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    Published on: September 29, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    Content Guy’s Note: Below is a commentary on the same subject as the video piece, but it isn’t word-for-word the same. You can look at both, or is up to you. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Nobody - and no business - is indispensable.

    That’s conventional wisdom, right? And it is rare that you find situations that challenge it. A couple of possibilities come to mind. For example, we’ll soon find out whether Steve Jobs is the indispensable man. And I’ve had people tell me that they think Feargal Quinn, the founder of Ireland’s iconic Superquinn, is the indispensable man, which accounts for all of its troubles since he moved on to other challenges.

    But for the most part, this conventional wisdom seems pretty on-target.

    It is something we all have to keep in mind in our work lives. All by itself, it has to be motivation to keep innovating, to keep challenging ourselves and others, to keep looking for the flaws in our business models and trying to find ways to put ourselves out of business so that other people and companies don’t do it.

    It is true in all industries.

    I was reading a story in the New York Times the other day about a new Pew Research Center study saying that “while television is the main source for three popular topics — weather, traffic and breaking news — newspapers and their Web sites are the main source for 11 other topics, like local government updates, zoning news and crime reports. It also found that word of mouth, most likely including text messages and Twitter posts, is the second most common means of news distribution on the local level.”

    Think about it. When it comes to local news, newspapers and their websites are first ... and text messaging is second. When did that happen?

    This speaks to the power of what you probably could call non-institutional communications tools. It also speaks to the increasing disenchantment that people feel toward journalism ... though that’s been the case as long as I can remember. But people in all sorts of businesses need to keep these trends in mind, because even if they are trusted by their customers, they have to keep in mind the fact that in a non-institutional age, missteps can have an enormous impact.

    The other ongoing story that speaks to the whole notion of not being indispensable is the Netflix controversy, which we’ve spent a lot of time talking about here on MNB. I don;t want to beat a dead horse, but Netflix’s decision to raise prices and split its business in two - separating the DVD rental biz from the online streaming portion - has left the door open for other companies to figure out how to best compete with what has, to this point, been an online juggernaut. Dish Network is out with a new online streaming service for its Blockbuster brand, and Amazon just sent out an email this week to customers announcing increased streaming availability. Expect to see a lot more of this, and for Netflix to figure out some new tactic or strategy that will allow it to retain - or regain - its edge.

    The other day, I said something here about Netflix having opened the window to allow competitors in. But I was wrong about that. The simple truth is that the window always is open. We all have to work using the premise that competitors always are going to try to get in. Because nobody is indispensable, and nobody has an unassailable business model.

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

    Published on: September 29, 2011

    Walmart announced yesterday that Shelley Broader, the former Hannaford Bros. and Sweetbay Supermarkets executive who has been serving as chief merchandising officer at Walmart Canada, has been promoted to president/CEO of the retailer’s business north of the border.

    She succeeds David Cheesewright, who has been running Walmart Canada since 2008 and now has been named executive vice-president, president and CEO of a new regional management team for Walmart in Canada, the U.K. and Sub-Saharan Africa, and will oversee business development in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Canada.
    KC's View:
    It has long been the position here that Shelley Broader is one of the best weapons that Walmart has in its arsenal, and this move probably was inevitable ... and I suspect that it won’t be that long before she finds herself back in Bentonville with even greater responsibilities. (The only problem with Broader getting this promotion was that I felt the pressure of finding all new superlatives to describe her.)

    I first got to know Shelley Broader when she moved from Maine to Florida, leaving Hannaford and given the responsibility by Delhaize of completely remaking the failing Kash n’ Karry chain there. She worked with her team to convert the company to Sweetbay Supermarkets, turning it into a more competitive entity in a very tough marketplace.

    One of the things that most impressed me about Broader was the new application form that she created for Sweetbay, which she wanted to have a greater food orientation. In addition to asking all the usual questions, she’d also ask people what three items always are in their refrigerators, what their favorite meals are, and what their favorite restaurants are; she wanted to hire people who liked food, and figured she could teach them how to be retailers.

    Broader also is a terrific people person, understanding how to motivate people and use their language. (It is noted in The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies that she likes to use Star Wars imagery when talking to employees.)

    She’s got tons of great experience that will help her in the new post. In addition to her Delhaize experience, she also was COO at the Michael’s crafts chain (where she worked for Doug McMillon, who preceded her in moving to Walmart), and also was a senior vice president at Sam’s Club.

    I’ll say it again. Shelley Broader is one of the best weapons in Walmart’s arsenal.

    BTW...It was just yesterday that I wrote about Walmart...

    The general feeling out there seems to be that there are going to be a series of shufflings, reassignments, and retirements ... as Walmart tries to get its groove back.

    Ain’t over yet.

    Published on: September 29, 2011

    Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos introduced the newest Kindle yesterday, a $199 tablet computer that is positioned as a cheaper alternative to Apple’s wildly successful but more expensive iPad.

    “Unlike a wave of other tablets that have emerged hopefully only to flop, such as the Hewlett-Packard Co. TouchPad, the Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. Xoom, and the Research in Motion Ltd. PlayBook,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek writes, “the Kindle Fire has a good shot at turning the newest theater of war in high-tech into a two-tablet battle.”

    “What we are doing is offering premium products at non-premium prices,” Bezos tells Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Other tablet contenders, he says, “have not been competitive on price” and “have just sold a piece of hardware. We don’t think of the Kindle Fire as a tablet. We think of it as a service.”

    The Kindle Fire has a glossy 7-inch color touch screen and a dual-core processor, and the New York Times reports that “Amazon is counting on the its vast online warehouse of more than 18 million e-books, songs, movies and television shows, as well as access to a selection of Android applications, to help it beat competitors like the iPad and the Nook from Barnes & Noble. Previous Kindles were only e-book readers with black-and-white screens.

    “The access to content is important as Amazon transforms its business into a digital retailer and responds to consumer demands for mobile devices, lest it winds up in a retail graveyard like Borders, a former peer.”

    Amazon has begun taking orders and will begin shipping the Fire on November 15; the Kindle Fire will sell for $199 while the cheapest iPad sells for $499; as the writes, “Amazon can afford to charge less because it hopes to make up the difference by selling books, movies and popular television shows. Customers may also be more inclined to pay $79 a year for Amazon Prime, which gives them access to Amazon’s movie streaming service and free shipping, which in turn, encourages more shopping at”

    Compared to the iPad, Bloomberg BusinessWeek writes, “The stripped-down Fire is more of a sit-back-on-the-sofa-and-shop device. It crystallizes the difference between Apple, which tends to keep prices -- and profit margins -- high, and Amazon, which likes to start low and drive lower in an effort to knee-cap the competition. The tablet is symbolic of Amazon’s ability to adapt and reluctance to cede the future to anyone. If the Fire and its inevitable sequels are successful, they will add even more might to one of the fastest-growing retail operations the world has ever seen.”
    KC's View:
    There are tons of implications here, especially because the growth of tablets in general seems to be positive for online retailers.

    What intrigues me about Amazon - and Apple - is the way in which both the Fire and the iPad really are about content consumption, and how both companies have their own stores through which they provide that content. The Jeff Bezos comment about the Fire not being a device but a system is illuminating - it suggests that the successful 21st century retailer has to think about more than just the transaction, but about the broader implications of a long-term relationship with the consumer that is built on information and accessibility.

    Published on: September 29, 2011

    The New York Times this morning reports that “faced with a lawsuit by a major produce grower, the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday lifted import restrictions on cantaloupes from a Guatemala farm that had been linked to a multistate salmonella outbreak ... An FDA spokesman said in an e-mail that the agency lifted the restriction, called an import alert, because the company submitted an independent audit of the farm showing that it was following good agricultural practices. It also submitted tests showing that no cantaloupes were found containing pathogens.”

    The Guatemala cantaloupes are not related to a listeria outbreak linked to a Colorado cantaloupe farm.

    Meanwhile, the New York Times also reports that Costco is saying that “cantaloupe farmers and shippers must confront a history of food safety problems and take steps to make the fruit safe” and that “Costco would consider setting standards for how melons are grown and how they are cleaned and handled after they are picked ... the company would most likely require that suppliers test melons for pathogens before shipping them to Costco.”

    As the Times reports, “On Tuesday federal officials said that there had been at least 19 previous outbreaks involving more than 1,000 illnesses and three deaths resulting from cantaloupe consumption since 1984. The current outbreak, caused by cantaloupes grown in Colorado, has sickened more than 70 people and killed at least 13, making it the deadliest food-borne outbreak in the United States in more than a decade.”
    KC's View:
    I would never suggest that the nation’s food safety system is as efficient and effective as it can be. Far from it. But this is clearly not the time to do anything other than redouble our efforts as a nation to be smarter about regulation and oversight.

    Published on: September 29, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal reports that “Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. is recalling about 131,300 pounds of ground beef because a family in Ohio fell ill after eating meat produced by the company that was contaminated with E. coli, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Wednesday.

    “The recall involves beef sold as Kroger brands at Kroger Co. supermarkets; Butcher's Beef at Food Lion supermarkets; and generic beef sold to SAV-A-LOT, Spectrum Foods, Supervalu and the Defense Commissary Agency ... Tyson produced the affected meat at its plant in Emporia, Kan., on Aug. 23, the USDA said in a news release.”
    KC's View:
    I repeat: I would never suggest that the nation’s food safety system is as efficient and effective as it can be. Far from it. But this is clearly not the time to do anything other than redouble our efforts as a nation to be smarter about regulation and oversight.

    Published on: September 29, 2011

    In Ireland, the Independent reports that the nation’s Competition Authority has approved the acquisition of iconic retailer Superquinn by Musgrave, concluding that the purchase will not have a negative impact on consumers there.

    The purchase of Superquinn will cost Musgrave the equivalent of $350 million (US).

    According to the story, “The decision will create a grocery business with a market share roughly as big as Tesco's in Ireland and bigger than that of Dunnes Stores. It also secures in the region of 3,000 jobs,” though turning the company around will be an enormous challenge for Musgrave.

    Superquinn was sold by founder Feargal Quinn to a consortium of investors in 2005. Select Retail Holdings hoped that they would be able to secure better real estate in order to make Superquinn more effective, but a worsening economy and tougher competitors worked against the new owners.
    KC's View:
    In addition, the new owners lacked Feargal Quinn’s magic touch with marketing, merchandising and people skills. Hopefully, Musgrave can recapture a little bit of that ... though it won’t be easy.

    Published on: September 29, 2011

    The Los Angeles Times reports that Domino’s has introduced a new line of “Artisan Pizzas” that come three ways:  “with spinach and feta, with Italian sausage and peppers or with Tuscan salami and roasted vegetables.”

    The thin-crust pizzas cost about eight bucks, and are said to have fewer calories than Domino’s traditional pizzas.

    According to the story, “Just like artists putting their mark on their work ... each pizza box will be signed by the store manager in charge.”
    KC's View:
    It is all about affordable indulgences and trying to find differential advantages.

    Published on: September 29, 2011

    USA Today reports that “as the economy continues to tank and unemployment in the core 18- to 24-year-old target hovers near 20%, some of the biggest names in fast food — from Pizza Hut to Subway to Taco Bell— are back with eye-popping deals.

    “It's not because the fast-food behemoths want to go so low. It's because they have to. After some improvement late last year and earlier this year, the $236 billion fast-food industry — with the notable exception of McDonald's — is mostly heading south, again.

    “The statistics are alarming. The number of annual restaurant visits by a typical Millennial has plummeted from 245 visits five years ago to 192 this year, NPD Group reports. That's one less visit every week. In July, the most recent month reported, restaurant performance slipped to its lowest level in nearly a year as owners — seeing softening sales — downgraded plans for capital spending and offered up their worst overall performance expectations in 20 months, says a National Restaurant Association survey.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 29, 2011

    • Macy's, Inc. announced that its Macy's and Bloomingdale's stores are adopting RFID (radio frequency identification) technology on an accelerated timeline to more precisely manage item-level merchandise inventories, making it one of the first retailers to implement RFID on a broad national scale.

    By the third quarter of 2012, the company said it “expects to begin using RFID in all stores nationwide to count size-intensive ‘replenishment goods’ - those items regularly stocked and automatically resupplied as they are sold to customers. This represents about 30 percent of the company's sales.”

    Marketing Daily reports that Don Shula, the former Miami Dolphins head coach and restaurateur, is launching Shula Burger, a fast casual chain.

    Six locations in Florida have been identified, with one, in Islamorada, slated to open before the end of the year.

    The story notes that Shula “has been in the restaurant business since 1989, has 34 full-service restaurants nationwide, including Shula's Steak House and Shula's 347 Grill.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 29, 2011

    Reuters reports that private-label food company Ralcorp Holdings has appointed Chairman William Stiritz as chief executive of its spun-off cereal business, Post Holdings Inc.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 29, 2011

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 29, 2011

    It was one of the most remarkable final days of the season ever for Major League Baseball, as the Boston Red Sox lost to the Baltimore Orioles 4-3, completing an epic September collapse that had the team going from a certain wild card berth in the playoffs to a winter of “what-ifs.” Within minutes of the Red Sox loss, the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the New York Yankees 8-7 in 12 innings, coming back from a 7-0 deficit and assuring for themselves the American League wild card slot.

    Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Houston Astros 8-0, which combined with an Atlanta Braves 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, propelled the Cards into the playoffs as the NK wild card team. The Braves are likely to look to join the same support group as the Red Sox -  on August 26, the Braves led the Cardinals by 10-1/2 games.
    KC's View:
    Okay, it may not have been playoff baseball, but the game that most captivated my attention yesterday was the New York Mets - Cincinnati Reds game, which had the Mets winning 3-0.

    In this game, shortstop Jose Reyes began with a National League leading .336 batting average, with the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun second at .335. Reyes came up in the first inning, laid down a bunt for a base hit, and then pulled himself out of the game, finishing the season with a .337 average ... and assuring that unless Braun went 3 for 4 during his game later in the day, he would win the batting title.

    Braun went 0-4. Reyes got the title. And in doing so, showed IMHO a distressing lack of character.

    Exactly 70 years ago yesterday, Ted Williams went into the last day of the season with batting average of .399555 - technically a .400 average, which nobody had done in years. The Red Sox manager asked Williams if he wanted to sit out the doubleheader to protect his average, but Williams said no ... and then he went out and got six hits in eight at bats, ending the season at .406, the last man in baseball history to do so.

    Perhaps Teddy Ballgame is an unfair bar against which to measure today’s players. (My son, a huge Reyes fan, would say so.) But I think that character counts, no matter what the era.

    Yesterday, in what may have been his final game as a Met, Reyes showed lack of character. That’s a shame.