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    Published on: January 24, 2012

    by Michael Sansolo

    One of my favorite business quotes of all time came from Willie Sutton who, when asked why he robbed banks replied, “That’s where the money is.”

    We’ve all heard this thousands of times: success in today’s competitive marketplace demands a difference. Every product, store, service and individual needs a point of distinction to help them stand out from the crowd. You need to understand the value proposition of that niche and serve it with excellence. Fail to deliver on those factors and success is hard, if not impossible to come by.

    But let’s add an important corollary: a niche doesn’t matter unless it’s big enough to warrant your attention. Otherwise you might simply dominate something that won’t sustain your business or, as Willie Sutton’s might put it, you’d be robbing something with no money. Somehow companies fail to heed this lesson, and now we can add to the list the quirky Swedish automobile maker Saab.

    Unless you missed the news, Saab is going under. The company - originally started by an aircraft company and later the property of General Motors - has been hunting for a buyer for the past few years. There were endless rumors of a Chinese suitor, but those have turned out empty, which matches the totals in Saab’s bank accounts.

    As might be expected, blame is flying in all directions over this. Saab devotees blame GM for making the cars less special, even as some auto writers say GM actually did everything it could with the company.

    You may be thinking, “Why does this matter to me?”

    The answer is simple: in the death of one company we can find important lessons for other businesses. And in this case, I feel qualified to comment because I’m the owner of an 11-year-old Saab 9-5. If it were up to me, Saab would have gone under 12 years ago.

    A number of people who have seen me with the car have asked if I would recommend it, leading me to respond this way: Would you like to buy mine?

    But here’s the irony. The car has a really sweet and powerful turbo charged engine that gets decent fuel mileage. The body integrity provides excellent safety. What’s more, it’s 11 years old and still running fine. I should be one very satisfied owner.

    Yet, like all customers, I have a complex and nuanced value equation. And in most areas, my Saab never delivered. My car was exceptional only in its issues. Strange smells have constantly emanated from the engine, stumping an endless array of mechanics. They assured me there was nothing wrong with the engine or the odors, but that’s small comfort when you have to open windows in the dead of winter.

    My headlights blow out almost annually, again for no reason. And the car’s fabulous information display started deteriorating years ago. Instead of the flow of information on the engine, weather, fuel economy and more, now I just have an abstract group of five to 20 dots. When I looked into this problem on the Internet I found groups of Saab owners dedicated (unsuccessfully) to finding a single 9-5 owner who didn’t have this problem. Since it costs more than $500 to fix this problem, I do without the information.

    Then there are those quirky Saab features that some owners love - like the ignition and window controls being located where no other car maker would ever put them—that made every repair on the car a nightmare, due to extra costs, hard to find parts and long waits.

    Yes, there are Saab enthusiasts who hate everything I have just written and gladly went from one quirky model to the next. Only there weren’t very many of them. Even in its most popular years Saab never sold enough cars to drive the cost efficiencies the business needed. Perhaps that’s the biggest lesson of all in Saab’s demise. Having a devoted niche is a wonderful thing, but the niche has to be large enough to sustain that business. And the bevy of problems turned me (and my Internet friends) from potential repeat buyers into demon customers, steering others away with our stories.

    Niches are great, but only when they matter.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . 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: January 24, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    One of my favorite Latin proverbs goes like this:

    Trust, like the soul, never returns once it goes.

    The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, published annually by Edelman Public Relations, is out, revealing that global trust in government “fell a record nine points to 43 percent.”

    According to the report, “In seventeen of the 25 countries surveyed, government is now trusted by less than half to do what is right. In twelve, it trails business, media, and non governmental organizations as the least trusted institution. France, Spain, Brazil, China, Russia, and Japan, as well as six other countries, saw government trust drop by more than ten points. Government officials are now the least credible spokespeople, with only 29 percent considering them credible. Nearly half of the general population—the first time the Barometer looked at this broader group—say they do not trust government leaders to tell the truth.”

    But business leaders should not congratulate themselves, as “CEO credibility declined 12 points to 38 percent, its biggest drop in nine years.”

    “Although business experienced fewer and generally less severe declines in trust, it has its own hurdles to clear,” the report says. “Trust in business fell globally from 56 percent to 53 percent, with countries like France and Germany, in the heart of the Eurozone economic crisis, experiencing double-digit decreases. Lack of confidence in business spread to South Korea, where trust dropped 15 points. China was the only country to see a significant increase in trust in business, rising from 61 to 71 percent.”

    I think this is an enormously dangerous trend, for government and for business. When trust breaks down, chaos ensues. And like the proverb says, once it is gone, it is extremely difficult to regain.

    One other note from the survey. Here is a passage that normally would make me feel good:

    “Media, the one institution to see an increase, saw its global trust level rise above 50 percent. It experienced significant regional upticks in India (20 points), the U.S. (18 points), the UK (15 points) and Italy (12 points).”

    That’s a change, but I’m not entirely sure it is good news. At least here in the US, the fragmentation of the media landscape has made it possible for people only to watch, read or listen to the sources with which they already agree. People who believe Fox News watch Fox News. People who believe MSNBC watch MSNBC. (Not sure who is watching CNN these days, but that’s another issue.) People may say they find these media sources to be more trustworthy, but that may be because these outlets are preaching to their own individual choirs.

    Which goes a long and Eye-Opening way towards explaining the state of governmental affairs these days...
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2012

    Iowa-based Hy-Vee said yesterday that it has “launched a mobile app for customers, making shopping easier, faster and more social.

    “The smartphone app offers a number of interactive features to help customers with meal planning and preparation, gain access to store and pharmacy information and more.”

    Among the features of the app is a voicer-activated product locator that is customized by store and “leads customers directly to the aisle and shelf of the product they're looking for.”
    KC's View:
    Not everyone is going to use a smartphone app, just as not everyone is going to shop online. But the percentages are growing ...and they are never going to get smaller. Retailers simply have to be engaged with this technology because their customers are, and it is the price of being seen as relevant in a technological age.

    Published on: January 24, 2012

    USA Today had a piece the other day looking at the top 12 food trends likely to dominate the nation’s food culture, based on what its reporters saw at the recent Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. Among them:

    • Salt: “Forget Morton. If it's not Himalayan or Northwest Indian Salish-inspired, alder-smoked, it's so 20th century. Salt's in chocolate, on caramels, and sailing off store shelves. It's the finishing touch to multiple dishes.”

    • Artisan chocolate: “Small producers who carefully source their cocoa beans are turning out chocolate bars that can cost as much as a mega-bag of M&M's, but taste a lot better.”

    • Korean food.

    • Quick response (QR) codes.

    • Seaweed. “It's one of the hottest trends in West Coast lunchrooms and starting to take off nationwide.”

    • Better and tastier gluten-free options.

    • DIY. “The public fascination with how our food is made shows up not only in a hundred food shows on TV, but also kits that help people create foods that seem out of reach. These do-it-yourself food kits contain all the ingredients and detailed instructions, making the novice a pro in the kitchen.”

    • The butcher renaissance. “When people are paying a lot of money for their meat they want someone selling it to them who really knows the cuts and how to prepare them.”

    • Food trucks.

    • Drugstores as food stores. “Stores are branching out beyond snack foods and cookies. Duane Reade stores in New York have installed specialty food areas in their stores, and Walgreens is branching out with more fresh and prepared foods to go.”

    • Healthy snacks. “Snacks today don't have to simply taste good, they also have to be good for you. Store shelves are starting to sport an array of chips and other snack foods with inventive, healthier ingredients.”

    • Pickles. “The lowly American pickle is staging a big comeback in the East and South. There's old-fashioned chow-chow pickle relish, artisan cucumber pickles and a host of cultured products, the result of lactic acid fermentation, that would make an Amish housewife proud, if a little puzzled.”
    KC's View:
    The one I find most interesting in this list is the “DIY” trend ... it seems to me that this is one that can get adapted by a lot of marketers at both the retailer and manufacturer levels.

    Published on: January 24, 2012

    Bloomberg BusinessWeek has an interview with Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent in which he says that the company is putting a renewed focus on soft drinks.

    “There is tremendous potential for growth left in our business,” he says, “starting with the demographics of the world and urbanization. There is a healthy appetite for investment across the global bottling system, stronger than it’s been in a very, very long time. We’ve committed to more than $30 billion globally to fund new sustainable growth over the next five years.”

    In addition, Kent tells the magazine, his goal is to double the company;’s business in the next decade through “more innovation. More system investment. More coolers. And by remaining constructively discontent, knowing that we can always do better. Ensuring—starting with me—that there is never any room to be arrogant or to rest on your recent successes. Doubling the business in a decade, from 2010 to 2020, is achievable. Doing in 10 years what we did in the first 125 requires focus on capturing every opportunity.”
    KC's View:
    Love that phrase - “constructively discontent.”

    Published on: January 24, 2012

    The Los Angeles Times reports on how McDonald’s ran into a little trouble with a new Twitter-based campaign that was supposed to generate social media enthusiasm for its products.

    According to the story, “The campaign started out as a wholesome, feel-good exercise. There were two hashtags, #McDStories and #meetthe farmers, that launched Thursday and were intended to highlight the fast-food giant's commitment to fresh produce and meats.”

    The thing about Twitter is that things can take unexpected turns. And what happened is that some Twitter users decided that they were less enthused about the fast feeder, and started posting comments like ““I only eat McDonald's when I am ill because it makes me feel sick anyway,” and “These #McDStories never get old, kinda like a box of McDonald's 10 piece Chicken McNuggets left in the sun for a week.”

    McDonald’s took down #McDStories within two hours, but left up #meetthe farmers, which got less grief.

    “As Twitter continues to evolve its platform and engagement opportunities, we’re learning from our experiences,” Rick Wion, McDonald's social media director, said in a statement.
    KC's View:
    You got that right. Though I’m not sure that taking down a Twitter feed is the best way to deal with voices that don’t agree with you.

    Published on: January 24, 2012

    The Houston Chronicle reports that “Kroger is now offering prescription medications for their four-legged kin at all 100 of its pharmacies in the Houston area. After launching a pilot program last year, Kroger has more recently expanded pet meds into all its pharmacies nationally. The Cincinnati-based grocer aims to undercut veterinarians on price, and many pet medications are included in Kroger's $4 generic drug program, said Marla Fielder, the assistant director of pharmacy in Kroger's Southwest division.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2012

    The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) announced this morning the publication of a glossary of commonly used terms that businesses can use to describe their environmental sustainability efforts and achievements. The goal, CGF says, is to provide “a common way for companies across the industry to communicate between each other and to consumers using commonly defined and understood terms such as ‘Life Cycle Assessment’, ‘Sustainable Sourcing’, ‘Natural Refrigerants’, and ‘Recyclable’. The Consumer Goods Forum Members will use this glossary for consumer and company-to-company communication.”

    The glossary can be found by clicking here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2012

    IGA today announced that Bozzuto’s Inc. has been named IGA 2012 USA Licensed Distribution Center of the Year and will receive the IGA President’s Cup at the 2012 IGA Global Rally Awards of Excellence Banquet at The Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, on
    Mon., Feb. 13, 2012.

    The President’s Cup is presented annually to the IGA USA Licensed Distribution Center (LDC) of the Year, in honor of the company’s extraordinary effort in support of its IGA retailers and the IGA brand. This is the seventh time Bozzuto’s has received the President’s Cup since the award’s inception in 1973.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2012

    The Chicago Tribune reports that Starbucks plans to expand its beer and wine business beyond the five stores in Washington and Oregon where it now offers these products, and move into a small number of cafes in Atlanta and Southern California.

    The expansion should take place by the end of the year, will include savory snacks and hot food, and is part of the company’s efforts to expand beyond “morning coffee and afternoon pick-me-ups.”

    The company already has announced that five to seven Chicago stores will begin offering beer and wine by the end of the year.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2012

    This is one of those stories that is going to show you how the sausage is made.

    Yesterday morning, at about 5 a.m. as I was perusing the various news sources I use to compile MNB, I noticed a piece in the Albany Times Union that referred to a promotion by Delhaize of Ron Hodge, from Hannaford Bros. CEO to the top post at Delhaize’s American operations. I made a quick note of the story, though I did make a mental note that it seemed vaguely familiar and that I needed to double-check it. (At 5 a.m., a lot of things seem vague.)

    The problem was, I didn’t double-check it. And it was an old story that the Times-Union accidentally picked up and ran as new.

    I goofed. I should have checked it. And I apologize for that.

    I heard from one source at Hannaford that Ron Hodge got a bunch of congratulatory phone calls yesterday. I guess I should feel bad about that, but I don’t. Not really. Because Ron Hodge is a really good guy, and he deserves any and all congratulations that he gets.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2012

    • Weis Markets today announced it has joined the SmartWay® Transport Partnership, an innovative U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program, that it says “will help it assess the environmental and energy efficiency of the trucks supplying its 161 stores.”

    Reuters reports that Amazon is building its first fulfillment center in India, in Mumbai, as it “tries to break into the world's second most-populous nation.”

    The story notes that “Amazon spent heavily last year setting up more than 10 new fulfillment centers in the United States. The company also lists fulfillment centers in China, Germany, Japan and the U.K. on its website, but currently lists none in India.”

    • The Associated Press reports that Macy’s is suing Martha Stewart Living, hoping to block the lifestyle company from licensing its brand to JC Penney, which “acquired a 16.6 percent stake in Martha Stewart Living and announced plans last month to open mini-Martha Stewart shops inside most of its stores, beginning next year.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2012

    Following up on yesterday’s Eye-Opener about how Best Buy correctly handled a customer service situation, one MNB user wrote:

    I hope that Best Buy will send this to all of their stores so that the ones who have the WORST customer service possible may benefit from it.

    Unfortunately the experience I had with Best Buy, going on five years now and I still refuse to set foot in their stores, regardless of location, was no where near this one.  After spending an extra $400 to extend a warranty on a $3000 product, all I got was lip service and no service when the product malfunctioned.  All this after waiting 4 months with them saying "it is being repaired,"  I wrote to them and to Sony and got nothing in return, not even an acknowledgment.

    The point I am making here is that we all have choices and we should always honor those who appreciate their customers, even if may not be the lowest price out there.  That one thing inspires my loyalty.  Any store who will stand behind their merchandise has my vote for life.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Great article on customer service at Best Buy, Kevin. Below is a letter that I sent to Golf Galaxy after Thanksgiving that shows the opposite end of the spectrum. 

    Subject: From New Customer to Ex-Customer in a Month


    I moved to Charlotte a couple of years ago from Atlanta. In Atlanta, I shopped mostly at The PGA Superstore and Golfsmith. Since neither of those retailers are around here, I was pleased to discover Golf Galaxy.

    My first visit to your store was about a month ago. I spent over $1200 on irons, woods, driver, bag, shoes and a push cart. I was very pleased and told the store employees I would be back with my son when he came home from college for Thanksgiving. This past Saturday, I made my second visit to your store and bought my son Nike Pro Combo Irons and a pair of Nike golf shoes. Another $1100 spent. Walked out of the store a happy and loyal customer. On Sunday a couple hours before my son was heading back to college, I took him to the practice range to try his new sticks out. When he opened the box and started removing the shrink and bubble wrap he realized that he'd gotten a different model of the Nike irons. Same price but this set didn't have the blades for the short irons. I told Taylor to hit a few balls with them and if they weren't what he wanted, I'd take them back for the set we intended to purchase all along. He hit a dozen balls with four of the irons. They weren't what he wanted. 

    Monday morning, I took them back to the store to exchange for the correct set. The salesman was glad to correct the error until he realized that they had been used. It was then that I learned that your 30 day guarantee was valid only if the clubs were totally unused. He said that they should have opened the box at the time of purchase to confirm that they were the right product.  He also said that he didn't have the authority to make a decision and said he would have to wait until the manager came in at noon to figure out how to resolve the situation. Very matter of factly, I let him know that if they won't exchange the clubs, I'll keep what I have and they'll never see me again. I'm a little annoyed and inconvenienced, but the situation can still be resolved and have a happy ending at this point. 

    At 4:00 yesterday afternoon I finally hear from the manager. She reiterates that I shouldn't have let my son try the clubs (lets scold a loyal customer!), but since they failed to do their part and confirm that we received the right clubs, they would agree to make the straight up exchange. She went on to make sure that I understood that this was a huge loss for her and asked if I would consider buying more equipment to help soften the blow (after scolding me, lets make me feel guilty!). I told her that we intended to get the latest TaylorMade TP Driver, but none were in stock the day we were there. I agreed to get a Nike Cart bag that I saw on Golf Galaxy's website when I came in after work to make the exchange.

    So last night, in pouring rain and awful rush hour traffic, I went 20 miles out of my way (again) to return the clubs. When I arrived, the mood in the store was very somber. Gary, who waited on me in the morning, quickly greeted me and directed me where to go to make the exchange. Gary was apologetic for the mixup. No one else was. In fact, no one else even tried to strike up a conversation. I wasn't welcomed there. Vicki, the manager, and someone else opened the box that I returned and closely inspected the clubs while I confirmed that the other box was indeed the right clubs. After that, Vicki took me back to pick out a golf bag. I picked out a Nike cart bag that was on sale for $169. That transaction brings my total purchases at Golf Galaxy to over $2400 in three separate visits. I should be viewed as a valued customer right? Well I got the bag and the box of irons and was shown the door. Vicki's demeanor was as if someone had died. She was very unhappy about the situation. Not once did she apologize. I walked out of that store feeling very very unwelcome.

    The problems at the store are reflective of a lack of leadership and direction at corporate. Instead of instilling a culture of customer service and enthusiasm, apparently store personnel and managers have received no such training. Gary should have been empowered to confidently handle the situation on the spot. "Sir, we made a mistake here and I apologize that you had to go through the inconvenience of making an unnecessary trip. Here are the correct irons. Is there anything else I can do for you while you're here?" That's the kind of response I should have gotten. I would have bought the cart bag and walked out of there as the same loyal Golf Galaxy customer I was when I walked in. AND I WOULD HAVE BRAGGED ABOUT GOLF GALAXY TO MY FRIENDS AND COWORKERS THAT I GOLF WITH! 

    As a manager, Vicki should have enthusiastically remedied the situation and even offered to throw in a free golf glove or towel  for my troubles. Instead, she very begrudgingly remedied the situation and made no attempt to hide her disappointment with me for having tried the clubs before bringing them back. The outcome was the same, but instead of retaining a customer, she lost one. 

    What do YOU think I'm telling my friends and coworkers about your store?

    From another MNB user:

    A couple of years ago I bought a power tool from Sears online.  I paid online, specified which store I wanted to pickup at went over that afternoon, it was waiting for me at package pickup.  I recognize that Sears has its share of problems, but in this case, it was something they did right.  They have other things they do right like it’s repair services.  If they do go under nationwide, they will leave a big hole to fill for a number of services.

    Another MNB user chimed in:

    Thanks for Liz’s e-mail this morning.  What is most impressive about this event, is the store manager, Robert, had empowered Fred and Eric to actually make decisions and do the right thing for the customer.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2012

    The nominees for the 2012 Academy Awards were announced this morning, and the following are the people and movies named in major categories:

    Best Picture
    The Artist
    The Descendants
    Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
    The Help
    Midnight in Paris
    The Tree of Life
    War Horse

    Best Actor
    Demián Bichir, A Better Life
    George Clooney, The Descendants
    Jean Dujardin, The Artist
    Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
    Brad Pitt, Moneyball

    Best Actress
    Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
    Viola Davis, The Help
    Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
    Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
    Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

    Best Supporting Actor
    Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
    Jonah Hill, Moneyball
    Nick Nolte, Warrior
    Christopher Plummer, Beginners
    Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

    Best Supporting Actress
    Berenice Bejo, The Artist
    Jessica Chastain, The Help
    Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
    Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
    Octavia Spencer, The Help

    Best Director
    Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
    Alexander Payne, The Descendants
    Martin Scorsese, Hugo
    Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
    Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

    Best Adapted Screenplay
    The Descendants
    The Ides of March
    Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

    Best Original Screenplay
    The Artist
    Margin Call
    Midnight in Paris
    A Separation

    The Oscars will be handed out on Sunday evening, February 26.
    KC's View:
    I can’t tell you how jazzed I am that Bridesmaids got a couple of major nominations...and I’m already rooting Melissa McCarthy to win Best Supporting Actress.

    Published on: January 24, 2012

    As today’s food industry executives deal with technological changes, shifts in consumer behavior and globalization of the industry, it’s important that they have the strategic skills and management ability to both lead and adapt. The USC Food Industry Executive Program will equip you with the latest thinking in leadership development, team management, marketing strategy and financial skills to help you develop and better lead your organization.

    What you’ll learn:

    • Alternative retail formats and globalization within the food industry.
    • Fundamentals of finance.
    • Enhanced communications skills.
    • How to effectively lead and organize teams.
    • Understanding the landscape of the food industry and factors that are shaping its future.
    • Effective decision-making and implementing strategic change.

    Who should attend: Senior managers from food retailing, wholesaling and manufacturing companies, as well as companies that support the food industry.

    When: March 12-15, 2012

    Where: USC University Park Campus, Los Angeles.

    Cost: $3195. Includes tuition, course materials, lunch and parking. Transportation and hotel accommodations not included.

    Click here to register now! Registration will close on March 5, 2012, at 5 pm.

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2012

    Here is everything you need to know about what Kevin Coupe - MNB's "Content Guy" - can bring your meeting or conference:

    "The response from our staff to your presentation has been overwhelming. There has been an excitement and enthusiasm that I have not witnessed since taking over this position. The thanks in the hallways, the emails, the comments … have all been extraordinary. Thank you for capping off the perfect company event yesterday." - Steven L.  Goddard, President/CEO, WinCo Foods

    "He brought a unique perspective, and  helped us think about our industry and the changing consumer in new ways ... He left us with a lot of rich conversation and actionable information ... He was terrific."
    - Lynn Marmer, Group VP Corporate Affairs, The Kroger Co.

    Kevin Coupe was an injection of high energy. Both his presentation and the session he facilitated were huge hits with our team.  Unanimously, people told me how right on, topical and extremely well presented his speech was!"
    - Peter T. Wolf, Chief P Global Sales Operation, ParTech Inc.

    With a uniquely fast-paced, provocative and entertaining approach, Kevin Coupe identifies the ways in which consumers are changing, the reasons behind these changes (technology, the economy, culture, demographics), how new and unorthodox competitors are altering the marketing landscape, and what companies need to do to find and exploit differential advantages.

    "My team was mesmerized by Kevin’s presentation. Thanks to Kevin, they left the meeting newly energized with a strong sense of purpose.”
    - Donna Giordano, President, Ralphs

    "He’s refreshingly real and authentic…it’s more of a conversation than a presentation ... He uses everyday customer experiences to think about food retailing and the possibilities ... Many times he was reaffirming where we were headed, occasionally he pointed out something we hadn’t thought about and in at least one moment, we knew we had a lot of work to do ... " - Beth Newlands Campbell, President, Food Lion

    "Our group felt your presentation was filled with fresh, practical information and is excited about trying some new marketing approaches.”
    - Norman Mayne, CEO, Dorothy Lane Market

    Want to bring this kind of excitement and energy to your next meeting or conference? Check out

    Contact Kevin Coupe at 203-662-0100, or email him at: .
    KC's View: