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    Published on: October 14, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    Forget about the politics of the situation. Growing discontent with the shape of the US economy is almost certainly going to have an effect on how people spend, and on what.

    Bloomberg reports this morning that “a widening gap between rich and poor is reshaping the U.S. economy, leaving it more vulnerable to recurring financial crises and less likely to generate enduring expansions.

    “Left unchecked, the decades-long trend toward increasing inequality may condemn Wall Street to a generation of unimpressive returns and even shake social stability, economists and financial-industry executives say.”

    The story goes on:

    “Since 1980, about 5 percent of annual national income has shifted from the middle class to the nation’s richest households. That means the wealthiest 5,934 households last year enjoyed an additional $650 billion -- about $109 million apiece -- beyond what they would have had if the economic pie had been divided as it was in 1980, according to Census Bureau data.”

    And, Bloomberg notes that this trend reinforces what has become a rallying cry for protests taking place all over the country, protests against the fact that “a sliver of U.S. households have enjoyed a disproportionate share of recent economic rewards. Between 1993 and 2008, the top 1 percent of families captured 52 percent of total income gains, according to a 2010 analysis of Internal Revenue Service tax data by economist Emmanuel Saez of the University of California, Berkeley.”

    The story says that “such trends have left their mark on public sentiment. Though a majority of Americans reject the idea that the country is divided between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots,’ those seeing such a divide rose to 45 percent from 35 percent in 2009, according to a Pew Research Center poll released Sept. 29. The sharpest increase occurred among self-described political independents.”

    And, Bloomberg goes on:

    “The widening chasm between haves and have-nots has tangible consequences. Societies with a narrower gap between rich and poor enjoy longer economic expansions, according to research published this year by the International Monetary Fund. Income trends in the U.S., where the wealthy over time have pulled away from the rest of society, mean that future U.S. expansions could last just one-third as long as in the late 1960s, before the income divide began widening, said economist Jonathan Ostry of the IMF.

    “Expansions -- or what Ostry and coauthor Andrew Berg label ‘growth spells’ -- fizzle sooner in less equal societies because they are more vulnerable to both financial crises and political instability. When such countries are hit by external shocks, they often stumble into gridlock rather than agree to tough policies needed to keep growth alive.”

    Sound familiar?

    One can argue about the clarity of the goals of the protesters, their politics, or even their motivations. But it almost certainly would be a mistake to underestimate their potential power ... and the Eye-Opening impact they could have on the economy.

    To close one’s eyes, to to avert them, is not a responsible option.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 14, 2011

    Marketing Daily reports that Unilever-owned Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream has come out in support of the Occupy Wall Street protests that are taking place all over the country, with citizens objecting to the fact that one percent of the nation’s population seems to be accumulating more and more of the nation’s wealth at the expense of the other 99 percent.

    According to the story, the company has posted a message of support on the Ben & Jerry’s website, saying “We, the Ben & Jerry’s Board of Directors, compelled by our personal convictions and our company’s mission and values, wish to express our deepest admiration to all of you who have initiated the non-violent Occupy Wall Street Movement and to those around the country who have joined in solidarity. The issues raised are of fundamental importance to all of us.”

    The message goes on to say that “the inequity that exists between classes in our country is simply immoral,” and that “we are in an unemployment crisis. Almost 14 million people are unemployed. Nearly 20% of African American men are unemployed. Over 25% of our nation’s youth are unemployed.” Meanwhile, the site points out, “corporations are permitted to spend unlimited resources to influence elections while stockpiling a trillion dollars rather than hiring people.”

    The message adds that the company has been “actively involved with these issues for years,” and that “we have provided support to citizens’ efforts to rein in corporate money in politics, we pay a livable wage to our employees, we directly support family farms and we are working to source fairly traded ingredients for all our products.”

    However, the site says, “your efforts have put them out front in a way we have not been able to do.”
    KC's View:
    Didn’t see that one coming.

    But if any company was going to try to get out in front of this movement, it was going to be Ben & Jerry’s. Let’s see if it generates any momentum in other board rooms.

    And I’ll tell you one thing. The statement by the Ben & Jerry’s board seems to crystalize the issues in a way that many of the protesters do not.

    Published on: October 14, 2011

    The Boston Globe reports that Target Corp. has committed to only selling “sustainable and traceable seafood in its stores by 2015.”

    According to the story, “Sustainable seafood efforts make sure species aren't being overfished and that they are harvested with methods that don't endanger other fish and seafood ... Target said Thursday that its latest action will apply to all of its fresh and frozen seafood. The Minneapolis company is teaming with nonprofit organization FishWise, which works with seafood companies on environmentally responsible business practices, to help with its effort.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 14, 2011

    • Piggly Wiggly announced yesterday that its 102 grocery stores throughout Wisconsin and Illinois “will now offer their customers a completely integrated digital platform across web, mobile and social media channels,” giving them access to “planning tools including online circulars, personalized shopping lists, coupons and recipes.”

    The digital services will be provided by MyWebGrocer.

    Piggly Wiggly says it “will be able to provide customers with the ability to shop the circular on their mobile device. The planning tools easily integrate from computer to mobile, so that items added to a shopping list on one platform are automatically updated on the other. Shoppers will be able to access Piggly Wiggly’s planning tools via an Android, iPhone or any other smart phone ... Piggly Wiggly customers will also have the option to access the weekly circular via Piggly Wiggly’s Facebook page to find specials at their local store. Shoppers will be able to click on the special items and add them to their shopping list or find recipes for on sale items.”

    Just as a matter of full disclosure, it needs to be noted here that MyWebGrocer is a longtime and valued MNB sponsor, making it possible for you to get MNB every day for free. For that reason alone, we think they are terrific ... and we’re happy to take note of the company’s expanding influence in the online space, as the company serves more than 100 retailers in the US.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 14, 2011

    The New York Post reports that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz recently became “obsessed” with the notion of juice bars after he visited Liquiteria, a juice bar in New Tork’s East Village.

    So much so, in fact, that “he hired veteran juicer Yohana Bencosme away from the dispensary and flew her out to Seattle to train his employees in the ways of fresh juices.”

    The speculation is that Starbucks has juice bars on its mind, either to be part of its existing fleet of stores or perhaps even as a standalone entity.

    Starbucks is not commenting on the reports, saying that it does not talk about rumors.
    KC's View:
    Why not?

    Published on: October 14, 2011

    Bloomberg reports that Steve Eastman, who has been running Target’s online business, has left the company in the wake of last month’s website crash because of “overwhelming demand for new designer apparel.” The company said that Eastman left to “pursue other opportunities.”

    No replacement has been named.
    KC's View:
    I’ve come over to the side of the MNB users who said that they believed the Target website crash was the best thing that every happened to the company, propelling it into the news in a way that never would have happened had everything worked smoothly.

    I’d hire Eastman to do the same for MNB ... but I probably cannot afford him.

    Published on: October 14, 2011

    • Walmart said yesterday that it has hired Sylvia Mathews Burwell, a former senior executive with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to head its corporate foundation.

    As the New York Times reports, “Wal-Mart’s philanthropy is closely watched in the corporate and nonprofit worlds, as well as by the company’s critics, who dismiss it as an exercise in reputational laundering.” Burwell is seen as giving the company some level of credibility because of her background with the Gates foundation.

    “I feel like this is an exciting time in corporate philanthropy,” said Ms. Burwell, who announced in April that she would be stepping down as president of the Gates Foundation’s global development program. “This offered me the ability to work on problems and challenges at a scale and through the alignment of business and philanthropic interests.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 14, 2011

    Last week it was Steve Jobs, and everybody - for good reason - paid attention.

    But now, the Washington Post carries another obituary for a tech pioneer, Dennis Ritchie, who died Wednesday at age 70 after a long illness.

    Here’s why Ritchie was important, compliment s of the Post:

    “Ritchie is likely to be best remembered for his famous ‘hello, world’ program, which is used in programming textbooks as an example of a very simple computer program, and has spread to ordinary folks as a phrase to use when starting something new.

    “After news of Ritchie’s death broke, words of remembrance came in for the man known to many as ‘dmr,’ which was his e-mail address at Bell Labs, where he spent most of his career.

    “Many pointed out that Ritchie’s creation of the C programming language was a seminal moment for information technology. The technology Web site ZDNet wrote Thursday that the language is ‘at the heart of programming — and in the hearts of programmers.’ It also remains the second most popular programming language in the world.

    “Ritchie’s co-development of Unix, a multitasking, multi-user computer operating system, has since inspired many descendent operation systems. Amazon’s chief technology officer, Werner Vogels, wrote in a tribute to Ritchie Thursday that although Unix works simply, ‘you have to be a genius to understand the simplicity — Dennis Ritchie, who was a genius, RIP.’”

    One Ritchie disciple put it this way on Twitter:

    Dennis Ritchie was the engineer/architect who’s chapel Steve Jobs painted.
    KC's View:
    I had never heard of Ritchie before. But I’m glad I know about him now. And I hope you feel the same way.

    Attention should be paid.

    Published on: October 14, 2011

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 14, 2011

    In the fifth game of the best-of-seven American League Championship Series, the Detroit Tigers beat the Texas Rangers 7-5. The Rangers now hold a 3-2 series lead.

    And, in the fourth game of the National League Championship Series, the Milwaukee Brewers defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 4-2. The series now stands at two wins apiece.

    KC's View:

    Published on: October 14, 2011

    There is an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal this morning about how one of Hollywood’s favorite villains is Business - whatever “Business” means. “This may be a nation that likes to see itself as built on free enterprise and self-made pluck,” the Journal writes, “but when it comes to the movies, it gets shady boardrooms, cigar smoke and unadulterated greed.”

    Think Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. Think Citizen Kane. Think Glengarry Glen Ross. Barbarians At The Gate. Up In The Air. The list goes on and on.

    And it isn’t hard to imagine that in the current environment, with anti-business protests erupting all over the country, that the trend will only pick up momentum.

    The Journal piece uses an upcoming film, Margin Call, which stars Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore, Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci and Jeremy Irons, as an outlier among this bunch - a “low-budget movie with a high-powered cast, its Wall Street characters are flawed, cynical—but, for once, actually human.” The film may be distinguished by its intention - to suggest that the business world is not black and white, and that human motivations are usually complicated, not simplistic.

    We’ll see if Margin Call delivers on the promise and actually is a good movie, but the premise of the Journal story is one that, not surprisingly, Michael Sansolo and I would agree with wholeheartedly. After all, we think that the movies can be a wonderful source of business wisdom, and even wrote a book about it - “The Big Picture: Essential Business lessons from the Movies.”

    Coincidentally, we actually have been planning for some months now to do something about the typical hollywood view of business ... and now seems like as good a time as any to announce it.

    Michael and I are pleased to announce the First Annual Bizzie Awards - which will be given out to movies released in 2011 that offer an accurate depiction of business and also provide lessons that other businesses can learn from. Our goal is to announce and hand out the awards in early 2012, since we’ll be doing a lot of moviegoing during the month of December, which is usually when all the prestige movies are released.

    There won’t be specific categories - there may be a character that appeals to us, or a plot line, or just a general thematic approach. We don;t want to be hemmed in by traditional thinking, and so we’re going to be as flexible as possible in making our assessments.

    And...we’re taking nominations from the MNB community. If you have a movie that you love from 2011 that you believe fits our somewhat loose criteria, please send me an email, nominate it and tell us why. I’ll be honest - this isn’t a democracy, and Michael and I will be making the final decisions. But we will take the nominations seriously, and will keep the emails in a sealed mayonnaise jar on Funk & Wagnall’s porch, just to maintain the integrity of the process. (If you are too young to get this last reference, do us a favor and keep it to yourself.)

    Our goal is to give the Bizzie Award to six 2011 movies - Michael will name three, and I’ll name three. In addition, we’ll be giving a “Classic Bizzie” award to one older movie that we think deserves it, and there also will be a “Bizzie Lifetime Achievement” award given to one filmmaker. (We also think that there will be two “Tin Bizzie” awards given to 2011 movies that got business absolutely, totally wrong.)

    So, send us your nominations ... give us your reasons and rationale ... and we’ll see you at the movies.

    If business is one of Hollywood’s favorite villains, the corruption of politics is also a favorite theme - movies such as The Best Man, The Candidate, and Wag The Dog have all turned this subject, to varying degrees, into interesting and absorbing movies.

    The genre gets a new entry this month with The Ides Of March, which focuses on the inner workings of a campaign on the weeks leading up to the Ohio Democratic primary.

    George Clooney plays the almost-too-good-to-be-true candidate, a liberal governor angling for the nomination with the help of Ryan Gosling as a campaign aide and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as his campaign manager. It is an engaging movie - nicely directed by Clooney, who continues to make intriguing career choices - that endeavors to probe the difference between real belief and political strategy.

    The power of the film is in its performances; Clooney’s strength as a director is in casting great actors and giving them room to explore their characters. In addition to Gosling and Hoffman, there also is a nice turn by Paul Giamatti as a rival campaign manager, and Marisa Tomei as a New York Times reporter. And Clooney himself, an outspoken liberal, does not spare the rod when it comes to his own character.

    The Ides Of March is a very good movie - smart, savvy and worth seeing.

    We’ve been having Indian Summer weather here in the Northeast, so I have a couple of refreshing white wines for you this week:

    • the 2010 Prendo Pinot Grigio Vignetti Delle Dolomiti.

    the 2009 Ceretto Blange.

    Both are wonderful. Enjoy.

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

    (I’ll be reporting next week from the Pacific Northwest, where I’m heading to do “The Innovation Conversation” with Tom Furphy at Portland State University’s annual Food Industry Leadership Center conference ... to moderate a panel discussion at the Network of Executive Women (NEW) event, and teach a class at Portland State. it’s gonna be a great week...!)

    KC's View: