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    Published on: March 27, 2012

    by Michael Sansolo

    People talking without speaking; People hearing without listening. - From “The Sounds of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel

    It was the mid-1960s and Paul Simon apparently understood social networking. It would be easy to argue that “people talking without speaking” is an apt way to describe texts, Tweets, Facebook updates and more: lots of talking without a ton of meaningful speech.

    Yet when it comes to marketing, “people hearing without listening” may be an even more important thought.

    In the new environment of social networking and non-stop commentary on every element of life today, listening may well become the most important skill every business must possess to have any chance of relevance and success. As is the case with so many parts of social networking, the rules and expectations are changing radically and constantly and business today faces a new range of demands and opportunities to build both sales and positive relationships.

    These new rules of marketing and connection are highlighted in the fourth part of the new study from the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council of North America. Free downloads of this newest part are available here. (To make this point clearly yet again, I am the research director of the council and heavily involved with this new study.)

    Essentially, businesses need take a fairly common sense approach to customer interaction on the social web. That starts with listening to what is being said by customers about products and services and trying to understand what is behind those opinions. Once that’s done, companies need find a way to participate in the conversation with shoppers in a meaningful way along with creating original ways to connect with shoppers and build on the conversation.

    Sounds pretty straightforward, but as with most elements of social networking, expectations rise to new levels. The Integer Group, the authors of the CCRRC study, found that 86% of people complaining on Twitter expect a response from the company and 75% of those who heard back were satisfied with the response. In other words, customers feel if they take the time to Tweet, they fully expect someone to listen and respond. As Integer said, “140 characters can go a long way.”

    Of course, it’s never that easy. Integer found out in its surveys that a strong majority of marketing executives feel ill-prepared for the world of social media, largely because they are unsure where to even start their efforts. It’s a problem that companies of all sizes admit they face in this brave new world.

    That’s why this study matters so much (and admittedly, I am biased0. So much of what builds success on the social web is exactly what builds success with a store, product or service. Companies have to know who they are, what customers expect from them and what constitutes a successful interaction. Basically you have to stand for something or you stand for nothing.

    None of this is easy on-line or on Main Street. But as we’ve pointed out here many times on MorningNewsBeat, success rarely comes easily. Hearing can be easy; listening can be really hard.

    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 27, 2012

    Beef Products Inc. (BPI), a company that has been heavily implicated in the so-called Pink Slime controversy, announced yesterday that “it is suspending operations at three of its four plants.”

    According to the National Public Radio (NPR) story,”Though it is not the country's only producer of lean finely textured beef, BPI found itself alone in the spotlight, battling information from former employees turned-whistleblowers and internal documents asserting that its product was responsible for E. coli and other dangerous microbes detected in ground beef.”

    The Associated Press writes that “Craig Letch, director of food quality and assurance for Beef Products Inc., declined to discuss financial details, but said business has taken a ‘substantial’ hit since social media exploded with worry over the ammonia-treated filler.” While the company is calling this

    The problem, according to many critics, is that companies such as BPI have not been transparent about the process of making and using “lean finely textured beef” as a filler, which has opened them to charges that they have misled consumers. And supermarket chains all over the country have responded to the controversy by announcing that they will no longer sell meat containing pink slime...or never sold it to begin with.

    For example, Tesco-owned Fresh & Easy announced yesterday that “customers disturbed about the rampant use of pink slime are invited to swap ground beef bought from other retailers at Fresh & Easy’s ‘Pink Slime Swap Meat’ this Wednesday, March 28th ... Customers can bring fresh or frozen ground beef from another retailer to any Fresh & Easy and exchange it for a package of fresh&easy (80/20) ground beef – no questions asked.”
    KC's View:

    Signs like the one pictured here - which was posted at Stew Leonard’s this week - are cropping up all over the country. No question that the PR battle has been lost.

    More than a dozen MNB users sent me links to the BPI story yesterday, many of them with the suggestion that people like me are responsible for the closings of these plants. I feel bad about the closings, and know that all the publicity about pink slime led to them. But I do think there is a broader lesson here about the importance of transparency.

    I wonder if there also is something else at play here - lingering suspicions on the part of the consuming public about the safety of food overall. And that’s something with which the industry will have to deal.

    Published on: March 27, 2012

    The Wegmans public relations machine continues to do an A+ job, with a new story about the company in The Atlantic that starts this way:

    “Cashiers are barred from interacting with customers until they have completed 40 hours of training. Hundreds of staffers are sent on trips around the U.S. and world to become experts in their products. The company has no mandatory retirement age and has never laid off workers. All profits are reinvested in the company or shared with employees.

    “A doomed Internet startup? Occupy Wall Street fantasy? Bankrupt retailer recently purchased by Walmart?

    “No, a $6.2 billion-a-year, 79-store-supermarket chain with cult-like loyalty among its customers. Wegmans, which operates its 79 stores in New York, Pennsylvania and four other East Coast states, shows that a business can generously train its workforce and profit handsomely.

    “Privately owned by the Wegman family, the chain employs 42,000 people - 20 times the number who work for Facebook - and defies quarterly-driven Wall Street wisdom. Executives say their most important resource is their workers.”

    The story notes that while Wegmans’ people are seen as being its greatest advantage, it also has other advantages - enormous stores located primarily in affluent areas, high volume generated by “a dizzying array of 70,000 products” - that give it differential advantages in virtually every market it serves. And an emphasis on price that was instituted several years ago when big box stores started to make moves into the grocery business has allowed Wegmans to avoid looking too expensive, despite its high-end approach to fresh foods.
    KC's View:
    Okay, I’m going to commit a bit of gentle heresy here.

    I recently went to the first Massachusetts Wegmans (my second visit there) and was less than overwhelmed.

    Let’s be clear. It was incredibly crowded. Getting a parking space was a challenge. Business may have fallen off by as much as 50 percent from the $3 million/week it was doing when it opened, but that’s a healthy amount of weekly revenue.

    But inside ... well, let’s just say there were some holes. There was a sense (and I was visiting with a couple of people who know much more about this stuff than I do) that the emphasis on price may have forced Wegmans to take its eye off the ball in a couple of spots. The fresh seafood presentation seemed less than inspiring. There were gondolas that were cast in shadow because of imprecise lighting. Fresh foods that were eaten in the in-store cafe that were deemed “good enough,” but hardly mind-blowing. And prices that were good, but in some cases not quite as sharp as some at a Whole Foods we’d visited a half-hour earlier.

    Again, let’s be clear. Wegmans is one of the best food retailers in the country. No question about it. But sometimes I think there is a canonization effort afoot that the company does not deserve.

    I also think, by the way, that the people I’ve met at Wegmans would reject any canonization movement. They know they always need to get better, they know their are holes in any operation, and they take a boots-on-the-ground approach to making its stores better every day.

    Published on: March 27, 2012

    Interesting interview in the Wall Street Journal with Procter & Gamble CEO Robert A. McDonald on the subject of sustainability. Some excerpts:

    • “We celebrate our 175th birthday this coming October. We won't be around another 175 years if we don't take care of the environment while we do this.”

    • “We want 70% of the wash loads done in cold water, which is a huge issue. Right now, 40% of the wash loads are done in cold water. If we could simply get every washing machine in the United States to do cold-water washing, we would provide the energy for 4.4 million households in this country and deliver 3% to 4% of the cuts in the Kyoto Protocol [an international agreement that sets targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions].”

    • “Our research suggests that about 15% of consumers are looking for a sustainable product and are willing to take trade-offs in that product. That leaves 85% of consumers who aren't willing to make trade-offs. So we want to introduce products in every single category we're in that make a difference in people's lives and are better for the environment at the same time.”

    • “Some 4.4 billion people on the planet use a Procter & Gamble product every single day. We're in every country of the world except those where we're legislated by the U.S. government not to be. We can create value chains that wouldn't otherwise be created if we weren't involved. We can use our scientists to help create that chain. So in most markets in the world, we're out there creating a recycling industry that never existed before we got there.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 27, 2012

    The Examiner reports that Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has signed a bill that “now makes it a Class A misdemeanor for anyone to give false statements on job applications for ‘agricultural production’,” as well as prohibiting the taking of unauthorized videos and/or pictures of the production process. The bill follows a similar bill implemented in Idaho.

    According to Food Safety News, “Iowa and Utah were not the first to adopt what we now call ‘ag-gag’ laws. About 20 years ago, there was a similar push for these laws in farm states with very similar language adopted in North Dakota, Montana and Kansas.

    “This means there are at least five states that now make illegal the sort of undercover work conducted by several major animal welfare groups, which involves sending someone in as an employee to record what is actually going on.”
    KC's View:
    And you wonder why a percentage of Americans don’t trust the mainstream food production industry?

    Give me a break.

    These bills are silly. Inevitably, they will be ineffective - because the people who really care about these issues, or reporters who think they have a lead, will be willing to challenge the law in pursuit of the truth. (And if not the truth, a really good story.) And prosecuting these folks will only make the industry look guiltier.

    Published on: March 27, 2012

    The Sacramento Bee reports that “Raley's is ramping up the pressure on its workers to swallow contract savings, taking steps that could provoke the first strike in the supermarket chain's 77-year history.

    “Fed up with months of fruitless labor negotiations, Raley's refused late Friday to extend the contract with a Bay Area unit of the United Food and Commercial Workers.”

    A strike is not seen as inevitable, since workers are continuing to work and get paid under the terms of the old contract, and negotiations are continuing on an almost daily basis.

    But Raley’s - which has been closing stores as it seeks to improve its financial situation - clearly is looking to make a statement about how far it is willing to be pushed.

    The story notes that “Northern California's other union chains, Safeway and Save Mart, are also locked in difficult talks with the UFCW. Along with Raley's, contracts with 60,000 workers are at stake. But Safeway and Save Mart appear to be on friendlier terms with the union.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 27, 2012

    Consumer Reports is out with one of its usual studies about food quality, and this time it looked at bagels, comparing mass-produced bagels - in this case, from Dunkin’ Donuts (fresh), Lender’s (frozen), and Costco’s Kirkland Signature (packaged, at room temperature) - to traditional New York bagels.

    Among its conclusions: “Bagels should have a slightly crispy crust, notable ‘pull’ when bitten into (like good Italian bread), chewy innards, and a freshly baked flavor. Plain bagels from Dunkin’ Donuts (fresh), Lender’s (frozen), and Costco’s Kirkland Signature (packaged, at room temperature) and an everything bagel from Dunkin’ Donuts were all very good overall.”
    KC's View:
    Now, I have to say that I have the greatest respect for Consumer Reports. I wouldn’t even think of buying a car without consulting this august organization. But in this case, I must protest.

    Consumer Reports does not know what the hell it is talking about.

    I have tasted all these mass-produced alternatives, and while they can be good, they are nothing like a hot, freshly-baked bagel obtained from almost any bagel shop in the city of New York.

    It’s like sourdough bread of San Francisco - there must be something in the air and water that makes it unique.

    This is one of those places where scientific analysis falls short.

    Published on: March 27, 2012

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

    • The Bergen Record reports that the “Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. formally emerged from bankruptcy March 13 and as a newly private corporation is keeping quiet, for the time being, about its turnaround strategy. But recent remodels of Pathmark stores in North Jersey show that one concept A&P is banking on is the ‘store of the neighborhood‘ - locations that reflect the culture and tastes of the customers who live nearby.”

    The story goes on to note that “competitors say customizing a store to meet local tastes is nothing new, and that A&P is playing catch-up with a strategy that most supermarkets have been employing for years. But for A&P it is a sign of new life in a company that has had its hands tied over the past two years by financial uncertainties that led to its bankruptcy filing in December 2010, and by the drawn-out bankruptcy process.”

    • United Supermarkets announced plans to open Lubbock’s third Market Street location, which will reflect United Supermarkets’ responsiveness to guests’ requests, a million-dollar investment in its health-and-wellness product line, and a visible effort to be an environmentally friendly corporate citizen.
    Construction on the new store officially got under way recently at the southwest corner of 19th and Quaker, with the intent to have the store open in time for the Thanksgiving rush.

    • In Toronto, the Globe and Mail reports that “the McCains and Sobeys, two powerful business families with deep roots in rural Atlantic Canada, are joining forces for the first time in an investment venture to inject capital into enterprises in smaller towns and cities across Canada.

    “Their new firm, SeaFort Capital Inc., which will be based in Halifax, will act as a private-equity investment vehicle for Donald Sobey, one of the architects of the national grocery chain, his son Rob, a top manager in the Sobey empire, and Scott McCain, a senior executive in Maple Leaf Foods and older son of the late Wallace McCain, co-founder of the family’s global French fry business.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 27, 2012

    Yesterday, we posted an email from a Supervalu employee that said, in part:

    “Another bad management move at Supervalu. Last week it was announced that our Employee Discount on private brands items was going from 15% to 10%. Not a huge deal for most of us, but the store employees are very upset. They have taken to posting anonymously on our company's home page (they aren't allowed on yammer). The largest area of complaint is the fact that the Executives & Great Store Managers just returned from an all expense paid cruise & all Store Managers (company wide) are getting iPads/iPhones. Once again, the timing couldn't be worse. Morale at store level is at an all time low (doing more with less) and these people are on the front lines.”

    My comment:

    I’m not sure this is a universal sentiment at Supervalu; I’ve met some folks recently who believe that the company is making hard decisions and positioning itself properly for the future. The issue of the recent cruise continues to be a problem for leadership, though a number of folks point out that it was long planned and almost impossible to cancel. (Bad optics, though.)

    But this message suggests that Supervalu continues to have morale and personnel issues it needs to address.

    This story generated a bunch of responses.

    One reader sent the following email:

    Interesting piece today on SVU...employees can't "yammer"? What the hell is that about?

    I want all my associates to "yammer"...last I checked, if it's available...use it.. I found that one can gain more information by listening and reading then "imparting knowledge that you think is important"...

    Wiser leadership words rarely have been spoken.

    From another MNB user:

    I have always felt good leadership was easy if everyone felt like they were in the same fox hole together…mostly meaning the manager felt their team was as just as important as he/she felt he/she was.

    In order to exhibit good leadership you’ve got to have some sense of reality and what makes the lower levels of the company tick.

    No matter what the justification for the new technology or the cruise if you as a leader don’t see yourself as another one of the team and have no real relationship with them then making decisions like the ones mentioned will be poorly timed and almost always come off looking terrible…what should they think…you’re talking about nothing but sacrifice for the good of the company while taking off on a cruise…SERIOUSLY?

    On the other hand if you see yourself as ONE OF MANY ON THE TEAM making sacrifices and working towards the goal you’ll have some level of sensitivity to just how bad those decision look to the rest of the team.

    There’s a time and a place for rewards and investments but being so out of touch as to not realize the difference is IMHO another sign of management that is out of touch with reality and their team….maybe they need to be replaced for the good of the company?

    From another reader:

    I am a former Supervalu employee that worked in profit center management for over 35 years and am truly sorry to see this once well run company slowly slipping into the abyss.  Supervalu is in desperate need of new leadership.  Craig Herkert, the current CEO, is at very best a tactician.  He is certainly not the visionary or inspirational leader required to turn the company around.  Craig might have done well if he had been handed a well-oiled machine with experienced top management but as we all know that was not the case.  The Albertsons merger may have looked good on paper but there was no solid plan in place to move it forward.  When you couple this poor planning with Walmart's rapid expansion into many of Supervalu's major markets the disastrous results we now see came as no surprise.  Supervalu needs new leadership in the board room and its executive offices now.

    Yet another MNB user offered:

    Cruises that have been booked long ago are indeed "almost impossible" to cancel.  But that doesn't mean that the cruise must be provided at no charge to those executives. My suggestion:  Tally the cost and deduct it from their paychecks over the next 3 months.  It will send a message to both the executives and the employees that real changes are being made.

    And, another email:

    Perhaps, some CEO would be better served in both the short and long term by using a scalpel vs. a machete in solving their company issues. Why I fully understand they have the board and others breathing down their neck, one key role of a leader is to lead and make sure that when her or she take over a new role that they understand their role and expectations as well as making sure part of their plan back is to be a leader and not a uncaring cold person.

    Now, let’s be fair. Not everybody feels this way.

    One MNB user wrote:

    I’m a 12 yr legacy SV employee & have another view regarding the decrease in the Supervalu employee discount.

    First of all, this discount is a new perk within the last few years.  I thought it was great of the company to give it to us at all!  The decrease will help us get our retails lower, which is much needed.  I’m sure our customers will appreciate that & isn’t their satisfaction our goal?  I think I can forgo 5% for job security.

    The iPads the store managers are receiving are a good thing.  It will empower them to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively while being present on the store floor.  Not stuck in an office. 

    The cruise was not looked upon favorably but I’m sure most of those people in the stores don’t know the reasons for going ahead with it.

    It always disappoints me when you receive negative email from SV employees.  Is there no loyalty anymore?  I say we should get rid of the naysayers and hire some positivity.  Have some faith that our hard work will pay off.  Otherwise, what’s the point of coming to work every day?

    And, from still another reader:

    Personally, I think Craig and upper management are doing a good job.  We are paying down our debt and driving costs out of the business.  Nothing but good things to come.  You are correct - I’m sure the cruise was planned months ago and couldn’t be changed.

    More to come. I’m sure...

    Also got a bunch of email about the continuing problems at the US Postal Service, which is looking to make cuts that are opposed by a wide range of businesses that say they depend on the USPS to stay in business.

    One MNB user wrote:

    Kevin, I was shocked to hear how bad it really is at ole USPS.  Also, when did it become ok to call losing $36M a day a “Business Model?” It seems like such a disservice to the word and idea of what a business is.  The postal service hasn’t been a business in a very long time.

    And from another reader:

    What I don’t get is whether its closing a post office, military base, etc, that  no one wants it to be theirs and have a million of reason why, but still want cuts.  Ever thought of making a military base into a minimum security prison? A post office a senior center meeting place both allowing you to get out of one that  you can’t afford and into one you need but at a great price??

    And, yet another offering:

    The Government needs to decide if we want to continue throwing good money down the drain. Just because we've funded this method of delivery for the last 100+ years doesn't mean that it still has a place in todays electronic environment. First, UPS and FedEx have proven that package and mail delivery can be profitable, so we should either completely privatize the USPS or it needs to charge rates that allow it to break-even at worst. Second, with dramatically increased rates the amount of ridiculous junk mail we receive (that goes straight into my recycle bin) would be dramatically cut…thankfully. Third, our usage of paper for all that junk mail would probably save enough trees to repair the ozone in our lifetimes. Finally, with the number of American households connected to the web all vital services (banking, credit card bills, utilities, etc.), plus news (how many newspapers have gone out of business I the last 20 years because of the web) and directed promotions can be had at the click of a mouse, or tab of an iPad or smartphone. Let it die, or jack-up the rates.

    And finally, from another reader:

    I know this is selfish, but I want my Netflix DVDs as soon as possible. Stopping postal deliveries one or two days a week will have an adverse affect on the Netflix business. I would think they would be lobbying against the changes as well.

    The Netflix DVD business is going to go away anyway. We’re all going to be streaming pretty soon...

    And finally, yesterday MNB took note of an Associated Press report that there is a new trend developing in the business world, with job applicants being asked “to reveal their Facebook passwords so their prospective employers can check their backgrounds.”

    The story notes that “Facebook is warning employers not to demand the passwords of job applicants, saying that it's an invasion of privacy that opens companies to legal liabilities. The social networking company is also threatening legal action against those who violate its long-standing policy against sharing passwords.”

    My commentary: This is a crock.

    Employers have no business requesting personal passwords. None. It violates people’s privacy, and it is just generally unwise.

    That said, potential employees need to show a certain level of maturity and intelligence about what they post online. Once you get to be a certain age, you have to assume that a potential employer might see everything you post.

    But just because some potential employees are stupid and immature does not justify an invasion of privacy.

    One MNB user responded:

    The practice of requiring the FB password of a potential employee is absurd. HR people have to be on red alert if this happens in their organization. The choice to hire or not hire must be directly related to whether or not the employer believes the candidate can do the job. If the employer views anything on a job candidates FB page, and makes the decision to not hire, legitimate lawsuits will pop up everywhere. Further, how can an employer balance this practice between those candidates that have a FB page and those who do not? It feels like premeditated discrimination to me.

    From another reader:

    OR… one can give them their password of NO THANKS, KEEP UR JOB, etc...

    MNB user Steve Sullivan wrote:

    I had a very brief discussion with a VERY much younger friend who is currently in the job market concerning the current brouhaha about employers requiring access to Facebook pages.  She said this is a non-issue to her.  She (and evidently most of her friends) have secondary/dummy Facebook pages that they provide when prospective employers ask.  Although she is anything but a ‘girls gone wild’ type and has nothing to hide in real life, THIS Facebook page lists only what an employer wants to see and hear.  She comes across as the second coming of Mother Teresa!  Some of the activities are real (helping out at local soup kitchen, active in church) but some are totally false (I like the trip to Lithuania to teach English to women looking to come to the US – with staged pictures!). 

    And she has also told them point blank that they can look, but no password would be provided.

    So employers may not be getting what they think they are getting even if they get it.   Some of these ‘kids’ just aren’t that dumb.

    MNB user Rich Heiland wrote:

    It seems to me what has been missing in this discussion is the door this all opens to getting around the laws that  you cannot delve into things like religion, certain other areas during job interviews. If someone is pressured to give up a password and does so, and if they have detailed private profiles, the interviewer now knows age, religion, politics....the company can argue that it never asked for that information, that it violated no laws, that it was simply contained in something given up voluntarily by the applicant. Desperate need for a job no doubt will lead to people complying with these requests and then losing that job not because a naked picture is found but because something else - like religion or politics - is discovered.
    KC's View: