retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: August 19, 2011

    MNB looks a little different this morning...it is the end of summer and so, encouraged by both Mrs. Content Guy and Michael Sansolo, I’m taking the day off from the usual reportage and commentary and am enjoying a three-day weekend. (Part of my time will be spent this weekend at a Jimmy Buffett concert ... if you happen to be there, give me a shout. You won’t be able to miss me. I’ll be the guy in the Hawaiian shirt.)

    However, we do have special Friday edition of Michael’s column, Sansolo Speaks, and both Your Views and OffBeat are in their regular positions.

    I’ll be back Monday, and will see you then.

    Fins Up!
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 19, 2011

    by Michael Sansolo

    Optimists have a simple creed: when the world hands you lemons make lemonade. My question today is: what do you do when the world hands you sharks?

    Sounds silly I know, but sharks may provide the answer to one of the toughest marketing questions on the calendar: how to build sales and excitement in August, the only month on the calendar without a holiday of any kind. In every other month there are easy times to rally shopper excitement and maybe build sales. August is the one exception. There’s back-to-school of course, but beyond that, August is all about really hot weather and those famed dog days.

    Well, make a note for next year because those days are over. It’s time to celebrate Shark Week!

    Somehow, someway, Shark Week has actually become something, even though it is really nothing. The weeklong celebration of one of nature’s scariest animals comes to us courtesy of the Discovery Channel. Since 1987, Discovery has celebrated the week featuring show after show about sharks in an attempt to help people gain a better understanding about sharks. (I suggest you watch Jaws and develop a healthy understanding of why you don’t want to be near a shark.)

    Shark Week has become a thing. The programming is now broadcast in 72 countries and in the US there are organizations that have figured out how to capitalize on this. Do a quick Google search on Shark Week promotions and you find all the expected promotions from the local aquariums and assorted educational efforts, but there is more.

    For instance, this year the American Red Cross offered special edition t-shirts to blood donors during Shark Week. If donating blood is beyond you (although you should do it) Never Sink Clothing has a special line of shirts for Shark Week. And it doesn’t stop at shirts. The question becomes, could this be an event that even a supermarket might use. In August, anything is and should be fair game.

    California Tortilla, one of my favorite casual restaurants in the Washington, DC, area, never misses out on a chance to pack in the fun and customers with unusual promotions. For them Shark Week was a natural. The quick serve restaurant offered two unusual specials. Anyone ordering fish tacos on July 28th received a special “fin hat” courtesy of the Discovery Channel. Then on Aug. 3, anyone wearing the hat or using the word “shark” in an order received a free taco.

    In addition, California Tortilla set up groups of Shark Week fans on social media sites, ran promotions involving a player on the Washington Nationals whose nickname is The Shark, and challenged Shark Week fans to share the best celebration of the week. When I visited the restaurant on Aug. 3rd, the line was nearly out the door and featured many people in silly Fin Hats.

    Yet at the supermarkets nearby, there was nothing. No specials in the seafood department celebrating Shark Week, no ads, no promotions…nothing beyond another hot August day. What a perfect time for salmon, halibut or lobster week or even man eating summer snacks. At least I can hope that supermarket operators looked across their parking lots at one of the 20 plus California Tortilla shops in the area and got thinking about next year.

    Unless the calendar changes, next August will roll around with no holidays again and with the annual struggle to build excitement for shoppers and stores. Here’s hoping that maybe some stores will find an unusual idea, whether it’s from the Discovery Channel, the annual heat wave, baseball’s dog days or anything else.

    Build a bigger boat. It might help you survive a shark attack and it just might help generate excitement, sales, extra shopping trips and some profits.


    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . 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: August 19, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    Interesting piece in the Washington Post about the unlikely growth of independent bookstores, especially at a time when an iconic chain like Borders is going through a going-out-of-business sale.

    According to the story, “The small, independently owned bookstore is staging a modest rebirth in the midst of a bone-killing economy and the exponential growth of online retailers and e-books.

    “The American Booksellers Association, the national trade organization for independently owned bookstores, counted a 7 percent growth last year and has gained 100 new members in the past six months. The association now counts 1,830 member stores across the country, up by 400 since 2005, according to Meg Smith, the association’s spokeswoman. The new stores have opened in at least 35 states, from New York to California, an indication that store owners across the nation see an opportunity to find a concrete niche in the e-book world.”

    Smith tells the Post that “the growth appears to be due to a number of factors — the demise of large bookstores; a general social identification with locally owned businesses, an offshoot of the ‘go-local’ movement in restaurants and grocery stores; and a number of store owners who have identified a small but viable market in their communities.

    “The steady growth is surprising, as the number of independent stores had shrunk by as much as 30 percent in the early part of the decade, hit hard by the growth of big box stores and by online sellers such as Amazon, where the supply was almost limitless. E readers, such as the Kindle and Nook, had further put a dent in brick-and-mortar businesses. Lastly, the recession of the past two years has cast a shadow over the entire retail market.”

    But, “the lesson in the decline of big stores, these owners say, is not that no one wants to buy books. It’s that the big stores were too big. They had overreached and, in trying to be all things to all readers, had lost a sense of intimacy that books and reading seem to thrive on.”

    This is part of an ongoing theme that can be seen in the retail business, one that has been noted again and again on MNB. It is the same story as when we point out that minor league baseball teams are exploiting the differential advantages of their ballparks because they can’t market players who, if they are any good, will be shipped out. It is the same story as when we talk about video stores that are finding new ways to turn their customers into a community, understanding that this is the only way to compete with the likes of Netflix and iTunes. Or the same as when movie theatre chains such as AMC offer better food service and even full-service bars as a way of competing for people’s entertainment dollars.

    ‘Compete’ is a verb. MNB Rule # 1. if you;re going to compete, you actually have to identify and exploit your differences ... and if you don’t have any, you’d better create some.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 19, 2011

    Interesting email from an MNB user regarding our story yesterday about the competitive challenges facing Pick n Pay in South Africa:

    I am working in South  Africa this week and your note on Pick n Pay is timely. Pick n Pay just announced the appointment of Mr Richard van Rensburg as deputy to Nick Badminton. Richard joined Pick n Pay last year as a non-exec. This illustrates the leadership challenge confronting Pick n Pay at the moment. They have many (perhaps too many) change initiatives underway at the moment, all designed to regain momentum.

    The current challenges Pick n Pay faces have nothing to do with Wal-Mart, at least at this stage. Pick n Pay have not executed flawlessly their move to centralized distribution but have plans to continue to centralize distribution & buying across the rest of S Africa. They need to undergo a massive SKU reduction initiative, but will be challenged to do this as long as they drive trading terms that are rebate-centered. (Interestingly, they have successfully undertaken a SKU reduction initiative with their Boxer format, which has proven successful.) Their “Smart Shopper” loyalty card program is getting strong press, but is not producing actionable insights for the vendors at this stage. As I understand it, one of the metrics that is challenging Pick n Pay is an “employees / square meter” which the Unions appear to be unwilling to move from.

    For Pick n Pay to “sell more”, they must make some hard choices to minimize focus on vendor income that rewards buying vs. demand creation. My sense is that vendors want to help Pick n Pay, if they will let them.


    Thanks for the report.




    We got a number of emails yesterday regarding the Trader Joe’s employee who took ownership of my shopping experience during a recent trip there, which I thought gives the company a real advantage over other players.

    One MNB user wrote:

    Right on Kevin!   This is why I will go out of my way to shop at TJ’s when I can.  It’s not first choice because we are so fortunate to have Mother’s Market closer, and easier to get to, which is the best.

    The grocery chains try but they don’t have the personality that comes with TJ’s sense of humor that permeates the ranks at all levels.  And I had an experience at a Ralph’s that turned me off from a particular store, here ‘tis:  I had moved to a new area, and found to my delight there were several stores within bike riding distance!  My inner tree hugger= comes out when I can grocery shop by bike, so I hopped on to explore the new Ralph’s, right near my new bank!

    I locked it to the metal trash can (no bike racks outside….and this is southern CA, I would think this ought to be considered…..) and walked in with my backpack shopping bags still on my back – no way could I shoplift with it, since it was on my shoulders.  Before I was 6 ft in the door, was pounced upon by the assistant manager of the shift, to ‘check my bag at register #(?)”.  No hello, no welcome to Ralph’s, just – pounce!  I was so turned off, but I complied, and stewed about it as I started down the aisles to obtain my list….and decided, forget it, I will get the one thing I came in for, forget perusing the store to get to know “my new neighborhood grocery option” – and decided to let the manager and asst. mgr know how I felt, and why I would never step foot in that particular location again!  They were very defensive, didn’t seem to care that they had lost a customer.  I told them I understood theft was part of their reality, but wasn’t part of mine, I complied, but it was how it was presented that was offensive.

    I found other options, still bike riding distance, and they lost what could have been a regular weekly customer.  Their loss.  I know I am only one, and I shop for a small family, but  TJ’s and Mothers seem to be more concerned about my demographic than some of the huge chains...


    MNB user Tom Devlin wrote:

    WOW, you hit the nail on the head and if I owned a retail store I would go to Darien Trader Joe’s and steal Paulo and make him my store manager. Just the unsolicited words and him knowing about the “Experience” is something I think most store managers are struggling with today. I have called on many retailers in my career and had strong contacts with store managers and directors and I can honestly say that most of the training needs to start from the top.

    I have been told many times by managers that... The retail employee only cares where they are going after work and will be gone in less than a year because we have so much turn over.... Or....  They are only working here because there were no opening at McDonalds.... Or..... I need  to concentrate on the  store numbers because my VP is coming in next week..... What I have found which is very sad when the VP does come in the store from corporate,  the store looks good but the employees are so afraid of saying anything bad that they don’t say a word... When you have a good director of store operations they will put the employee at ease  instead of the politics that the higher ups are here to criticize.

    Don’t get me wrong there are some good stores with great retailer employees but a majority of them are in charge of an aisle or behind the counter in pharmacy. If the retailer wants motivated employees, make them part of the process and pride in getting the store looking good and the customers happy. Examples are the Trader Joe’s and Starbucks.  All these retailers have repeat business consumers and when a customer walks in and connects with the employees that becomes a relationship and both feel good the second they make eye contact. That is the experience and it is positive for all parties.


    MNB user Larry Lyons wrote:

    Exactly the difference in the Wal-Mart of today vs. Wal-Mart of the 90’s. The folks at WMT today do not have the same sense of pride nor ownership.

    Until someone in a position of leadership figures that out, and fixes it, all their merchandising, environmental, and marketing, efforts will be for naught.


    MNB use Suann Ingle wrote:

    The president and owner of a 200MM national trial consulting company asked me once (we were in a cab in the middle of starting up his NYC location), “who do you think is the most important person in this company?” I thought, besides me? And answered, “the person who, at any given moment, is dealing directly with one of our clients.”

    Bingo.

    Not everyone was impress, though, as MNB user Steve Kneepkens wrote:

    Have we descended so far down the customer service ladder that an article is written about getting a couple of extra tickets for something as benign as a drawing for a gift certificate.

    Really? This is what we call filling the news cycle…. Can’t we just say nothing happened today therefore I have nothing to write about and thanks for shopping?

    Good gracious – HOT AIR MAN… HOT AIR.


    I would respectfully disagree.



    A couple of times in recent weeks, I’ve posted Facebook-only video commentaries on Sundays, which has prompted a couple of people to ask why I’ve done this - especially because they are not allowed to access Facebook from their office computers. (I’ve mentioned and linked to the Facebook commentaries on Monday morning.)

    There’s a practical reason that the videos are not on MNB - getting the coding done on Sundays is a little problematic. And there’s no “text” version because I don;t actually write them down....seeing as I write 4,000-5,000 words Monday through Friday, I try to take weekends off.

    That said, sometimes a story in the weekend papers will catch my attention, and I’ll feel like saying something, but it doesn’t necessarily seem so important that it needs the full MNB treatment. So I put it on Facebook, just for the fun of it, and just when I feel like it.

    I don’t mean to be leaving anyone out, but I also don’t want to create more work for myself. And I hope you won’t mind if I continue to do it from time to time, whenever whimsy strikes me....




    And finally, a correction from MNB user John R. Hurguy:

    In the August 10th edition of MNB, (below), a comment regarding Amazon.com’s business model was incorrectly attributed to me by an unnamed MNB user.   Mike Franklin actually wrote that which was published in your August 9th edition:

    MNB user John R. Hurguy wrote that “Amazon.com’s business model is not sustainable without corporate welfare.”

    Mike Franklin’s comments are not a reflection of how I view Amazon and since I, along with my company, continue to conduct business with them, would you correct this at your earliest convenience?


    Done.

    And apologies for it taking so long to do so. Your email got sort of lost in the pile, and I should have dealt with this immediately.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 19, 2011

    Just a few notes this morning...

    Rise of the Planet of the Apes is exactly what you expect it to be - a very entertaining science fiction move that serves as a prequel to the original Planet of the Apes, the 1968 classic that starred Charlton Heston. This film is technologically vastly superior - instead of using actors in ape masks, it uses digital images created by motion capture technology.

    As a result, Rise of the Planet of the Apes has one amazing performance - by Andy Serkis, who previously used the technology tom play Gollum in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, and King Kong in the peter Jackson-directed remake. As Caesar, an ape who evolves into an extraordinarily developed being, Serkis is nothing short of spectacular. It is hard to know where Serkis ends and the technology begins, but the total result is a fully developed performance that deserves send-of-year awards.

    The rest of the film is good - it suggests that the apes rise because of genetic engineering gone wrong, though it is careful not to be too thoughtful or profound about this plot point. The cast - James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow - does its job, though the writing doesn’t allow them to do much more. And, as much as Rise lays the groundwork for more sequels, it also cleverly acknowledges the original film with a series of small plot points that aficionados will pick up.

    Rise of the Planet of the Apes is good enough, and a fun popcorn movie for an end-of-summer night out.




    Sarah’s Key, on the other hand, is much better than good enough, and despite some deficiencies, is finally an extremely moving experience.

    Starring Kristen Scott Thomas, Sarah’s Key is a French film that sometimes uses subtitles and sometimes English to tell its story about the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup, a real event in July 1942 when French authorities conducted a mass arrest of Jewish citizens as one way of assuaging Nazi occupiers. The Sarah of the title is a 10-year old girl who hides her younger brother in a closet when the authorities come to arrest her father, mother and her ... with tragic results. Sarah’s story is alternated with that of Julia Jarmond, a 2011 journalist investigating the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup, and who finds a personal connection to Sarah’s life.

    My only quibble with the film is that it seems sometimes to give moral equivalency to Sarah’s and Julia’s life circumstances, which doesn’t seem fair. But overall, Sarah’s Key is an illuminating, touching experience. I recommend it highly.




    Some wines to recommend this weekend...

    • the 2009 Gavi Borghero, from Italy, is what I would call a good peasant white wine, great for summer.

    the 2010 Pie de Palo Viognier, from Argentina, is lovely, with a nice pear thing going for it.

    and, best of all, the 2010 Chateau Haut Selve, from France’s Bordeaux region, is a fabulously lush white wine that will knock your socks off.

    All, by the way, are available from Nicholas Roberts Ltd. which powers the MNB Wine Club. The August wine club selections are still available for limited time, and to get more information, about this new MNB offering CLICK HERE.




    That’s it for this week...I’ll see you Monday.
    KC's View: