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    Published on: June 3, 2011

    The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) yesterday launched its new “MyPlate” icon, designed to replace the familiar Food Pyramid as an easy-to-reference guide to an optimal diet. The plate is split into four components - for fruit, vegetables, grains and protein. A small circle sits outside the plate for dairy.

    According to the New York Times story, “Officials said they planned to use the plate in a campaign to communicate essential dietary guidelines to consumers, emphasizing one message at a time for best effect. The Agriculture Department has created a Web site,, that elaborates on the guidance reflected in the plate design.

    “The first part of the campaign will encourage people to make half their plate fruit and vegetables. Later phases of the campaign will urge consumers to avoid oversize portions, enjoy their food but eat less of it and to drink water instead of sugary drinks.”

    The plate was developed by USDA in concert with anti-obesity experts brought together by Fiurst Lady Michelle Obama, who has made nutrition and exercise a major focus of her time in the White House. The Times notes that USDA said “that it had conducted focus groups with about 4,500 people, including children, as they developed the new icon.”

    Leslie Sarasin, president/CEO of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), said at the introductory press conference, “We believe the ‘Choose MyPlate’ graphic will resonate with the consumer’s actual home dining experience and provide useful nutrition guidance ... FMI and our member companies are always glad to cooperate with programs providing needed nutrition information and helpful encouragement to American consumers. We believe the new USDA program - and its supplemental resources - will work well with FMI's consumer information programs such as Nutrition Keys, which we are hard at work implementing.”

    Ric Jurgens, chairman/CEO of Hy-Vee, released the following statement: "As a company committed to making peoples' lives easier, healthier and happier, we applaud the USDA and the Let's Move! initiative for taking this important step forward in nutrition education. We will do all we can to support the icon's success."

    And Tom Stenzel, president/CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, said, "The new dietary guidance icon will be a tipping point in how Americans literally visualize what they should eat. The message to 'make half your plate fruits and vegetables' is simple, compelling and effective. It is a breakthrough message that consumers can practice every day at every meal. The produce industry is firmly committed to working closely with USDA and others to support the new dietary guidance and help promote "make half your plate fruits and vegetables" as part of a lifetime of healthy eating.”
    KC's View:
    There is other nutrition-related news, as there almost always is, running from the sublime to the ridiculous...

    • In Hawaii, CNBC reports, the state’s Department of Health “is launching a campaign to urge the public to choose beverages with less sugar ... The media campaign warns ‘Don't Drink Yourself Fat’ and is part of a comprehensive effort to reduce obesity and chronic disease in Hawaii.

    “Health officials say adult obesity in Hawaii has almost doubled between 1995 and 2009.”

    • The Arizona Republic reports that the infamous Heart Attack Grill, located in Chandler, Arizona, and known for “calorie-laden fare and waitresses dressed in provocative nurse outfits,” has been closed.

    No reason was given, but the closure came just months after “the sudden death of Heart Attack Grill's 575-pound spokesman, Blair River. Just 29, River was the face - and body - of the unabashedly unhealthy restaurant that featured burgers with names like the Quadruple Bypass Burger - a sandwich with four beef patties - and French fries cooked in lard. Anyone who weighed more than 350 pounds got a free meal, but they had to step on the restaurant's scale to prove it.”

    I mention these two stories because they demonstrate something important - that no matter what the federal or state governments do, America’s ability to wrestle with the obesity epidemic rests with the will of its people to do something about it. Governments can and should provide guidance, and make sure that companies are honest about the products they are selling. That strikes me as a legitimate use of governmental power.

    The shift from pyramid to plate is a smart one - it is easier to understand, and hopefully people will be able to more easily adapt their buying and eating habits to it. But government can only take us so far, at which point we must take the baton and make changes in our own lives.

    I do believe that as retailers and manufacturers integrate these changes into their packaging and marketing plans, they will find themselves on the side of the consumer ... which is always a good place to be.

    Published on: June 3, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    Interesting piece in Fast Company about business leaders at internet companies Hulu and Groupon who go to extreme efforts to avoid a “command and control environment,” believing that an “unusually strong commitment to worker empowerment” is what differentiates both their companies and their products.

    At Hulu, for example, “CEO Jason Kilar has gone to extraordinary lengths to subvert his own power: he has no office, has a makeshift desk partly built from empty boxes, and personally takes each new hire out to lunch to learn what he or she thinks the company can do better.”

    And Groupon CEO Andrew Mason says, "We assume that people are fundamentally good and people are responsible adults. The policies we have reflect those beliefs ... The cost of creating bureaucracy and red tape that assumes the other 90% of people are also bad is creating rules that encourage people to live up to the edge of those rules."

    The Fast Company story notes that Groupon allows its employees the autonomy to figure out the best way to build profits, rather than just establish sales goals, because it demonstrates a level of respect that it believes will be returned.

    These are good lessons. Not every tactic can be employed by every company, but the general philosophy is a sound one - that great leaders understand that they are only as strong as the people on the front lines. Empowerment can be both tangible and intangible, and great leaders understand that it is not a threat to their authority, but rather an important symbol of 21st century organizational savvy.

    It can be a change. But it also can be an eye-opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 3, 2011

    In Pennsylvania, the Times Leader reports that Wegmans is abandoning its experiment with a self-service wine kiosk program, saying that “the machines have been unreliable and too many customer complaints have been logged.”

    The supermarket chain told the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board that it wants to remove the kiosks from the 10 Wegmans units where they were installed within the next 30 days. In its letter to the Board, Wegmans said that “We saw the kiosks as an innovative new way to offer an additional service to our customers … unfortunately the kiosks have not realized their potential and in some ways have been a detriment to our stores ... the most weighty factor in our decision, however, is the significant volume of complaints … on an ongoing basis.”

    According to the story, “The loss of the 10 Wegmans kiosks will leave 22 other wine vending machines in operation in Pennsylvania, with another 24 potential locations at Walmart stores on the horizon.”
    KC's View:
    I don’t remember having a strong opinion one way or the other about the potential of the kiosks, but I’m not wildly surprised by Wegmans backing away from them. In some ways, a self-service wine kiosk program seems antithetical to all this chain’s strengths. It probably made sense to try them, but you gotta know when to fold ‘em...

    Published on: June 3, 2011

    Whole Foods announced that its new store in Fairfield, Connecticut, will utilize fuel cell technology that “will generate 90 percent of the store's electricity needs, and its byproduct thermal energy will be used for store heating, cooling and refrigeration. This marks the second Whole Foods Market in Connecticut and the fourth Whole Foods Market in the United States to install this fuel cell technology.

    Here’s how the announcement frames the advantages:

    “By generating most of its power on-site with a fuel cell, the Whole Foods Market Fairfield, Conn., store will prevent the release of more than 847 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually – the equivalent of planting more than 85 acres of trees. The reductions in nitrogen oxide emissions compared to a conventional power plant are equal to the environmental benefit of removing more than 100 cars from the road. In addition to the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the PureCell System will allow Whole Foods Market to save nearly 3.5 million gallons of water annually. Unlike central generation and other fuel cell technologies, the PureCell System is designed to operate in water balance so there is no consumption or discharge of water during its operation.”
    KC's View:
    Much of this is way too technical for me. But it sounds good. And reduced to basics, it can be a highly effective message to communicate to shoppers, that can build a more sustainable connection to a specific demographic that cares about this stuff.

    Published on: June 3, 2011

    Dow Jones reports that “South Africa's Food and Allied Workers Union Thursday said it is considering appealing the Competition Tribunal's approval of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s proposed $2.4 billion merger with South African retailer Massmart Holdings Ltd.”

    The acquisition by Walmart of 51 percent of Massmart’s shares was approved this week, subject to certain labor conditions ... but it doesn’t seem to be enough for the unions, which had argued for more stringent restrictions on what Walmart can and cannot do.

    • The Washington Post reports that Walmart-owned Sam’s Club “ is rolling out three new exclusive brands in a bid to maintain the sales momentum it’s enjoyed over the past five quarters and lure more shoppers with its groceries.” The membership club chain “is launching Artisan Fresh, an array of baked goods from baguettes to apple pies; Simply Right, a personal care collection including diapers and pet care; and Daily Chef, which includes groceries such as olive oil.

    “The new brands will be rolled out to all 600-plus stores by the end of October. In many cases they will replace its store label Members Mark.”

    • The New York Times reports this morning on how Walmart plans to open its first small-format Walmart Express unit next week in Gentry, Arkansas - 15,000 square feet, with just 45 parking places, “a big change from the typical Wal-Mart superstore with high ceilings and vast parking spots.”

    “By the end of the year,” the Times writes, “there will be 15 Wal-Mart Express stores nationwide, said Anthony Hucker, vice president for strategy and business development at Wal Mart. Mr. Hucker said that the express stores were inspired by Wal-Mart’s small stores in countries like Brazil, Mexico and Argentina.

    “Analysts at Janney Capital Markets said in a report this week that express stores and neighborhood markets would help extend reach and might just be the right ingredient to turn Wal-Mart around.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 3, 2011

    A consultancy called Nunwood that specializes in customer experience marketing is out with a new study ranking the nation’s best retailers - and no surprise, The Apple Store is identified as the best traditional retailer.

    “Apple Store offers a unique experience,” says Nunwood’s chief strategy officer, David Conway. “It has happy, engaging staff who want to talk to you and want to help you to buy, rather than just trying to sell you a product. They are consciously scanning, looking to engage with their customers.

    “Consumers really do love Apple. It has everything; the right ambience, excellent personal service, the stores are nice and airy and welcoming, they are streamlined with no doors so people can wander in. On top of that, of course, they also sell fantastic products. Put it all together and it is a very special shopping experience.”
    KC's View:
    At this point, it will actually be a surprise when The Apple Store doesn’t get this sort of ranking.

    But I gotta tell you ... I was in The Apple Store the other night, and I remain consistently amazed by how strong their service is, how terrific their people are, and how great the experience is. It is, by almost any measure, the gold standard.

    Published on: June 3, 2011

    Winn-Dixie announced that it “is helping individuals and businesses to prepare now for what is predicted to be an ‘active to extremely active’ year for tropical storms. The six-month Atlantic hurricane season begins today ... Experts predict the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season will have 12 to 18 named storms, six to 10 of which are predicted to become hurricanes.”

    “Our guests can find the supplies to stock their hurricane kits at their neighborhood stores, and it can be done on a budget by using our Customer Reward Card and taking advantage of this week’s hurricane preparedness stock up and save sale in our stores,” said Mary Kellmanson, Winn-Dixie’s group vice president of marketing.
    KC's View:
    I bring this up because I’m fascinated by what is defined as a “typical hurricane kit” by Winn-Dixie: “3-pack of gallon bottles of drinking water or 24-pack of 16-ounce bottles of water; 32-ounce bottle of Gatorade or 20-ounce bottle of Propel vitamin water or sports drink; 10-pack of Kool-Aid Jammers; 7.5-ounce or 15-ounce cans of spaghetti; 4-pack of Kraft Handi-Snacks pudding and gel cups; 16-ounce jar of peanut butter; 16-ounce jar of jam or jelly; 6-pack of canned tuna or chicken; 5-ounce can of Vienna sausage; 12-ounce can of Spam or Hormel corned beef or10-ounce can of Hormel Compleats or Chili Meals; 3.5-ounce package of beef jerky; 150-count foam plates; 50-count of 16-ounce red or clear plastic cups; 15-count of 13-gallon tall kitchen or 30-count of 4-gallon trash bags; 8-roll package of paper towels; 182-ounce bottle of liquid bleach; Flashlights (one per person); Batteries (D-cell, C-cell and AA-cell); NOAA emergency alert weather radio; 10" battery-operated fan; 2.5-gallon plastic gasoline can; 1-quart bottle of Coleman Liquid Fuel; Magic Lamp with refill; 1 box of kitchen matches; and 1 bag of charcoal briquettes.”

    Maybe it is just the way my mind works, but the first thing I noticed is that there’s no toilet paper in that list.

    Published on: June 3, 2011

    The South Carolinas legislature has voted to give Amazon a five-year exemption from the collection of state sales taxes, in exchange for the online retailer agreeing to invest $125 million in the state between now and 2013, in part by creating full-time jobs including health benefits.

    While Gov. Nikki Haley has said that she disagrees with the exemption, believing that it gives Amazon an unfair advantage over brick-and-mortar retailers, she also has said she will not veto it, which will allow the bill to become law.
    KC's View:
    That’s called eating your cake and having it, too.

    As for internet sales taxes, we have a lot of commentary on this in “Your Views.” Check it out.

    Published on: June 3, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Gores Group, a private equity group, is negotiating to acquire roughly half the 405 Borders stores that are still operating, and plans to keep the stores open if it is able to complete a deal.

    According to the story, “Gores, based in Los Angeles, is known as a distressed investor, scooping up stakes in ailing companies and trying to rehabilitate them. It currently owns stakes in companies ranging from radio operator Westwood One to Alliance Entertainment, a wholesale distributor of CDs and DVDs.”

    There are other potential buyers in discussions with Borders, the story says, noting that “interest in Borders has picked up since Liberty Media Corp.'s recent bid for Barnes & Noble, which valued that chain at roughly $1 billion.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 3, 2011

    • The New York Times reports that while “Koreans still dominate the small-grocery business in New York ... their ranks are thinning as they face the same forces that threaten all sorts of mom-and-pop businesses: rising rents, increased competition from online and corporate rivals, and more scrutiny from city agencies that impose fines.” There’s also another reason that a shift is taking place - “the same impulse that prompted Mom and Pop to open them in the first place: the desire to see their children do much, much better.”

    Of course, there’s a long way to go before the Korean grocery store disappears from the streets of the Big Apple. The story notes that “the Korean Produce Association estimates that they own 70 percent of the city’s stores.”

    Reuters reports that Starbucks has signed an agreement with Maxim’s Caterers, its partner in a South China joint venture, “that gives the world's largest coffee chain full control of more than half of its retail stores in Mainland China.

    “As part of the agreement, Starbucks has assumed 100 percent equity of its business in the Chinese provinces of Guangdong, Hainan, Sichuan, Shaanxi and Hubei, and the municipality of Chongqing. Maxim's has acquired Starbucks' remaining equity stake in the Hong Kong and Macau markets.”

    Starbucks’ goal is to have 1,500 stores in mainland China by 2015.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 3, 2011

    Lots of email about yesterday’s story about the internet sales tax issue...

    I noted yesterday that it was a little ironic that Texas Gov. Rick Perry - who on numerous occasions has expressed frustrations with the federal government’s policies - thinks that a national solution is needed to the internet sales tax issue. And I agree with him.

    Which led one MNb user to write:

    Most politicians want less or more federal involvement when it’s in their best interests.  They like to have it both ways and at their convenience.

    It’s interesting that the sales tax will come out the consumers pocket and not the retailer, except for the accounting costs to pay and IT costs.  Our family pays sales tax on most of our on line purchases.  The sales tax is not a consideration when buying on line, similar to calculation a tip at the restaurant.

    MNB user Larry Lyons wrote:

    It seems patently unfair that an on-line retailer gets the advantage of not having to collect taxes on their products.

    You say it is not about taxation, but price and convenience. What customer doesn’t want to save 7, 8, 9+% taxes right off the top? How is that NOT part of the price equation.

    You say you’ve thought for a long time they should be exempt. Why? I’ve not heard any justifications for this.

    Gov. Perry cited “unintended consequences” if on-line sales were collected…what would those be specifically?

    There is no question that e-commerce is a new retail force to be reckoned with. There is NO question customers really like the convenience, when the costs, quality, offerings are better than brick and mortar retailers can provide. Those retailers who do not pay attention will surely pay a cost at some level.

    Believe me, I am NOT among the tax and spend crowd. That does not mean e-retailers should enjoy what I see as an unfair tax-free advantage.

    I consider myself open-minded, pro-business, anti-tax, and would like to hear some specific justifications for e-retail being tax exempt.

    MNB user Richard Thorpe wrote:

    To say that online retailers should not have had nor currently should collect and distribute the sales taxes that their competitors must collect seems to equate to giving 3 points (or more) to the team that is an underdog. How many 21-20 games would have been won by the underdog if they were actually awarded points because they were not as strong a team when the game started.  It seems to me that online retailers already have multiple advantages and with gasoline never coming back down in price they have another advantage. Are you sure you views are tainted by your love of technology?

    Wait a minute. I said yesterday that my thinking has evolved, and that I believe that internet retailers ought to collect sales taxes.

    MNB user Bobby Martyna wrote:

    Online and brick and mortar are fundamentally two different types of business.  We see fit to differently tax (or not at all) certain classes of products (e.g. grocery) and overtax others (e.g. tobacco), so why should online and brick and mortar -- two completely different business models --  be taxed similarly.

    Online has the disadvantage of having to pay for shipping.  Bricks have to pay sales tax.  Fine.  Two different business models -- so I don't think the argument that they should be taxed equally holds any water.

    MNB user Dan Jones agreed:

    Here is what I expect local sales taxes collected by my local retailer to pay for: building inspection so the shop is safe; sewage services, access to community water and electricity, etc...; maintenance of sidewalks, curbs, and other public spaces around the retailer, and safety response by police, sheriff, and fire departments.

    Why would an on-line retailer pay taxes for any of these services?  We forget that taxes should be actually be paid for a service, not just as a penance.

    MNB user Lee Epperson wrote:

    Kevin, you said you wonder if “allowing ( to not pay sales tax” might be a subsidy.  It’s not a subsidy—they aren’t getting a direct benefit as a result of absence of the tax.  The business entity doesn’t pay the tax--it’s collected from the customer on behalf of the governmental agency.   I think too often we think in terms of what businesses charge but the business acts as a tax collection point for the state or local jurisdiction.

    We also took note yesterday of a Washington Post report that “food safety advocates are accusing Republicans in the US House of Representatives of proposing budget cuts that would make it difficult if not impossible for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to improve its food safety oversight efforts, as mandated by a food safety law passed by the Congress in a bipartisan vote and signed into law by President Obama last December.”

    I commented, in part:

    This is astounding. And yet, somehow, not surprising.

    It seems to me that government has some very specific responsibilities, and one of them is to make sure that the food supply is safe. Look at China, where it has become extremely apparent what happens when government is either incapable or unwilling to take that responsibility seriously.

    This is not me saying that government is the solution for everything, which is what some folks will instantly accuse me of. This is me saying that government can be the solution for some things. And this is one of them.

    The knuckleheads in DC who think it makes fiscal sense to defund the food safety law are not thinking about what happens when the public faith in the integrity of the food supply gets compromised, when people start getting sick and dying because some idiot running a peanut plant thinks it is more important to make his numbers than to clean bird feces off the equipment. What happens then to the American food system? What will it mean to the country’s economic growth? And who will they blame then for the problems we face?

    One MNB user responded:

    Yes, the unfunding of the "bipartisan" bill is the telling party position.  Voting for a bill is higher profile  and really ends up being a void process if the funding doesn't happen. Not a new strategy but one employed often. 

    Trick the public. Deceive the public. Protect your election contributors and buds from "govt" and food safety be damned.  The media does not do enough to uncover the real politics of the funding positions.  Other republicans should sanction their own for positions like this if they really care about the public.   Do your part, Kevin, and don't let this go under the carpet like so much outrage does.  Hope many will remember this come election time.

    But another MNB user disagreed:

    Uh... If I read this right, the FDA is getting $750 ,000,000 for food safety. I’m not sure what the definition of defunding is, but this sure doesn’t seem like it. Not surprisingly, they want more. That is what government officials are trained to do. But we are in a serious debt crisis... rapidly moving to debt equaling 90% of GDP. This is usually considered the point of no return for countries to go to banana republic status. I’m afraid that the FDA will have to make due with a lousy 3/4 of a billion dollars and figure out how to do their job.

    In response to yesterday’s video commentary, one MNB user wrote:

    Your “Face Time with the Content Guy” piece about educating shoppers about products in stores is spot-on!

    In today’s marketplace, retailers are using excuses to pull back from interacting with customers. With a chorus of “it costs too much”, “ I don’t have the labor $”, and “I can’t find skilled employees”, retailers send a message by not training their employees to engage with shoppers and provide assistance and education. Those that do find a way to interact with shoppers like Wegmans, Hy-Vee, Whole Foods, etc. stand out and are respected for their knowledge and the “shopping experience” that they provide.

    Studies have proven that employees who are provided product knowledge education and then trained on skills to convey that knowledge to shoppers drive sales in those categories. And, those results are sustainable as shoppers learn about product regimens and meal solutions that are repeatable over time. With education and positive interactions, employees become more confident and a greater asset to the stores in which they serve customers.

    Products are commodities. Employees imparting knowledge about products on the shelf, and how to use them to solve their shoppers’ problems deliver real value for the shopper and the store!

    And finally, I made a vague reference to a scene from “Star Trek: The Next generation” the other day, writing that, “as Captain Jean-Luc Picard explained to Data when the android lost a game to a human being: "Sometimes, you can make no mistakes, do everything right, and still lose."

    One MNB user, however, was quick to castigate me for this comment, noting that it was not a human being who beat Data, but rather...

    The alien who bested Data was Sima Kolrami, a Zakdom, which is a race with legendary strategic and tactical skills.

    You are right. I was wrong.

    And this means that you have even less of a life than I do. And you know who you are.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 3, 2011

    I know guys who looked at me askance when I said I wanted very much to see Bridesmaids, and in fact wanted to see it more than the sequel to The Hangover. One of the common reactions was along the lines of this: “How good could it be? Women aren’t funny.” The other one was, “Sounds like a chick flick.”

    Neither of these comments is even close to correct. I am here to tell you that Bridesmaids is one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time, is vastly funnier that the original Hangover, is anything but a “chick flick,” and proves - if indeed it needed to be proven in a world where Tina Fey lives - that women can be very, very funny ... and that Kristen Wiig has the potential to be a really big star.

    The set-up is simple. Wiig (who also co-wrote the movie) plays Annie, who is chosen by her best friend (Maya Rudolph) to be maid of honor at her wedding. In doing so, she finds herself simultaneously trying to control a fabulously diverse group of bridesmaids while dealing with her own insecurities as a business person (her bakery has gone out of business), a woman (she’s involved with a narcissistic guy played to the outrageous hilt by Jon Hamm) and friend (since one of the other bridesmaids, a rich to-the-manor-born woman played wonderfully by Rose Byrne, seems poised to usurp her role).

    There are two set pieces in the film - one in a bridal boutique and one on an airplane - that are laugh-out-loud-until-your-sides-hurt funny. At the same time, Bridesmaids has serious messages that it doesn’t belabor - the importance of women sticking together and doing what they love, and ultimately the fact that to be successful, women need not act like men.

    Through it all, Bridesmaids has interesting characters - most of the women characters in the film actually are multi-layered individuals, well-written and beautifully performed. And - because I cannot say this too much - it is incredibly funny.

    See it.

    Michael Connelly is out with a new book - “The Fifth Witness,” which has Mickey Haller, the protagonist from “The Lincoln Lawyer,” involved in yet another murder trial. This turn of events is something of a surprise to Haller - his practice has fallen on hard times, and he is making a living by representing people who are facing foreclosure and eviction by the banks that hold their mortgages. One of his clients is accused of killing her banker, and her trial plays out against the background of Southern California’s troubled real estate market. “The Fifth Witness” is exactly what you’d expect from Connelly - expertly plotted, with sharp characterizations and great dialogue. And fun - because how can we resist a murder mystery in which a banker is the victim, and may have deserved it?

    Read it.

    I’m only going to say this once. If pictures of a guy in his underwear ever show up on the internet with a caption saying it is me, I want to say unequivocally that it ain’t true. I know this for a fact. And I’m certainly not going to have to dance around this fact if the question gets asked.

    My wine of the week is actually from the same winemaker who contributed last week’s featured vino: the The Messenger “Telegram” Chardonnay from California, which seems to straddle the line between being sweet and dry. It’s simple, and somehow the perfect summer wine. (For those who wonder why there is no vintage, it is because the vineyard believes in the blending not just of different chardonnay grapes, but also the vertical blending of different years. What can I tell you? It works.)

    BTW...this wine is not one of the MNB wine club selections, but it is still available from Nicholas Roberts Ltd., which powers our club. The June wine club selections will be available next week, and to get more information, about this new MNB offering CLICK HERE.

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

    KC's View: