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    Published on: March 19, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    Call it another tradition endangered by 21st century technology.

    The Los Angeles Times had a piece the other day about how “to many young and Web-savvy people who are accustomed to connecting digitally,” the practice of exchanging business cards is seen as “irrelevant, wasteful — and just plain lame.”

    The story goes on:

    “U.S. sales of business cards have been falling since the late 1990s, according to IBISWorld Inc., an Australian business data company with offices in Santa Monica whose data go back to 1997. The slide appears to be accelerating. Last year printers posted revenue of $211.1 million from the segment. That's down 13% from 2006.

    “The weak economy has been a factor in recent years. But analysts said printed business cards, like newspapers, books and magazines, are fast giving way to digital alternatives. Smartphones, tablets and social media are helping people connect more quickly and seamlessly than ever before.”

    Somehow, this isn;t surprising. Smart phone applications like “Bump” allow people to exchange contact info wirelessly, making business cards seem so 20th century ... though they remain a critical tool for some cultures, especially in Asia.

    But what I think is pretty cool is the way that some companies are finding a way to innovate their way through this shift. The Times notes that while “the number of U.S. print shops is declining, some are thriving with the help of e-commerce and innovative new designs. Online printer MOO Inc. specializes in ‘minicards’ that are half the standard size to appeal to eco-conscious entrepreneurs. Others are peddling plastic business cards equipped with flash drives that companies can hand out as promotional freebies.”

    And, the story notes, there appears to be no shortage of companies out there seeking a digital replacement for a business tradition seen by an increasing number of people as anachronistic and obsolete.

    Just another example, I think, of how cultural and technological shifts create waves of change - some of which drown tradition-minded companies, and some of which offer opportunity to companies willing to consider new and innovative answers to age-old questions.

    It’s an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 19, 2012

    Mobile Marketing Daily reports on how the practice of acquiring product via tablet computer has created a new buzzword - T-commerce - and that a new study from The Nielsen Co. “shows how willing we are to spend on content.

    “According to the Nielsen Mobile Connected Device Report, music is the content that U.S. tablet owners are most willing to buy, with 62% having purchased downloadable tracks for this device. Not far behind are books -- which 58% of users have bought -- followed by movies (51%).

    “Magazine publishers that have been scrambling to build digital editions and business models on the tablet are aiming for the right audience. Nielsen finds that 41% of owners have paid for a magazine here. The same number have acquired TV shows. Sports and news content have attracted 22% and 19% to buy, respectively. Interestingly, streaming radio has been bought by more than a quarter of tablet owners.”

    Here’s the killer sentence from the story: The U.S. tablet user is, across the board, more willing to pony up cash for content on these devices.
    KC's View:
    The suggestion seems to be that tablet computers somehow are making e-tailing more accessible to shoppers ... which would point to the necessity for marketers to adjust their strategies to compensate.

    Published on: March 19, 2012

    The Ethisphere Institute is out with its annual list of the world’s most ethical companies, “chosen for promoting ethical business standards and practices by exceeding legal minimums for compliance, introducing innovative ideas that benefit the public and forcing their competitors to follow suit. They demonstrate how corporate citizenship is undoubtedly tied to the success of a company’s brand and bottom line.”

    Among the familiar food industry names on the list of 145 companies:

    • Colgate-Palmolive
    • Costco
    • Ecolab
    • Kellogg Co.
    • Kimberly-Clark
    • L’Oreal
    • Marks and Spencer
    • PepsiCo
    • Safeway
    • Starbucks
    • Stonyfield
    • Target
    • Wegmans
    • Whole Foods

    Other familiar retailing names:

    • Gap
    • Patagonia
    • Timberland
    • eBay
    • Microsoft
    • American Express

    “This year’s winners know that a strong ethics program is a key component to a successful business model, and they continue to scrutinize their ethical standards to keep up with an ever-changing regulatory environment,” says Alex Brigham, Executive Director of Ethisphere. “Corporate ethics has become much more important globally, as well, and that is reflected in the truly global nature of this year’s honorees.”
    KC's View:

    Another year, another list, another whiff for MNB.

    Published on: March 19, 2012

    In the UK, the Telegraph features an interview with Sir Terry Leahy, the former CEO of Tesco, in which the reporter queried him about some of the changes being made by his successor, Philip Clarke. (The new CEO is accelerating a strategic review, slowing a planned rollout of new supercenters, and investing in new labor to improve customer service, among other things.)

    Some excerpts:

    • “Philip is a new man, he’s his own man – which is a very good thing – and he is setting out his stall as he sees it today, which is exactly what I would want him to do ... It is very natural that when you have come through a recession – and we have been pretty much in recession since 2007 – the focus is on battening down the hatches and getting through, which we have done.

    “But there comes a point when you want to anticipate an upturn and invest ahead of that upturn and that is what Philip is doing.”

    • “The worst thing would be if a business stayed still. I sometimes think in some other famous retail businesses, the successors were almost in awe of what went before.

    “It is very healthy to see at Tesco that isn’t the case – that the new team gets on with the job in hand.

    “Philip has to play it as he sees it. I think there has been a bit of a overreaction [to the profit warning] because it is an unusual event. But if you look through it, it is for the right reasons. It’s about making sure that Tesco invests in future growth, which it has always done, and making sure that the customer gets the best deal, which it has always done. I can recognise why Philip has made those decisions.”
    KC's View:
    I don’t know about you, but I find it charming that the former CEO of one of the world’s biggest retailers refers to the current CEO of that company as “setting out his stall” - an anachronistic reference that brings the whole notion of retailing back to its roots.

    Published on: March 19, 2012

    The Chicago Tribune reports that Sears has decided to stop selling clothing in some 10 stores, and likely will replace it with “more popular items such as mattresses and recliners.”

    "The reallocation was undertaken to address the specific needs of local customers in a very limited number of doors," says spokesman Chris Brathwaite, noting that “the 10 stores are spread out geographically and are only a fraction of Sears' nearly 900 full-line stores.”
    KC's View:
    If they’d listened to Ed Koch back in 1982, maybe Sears wouldn’t have waited so long to make this shift.

    (Of course, I realize that there are about 17 people in the MNB audience who may actually get this reference, and that the rest of you are either going to shoot me an email or go to Google to find out what the hell I’m talking about. And the sad truth is that I only really ran this story so I could make an obscure NY political reference...)

    Published on: March 19, 2012

    USA Today reports that Starbucks plans to open its first dedicated juice bar today, dubbed Evolution Fresh, in Bellevue, Washington.

    According to the story, “The grand opening comes four months after Starbucks purchased the little-known Evolution Fresh brand, and two days before the company's annual meeting, where CEO Howard Schultz will prophetically point to Evolution Fresh as an early glimpse of the company's future beyond the coffee bean.

    “For Starbucks, this is the beginning of a carefully crafted path for growth beyond java. Starbucks has one eye squarely on the $50 billion world of health and wellness, where it believes the premium juices and vegan and veggie dishes that the new chain will sell could attract a different type of well-to-do consumer than those who patronize its gourmet coffee shops. At the same time, Starbucks is hankering to run with behemoths such as Kraft and PepsiCo in the near $1 trillion world of consumer packaged goods.”

    Jeff Hansberry, the former Procter & Gamble executive and current president of Starbucks Channel Development, says that the company is counting on the fact that “some 66% of Americans say they factor in the ‘healthfulness’ of a product before they buy it.”

    The success of the store will also depend to what extent customers factor in price before making a purchase. USA Today reports that the Apple Store-like facility is fairly pricey: “A full-size juice and salad (or sandwich) could set you back the better part of $20. Figure $7.99 for a 16-ounce hand-crafted juice. Another $8.25 for a salad — and $2.50 more if you want chicken or steak on it. Hot or cold sandwich ‘bowls’ fetch $8.75. And a wrap — wrapped in collard greens, not pita — will set you back $7.50.”
    KC's View:
    Seems a little steep to me. I wouldn’t bet against Starbucks, but given a choice, I think I’d probably opt for the somewhat more modestly priced Jamba Juice.

    Published on: March 19, 2012

    It got a lot of attention last week when “This American Life,” the National Public Radio (NPR) program, spent an entire hour retracting a previously aired story that excerpted Mike Daisey’s one man stage show about Apple’s questionable manufacturing processes in China.

    Daisey’s show, which closed its New York run over the weekend, essentially is a monolog about what he discovered during a visit to China about Apple’s suppliers and how they exploit Chinese workers. The show got much attention, prompting a wide range of newspaper and magazine articles, and was excerpted by “This American Life.” However, once the piece aired, another NPR reporter, Rob Schmitz, a reporter from “Marketplace,” thought he saw flaws in the story and he decided to do some further fact checking. At which point much of Daisey’s narrative fell apart.

    As David Carr writes in the New York Times this morning, “No one is suggesting that everything about Apple’s supply chain is suddenly hunky-dory, but the heroic narrative of a fearless theater artist taking on the biggest company in the world is now a pile of smoking rubble.”

    Carr’s excellent piece can be found here.

    And you can hear the remarkable “This American Life” story here.
    KC's View:
    I bring this up because the whole question of Apple’s manufacturing processes got some attention here a few weeks ago, and I thought it worth referencing.

    What is remarkable about Daisey’s defense of his stage show is that he says it is theater, not journalism ... and yet, he was willing to allow it to be presented as journalism, and he presented it as truth. Which it was not. In my view, he’s delusional.

    The question of how Apple’s products are manufactured and at what cost deserves to be addressed, and I suspect the new regime there will give it increased attention. But Daisey’s missteps have not helped his cause.

    Published on: March 19, 2012

    ...with brief, italicized and occasionally gratuitous commentary...

    Bloomberg reports that Carrefour has closed a store in China’s Henan province as part of its apology for selling regular chicken as premium and altering labels on the products that indicated production dates.

    It was reported last week that Chinese state television accused McDonald's and Carrefour of selling expired chicken products in separate incidents. Both companies apologized.

    Specifically, a McDonald's restaurant in Beijing was accused of having “sold chicken wings 90 minutes after they were cooked while the company's rules set a 30-minute limit. It said employees at a Carrefour store in the central city of Zhengzhou changed expiration dates on some chicken and sold regular chickens as more expensive free-range birds.”

    It is good to know that the food safety apparatus in China is so finely tuned and working so smoothly that the government has time to watch the clock at McDonald’s.

    I’m not defending the companies, but give me a break.

    MSNBC reports that experts at the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit in Chicago last week “said an estimated 30 percent to 50 percent of the food produced in the world goes uneaten.”

    According to the story, “The average American throws away 33 pounds of food each month -- about $40 worth -- according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, which plans to publish a report on food waste in April ... In a year, that means each person throws away almost 400 pounds of food, the weight of an adult male gorilla.”

    There is, the story notes, an environmental impact of all this waste.

    “Agriculture is the world's largest user of water, a big consumer of energy and chemicals and major emitter of greenhouse gases during production, distribution and landfill decay. Experts say reducing waste is a simple way to cut stress on the environment while easing pressure on farmers, who will be called on to feed an expected 9 billion people around the world in 2050, versus nearly 7 billion today.”

    • The Chicago Tribune reports that packaged food manufacturers are “increasingly partial to pouches ... The trend is being driven by savings on packaging and shipping costs as well as aesthetics — an upscale pouch sporting elaborate graphics offers a modernized look and premium appeal, marketers say.”

    Bloomberg reports that “women who want to earn more on Wall Street than their male colleagues have one reliable option. They can set up a shoe-shine stand in Lower Manhattan.

    Female personal care and service workers, which include butlers, valets, house sitters and shoe shiners, earned $1.02 for every $1 their male counterparts made in 2010, according to census data compiled by Bloomberg. That job category, which covers 38,210 full-time workers in the U.S., was the only one of 265 major occupations where the median female salary exceeded
    the amount paid to men.”

    The story goes on: “The six jobs with the largest gender gap in pay and at least 10,000 men and 10,000 women were in the Wall Street-heavy financial sector: insurance agents, managers, clerks, securities sales agents, personal advisers and other specialists. Advanced-degree professions proved no better predictors of equality. Female doctors made 63 cents for every $1 earned by male physicians and surgeons, the data show. Female chief executives earned 74 cents for every $1 made by male counterparts.”

    I read this story, and I immediately checked the dateline ... it was hard to imagine that such a story could still be written in 2012.

    Of course there will be some - even in the unusually enlightened MNB community - who will argue that women are better off under these circumstances. An argument that, I must admit, I cannot figure out how to justify to people like my wife and daughter.

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 19, 2012

    • Chaleo Yoovidhya, described by USA Today as “the self-made Thai billionaire who introduced the world to ‘energy drinks’ and co-founded the globally popular Red Bull brand, has died, reportedly of natural causes. He was in his 80s.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 19, 2012

    I got a number of emails last week responding to my piece about the Santa Monica parking garage that has a computer that helps you find your car - all you have to do is type in your license plate number, and the location is determined because every space in the garage has a video camera trained on it.

    MNB user Tom DeLuca wrote:

    What’s going to be the “golden egg” is when the camera owners link the license plate data to DMV records for Year/Make/Model, and oh yeah, Name/Address/Zip Codes, and triangulate that data with the mall one is parked at and time-of-day, etc. and builds a master of all CRM databases for some really targeted marketing.

    It could even spin in different directions.  Think of the customer service angle.  Some more customer-oriented shops at the mall (Restoration Hardware comes to mind) will hold all your purchases from any retailer in the mall and help you load them in your car – through their back door at their loading dock.

    What if malls that utilize the eye-in-the sky technology had the data feed to a concierge who could hold all your parcels and deliver them right to your car for you (for a premium, of course)?

    It’s such a fun time to be alive!  Oh wait, gotta run, there’s a drone helicopter hovering outside my window right now…

    From another MNB user:

    Kevin, if this fascinates you, check out  They were one of the presenters at a recent consumer products conference.  You can type in anyone’s license plate number and contact them (if they are registered).  It’s kind of a blend of social media and big-brother.  Personally, I think its creepy but its coming, very soon.

    MNB user Bob Thomas wrote:

    Thank goodness they put the rental car license numbers on the key chain.

    Speaking of keys, Lowe’s now has a key making machine.  Stick the credit card in a slot, put the key in a slot and a few minutes later you have a copy or copies of your key.  No more messy counter under the key making area.

    MNB user Joe Davis wrote:

    The Jacksonville airport has a similar system with green/red lights above the spaces but also the entrance to each garage level has the number of available spaces called out in real time.  Quite handy when you’re running late and don’t have time to hunt for spaces.

    And your mention of Harpoon’s Celtic Ale brought fond memories of the Harpoon Brewery Tour.  If you have downtime in Boston, it is a very entertaining outing.  Knowledgeable guys, but also very funny and it’s an intimate atmosphere of beer enthusiasts.  You can also get a growler to take home with you.  But bring a DD or a cab – they pour the samples large and often, as much as you can drink in between speeches.  They are a great example of what makes American craft brews so great.

    MNB user Todd Hale wrote:

    Cool if you are renting a car with license plate on your car keys.  But since the age of a gazillion passwords, who the heck remembers their license plate number?

    Good point.

    And MNB user Jeff Gartner wrote:

    Top o' the morning to you Kevin, the lights to indicate an empty parking space is very cool. But don't you use the Take Me to My Car  or similar app on your iPhone? It's especially good for large parking areas such as airports.

    Not yet. But I will.

    MNB user Tony Moore wrote:

    Wonder what the cost of plate finding equipment is vs. cost of  timed  saved for all those for folks can’t remember where they parked their car.  I’m think the pay back is say…. when we advance to a mode of transport after the car.    And this aid to the absent-minded assumes they remember their car plate number.
    Sorry for the sarcastic tone.

    Don’t be. Sarcasm is much appreciated here at MNB.

    A number of folks wanted to weigh in on Fresh & Easy’s current prospects.

    One MNB user wrote:

    I would like to make a bold prediction, nothing to substantiate this, but I'm thinking that Fresh & Easy quite possibly could be the target of  these Wal-Mart neighborhood markets in California, Az & Nev.  I would be interested on your take. Do you think Tesco would sell to Walmart?

    I think if the price is right, Tesco would be happy to get out of the US. I’m just not sure what that price is.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Fresh & Easy opened 5 new stores in the Sacramento region the past two weeks.  I saw one of their people (who must have been from England due to his heavy accent) on the news and he took a shot across the bow at Safeway.  Safeway has been promoting an ad campaign for the last few years with the theme of “Ingredients for Life.”  The Tesco representative said we think people aren’t thinking about “ingredients for Life’, but rather what they are going to have for “dinner tonight.”  I thought it was very clever and clearly a shot at Safeway.

    From another reader:

    I wrote  a while back about my first and second impressions of Fresh and Easy. First, right after they opened early stores, that they were clueless about the American shopper, and I was not impressed. It felt " foreign" . I vowed I would not shop there and didn't. About...two years later, ventured into another store and was quite impressed! Filled up my cart, walked the entire store and came home raving about it to my husband.

    Just recently, they opened one bike riding distance to our home. I am sold! They are going to get the majority of our business! First the convenience - i repeat, bike riding  distance yahoo! and the store is a 'test' set according to the staff, bigger than earlier stores). There are still a few items they don't carry, so I know we will venture to our other favorite ( Mothers Market ) but the ones that lost our business  are Sprouts (1 or 2 cashiers and long checkout lines there, buh bye); and any other grocery chain (Vons, Ralph's, Albertsons, which all seem the same to real differentiation between them ).

    We also got a lot of email about the decision to no longer produce a print edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica - the oldest English language continually published encyclopedia of its kind - and instead only have an online edition.

    One MNB user wrote:

    This is great news in terms of reducing demand for paper to use for print that has a viable optional content delivery channel.

    And this is more than likely the start of more stories like this over time, which will mean more hope for forests to grow rather than shrink, as well as less items going into landfills, etc…

    Sounds like a win, win, win scenario to me…..Mother Nature would be proud…..

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Reading this article was indeed a true eye-opener.

    While reading it, I just couldn’t keep the phrase “selling ice to Eskimos” out of my mind.

    The fact that it has taken the internet 15+ years to kill this company off (or at least force it to make a *radical* decision to eliminate its print media) is the real eye-opener.

    Now I’m curious to know what they charge for their on-line content. I don’t think this story has reached its final chapter yet.

    And from another MNB user:

    Ok, that feels like a death......245 years. Wow. I am glad my dad wasn't here to see this. We were all book and print lovers. And here I am typing the from an iPad; I shop online, buy books on Amazon, including Kindle versions, and read my news online   -   so I am partially responsible for the demise of any printed words...

    I must admit, my attention has been on mortality more than mother in law passed on Feb. 9. Then my mother Feb. 27.

    You know so well, we spend the rest of our lives missing them, no matter how long they lived.

    We had a piece the other day about how Tesco is taking steps to raise the retirement age for its employees from 65 to 67 as a way “to slow the rate at which pension payments rise.”

    One MNB user responded:

    This is what needs to happen on the civil employee level. All you have to do is watch or read the news to see how many towns, county, or states that cannot meet their obligations that were set by myopic politicians. If you want to retire before 65-67 then it should because you did a great job investing, not because you can draw a pension longer than you paid into it. I also know that some private employers had this type of sweet retirement for their people, but many of those companies received tax dollars to survive. It just isn’t a sustainable approach to a sound fiscal bottom line.

    If it were up to me, they’d raise the national retirement age in the US to 67 or 68 tomorrow ... and then have it up to 70 in a few years.

    And finally, MNB user John Gillis:

    First of all, thank you for MNB, I look forward to your publication every morning. I noticed your little write up on El Farolito, that is  2 miles from my office this is where my colleagues and myself take our principals, we probably eat there 5 to 8 times a month. Next time your in the area would love to treat you.

    And, from another MNB user:

    Having lived in Orange County for a couple of years I found my way to El Farolito on more than one occasion.  Now it, along with In-n-Out, is a must have on every trip to Southern California!

    I cannot say enough good things about El Farolito ... glad my enthusiasm is shared by members of the MNB community.
    KC's View: