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: November 4, 2011

    MNB is a little different this morning...I’m off with my daughter looking at colleges, and so I’m taking the day off from the usual reportage and commentary.

    However, Michael Sansolo’s column, Sansolo Speaks is making a special Friday appearance this week, and both Your Views and OffBeat are in their regular positions, just so you can get a little bit of your MNB fix. I’ll be back Monday, and will see you then ... and don’t forget, most of us switch over from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time on Sunday at 2 a.m.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 4, 2011

    by Michael Sansolo

    I recently read that you know you are getting old when you look at the tabloids in the supermarket checkout line and you can’t identify the people listed by first name only. So I guess I can feel younger because I know Justin is Bieber, not Timberlake; Selena is the actress/singer Gomez (and Bieber’s girlfriend); and Snooki is a nightmare from the Jersey Shore. And while I have no idea what they do, I am aware that the Kardashians are somehow famous. Okay, I feel younger and dumber at the same time.

    Every now and again though, I completely miss. For instance, what’s the deal with the McRib?

    Assuming you are like me and don’t know the answer to that question, allow me to supply some information. The McRib is a boneless, pork-based sandwich originally developed by McDonald’s to fill a hole on its menu. For most of its 30-year history, the McRib has been the Brett Favre of the McDonald’s menu, making farewell tour appearances and retiring, only return later for another such tour. Except in Germany, where it’s offered every day, the McRib is a seasonal product with passionate fans anxiously awaiting every reappearance.

    That is the beauty of merchandising and selling: taking something ordinary and making it special. There’s no reason for the McRib to have a special following, except that it’s limited availability makes it that way. And McDonald’s plays that up perfectly.

    A good retailer can make the mundane special. It’s something that is never done enough though, which is why clever examples stand out so wonderfully. With that in mind, let me offer up what could be a hall of fame entry for creative merchandising from Walgreens.

    I go to Walgreens for my annual flu shot. I like my neighborhood store. What’s more, the pharmacists who administer the shot seem to have a sense of humor, which I like because I still see nothing enjoyable in getting an inoculation. Smiling at me helps a ton.

    This year I was distracted from the “little pinch” by a large poster in the “shot” room. In what has to be the merchandising event of all time, Walgreens is marketing a “flu shot gift card!” Now, this is not just a generic card for $31 at Walgreens, this is a card with a specific purpose and message. I care enough to treat someone else to a shot. Wow.

    This got me thinking. Could this be the best or worst gift ever? For instance, giving the gift card to my kids would probably be a sign of both nagging (please guys, get your shots), but also a welcome reminder. Plus, they wouldn’t have to pay for the shot, which always seems to be a winning argument. Likewise, my wife would have appreciated the gesture, if she weren’t getting her shot with me. Trust me, I’ve given worse gifts.

    Then again, it could be a negative gift. Suppose you had a co-worker who insists on being in the office every day during the winter, whether they have a cold or pneumonia. Maybe the gift of a shot would spare everyone some misery this year or maybe it would be seen as insulting. It’s impossible to know, but it does open up a whole new arena of office group gifts. It’s also a creative way for an employer to cut down on sick days this winter.

    Let’s also think of the creativity of the promotion. Imagine, turning something as mundane - even painful - as a flu shot into a gift. It might just work and in fact, might inspire other healthy themed ideas. Imagine gift cards for a refrigerator thermometer to help loved ones better understand food safety. Perhaps I could send a produce-themed gift card for a friend who expresses a desire to eat healthier.

    In short, there’s no end to the new ideas opened up by the flu shot card. But that’s the beauty of creativity: it gets you thinking about something that hasn’t been done before.

    Besides, I have given—and received—worse gifts. A McRib gift card anyone?


    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: November 4, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    When we had this story a few months ago, it sounded, quote frankly, like something out of Star Trek. We wrote about it, most because it seemed futuristic, but without an enormous amount of confidence that it would come on the market anytime soon.

    We were wrong.

    Jawbone is out with its newest product innovation, described by Fast Company as “the UP, a $100 wristband, smartphone app, and web app trio that work together to monitor your exercise habits, sleep cycles, and eating decisions. It's already on sale on Jawbone's website; on November 6th, it'll be available at Apple, Target, AT&T stores, and Best Buy.”

    The story goes on: “The UP wristband is meant to be worn 24 hours a day. When you're awake, its accelerometer monitors your movement - whether you're running, walking, or climbing stairs - and then sends that data to the app, which shows how many calories you've burned. When you're asleep, the UP monitors your sleep stage, by tracking subtle fluttering wrist movements (a natural occurrence during REM sleep, which is similar to eyelid flutter). When its time to wake up, the wristband vibrates slightly, and times its alarm to the best phase of your sleep cycle. And finally, the UP smartphone app allows you to take pictures of your food and log your meals ... It's meant to constantly nudge you into better behavior. For example, you can set the wristband to vibrate when you've been sedentary for too long--a reminder to keep moving around. There are also challenges you can take on, such as running or walking a certain distance each day, or biking to work three times a week. Users can track their progress as they go along, and they can choose challenges created by others (including professional trainers and public-health experts).”

    Sounds pretty cool to me.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 4, 2011

    Got several emails about my piece yesterday about the new Steve Jobs biography...

    One MNB user wrote:

    I think your observations and questions about Jobs are very instructive to us all.  It inspired me to write you.

    The quest for happiness is as long as human existence.  Different people strive for it in different ways. I been thinking about the Steve Jobs thing for years. Not about him in particular, but about the breed.

    There's a reason Woz isn't running Apple, Paul Allen isn't at Microsoft and why Zuckerburg is writing check's for hundreds of millions to people he stabbed in the back to be top dawg. For the Titans of any endeavor or profession, the terms "nice guy", "team player" and "humility" are not in the playbook. Ask J. D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. History and present day are full of others like them as you correctly point out.

    To reach the pinnacle of success, as defined by modern culture, means to climb the mountain; to pay the price.  We celebrate it, we love and admire those who achieve it, but we rarely look at the process or the price.  Being a genius and a visionary will make you rich but it wont get you to the  top...you'll be in the game but  only half way there. To reach the rare heights, you, by definition, must sell your soul. It doesn't happen consciously, but piece by piece, day by day, year by year it happens. You'll need to be ruthless, sacrifice family and friends, screw a bunch of people, be a real bastard and not give a rat's patootie what people think of you.  Combine that with a maniacal drive to reach the top and you'll be getting close to profiling the breed.

    I do not think this is a cynical view, but one that is close to the truth. History points to it clearly.  You simply can't expect to be a Titan and to do so without paying a significant personal price and causing collateral damage. Closer to home, this scene plays out everyday for many folks trying to get the corner office. We've all been there. What price are you willing to pay? Once you get there, will you really be happier or does it present another problem? Like, now how do i get to the top floor of the building?

    Was Steve Jobs happy?  I have no idea, but I can guess. Steven Covey says "Nobody on their death bed wishes they'd have spent more time in the office".  I'm thinking that thought may have crossed Steve's mind in his final moments.

    As to your other question, yeah KC, you need to be a bastard to reach the pinnacle and not a garden variety one, a major one. We can all hope for and will certainly celebrate the few exceptions which may exist, but we'll spend a lot of time trying to find 'em.

    Instead of dwelling on the mystery of Steve Jobs' happiness, why not dwell on our own. Ask ourselves "Am I happy?   Do I enjoy my work? Am I surrounded by friends and family I love? Do I feel rich and fulfilled?  If the answers to too many of these questions are less than a resounding YES, then change course. Choose a different path. Achieving personal happiness is, well, personal. The key to that door lies within each of us and the choices we make. Its a journey not a result.


    MNB user Debra Botterill wrote:

    I'm about halfway through Isaacson's book and have found it extremely readable. The history of brands and products has always fascinated me. I share your viewpoint that it's a shame his legacy is torn between the visionary success and the interpersonal failure that he appeared to be. It's one thing to be driven, passionate, consumed if you will and quite another to be a jerk and think you're "above all others."

    I applaud Steve Jobs for his talent in seeing what others couldn't, for accomplishing where others failed, but at the end of the day, I can't imagine the wreckage he may have created in the process. Dr Henry Cloud has a great book called "Integrity" that I highly recommend. Talks about balancing the two sides of the "wake" we leave behind in our personal interactions. Balancing results and the interpersonal. Steve appears to have excelled at one but not so much on the other.

    Reading Isaacson's other books is on my list as well. But is there a comparable book about Bill Gates?


    MNB user Steve Kneepkens wrote:

    I tend to take a contrarian view of on your takes but your perspective on Steve Jobs was well written.

    Our culture is littered with business visionaries who are given a pass on the moral and value spectrum. Genius in no way equates to good. As a matter of fact – what matters most in life is not if you do well – it is if you do good. That does not mean they have to be mutually exclusive – One would hope they are harmonious counterparts, but often they are not.

    We all have skeletons and we all have our crosses to bear, so it is refreshing that “a fan” dug a little deeper to get the complete picture.


    I noted in my commentary that while Jobs was a genius and an innovator, I’m probably a little vision-impaired, which led MNB user Mike Franklin to write:

    Steve was an innovator…you are an innovator…the only difference is scale.

    You are too kind.




    We took note the other day of a Huffington Post report that a deal company called Midtown Row has come up with a new promotion - you can order two frozen In-N-Out double-double burgers, either regular or animal style, and have them shipped to you anywhere in the US. However, there is no guarantee that the burgers will be fresh, and the company takes no responsibility for the defrosting/cooking process, and the two burgers will cost you $56.

    MNB user Sharese Alston wrote:

    Are they serious?!  I’ve been hearing about In-N-Out burgers for a very long time and have ALWAYS wanted to try one.  Just when I thought this was my chance, I read the last two lines of the article.  Sooo, the burgers may not be good, and the high-quality, legendary In-N-Out burger team is OK with that?!  And on top of the possible lack of quality, it costs $56?!!!!!!  Are you sure this isn’t a marketing prank?  I find this stupidity very hard to believe.

    I think you can blame Midtown Row, not In-N-Out.




    Responding to my rhapsodizing about online shopping, one MNB user wrote:

    While I can't disagree that on-line will offer the best assortment and price for stuff,  I'd also like you to be more aware of local merchants and local products.

    If we enjoy a society that creates artist, small businesses and farmers, then maybe we need to support them.  If we want more self starters and entrepreneurs, then maybe we should explore what they are offering.  If we want a thriving middle class then maybe we need to frequent their businesses and support their stores.

    If we want to move away from mass consumerism and have communities where people get to know one another then maybe we need to step away from our computers a bit more often.

    If we want our children to enjoy the joy of discovering books, then maybe we should spend more time browsing in bookstores.

    You get my point?  It's a difficult balance- efficiency, saving money and enjoying what makes our culture special. Sure there may be a trickle down effect of supporting those with the biggest web presence, but I'd rather support the ones that are in my community, creating jobs and offering an enjoyable experience rather than just accumulating more stuff.

    Perhaps it's time we all tried to incorporate a more personal side to our consumption of stuff.


    Yes, I get your point.

    But to be clear, the example I was using the other day was buying toilet paper. That hardly qualifies as just the “consumption of stuff,” and while it is related to a personal and enjoyable experience, I’m not sure that’s the personal and enjoyable experience you were writing about.

    Forgive me. I can’t help myself.

    I actually do get your point. Seriously. And I do shop at some local retailers. Especially my local wine merchant, with whom I have developed a personal connection. I also get my hair cut locally. (Hard to do that online.)

    But I would also argue that I get more personalized service from Amazon.com and Zappos.com, for example, than from many local retailers.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 4, 2011

    I can’t believe I missed this.

    Harold Camping, the 90-year-old former civil engineer turned minister turned radio host who got so much attention earlier this year when he predicted that the Rapture would happen on May 21, only to live to predict another day, apparently has more recently been saying that the Rapture would actually happen on October 21.

    Strike two.

    Slate.com reports that Camping is not apologizing for his mistakes, but is saying that he needs to do further research. “I am checking my own notes more carefully than ever,” he said in a message recorded for his Family Radio Network. “There is other language in the Bible, and we still have to look at very carefully ... We should be very patient about this matter.”

    My mother used to tell me that “patience is a virtue,” but she was missing the big picture. In Camping’s case, patience apparently also is profitable. CNN reports that “Camping’s followers donated more than $80 million from 2005 to 2009” to his ministry.

    Camping now has a new marketing strategy - saying that when the Rapture comes, perhaps nobody will notice, saying, according to Slate, that non-believers will “quietly die…the true believers will quietly receive the new heaven and the new earth. I really am beginning to think as I restudied these matters that there’s going to be no big display of any kind." 

    Unless, of course, you count his bank account...




    I found fascinating the recent story I saw in Fast Company about how the American house is evolving ... according to a survey done by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) of designers, architects and manufacturers, the expectation is that by 2015, “the average single-family home is likely to drop to 2,150 square feet from 2,400 square feet today, probably as a result of tough economic times and rising energy prices.

    “That drop in square footage will lead to the living room disappearing altogether, instead being swallowed up by the kitchen or family room to form a single ‘great room.’ Other features that may become increasingly uncommon include sunrooms, dining rooms, media rooms, mudrooms, and skylights. Laundry rooms and walk-in closets aren't going anywhere but on the whole, it looks like Americans will scale back.”

    It sort of sounds like a really great loft ... which is exactly what I’ll be in the market for in a couple of years.




    I know I’m a total geek about this stuff, but I can’t tell you how happy I am to learn that the new James Bond film, entitled Skyfall, goes into production next Monday...with Daniel Craig returning as 007, Judi Dench as M, and an estimable supporting cast that includes Albert Finney, Javier Bardem, and Ralph Fiennes. The director is Sam Mendes, who won an Oscar for American Beauty, and the move is going to be shot in the UK, Turkey and China.

    According to the producers - one of whom, Barbara Broccoli, I actually went to film school with back in the seventies, though we did not know each other - the 23rd Bond film is about how "Bond's loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her, and MI6 comes under attack.”

    Sounds totally cool ... and it will be released next November, 50 years after the first Bond film, Dr. No, was released.

    I’m ready to buy my tickets right now.




    A show that I’ve really grown to like - though its recent ratings have not been very good - is “Bored To Death” on HBO, which is about a white wine drinking writer named Jonathan Ames who moonlights as an unlicensed private detective. Ames is well played by Jason Schwartzman, but the real treat is the supporting cast - Zach Galifianakis, as a very weird cartoonist who is Ames’ best friend, and Ted Danson as the semi-depraved George Christopher, a publishing magnate who has spent too much smoking dope and carousing with women.

    “Bored To Death” is charming and offbeat, and benefits from being shot in and around New York ... I wish it would generate more of an audience, because I’d hate to see it go away.

    BTW ... Danson is doing double duty these days, also playing the new head investigator, DB Russell, on the original “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” I’d stopped watching “CSI” because it simply got too dark and depressing, but Danson has brought a real charm to the proceedings - he’s much warmer than his predecessors (William Petersen and Laurence Fishburne). So many actors get heavy and ponderous as they get older (Harrison Ford comes to mind), it is nice to see an actor who in middle age has retained the youthful bounce of earlier performances. in both roles, Danson looks like he’s having a good time, and it is infectious.




    I’m very proud of myself. I have not read one word - not one - about these Kardashian people who seem to have found a way to dominate the national dialogue. I know nothing about them, don’t want to know anything about them, and intend to not waste one minute on them.




    I have some beer and wine suggestions for you this week....

    I love both the Rogue Dead Guy Ale and the Rogue Portland State IPA (the latter of which is named after the university, which also has a Rogue brewpub on campus, which has to be a college student’s dream).

    And, we had a wonderful wine the other night - the 2005 Catena Malbec, which was wonderful with a lamb and artichoke stew that I made. (The stew was pretty good, too.)




    One other thing. Thanks to all of you who wrote for the birthday wishes...and especially thanks to Graeter’s for the fabulous ice cream. You’re the best.



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

    Slainte!!

    KC's View: