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    Published on: March 20, 2012

    by Michael Sansolo

    Longtime readers of this column know all to well that I look everywhere for unusual lessons. But while I’m willing to talk about sports, fashion, recipes, movies and even airplane safety videos, there’s one topic I studiously avoid: politics.

    The reasons are simple. First, we’ve become so polarized about politics that increasingly any discussion is immediately dumped into the good or bad bin and all talk shuts down there. Second, the nature of competition in politics is usually less than stimulating because it is so limited. If business competition constantly limited new competition, one can only imagine where we’d be today. What’s more, the primary process is directly opposite usual marketing. Instead of census-balanced feedback, primaries seem to skew the consumer group even more.

    Yet sometimes there are happenings we shouldn’t ignore, even in the incredibly yucky world of politics. So, for this morning, let’s think of Rick Santorum as a lesson, not a politician. Ignore any positions or statements made by the former Pennsylvania senator, no matter how hard is may be to do just that, and consider the following:

    If Santorum were in any field other than politics, his methods and success would be getting studied right and left. After all, Santorum is the Moneyball candidate, getting more mileage from less than anyone should.

    Santorum has amassed the second largest number of delegates to the Republican Convention and has won the second largest number of state primaries and caucuses. Yet as media reports make clear daily, Santorum is being outspent on ads and organization by Mitt Romney’s campaign by as much as 10-1 in some states.

    Santorum is even being outspent by Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, both of whom trail him in victories and delegates. By any measure, Santorum spends far less per delegate than any of the other three candidates, which makes him the champion of productivity even if it’s unlikely that he will win the nomination.

    And by looking at his productivity we can find obvious lessons for every business. Based on reporting of the campaign, his success seems based on a few easily discussed characteristics: clarity and authenticity.

    Let’s start with the clarity. Whatever you think of Santorum, he certainly projects a clear picture of who he is. Like all politicians his record is full of inconsistencies, largely because so much of politics is a business of compromise and conciliation, so virtually every long-term candidate has past votes that seem strangely at odds with their current positions. Yet, throughout the campaign, Santorum has articulated a defined group of issues with consistency and clarity. His positions are what they are and seem to remain that way no matter where he is or whatever crowd he’s talking with. Those positions may not get him elected, but they certainly define him.

    Likewise, he seems to be exactly as advertised. It’s clear that he’s a religious man from a relatively simple background who never hesitates to explain how his background or religion helps form his world and political view.

    Let’s examine the parallels to business. We hear endlessly about the importance of clarity and authenticity. Santorum demonstrates that if such a strategy is done well and with discipline, a store or product can achieve exceptional productivity from ad spending and marketing. In business terms, he has a well-defined niche that appeals to a core group of shoppers. (As a side note, the same could be said of Ron Paul. But as with niche markets, it’s important to serve a large enough constituency to keep you in business. Paul has enthusiastic followers, but apparently not enough to win primaries.)

    Of course, business and politics are very different. In politics is that only one candidate can win each contest, whereas in the marketplace there are countless winners and losers each day. And certainly, lots more and better choices in the end. Plus supermarkets and products have to wage the competitive battle daily, not every four years.

    So maybe there is some benefit to this depressing political season after all. Certainly there's at least one lesson’s worth.

    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: March 20, 2012

    buy Kevin Coupe

    Meet Larry. (Pictured at right.)

    When my daughter and I were in Southern California last week, we stopped at an In-N-Out Burger in Torrance. (My daughter thinks that In-N-Out reflects the best culinary traditions of the western world. I would not go that far, though I do love their cheeseburgers animal-style.) When we walked up to the front door, we were greeted by Larry. Big smile. He held the door for us.

    “How are you doing today?” he said. Lots of enthusiasm. Booming voice.

    I told him we were doing fine, and he told us to enjoy our lunch. We went inside, ordered, and then sat outside to munch on our burgers.

    Larry was out there, walking from table to table, checking to make sure that everybody had what they needed, that they were enjoying their meals.

    I engaged Larry in a bit of casual conversation, and he told me that he’d been working at In-N-Out for seven years and loved it. His job had allowed him to get his own place, and he thought the world of the company. And then, he moved on to the next table and the next one. Being Larry. Being In-N-Out’s roving ambassador.

    I couldn’t help but think that Larry probably attracts a lot of people to the In-N-Out on Carson Street in Torrance. He had that kind of infectious personality - he just made everybody feel good about being there.

    Ironically, I received an email from MNB user Brian Connellan the other day that was weighing in on the broader discussion of customer service, and it was about In-N-Out:

    I was in Dallas this week and made a trip to the In-n-Out in Las Colinas.  The burger was as good as expected but the ambiance was not there.  (Can I even use the word ambiance when talking about a fast food joint?)  The employees there seemed to treat it like any other part time job, like a McDonald’s.  There’s something to be said for understanding a company’s heritage.  Maybe In-n-Out is best served sticking to it’s West Coast roots.

    Could there be a better advertisement for just how important a guy like Larry is, even for a fast food joint?

    Retail battles are won and lost on the front lines. If I owned a retail business, I’d want an army full of people like Larry.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 20, 2012

    Advertising Age has a piece about how retailers that previously focused on big box stores - Walmart, Kmart and Target - now are focusing on smaller stores. “Small has suddenly become beautiful -- or at least a lot more alluring,” Ad Age writes, and “the big-box epoch may be winding down.”

    Here’s how the story explains the strategy at Walmart, which seems to typify all the chains’ thinking: “Smaller locations' same-store sales growth was more than three times Walmart U.S.'s overall figure. They also had positive traffic for the entire year, vs. only the fourth quarter for Walmart U.S.

    “Part of the story is product mix. Neighborhood Markets, mostly with food sales, benefited from food-price inflation. They also have little exposure to categories (such as apparel and electronics) that have been declining for Walmart. For example, same-store electronics sales had been dragged down by deflation rather than boosted by inflation.”
    KC's View:
    First of all, I hate pronouncements like “the big-box epoch may be winding down.”

    Sure, maybe it is. Until it isn’t anymore.

    Life is rarely this simple. There will be markets and customers for which big stores will be appropriate, as well as markets and shoppers for which smaller stores will be appropriate, and markets and customers for which online alternatives will be appropriate. What retailers may be learning is that they cannot be monolithic - the same customer may want a big store on Saturday, and online option on Tuesday, and then a small store option on Thursday... And retailers have to decide if and how they want to try to meet these various need states.

    Beyond that, there is one sentence from the story that needs to be highlighted: Walmart and other big-box retailers must determine how to remove selection from stores at the same time as they use them as outposts to deliver a wider range of products online.

    The key to Walmart’s small store strategy is to use these units as drop-off depots for products sold online, which positions the company - it believes - to better compete with Amazon.

    Published on: March 20, 2012

    Bloomberg reports that a federal court has ruled that guidelines mandated by the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act - putting graphic warning labels on cigarette packages - does not violate the free speech guarantee in the US Constitution.

    The ruling comes less than a month after another federal judge said that the mandated graphics would, in fact, violate tobacco companies free speech rights.
    KC's View:
    Fine by me, though as often has been noted in this space, I have no objectivity on the issue. After having watched my mother die of lung cancer after having smoked for 40 years, I have no sympathy for tobacco companies; my usual feeling is that there will be a special circle of hell reserved for the executives who have sold this stuff.

    Their free-speech is killing people.

    Published on: March 20, 2012

    Advertising Age reports that in a recent pitch to marketers, Walmart CMO Stephen Quinn called the retailer “an experience platform” that cuts across all the company’s various enterprises (in-store, advertising, online and social media) and, because of the retailer’s extensive reach and traffic, can be viewed as “one of the highest-reach media options to be found in an increasingly fragmented media landscape.”
    KC's View:
    In some ways, what this suggests is that Walmart is trying to develop a broad strategy, with all these pieces - physical stores, online retailing, various marketing initiatives - becoming tactical extensions of that strategy. It seems to make sense in a 21st century retailing environment, but there will be those who will question whether Walmart can culturally pull it off. Sure, the company makes all the right noises, but in the end, it may just be too rooted in a brick-and-mortar tradition to really be able to make all this “experience platform” stuff work.

    Published on: March 20, 2012

    • In Glasgow, Scotland, the Herald reports that a Tesco in Edinburgh has become the first major retailer in the country to open a full-service dental clinic on the premises. The move is seen as a response to what has been an accessibility problem in Scotland - not enough dentists and too many people trying to get appointments.

    Retail Week reports that Tesco has installed 147 kiosks in 120 of its UK stores designed to give customers full access to the retailer’s full selection of online merchandise, which is broader than that offered in-store.

    No decision has yet been reached to roll the kiosks out to other Tesco stores in the UK and Ireland.
    KC's View:
    Having kiosks like this makes sense, since increasingly stores have to be seen as a subset of a retailer’s broader universe.

    Published on: March 20, 2012

    ...with occasional, brief, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary...

    • In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that a close reading of Target’s annual filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) suggests that the retailer is increasingly depending on non-discretionary products (such as household goods and food) “to drive sales at the expense of discretionary items (everything else).”

    According to the story, “This is remarkable for a couple of reasons. Target has significantly adjusted its sales mix without altering its image as the ‘cheap chic’ retailer of choice for designers like Michael Graves, Missoni, Liberty, and Jason Wu. Target may hang out with the fashionistas in New York but it’s mainly selling toilet paper and cat food to everyone else.

    “What’s driving this shift is Target’s strategy to induce more of its most loyal customers, who tend to be higher income shoppers, to buy more stuff versus attracting new customers.”

    • At this point, it seems reasonable to suggest that the new iPad tablet computer is a success.

    It went on sale last Friday, with pre-orders being taken for about a week beforehand. Experts projected that Apple would sell between two million and three million of them by the end of March ... but yesterday, Apple said it already has sold three million of them.

    The iPad does not go on sale in some 25 global markets until this Friday.

    Reuters Health reports on a new study by the Harvard School of Public Health concluding that “eating more blueberries, apples and pears may be linked to lower risk of diabetes” because they “are loaded with flavonoids, a natural compound present in certain fruits, vegetables and grains, which some research has tentatively tied to heath benefits such as a lower risk of heart disease or cancer.”

    The finding, according to the story, “show an association ... but don't prove the fruits, themselves, prevent diabetes.”

    The only thing that disappoints me about this story is that nowhere is the word “pie” used. Because I really, really love pie. Especially blueberry and apple pie. And if eating more pie could be proven to have health benefits, well, I’m there. Totally there. Just saying...
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 20, 2012

    • The Kroger Co. announced yesterday that Tim Brown, who has been serving as vice president of operations for the company’s Virginia division, has been promoted to be president of its Delta division, which is based in Memphis and operates stores in Western Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Arkansas and Missouri.

    • Rick Bendel, marketing director at Walmart-owned Asda Group in the UK, reportedly will begin working in a broader marketing-related role for the mother company. He will remain based in London.

    Bendel will be succeeded at Asda by Stephen Smith, the former Delhaize executive who has spent the last year as chief marketing officer for Walmart’s China business.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 20, 2012

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 20, 2012

    ESPN reports that four-time MVP Peyton Manning, recently released by the Indianapolis Colts, has decided to play quarterback for the Denver Broncos next season - a move that is likely to result in the trading of Tim Tebow as soon as Manning’s deal is finalized.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 20, 2012

    July 15-20, 2012    Ithaca, New York

    The Cornell University Food Executive Program is unique – it offers an unmatched opportunity for food industry leaders to sharpen skill sets, gain new perspectives, advance careers, and make a difference.

    Who Should Attend?
    Retailers, Wholesalers, CPG Suppliers, Service Providers.
    The program prepares middle- and upper-level executives for their next promotion and beyond, and is well-suited for high-potential leaders being prepared for broader general management responsibility.

    “The Professors and industry-leading speakers are very connected to the real world and are also very willing to provide that ‘nudge’  to think differently, ask ‘why’ and develop as a leader.  You learn from the professors, you learn from each other and you come back ready to perform.” - Beth Newlands Campbell, President, Hannaford Supermarkets

    For more information and to apply, click here.
    KC's View: