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    Published on: June 22, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    Michael Sansolo wrote recently about business lessons that can be learned from R.A. Dickey, the New York Mets pitcher who has had a late career resurgence because of his mastery of the knuckleball - and because he seems to be a genuinely nice, thoughtful guy who is the antithesis of the self-centered modern professional athlete.

    Well, here's another lesson from R.A. Dickey ... though probably one he'd rather not be teaching.

    The Wall Street Journal reports that in one of life's nicer ironies, a pair of documentary filmmakers have completed a movie entitled Knuckleball, which was designed to look at Dickey and Tim Wakefield, who threw the often confounding pitch for the Boston Red Sox. But then Wakefield retired, leaving Dickey as the only knuckleballer in Major League Baseball - and the great season he's having made the timing fortuitous.

    Except that there's one problem. Because of the way that the movie distribution business works, Knuckleball is not likely to be in theaters - or even available via pay-per-view - until at least September. Which has the producers at least a little concerned that they could miss their window of opportunity; while Dickey has had an amazing first half of the season, it is hardly a sure-fire guarantee that the second half will go as well, or that the NY Mets will remain in contention for a post-season slot.

    The lessons are simple. Timing is everything. And sometimes, despite all the advances that have been made in how businesses operate, legacy systems can get in the way of efficient and effective distribution.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 22, 2012

    Bloomberg reports that Venky Harinarayan and Anand Rajaraman, who have been running Walmart's Silicon valley-based innovation group, @Walmart Labs, are leaving the company.

    “They stayed for a year and built a really strong culture,” Shernaz Daver, a spokesperson for @WalmartLabs, tells Bloomberg in an interview. “The rest of the team will stay intact.”

    According to the story, "Harinarayan and Rajaraman joined Wal-Mart last year when the retailer bought their company, Kosmix, and used it as the foundation for @WalmartLabs, bringing social media expertise to advance the e-commerce business. As Wal-Mart has tried to build up its online operations it has made management changes as executives have departed."

    The story also notes that Walmart "has been trying to bolster its online operation and has had several changes in the senior management of the business in the past year. The company generates less than 2 percent of sales from its online business, according to an estimate from Kantar."

    The biggest change, of course, is that Eduardo Castro-Wright, the Wal-Mart vice chairman who once was seen as a likely Walmart CEO candidate but who ended up running the online business, left the division and is scheduled to retire next month. Castro-Wright has been implicated in the Mexican bribery scandal that has engulfed the company in recent days.
    KC's View:
    Walmart is not giving specific reasons for the departures, though it is noting that the executives are tech entrepreneurs, and that such people often leave big companies to start up new ventures.

    Which seems reasonable. Though it also seems entirely possible that they left because of what I've heard described as the culture chasm between Walmart's store operations in Arkansas and its online business in California. They say that while Walmart is willing to invest in its internet operations, the company's broad culture remains store-focused, with so many legacy systems and attitudes that it can be frustrating for the internet folks.

    I'm told that this could be the biggest challenge for Walmart's attempts to compete with Amazon, and that in much the same way that it found it impossible to allow a New York office focused on fashion to exist, having a San Francisco office focused on the internet creates cultural discord akin to fingernails on an Arkansas chalkboard.

    Published on: June 22, 2012

    Acosta Sales & Marketing is out with its bi-annual "The Why? Behind The Buy" report, which the company says "shows that the sluggish economy continues to divide consumers into two income groups, further influencing current purchasing trends."

    Among the results of the report:

    • "Despite divergent shopping behaviors, shoppers with annual incomes of less than $45,000, and shoppers with annual incomes over $100,000 are making purchasing decisions based on similar factors, including price: -- 55 percent of shoppers bought more items on sale than last year."

    • "71 percent of shoppers plan their trip before going to the store," while "88 percent of shoppers have bought Buy One, Get One offers," and "50 percent of shoppers cut coupons."

    • "The average monthly grocery budget has increased 11 percent to $309, reflecting higher unit prices. Shoppers are spending three times more on groceries than on eating out."

    • "Shoppers are creatures of habit, with 84 percent buying what they have bought before and three out of 10 planning to continue purchasing store brands even when their budgets increase."

    • "Today's consumer is a multichannel shopper, moving across store channels to find the best deals and products, which is especially prevalent among higher income shoppers."

    • "The influence of digital marketing continues to grow as shoppers strive to increase productivity. Shoppers primarily use digital for pre-trip planning, with 36 percent of shoppers logging onto home computers, mainly to find coupons, and 20 percent of shoppers visiting brand and retailer websites."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 22, 2012

    The New York Times reports that glass bottles seem to be making a comeback, at least in part because of consumer concerns about bisphenol A (BPA), an industrial chemical used as a protective coating in some plastics that some researchers could create health concerns if it laches into the foods or beverages stored in those containers.

    Government regulators have maintained to this point that BPA does not create health problems, but a lot of people are not convinced, believing that pro-chemical lobbyists may be as responsible for these findings as actual science.

    The story says that glass does not have these potential problems, and that glass's comeback "is being helped in a small way by an entrepreneur who is developing a reusable glass bottle that is hard to break and will not shatter if broken."

    According to the story, "No one expects glass to replace plastic anytime soon. After all, billions of plastic bottles are used every year. But in a survey of more than 4,000 consumers this year by EcoFocus Worldwide, a research and consulting group, 37 percent said they were extremely or very concerned about the health and safety of plastics used in food and water packaging, compared to 33 percent in 2010."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 22, 2012

    USA Today reports that the demand for broadband internet access is leading some hotels to reconsider the way they offer it.

    The problem, the story suggests, is that so many people are using their laptops and other Wi-Fi enabled devices when they check into hotels that it is putting pressure on whatever systems the hotels have, raising costs for the hotels. (Four out of ten travelers are carrying two Wi-Fi-enabled devices, and 25 percent are carrying three or more.) They're using the devices for a lot more than email - they're downloading data, pictures, music and video, and they're complaining when the online traffic slows things down.

    The possible solutions vary, according to USA Today. One approach may be to put a limit on free internet access, perhaps putting a limit on how many devices or minutes a guest can use before charges kick in. And another may be to offer tiered access - for free, things are going to move slowly, but greater bandwidth may be available for a fee.

    There is, of course, another option - and some hotel chains are simply boosting their bandwidth and continuing to offer it for free, because free internet is almost always at the top of guests' want lists.
    KC's View:
    It always has been one of great mysteries of the road that the cheaper the hotel, the more likely it is that internet access will be free. The more expensive the hotel, the pricier the internet access.

    As someone who spends a lot of time on the road - and depends on internet access to get his job done each day - I have to tell you that I have gotten to the point where I am willing to take the up-charge in order to get faster and more efficient access so I can reduce the likelihood of frustration. In fact, as I write these words, it is 3:17 am PDT ... and I paid extra for faster access because it just seemed like a cost of doing business.

    I'd prefer it be free. But I'd also like to be able to hit a curve.

    Published on: June 22, 2012

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

    Bloomberg reports that James P. Murphy, Costco's international executive vice president, said this week that his company is looking at the possibility of opening stores in continental Europe.

    “We are interested in investing in the obvious four -- Germany, Italy, France and Spain,” Murphy said in an interview. Turkey also is on the list of possible targets for Costco.

    • The Chicago Tribune reports that Coca-Cola has made a deal with Chicago-based Fair Oaks Farms Brands to distribute Core Power, described as "a post-workout recovery drink made with milk protein and sweetened with honey. The lactose-free product, sold in chocolate, vanilla, honey and strawberry banana flavors, is marketed to endurance athletes, weight lifters and yoga and pilates enthusiasts, and sells for $2.99 to $3.20."

    It sounds like a good deal for Fair Oaks. Coke has promised that it will get the 18-month-=old product, currently available in up to 700 stores in Texas and Colorado, into 10,000 stores by the end of the year.

    Reuters reports that Mike Mikan, the interim CEO at troubled Best Buy, "promised on Thursday to tackle the unwieldy size of the world's largest consumer electronics chain, just months after investors gave a thumbs-down to its restructuring efforts ... Mikan also said the retailer would try to end the practice of 'showrooming,' which has caused it to lose sales to online retailers."

    If it wants customers not to be looking at their smartphones checking for prices, then Best Buy has to give them an alternative - a store environment that transcends the online experience, with products and services that meet needs and desires and that create a sense of magic and possibility for the shopper.

    I guess the other way to stop 'showrooming' is to develop a way to block all smartphone signals from getting into Best Buy stores. But while that does not strike me as a sustainable policy, don't be surprised if it is the short-term solution chosen by Best Buy.

    • Just in time for summer, there appears to be a national shortage of Good Humor’s classic ice cream bars.

    According to the Associated Press, parent company Unilever says that "a sales spike during the unusually warm spring and challenges linked to next month’s closing of its Hagerstown manufacturing plant" has crimped its ability "to supply ice cream trucks with Toasted Almond, Candy Center Crunch and Chocolate Eclair bars."

    It is expected that availability will increase just in time for autumn.

    Timing is everything. See the Friday Morning Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 22, 2012

    • The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Colleen Juergensen, who has had a long career with Kansas-based Dillon’s supermarkets, has been named vice president of operations for Smith’s Food & Drug Stores. Both Dillons and Smith's are banners of the Kroger Co.

    At the same time, Zane Day, who had been Smith's vp-operations, has been named the company's vice president of merchandising.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 22, 2012

    This week, in her "Kate's Take" column, Kate McMahon looked at the various arguments about the proposed NYC ban of jumbo sugared soft drinks and concluded that a study saying that various health initiatives in NYC have helped increase residents' life expectancy persuaded her to support it. "I care little about adults ranting about the Nanny State," she wrote. "If subtle changes can help our nation’s young people, in particular, live healthier lives, then I’m all for it."

    MNB user Kathleen Motley responded:

    I am sick and tired of hearing about banning jumbo sized drinks.  If they want a jumbo drink, they will just have to buy 2 large!  How is Bloomberg going to stop that?  Think Bloomberg - if there is a will, there is a way.  People are not as stupid at getting what they want as he thinks.  It is all personal preference.  Bet you $ he will not stop liquor sales since he probably indulges himself.  That is also linked to bodily harm.  Glad I do not live in NYC and can live the life I wish to live.

    MNB user Elaine Howard, who told us that she did not think we would run her email because she does not support the ban, wrote:

    You can’t legislate intelligence. People inclined  to buy huge sodas also buy huge candy bars instead. Once this ball gets started it can’t be stopped. It should be opposed on that front alone. Have you considered that the improvement in life expectancy in NYC is more likely due to something like lower crime rates due to the effects of Rudy Guliani’s  cleanup/crackdown years ago? Don’t be so gullible to propaganda that purport to support your position. Get all the facts. I say get the government out of my lunch break and onto something meaningful. What a waste waist of time.

    I asked Kate to address some of the concerns raised by MNB users, and she wrote:

    The great thing about civil discourse is the opportunity to exchange opinions without the need to defend your own or attack another's views. In the light of some comments I do, however, feel compelled to defend my research. With 35 years of experience in journalism, I am not a naif likely to be swayed by "propaganda" or overlook mitigating factors such as the decline in New York City's homicide rate or the AIDS epidemic.

    Nor did the researchers from the University of Washington Institute of Health Metrics and Valuation. Indeed, the sharp decline (75%) in murders and improved therapies for HIV/AIDS treatment were key factors in an increase in life expectancy in New York from 1990-1999. I reached my conclusion after reading a lengthy analysis of the University of Washington study in the respected British medical journal, The Lancet, that focused on the progressive public health policies implemented in the last decade. To quote the Lancet: 

    "More than 60% of the increase in life expectancy since 2000 can be attributed to reductions in heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stroke. In the past decade, death rates for heart disease alone fell by some 25%.

    "The most influential factor in this decline, says lead researcher Ali Mokdad, is the city's health department and their aggressive efforts to reshape New York's social environment. 'They raised awareness that health is not only your job personally. If you decide to live healthier, the system and the people around you should encourage you, and make it easier for you to do so in your community.' ” The article details efforts to improve public health in New York's poorest borough - the Bronx - where the life expectancy numbers lag behind the more-affluent, educated Manhattan."

    To read the piece, click here.

    I think there is a lot of room for discussion here - and, quite frankly, I think that a sophisticated discussion of public health policy is required at this point. There are strong opinions on both sides, and both sides make legitimate points. As I've made clear, I actually disagree with Kate on this one ... I'm troubled by the level of government interference that is implicit in the NYC proposal.

    However, I'm even more troubled by something else - an email that was sent to Kate yesterday by MNB user Jim Keuth:

    Simply put, you're just an idiot.

    Not cool. Simply put, that kind of response does not elevate the level of this discussion.

    People who disagree with you are not idiots. They just disagree with you - and they may do so with perfectly reasonable, logical and well-motivated positions.

    You all don't know Kate as well as you know me, but let me assure you that she's not an idiot. She's really smart, really experienced - and she represents a demographic and a line of thought that ought to be taken seriously, not dismissed with such cavalier condescension. (That's why she's on MNB - because she thinks about things differently than I do.)

    We had a piece the other day that referenced a Time story about how treating employees like assets rather than costs tends to create more efficient and effective organizations, which led one MNB user to write:

    Thank you for your descriptive illustration of Time's "Future of Retailing" series.

    As a faithful and grateful fan of your MorningNewsBeat and a Merchandiser at Wegmans Food Markets, I can tell you firsthand that treating employees with dignity and respect trickles down to happier customers and more motivated employees.

    On another subject, MNB user Bill Drew wrote:

    I take pride in my ability to write, and I read with interest your Wednesday Morning Eye-Opener.  Twelve years ago, I decided to go back to school with the thought of getting my teachers' license; I had a wonderful two-year experience, made many friends, and graduated summa cum laude.  In my last semester, one of my History professors asked if I would moderate a weekly discussion session for one of his classes, and I jumped at the opportunity.  He also asked me to help grade research papers turned in by his freshmen class.

    Bottom line - I was appalled at the lack of quality of the majority of papers.  Sentence fragments, incorrect verbiage, and misuse of common words (they're vs. their vs. there), etc. were common,  but perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the situation was that the professor wanted me to "interpret" what I thought the student meant and not lower a student's grade due to poor grammar, misspelling or sentence structure.

    Managers today are blaming texting and the use of informal emailing for their employees' lack of skill, but based on my return-to-college experience (which happened over 12 years ago), I think it may go deeper than that.  We know that mistakes can happen and that spell-check won't catch everything ... However, it's my belief that today's school systems are missing the boat and doing a disservice to elementary and secondary students and those students' future employers alike.

    Good writing is a science while great writing is an art. Unfortunately, it appears as though the science isn't being taught.

    I agree completely.

    And another MNB user wrote:

    AMEN!!  My personal pet peeve has been the "less" vs. "fewer" distinction. Thank you for mentioning this frequent gaffe. For a short time, I thought I'd gotten that corrected at the express lanes of my former employer but it's now hit or miss --- usually miss.

    Perhaps you should have provided the guideline:  "Fewer" should be used when you can count the object(s).  So, "fewer items", "fewer mistakes", "fewer dollars saved" but "less time", "less money saved", "less hot".

    Yesterday, Michael Sansolo and I did a joint FaceTime in which Michael made a reference that MNB user Stan Barrett wanted to comment on:

    Great comment by Mike S. on the NASCAR relationship.  I remember hearing from some major CPG guys how much a pleasure it is to work with athletes (up for debate I guess) that understand the sponsor/customer/fan relationship.  Another group that “gets it” and is very forward thinking is the UFC/MMA group.  I am on the fence if this should even be legal,  but my teenage sons and their friends LOVE IT.  Bonuses are paid for number of twitter followers to the fighters and imagine this—after 15 minutes of getting beat up in the ring, these fighters (win or lose) are roaming the arena posing for photos with my sons and their friends.  Prior to the fight, weigh-ins are free and fans are encouraged to interact with the fighters. Facebook followers get free access to pay per view fights, etc.   They are building a fan base that uses social media and will be locked in for a long time.  This sport presents a great opportunity for companies looking for NASCAR like athletes.

    One other note on this FaceTime commentary.

    I got a couple of emails from folks who complained about the fact that because it was improvised, there was no transcript ... and was available only as a video. It seems that their companies don;t allow them access to video on their work computers...

    Which was ironic, because that's one of the things that Michael and I discussed. We agreed that it is silly at this point in time to restrict such things, and shows a lack of faith in the employee. They're not necessarily going to watch movies or porn if they can watch video ... they might actually be accessing the plethora of materials out there that could help them be better employees and improve their companies' efficiency and effectiveness.

    Michael made a great point. There probably was a time when employers were concerned about people having telephones on their desks, afraid that this would allow them to waste time and lose productivity.

    That time is past. It is time now to empower and trust people, not restrict them.

    Finally, writing about my less-than-enthusiastic review of Prometheus last week, one MNB user offered:

    I went to Prometheus too. The characters were just too stupid to be believable. For example, they had probes to map the location. Why didn't they send in the probes first, before they entered the dome? The characters were supposed to be scientists. They displayed no knowledge of elementary lab technique. They acted like they were taught by Dumb and Dumber. About an hour and a quarter into the movie I had to use the restroom so I left the theater - this happens when you are in your sixties - something to look forward to. I never went back to the theater.

    That's why, at my age, I never drink jumbo sodas. Forget the nutrition issues - I'm always afraid that I'm going to have to hit the restroom sooner rather than later, and I hate it when that happens at the movies.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Kev, just wanted to let you know that I agree completely about Prometheus. The more I thought about it after I saw it the less I liked it. ... I’ve also seen the first episode of "Longmire" and look forward to seeing the rest. Well written, acted and filmed...

    Let me reiterate my enthusiasm for "Longmire," the new TV series on A&E on Sunday nights. It is like a modern western ... and terrific.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 22, 2012

    The Miami Heat defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-106 last night, taking just five games to win the best-of-seven series and earn 2012 NBA title.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 22, 2012

    I'm running again. Jogging, actually. Pretty slowly. But four days a week, I'm lacing up the New Balance running shoes and hitting the road.

    Some of you may remember that I've always been a jogger, and even have run two marathons in my life, but was forced to give it up after meniscus surgery on each of my knees. The doctor said that the left knee was developing yet another meniscus tear, and so, regretfully, I switched to going to the gym and using the eliptical machine, and riding my bicycle.

    The problem was, every time I saw someone jogging, my heart hurt a little bit. I missed jogging, every day. No matter what else I did to exercise, it could not take the place of the simple act of jogging.

    And so, a few weeks ago I decided to give jogging a try. Gingerly. Tentatively. I've slowly worked myself up to four miles a day, four days a week. I'm using an interval approach, alternating jogging and walking, and making sure that I walk the big hills so as not to put extra pressure on my knees. But I'm out there. (I'm also trying to alternate it with biking.)

    Something interesting happened the other day. I was driving and I saw someone jogging, and my heart didn't hurt. I had to smile about that. Not sure I'm doing much for my knees, but for the moment I'm doing a lot for my heart and soul.

    That has to be worth something.

    I've been out in California this week, and yesterday got the nicest gastronomic surprise. It was a little place in Old Towne Orange, called Bruxies, where the sign said it served "gourmet waffle sandwiches."

    Well, that was the understatement of the year. I ordered what the woman at the counter said was the most popular sandwich on the menu - the Bacon, Egg and Cheddar waffle sandwich, served with Tillamook Cheddar, Mayo, and Applewood Smoked Bacon. $6.50 ... and, folded inside a thick and hot waffle, it was absolutely delicious. I guess technically you could call this fast food, but it proves something I always write - that with a little effort and ingenuity, this kind of food can reach for the highest common denominator, not the lowest.

    I can't wait to go back. As you can see by the menu here, there is a terrific looking selection.

    My compliments to the chefs.

    I also have a terrific wine to recommend to you this week - the 2010 Vionta Albariño, which is a bright and perfect summer wine, with a lovely balance of melon and grapefruit that pairs really well with seafood and spicy pasta.

    That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    Fins Up!
    KC's View: