Tillamook cheese, and is designed to give Tillamook a stronger brand identity and consumer appeal.
    KC's View:
    First time I ever had Tillamook cheese was on a Tillamook Cheeseburger at Burgerville ... and I instantly had the sense that it was something special, and worth coming back for whenever I was in the Pacific Northwest. As a consumer, I love that kind of specificity ...

    From the brand perspective, it seems to me that for a brand to have any strength, it has to be willing to exercise its muscles.

    Published on: May 3, 2011

    MNB took note yesterday of a New York Times report that the food and beverage industry is hunkering down to do battle with NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who as part of his broader battle against obesity wants to prevent residents from using food stamps to buy sugared soft drinks.

    I commented that I know there will be folks who will say that the Bloomberg initiative is yet another example of “nanny government,” that it is an unnecessary intrusion by government into people’s personal behavior:

    I understand this thinking, and respect the rationale behind it. But there also is the matter of public policy, and a legitimate discussion needs to take place about whether public money should be used to support lifestyle decisions that could create health issues that could cost money down the line in terms of health care costs, and that could certainly qualify as a discretionary purchase, an indulgence. I just hope that the discussion is mature and measured, not hysterical and purely ideological.

    One MNB user disagreed:

    That's the beauty of socialized medicine:  It makes everything you do everybody's business.

    I’m not sure that’s the point.

    This public policy debate is not about making how people behave “everybody’s business.” It is about how people spend public money, and if they do so in a way that is not injurious to the public’s best interests - both health-wise and financial - in the long-term.

    Isn’t this the very definition of fiscal responsibility?

    MNB user Carlos Guzman wrote:

    I happen to agree with Bloomberg. Nobody is saying that people on assistance cannot drink soda or other sugared drinks, they simply should not to be allowed to do it with tax payer money. It mirrors the reasons why people on assistance cannot purchase liquor, cigarettes, junk food, and many other things with their food stamps.  They are free to consume any of those goods just not on the dime of the tax payer, especially when it will have health implications down the line and we will end up footing the bill for that, too.

    Another MNB user responded:

    I'm actually going to agree with Mayor Bloomberg on the soft drink issue.  I also am going to say this for the first time - I agree that w should have a nanny government when it comes to food stamps.  If you have your hand out for help, than there should be expectations in terms of what you do with the help that apparently you needed so badly.

    From another MNB user:

    Food stamps are funded by taxpayer dollars.

    If the recipients of food stamps buy healthy food, they potentially stay healthier.  If they buy food that historically has direct links to health issues, such as soft drinks with high fructose corn syrup,  as a taxpayer I absolutely want those food stamps to support fruits, vegetables, and healthy food selections. Because when (not if) they get diabetes from those choices, then again, the taxpayers are hit with the health care costs.  Double hit for the hard working taxpayer.

    If the food stamp recipient doesn’t like it, well, get off food stamps.  There are many ways.  Get a job.  Get a 2nd job.  Make it happen.  Sorry, there are too many victims and not enough encouragement to take responsibility for one’s circumstances.  There are also many stories of persistence, success, for many who started with nothing, or had family issues, health issues, yet determined to find a way out of their limitations they did.  There are so many stories, from immigrants who arrived on USA shores with nothing, that now own businesses.

    And, another MNB user wrote:

    A person on food stamps should be focused on "needs" and not "wants"  -  Soda is "want."   The government is here to  help with "needs"  so that people can eventually get their feet on the ground to enable them to earn their own "wants."

    As a previous grocery store checker, I can tell you most things are automated.  Food stamps are now electronic and participants use debit cards.    Checkers scan the grocery's and items that are "approved" are paid for using a  "food stamp debit card."   A remaining balance shows up for items that are not approved.   There is no "logistic bottleneck at checkout" and I don't understand how eliminating soda stigmatizes  poor people using food stamps.

    Isn't being on food stamps in the first place where the stigma comes from?   When I was a checker (BTW-my 2nd job to make ends meet - I didn't collect government handouts) I used to be appalled by what people would buy using food stamps.    I personally think food stamps should be limited even further to just meat, fresh fruits and vegetables or canned fruits and vegetables.  Period.

    When I watch a woman pull out a food stamp debit card from a Gucci wallet to buy soda, sugary cereal, boxed and processed foods, to go with her filet mignon it nauseates me.   Trust me, it happens a lot.    As far as I'm concerned, the government has every right to limit what they are willing to pay for and what they are not.   If the people taking the free money don't like it, then they better get up and find a job that allows them earn more of their "wants" in life. Maybe limits would motivate them to do that.  If not, at least they'd be eating  healthier and wiser.

    On another subject, MNB user Chris O'Brien wrote:

    I got a chuckle out of this morning’s Eye Opener about the Royal Palace guard who was suspended for bad-mouthing the princess-to-be on Facebook. Obviously, it was a bonehead move given the guy’s job—but also funny that English Royalty continues to reinforce its own sad stereotype. Good luck to Scotland Yard with this critical investigation. Off with his head!

    We had some discussion yesterday here about Walmart’s decision to begin once again selling guns in some US stores, while simultaneously participating in Mayors Against Illegal Guns Campaign. One MNB user objected to the latter, saying that he would not shop at Walmart anymore because of what he sees as the Campaign’s anti-Second Amendment bias.

    I commented:

    Methinks I do not want to get myself involved in the gun debate.

    Though I do find it amusing that Walmart is now getting criticized by this reader not for selling too many guns, but for being willing to engage in a discussion about responsible gun ownership.

    May I suggest that Walmart could not engage in a national urban strategy without being willing to deal with the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Campaign. It would just not be politically possible. And I don’t think it would be responsible.

    Kevin, thank you for the laugh, what? You don’t want to be caught bringing a pen to a gun fight? If you did I think I would still put my money on you.

    First let me make it clear that even though I do not own a gun I am an American citizen that supports the Second Amendment. With that said I am perplexed how there a so many that see organizations such as MAIG as such a threat to say things like “MAIG wants is to punish the millions of responsible, legal gun owners in America.”

    Really? Punish? Even with my limited knowledge of MAIG I would certainly doubt that “punishing legal gun owners in America” is their goal. What is the MAIG declaring a War on Guns?

    Okay, back to Wal-Mart. It is rather interesting that a company can at one point remove the sale of guns in some areas for what must have been good business reasons or perhaps political reasons or perhaps social reasons and is now looking to reverse this prior decision in hopes to regain lost sales.

    But with that said, even though I am not a big fan and do not shop very often at Wal-Mart I have to give them credit for engaging in “the discussion”.

    I truly believe as American citizens the best and only way to preserve our Second Amendment rights is to be part of the solution to the problem of “illegal gun ownership”. And the way we can do that is to either be involved directly in the discussion, support all those who are willingly involved in the discussion or even better offer more solutions to remove illegal guns from our society.

    And another MNB user wrote:

    Can we focus on the facts at hand rather than taking opposition based on fictional doomsday scenarios?  Yelling about a slippery slope does not make it so.   Mayors Against ILLEGAL Guns does not call for the elimination of firearms. Regulating advertising to kids and putting healthy drinks in school vending machines does not mandate what parents can buy for their family.  I’m not suggesting what anyone’s opinion should be (though mine are obvious), only that those opinions should be based on the matter at hand.  Asking, “what is next?” is fair, but it can’t be the sole factor in a decision.

    Okay, maybe I will get involved in the gun debate...

    To be transparent about this, I am not a gun owner. Never held one. Never shot one. No desire to.

    I am always fascinated by this debate. I’ve never understood why it is somehow seen as a total violation of Second Amendment rights to exercise a certain amount of control and oversight over who owns guns and where, and what kinds of guns - like assault rifles - are owned. Quite honestly, my knee-jerk reaction to the gun debate is that we should just take them all away ... and that anyone who uses a gun in the commission of any crime ought to be put away for a minimum of 20 years with no chance of parole.

    But I also recognize that knee-jerk reactions usually are not the smartest reactions. Second Amendment provisions ought to mean something - just like the First Amendment, which is particularly dear to my heart. And so I think that we can’t just take all the guns away, much as it might seem like a good idea, and we have to figure out a way to respect responsible gun ownership while also figuring out how to protect the potential victims of gun violence. Does this mean longer waiting times before being able to purchase a gun? Does it mean more effective approval processes before someone is allowed to buy one? Maybe. Maybe it just means better enforcement of existing laws, which is what some folks would argue.

    As a citizen, I’m open to all of these options. I think they ought to be discussed, examined, and that reasonable people ought to be able to come to a reasonable and acceptable resolution of the issue through reasonable compromise.

    What I am appalled by is when people - on either side of the aisle - refuse to budge off their ideological positions. It strikes me as indicative of the death of reason, because I fervently believe what Pete Hamill once wrote - that “ideology is a substitute for thought.”
    KC's View: