retail news in context, analysis with attitude

I love emails like this one, which looks at a bunch of stories reported on MNB...

Just a couple of observations. You're column is making me think, good job.

On the card fee subject, some really good input on "Your Views". I am against most regulation as it is usually short sighted and initiated for some political gain. I supported the restrictive nature of the Durbin law to stop the banks from over charging. But the more I think about it, the law really only needed to REQUIRE that the fees be published on all receipts they were charged on. I think that would have driven more people to cash and would have hurt the banks much worst then the Durbin legislation.

On Wal-Mart, don't look for them improve anytime soon and their performance will only continue to deteriorate. I have vendor friends that call on Wal-Mart. They hate them. I was speaking with one this morning. Posted receiving hours start at 7AM. Rang the bell until 7:35am and someone finally opened the door. When he was completed, he couldn't find anyone to check him out............ they were on a 20 minute break and he had to wait. Because of that, he is going to miss his last Wal-Mart and they will be out of stock until his next visit. Complaints to the management bring no responses. They simply don't care. The back rooms are packed and the shelves are empty. They are so big and upper management keeps wanting to "look at the big picture" that they have forgotten the nuts and bolts of how to run a business................... A&P II.

On the Raley’s story, I agree with you. The tone of the story indicated to me that this was a process that had to be done to save the company. I think we will continue to see these kinds of stories in both the private and public sector(especially the public sector). As the unions have pushed for better and better packages that the private sector will be unable to support(can you say unsustainable), you will see local governments go bankrupt and the pensions will end. The sad part are the people that will no recourse but to go back to work because this was their only retirement options. Politicians like Grey Davis should be imprisoned for some of the deals he made that are just foolish and unsustainable. But they will promise and negotiate anything to get elected.

MNB yesterday’s reported on a Baltimore Sun story saying that “the California city of West Hollywood has given final approval to a first-in-the-nation ban on the sale of fur clothing within its limits ... the city's famously left-leaning political establishment ultimately embraced the ban, won over by supporters' arguments that furs are produced from animals that are inhumanely killed for their pelts.”

To which MNB user David Farnam responded:

The key statement here was humanely killed.  I would bet they have no definition of what a humane kill would be, because they don’t believe in the death of animals for any purpose, food or clothing.

Admittedly I’m a hunter and enjoy the hunt and the kill.  For without the kill there is no hunt.  To many of your viewers that statement probably make them think of me as some sort of barbarian with a tipping point towards being a serial killer.  However, nothing could be further from the truth.  I in fact draw spiritualism from being the woods in pursuit of game.  In an odd way I feel closer to God in the woods than I do in church, at least his presence.  I hunt, I kill and I eat what I hunt.  Anyone who eats meat you are the same as me minus the trigger.

Today if you ask the average person where a steak comes from they’ll tell you the grocery store.  The connection with food to the animal they are consuming has been lost or at least sterilized.

Populations in rural America are drying up just as urban area are becoming more condensed.  Hence the rise of sterilized belief systems.  Being sheltered from rural life has led to this type of thinking.  The fur industry will dry up all on its own due to lack of demand.  Heck, I would bet most people who used to wear fur now don’t out of fear of what others might think.  And somehow leather is ok but fur is not…see the irony there.  And of all the troubles in this nation FUR took the top spot that week?  Really??? 

I got my dog from the Humane Society because, well, it’s a dog and I don’t need pedigree when looking for a fury companion.  But I cannot support the Humane Society who supports the abolishment of a very spiritual part of my being.  But I couldn’t pass up a that cute little doggie in the window either.

I’m not a big fan of fur coats, though I’m not repulsed by them - to me, they just seem like public extravagance, which I’m not big on.

I’m also not a hunter. I’ve never held a gun, never fired one, and I just don’t think I could kill an animal. That said, I recognize that animals need to be killed if I am going to eat the way I want to, and that hunting can be a perfectly honorable - and even spiritual - thing to do. And you’re right ... if you eat meat, you can’t be anti-hunting.

Another MNB user wrote:

I’m not one to comment on every story and really don’t want to step into the debate over the anti-fur movement but one things jumps out at me from this story. In this time of a lousy economy, countless challenges facing our kids and businesses closing – is this really what the leaders of West Hollywood deem the best us of their time – really???

I agree.

Regarding the economic generation gap discussion we’ve been having, one MNB user wrote:

My theory on the economic generation gap:  spending habits.  The older generation was more prone to saving for the future, whereas the younger generation is more inclined to spend for immediate gratification.

I look at my parents and their friends who lived in modest homes that they could easily afford, drove cars until they wore them out, and put money aside for “future emergencies”.  In summary, they lived within their means.

I see today’s young adults living in enormous homes, driving new expensive cars, and living paycheck to paycheck not saving a dime for the future.  No wonder the foreclosure rates are where they are.  One thing turns for the worse – say a job loss - and they are in big trouble.

I fall right in the middle of the two age groups – I’m 46, have 2 kids in private K-12 schools and am staring down the barrel of tuition bills for the next 12 years.  It scares the hell out of me and my wife even though we both have good jobs, but it forces us to save and live within our means.  I lost my job two years ago.  I was out of work for 3 months (I was fortunate to find a great position in such a short time!) but never missed paying a bill on time because I had savings to fall back on.

Regarding the “virtual walls” that some retailers are using to allow people in movie theaters and subways and other venues to place online orders using smartphones and QR codes, one MNB user offered:

I thought it sounded like a cool, progressive idea when I first heard about the concept. BUT, what is it about K-Mart and Sears trying it that makes it seem less than cool and progressive? I personally would be more excited about the concept if it was available in small towns, that don’t have lots of choices on shopping and with companies whose image is a little less dated. Just my two cents worth.

On another subject, an MNB user wrote:

Like you, I’m signed up to many of the daily coupon sites, not only in my home town, but in cities I travel to. Particularly for the latter, I find the Daily Deal to help identify things to do in those cities. For example, I signed up for Alaska and it saved me a lot of time identifying a fly fishing offer. When we used the coupon, everyone in the boat was using a coupon. The guide was said he could care less as he was busy and the other fly fishing guides weren’t. I find daily coupons an invaluable time saver when I want something to do in the cities I travel.

I never thought about using them that way. What a great idea! Thanks...

Regarding extended opening hours over the Thanksgiving weekend, one MNB user wrote:

I don’t know, personally as a shopper I love the idea that Walmart will start at 10pm.  It means I get to sleep in the day after thanksgiving.  I can handle a later night on Thanksgiving Day (it generally is a later night anyway) but have always dreaded the early morning wakeup, the waiting in long lines (sometimes in the cold) and trying to do all of that on little sleep the night before spent with friends and family.  I imagine I am not the only one who feels that way.  I am excited for the change and am already starting to relish sleeping in the following day.


Responding to Amazon’s decision to formally support federal collection of state online sales taxes, MNB user Andy Casey wrote:

With Amazon now supporting internet sales tax collection it becomes crystal clear they have figured out a way to do it which gives them a competitive advantage.  Memo to other internet retailers; be afraid, be very afraid.


MNB user Geoff Harper wrote:

I disagree that companies with under $500,000 in sales should be exempt.  Why should they be?  And what is magic about $500,000?  Everyone should be included.

MNB user Blake Steen had some thoughts about Mario Batali equating big banks with Hitler and Stalin, which outraged the banking community, members of which now plan to boycott his pricey NYC restaurants:

Typical rich, overpaid liberal.  It is ok for him to make money the way he does but not for banks to make money.  I’m sure if we compared margins from his restaurants and the banks the overpriced meals would have more margin built in.  This is the kind of stuff that makes me so mad.  I don’t disagree that banks can be and are sometimes wrong but this hatred has got to stop.

I agree with the end of your email, but the first sentence sounds like a typical overly politicized reaction.

I can think of plenty of rich, overpaid conservatives who have put their feet in their mouths. Occasional stupidity knows no political borders.

Another MNB user wrote:

Thinking before you speak has become a lost art with people who are so absorbed by their success that they feel like they can say anything they want!

Addressing the discontent with the banks over fees and perceived arrogance, and a discussion that we were having the other day, one MNB user wrote:

The credit card companies and banks do indeed prevent retailers from revealing the amount of the swipe fee. They also for many years actively insisted that retailers had to charge the same for a credit transaction as for cash or debit, on pain of refusing to authorize the credit transactions of that retailer at all. Smaller banks who issue branded cards are also constrained by these rules. So there has been neither openness nor transparency of any kind in the growth of credit cards.

It is interesting to remember that there were essentially no credit cards in general use before about 1970.  Fees were small, interest rates on balances were capped at about 18% virtually everywhere, and somehow we managed to run profitable banks while credit card companies made a pretty fair amount of money.  Which, of course, they promptly invested in lobbying to change the laws in their favor.

The name calling that people resort to when some sort of regulation is proposed or enacted, regulations which in large part seek to return to similar conditions to those we had just one generation ago, is remarkable. People who are daily paying an enormous price for the behavior of these companies nonetheless defend them. And for reasons I personally don’t understand the same people who most stridently object to regulation want to “return” to an America, real or imagined, that was somehow better and certainly more prosperous than the one we have now.

So if one wants to “return” to this prior America, one should be supporting the USDA and the FDA power to make rules – promulgated by Teddy Roosevelt as I recall. One should be supporting the banking regulations that maintained a healthy American capitalism from 1945 onward, including the delightfully prosperous years under Dwight Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan.  One should want the interest rate caps that we maintained as a society, legally and ethically, for literally hundreds of years.  One should be happy with tax-supported education, since the GI Bill had as much to do with US prosperity as anything done after World War II. One should understand the value of a progressive tax system, which created not only millionaires and billionaires, but also created a thriving economy that everyone shared in and that allowed for more upward mobility than any other period in history.

I don’t understand people who oppose what worked in favor of what clearly doesn’t, while supporting those who manipulate the laws without regard to the general welfare of the rest of the society. And then use name calling as a form of argument.

History is worth reading. So is memory.

Finally...I have debated long and hard with myself about using this email, and I’ve decided to do so because I think it reflects a point of view that is held by a number of people (Franco Harris said a similar thing yesterday on MSNBC), and also because it actually illustrates a larger business point. The subject is the Penn State child abuse scandal, and the reader offering the opinion is David Livingston, who apparently has been in State College this week:

Students are not taking the firing of Joe Paterno very well.  Even if he was wrong morally its not good for business and is going to hurt ticket sales.  Poor move by Penn State.  Firing Paterno was like firing God.

I hope the MNB community will forgive me for the following ... because I know I always make the argument for civil discourse. But I cannot help myself.

But this is one of the dumbest, most insensitive, ill-considered and utterly wrongheaded statements I’ve heard about this scandal.

Let’s be clear. Business decisions are not exempt from moral considerations. You cannot be a leader of any consequence if you lack a moral backbone, if you are unwilling to make moral decisions that might even hurt your business. And I would not want anyone working for me or with me that thought anything different.

This is a criminal conspiracy, and Paterno faces at least the possibility of facing criminal charges. You can bet your bottom dollar that he will face civil suits ... and don’t give me any crap about “nuisance lawsuits.” If the grand jury report is accurate, then he deserves anything that happens to him. These little boys were raped. There is no defense. People in power - and nobody had more power on that campus that Paterno, even if there is some revisionist history being written about that - knew it for years, and did nothing. Nothing. And in doing nothing, enabled the raping of more little boys.

And by the way, one of the main problems with college sports is that people like Joe Paterno are described as “god.” They should not be treated that way, and maybe one of the results of this scandal will be a change in the college sports culture. Because the behavior at Penn State by people in power was as far from god-like as I can imagine.

Ticket sales might get hurt? Give me a break.

Shame on you for thinking so, and for saying so.

As I said earlier, I don’t think you are alone. But I do think, thank goodness, that you are in a minority.

End of rant.
KC's View: