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    Published on: September 9, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    The airwaves have been filled this week with stories about September 11, 2001. Stories about survivors. Stories about victims. Stories about the observances that will take place as the nation marks a decade since the terrorist attacks that changed, to varying degrees, the mindset and emotional makeup of an entire nation.

    We all have memories of that time. Mine include going jogging that bright, clear September morning and being stopped by a woman in a car who told me that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, and then being stopped again, further into my run, by another woman in a car who told me about the second plane. I remember all the time I spent in the days that followed, amazed by the emails that I was getting and posting on the website where I worked before MNB; it was a business site, but I remember the messages being almost naked with emotion and compassion and defiance and maybe even a little fear.

    I remember the funerals in the town where I live, for the people who were killed in the attacks on New York City. And I remember just a few weeks later, going to London on business and seeing the American Embassy surrounded by armed guards, looking more like a prison than a diplomatic outpost. The world had changed.

    Most of us will wrestle with our memories this weekend, still trying to make sense of events a decade after the world changed. For me, I will continue to read and listen to the stories, I will watch some of the coverage, but I must admit that I am more interested in September 12 than September 11. Not out of any disrespect for anyone, especially the people who lost so much ten years ago, but because I’m more interested in resilience and survival than in victimization. I’m more interested in what people do after they’ve been knocked down ... especially if, no matter what has happened, they continue to listen to the better angels of their nature.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 9, 2011

    Interesting piece in the Boston Globe about the hot “daily deals” sector, noting that “the launch of so many online coupon sites - one analyst’s estimate is that there are more than 400 nationwide - is giving rise to concerns that the hot sector is now overcrowded with start-ups, all competing to cut deals with merchants and attract subscribers.”

    According to the Globe, “Boston shoppers who looked online yesterday for local daily deals from discount websites had at least 84 to choose from, including 14 from restaurants, 5 from salons, and 2 from yoga studios. The 22 companies providing these deals ranged from Groupon, the online coupon service that invented the genre three years ago, to a new discount site from search giant Google Inc., which launched yesterday in Boston.”

    There are some signs that the ranks of players in this segment are thinning; the Globe notes that “last month, the social networks Facebook and Yelp retreated from efforts to enter the field,” probably more because it ended up being a tougher business to get into than expected. And it now looks like Groupon will delay a planned IPO, mostly because of stock market conditions as opposed to competition and saturation.
    KC's View:
    On the one hand, the space is getting more crowded. On the other, there apparently is an enormous number of people who have never used any of these daily deal services.

    Look for some interesting marketing efforts to take place to attract these folks ... it strikes me that there is a lot of room left for this concept to grow, at least until it gets replaced by the next hot thing.

    Published on: September 9, 2011

    The New York Times reports that Google has reached an agreement to buy Zagat, the restaurant guide company that “has grown from a two-page typed list to a global empire with millions of loyal readers and reviewers happy to rave about their favorite restaurants and bars.”

    The deal reportedly is worth $66 million to the founders, Tim and Nina Zagat, who say they plan to stay with the business.

    The sale is designed to be good for both companies. While Zagat may be the best brand in the restaurant guide business, its preeminence has been challenged in recent years by online review sites. At the same time, Google is trying to develop more comprehensive local search services, and Zagat provides it with a treasure trove of content.
    KC's View:
    There’s a good reason for Google’s strategic emphasis on local; small businesses reportedly spend something like $140 billion a year on advertising, and Google wants a piece of that pie.

    Published on: September 9, 2011

    In the UK, the Daily Mail reports that “Amazon is planning to set up locker banks in major shopping centres to allow customers to collect items bought online.

    “The ‘click and collect’ scheme is designed to help those workers who are not at home to receive goods during the day. The firm has reached agreement with shopping centre owner Land Securities to install the banks of lockers in a series of its properties in the London area, including One New Change in the City where the scheme could be launched as early as next week.”

    Amazon reportedly also is testing a ‘click-and-collect’ scheme using PIN-based lockers at 7-Eleven stores in Seattle.
    KC's View:
    Amazon has tested delivery depots before, but this makes a lot more sense because it takes advantage of existing real estate. Could we see a time when Amazon delivery lockers are as ubiquitous as Redbox kiosks? Maybe not ... but then again, nothing would surprise me. (Could Amazon be working with Redbox-owner Coinstar to figure out a mutually agreeable business model? That wouldn’t surprise me, either...)

    Published on: September 9, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal reports that “supermarket chains, many of which face a 4% rise in food costs this year, are being forced to reconcile raising prices with potentially losing shoppers to rivals who hold the line. In this balancing act, chains including Whole Foods Market Inc., Safeway Inc. and Supervalu Inc. say they are trying to make promotions more effective, be mindful of where they raise prices and work out better deals with vendors.”

    According to the story, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that “grocery store prices have jumped 5.4% during the past 12 months and that is hitting consumers while they are still concerned about their jobs and facing higher costs across the board, including fuel.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 9, 2011

    The Indianapolis Business Journal reports that Marsh Supermarkets plans to spend $60 million over the next three years to build 10 new stores and remodel others.

    CEO Joe Kelley says that the new stores will be fresh food-oriented, and also that the company will put a new emphasis on private brands as he looks for new ways to differentiate the 97-store chain.
    KC's View:
    You can’t stand still if you want to have a sustainable business model. It is good for everyone when chains like Marsh, which has its share of travails in recent years, keep moving forward.

    Published on: September 9, 2011

    Supervalu announced yesterday that its pharmacies are “the first chain in the United States to meet stringent regulatory requirements and gain approval to accept e prescriptions for controlled substances.”

    According to the announcement, “Doctors have had the ability to electronically send prescriptions for non-controlled medications for eight years. This new e-prescribing capability offers added convenience to pharmacy patients who require prescriptions for controlled substances. Instead of bringing in a hand-written prescription, any prescriber who possesses e-prescribing capabilities and is certified to e-prescribe controlled substances can submit their patient's controlled substance prescriptions straight to their local Supervalu pharmacy. It is important to note, some states limit the types of controlled substances that can be prescribed via electronic transmission.”

    The capability exists at Supervalu’s Shoppers Pharmacy and Farm Fresh Pharmacy banners in Virginia, and Albertsons Sav-On Pharmacies in Southern California at the present time, and is expected to be expanded to the rest of its banners “in coming weeks.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 9, 2011

    • The New York Times reports that Walmart plans to bring back its layaway program for the upcoming end-of-year holiday season, one way that it hopes to re-establish its credentials as a place where cash-strapped shoppers can get a good deal.

    The retailer scrapped the long-time layaway policy in 2006, saying the credit cards and gift cards made it obsolete. But today, when people are trying not to run up their credit card bills because of concerns about their houses and employment status.

    • Walmart International CEO Doug McMillon said yesterday that the company could look for a Japanese acquisition to improve its business there - but did not comment on speculation that it might buy Tesco’s 129 stores there, which were put on the sales block last week.

    According to the Reuters story, “Japan is a small but important business for Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer. Sales at its Japanese stores have improved in the months following the earthquake and tsunami as Wal-Mart focuses on everyday low prices and brings in fresh food and other products from elsewhere to try to stand out from competitors.”

    Walmart currently has more than 400 stores in Japan.

    • Walmart has not committed to entering Russia yet ... but it has hired Lev Khasis, the former head of that nation’s largest retailer. The Wall Street Journal writes that he “will serve as senior vice president and chief leverage officer, a job whose responsibilities include integrating new retail acquisitions and combining purchasing in Wal-Mart's myriad locations to get better deals from suppliers.”
    KC's View:
    That is, until Walmart decides to enter Russia.

    Published on: September 9, 2011

    The Obama administration announced this week that as part of its effort to promote its new jobs bill, presented last night in a speech by the President to a joint session of Congress, Acting US Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank will travel to Cincinnati tomorrow where she will join Mayor Mark Mallory for a visit to Graeter’s Ice Cream, the locally and family owned ice cream company founded in 1870.
    KC's View:
    No word on whether she’ll be bringing back ice cream to the White House ... though if she could distribute a pint of Black Raspberry Chip to every member of the House and Senate, it would almost put everybody in a better mood.

    Published on: September 9, 2011

    Ben & Jerry’s may be part of a major conglomerate, but that doesn’t mean the company has lost its sense of irreverent humor.

    The Unilever-owned ice cream manufacturer has long been know for creating special flavors with cultural significance ... and now it has come up with a limited edition flavor keyed to an old “Saturday Light Live” skit in which host Alec Baldwin played a character named Pete Schweddy.

    Schweddy, you see, owned a store that made Christmas-themed foods. Especially different kinds of balls - popcorn balls, cheese balls, rum balls, etc...

    And because it was “Saturday Night Live,” these were called “Schweddy Balls.”

    Ben & Jerry’s now has come up with an ice cream called “Schweddy Balls,” made up of vanilla ice cream “with a hint of rum and ... loaded with fudge covered rum balls and milk chocolate malt balls.”

    KC's View:
    I love it. And, if you want to see the original, hilarious and totally off-color sketch, click here.

    Published on: September 9, 2011

    Crain’s New York Business reports that Aldi plans to open its first store in Manhattan, in Harlem, in a complex that already has a Costco, Target and Best Buy. Aldi opened its first New York City store in the borough of Queens last February.

    • The Chicago Sun Times reports that “Target stores with mobile-technology centers will let shoppers trade in their old cell phones, iPods, Nintendo DS systems and other gadgets for store credit or a Target pre-paid card for the value of the trade-in.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 9, 2011

    The president of Domino’s Pizza in Japan, Scott K. Oelkers, has announced support for a $21 billion plan to build the first pizza restaurant on the moon. The scheme is detailed in a presentation made on the company’s website in which Oelkers appears in a spacesuit.

    According to Advertising Age, Domino’s in Japan is known for “wacky stunts,” and has stepped up their frequency as the company has celebrated its 25th anniversary there.
    KC's View:
    Somebody has to make pizza on the moon. I wish it were someone other than Domino’s, but if I’m there, I guess I’ll take what I can get.

    I do love a good attention-getting stunt, though.

    Published on: September 9, 2011

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 9, 2011

    The National Football League (NFL) season began last night, with a face-off between the last two Super Bowl champions - and the Green Bay Packers defeated the New Orleans Saints 42-34.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 9, 2011

    My summer vacation actually started a week before my time off began ... with a Friday night Jimmy Buffett concert out at Jones Beach, where my favorite singer was scheduled to give a concert just a few hundred yards from the ocean and under the stars. About ten minutes after the concert was scheduled to begin, Buffett came on stage all alone, and said, essentially, the following:

    “Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that for the last few years, we’ve never had any rain when we’ve played Jones Beach. The bad news is that in about 15 minutes, we’re going to get some kind of downpour. But we’re not going anywhere, and we’re going to give you a complete concert. But right now, I want y’all to find some cover and get away from the rain and the lightning - and if you trust me as a pilot and a sailor, you’ll do what I say.”

    And we all did. It took about 45 minutes for the lightning storm to pass, and then we all went back to our seats even in the rain, and had a simply marvelous time as Buffett took us through his songbook with a combination of showmanship, humor and island panache. It is a measure of the crowd’s loyalty that almost all of us stayed to the very end, wet but happy, as if we were having a party at the end of the world.

    Then, the first night of my vacation, I got invited to a press preview for New York Craft Beer Week, out at the Brooklyn Brewery. I took my beer-and-wine retailer son, Brian, with me, and we had an amazing time, tasting some wonderful brews and fabulous food.

    I think my favorite of all the companies pouring beer were the Shmaltz Brewing Company, which had an amazing Coney Island Human Blockhead beer, which is aged in bourbon barrels and is amazingly thick and rich, and the lighter but spicy and delicious Coney Island Albino Python. They may be based in New York, but they deserve national exposure. Great stuff. Click here for info.

    I’ll also tell you this. There is a little company called My Friend’s Mustard that makes the most amazing whole grain beer mustard ... and any specialty food store interested in having something truly different should contact this company and try to bet some. Because it is really, really good. Click here for info.

    Kudos to the folks who run NY Craft Beer Week, which runs from September 16-25. (I wish I were going to be around to patronize some of the events, but I’ll be traveling the entire time. Oh, well...) The effort is a noble one - expose as many people as possible through a wide variety of events to some of the great products being crafted in the Empire State. If you’re interested in finding out out more, click here.

    Helluva way to start out a vacation.

    The rest of the time was made up - when it wasn’t raining - with reading and movies and lots of bike rides.

    I finished two books, one of which I can recommend unreservedly: “The Cut,” by George Pelecanos, which is a tightly plotted thriller with Elmore Leonard-like dialogue, featuring an Army vet turned freelance investigator Spero Lucas who finds himself hip-deep in a murder mystery that takes place on the unsavory fringes of Washington, DC. Lucas is a compelling lead character, and one gets the sense that there are plenty of layers yet to be stripped away, and that we’ll get to know him better in future novels. And Pelecanos is as good as they come - this is a fabulous page-turner, a morality tale posing as a thriller, as good as his “The Night Gardener,” one of my favorite mysteries of recent years.

    The other book I read was not so good - I finally picked up a copy of “The Lost Symbol” that I’d bought some time ago, Dan Brown’s follow-up to “The Da Vinci Code.” It is a decent read, and I got through it pretty quickly, but it was wholly unfulfilling even as a popcorn novel. It feels like a paint-by-numbers effort as Brown tries to replicate the formula that made his previous hit novels work, but it feels like formula.

    I also saw three terrific movies during my vacation:

    “The Debt,” which is a top-notch espionage thriller starring Helen Mirren, involving an attempt by Israeli agents to capture a Nazi war criminal, and the moral hazards they encounter in their lives and work. It feels like a really good seventies-style thriller, and that is high praise.

    “The Whistleblower” is horrifying to watch - it is based on a true story about an American policewoman working for a military contractor in post-war Bosnia. In her work, the woman (played by the always great Rachel Weisz) discovers a child sex slave and human trafficking conspiracy that involves her employer and representatives of the United Nations, and she endangers her own life to expose it. There’s great supporting work by Vanessa Redgrave and David Strathairn, who bring intensity and veracity to a story that deserves to be told.

    “Gasland” is an intriguing documentary about natural gas drilling and the practice of hydraulic fracturing, which it suggests can lead to health issues for nearby residents as well as significant air and water pollution. I have to be honest - this is a subject about which I knew absolutely nothing, and “Gasland” made the subject accessible. I think there’s a lot to learn about this subject, and the movie made me want to learn more. Which is about all I can ask of a movie.

    And, I discovered “Sherlock,” the BBC series that places the Sherlock Holmes myth in modern times, and in doing so is far more faithful to the characters and themes than the overblown Robert Downey Jr. movies. There’s only been three 90-minute episodes so far, and they can be found on Netflix ... but Martin Freeman is excellent as Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch is a revelation as Holmes. Check it out.

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

    KC's View: