retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: June 28, 2012

    This commentary is available as text and video. Enjoy both, or either.

    Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy...

    Over the past couple of months, I've mentioned that I've been having some dental work done. I thought I'd take this opportunity to tell you a little bit more, and to tell you a business lesson that I've gleaned from the experience.

    First of all, I have to admit that I am deathly afraid of dentists. I've said it here before and I'll say it again - I've had bad experiences with a couple of butchers named Stein and Goldman, either of whom could have had the birth name of Szell. And so I've often gone four, five six years between cleanings. I hate it, with a passion.

    Luckily, I've always had pretty decent teeth - no matter how badly I took care of them, I didn't have the kinds of enormous problems that some people have. I did, however, have one noticeable problem. Back when I was a kid, I was lying on the floor reading the newspaper when my little brother threw a slipper at me. I ducked, and hit my mouth on the floor, snapping one of my front teeth in half. Dr. Goldman put a cap on it ... and that cap lasted maybe 40 years; I don't ever remember having it replaced, though I could simply have a mental block on the experience.

    Over time, however, as my regular teeth aged and changed color, the cap stayed the same, and got more and more noticeable. I guess that over time I sort of adapted, and often would smile with my mouth closed. But the idea of actually spending money to get it fixed by a dentist was the farthest thing from my mind.

    Mrs. Content Guy, however, had other ideas. She saved her money, and made me a present of it recently, telling me that she wanted me to go to her dentist and, as she put it, "get your smile back."

    Now, I've been to this dentist before. His name is Dr. Colin Pech, and I have to concede that he's a good guy. He's very understanding of my phobia, and we've set it up so that the night before an appointment I take a Xanax before going to bed, and then another one before my appointment, and then he also uses gas to put me under. As long as someone picks me up from the appointment, I'm okay ... not terribly functional, but okay. And this is exactly what he did as he replaced the old cap with a new one, helped me bleach my teeth so everything matches, and does all sorts of other stuff that needed to be done in terms of general dental care.

    In doing so, he's substantially reduced my fear of dentists. Or at least of him. Enough so that earlier this week, when I went in for some work, I didn't use Xanax or gas. (It was a short visit for minor work. When I need something more substantial done, I'll probably have to go back on drugs.)

    But there's a great business lesson here. Everybody has phobias - or at least concerns and worries - and it is important to listen for them, work with these clients and customers, and help them overcome their fears. It doesn't always take drugs; sometimes it just takes a little common compassion and a customer service culture that is real, not illusory.

    I'm not quite done with my dental work yet. I have to go back in August to finish things up. But go figure - I'm actually looking forward to it, and determined that I'll visit Dr. Pech every six months and do what I'm supposed to do in order to take proper care of my teeth,

    I have him to thank for that. As well as my wife, who gave me my smile back.

    That's what's on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 28, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    Did you see the stories yesterday about how Google introduced its newest innovation - a line of futuristic computerized glasses?

    Here's how USA Today described them:

    "The Google Glass project puts computer-processing power, a camera, microphone, wireless communications and a tiny screen into a pair of super-cool-looking, lightweight glasses. For now, the 'smart' glasses can display images and video and have a button that can be used for taking pictures. Ultimately, the company hopes the glasses will be able to access information in real time, including the ability to identify locations and provide additional information about your whereabouts ... Google says the specs weigh less than many sunglasses on the nose and are intended to deliver information without having to scramble for a smartphone. The company envisions a day that information is delivered so quickly, people feel as if they know the answers to things right away."

    The glasses are expected to be available as early as next year, but only to a limited audience of software developers that Google hopes will work on applications suitable for the glasses. The cost? Probably in the thousands ... or as much as a really good computer.

    Though maybe that is inexpensive, considering what Google is really after is the development of an "augmented brain.

    If you want to see a really cool video, showing skydivers parachuting into San Francisco wearing the glasses. .

    The possibilities, if unknown, seem endless.

    Published on: June 28, 2012

    The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Consumers Union, the advocacy organization that publishes Consumer Reports is calling on US supermarkets - starting with Trader Joe's - "to stop selling meat and poultry raised on antibiotics," saying that it is "concerned that if antibiotic use in animals isn't dramatically reduced, it will greatly affect the effectiveness of the drugs on humans."

    "Supermarkets have an opportunity - indeed, an obligation - to be a part of the solution in the face of this growing public health crisis," the organization says.

    Consumers Union has published a report called "Meat on Drugs," which says that "80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States are used on animals to make them grow faster or to prevent disease while they are raised in cramped, unsanitary quarters. As a result, bacteria are becoming resistant to the drugs." According to the story, "Veterinarians and cattle experts argue that using small doses of antibiotics as a preventive measure cuts the risk of an animal getting sick by 25 to 50 percent. Otherwise, they say, when the animal does get sick, those doses have to be greatly increased. But many scientists and doctors believe that giving antibiotics to animals when they are not sick is contributing to more drug-resistant infections, known as superbugs, in humans."

    More than 36,000 signatures reportedly have been gathered on an online petition focused on getting Trader Joe's to change its meat policies.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 28, 2012

    The Associated Press reports that ConAgra, manufacturer of the Hebrew National line of kosher hot dogs, is defending itself in court against a lawsuit claiming that its products really are not 100 percent kosher.

    According to the story, "the suit says that employees at a third-party kosher certifier for ConAgra complained of witnessing non-kosher procedures at meat plants. The lawsuit alleges that the third-party certifier, AER Services Inc., did nothing to correct the problems and instead fired the employees or threatened to have them transferred."

    The suit, filed in US District Court in Minnesota on behalf of 11 consumers, is seeking class action status.

    ConAgra has responded to the suit by saying that it is without merit, and that there is “close rabbinical supervision” of its food processing and packaging.
    KC's View:
    I would be absolutely shocked if these allegations are true. Not because it is unheard of for companies to cut corners, but because it would be colossally stupid for a major manufacturer to do something that would undermine the fundamental brand equity of a highly popular product line.

    Published on: June 28, 2012

    The Chicago Tribune reports that this Friday, a Schaumburg, Illinois, Starbucks begin will selling beer and wine, as well as "small plate" meals, after 4 pm, the first instance where the coffee retailer has expanded its "Starbucks Evenings" initiative outside the Pacific Northwest.

    The story notes that the move - which is expected to be replicated in other markets - has several implications for the retailer:

    • "Starbucks Evenings is the latest expansion into new business for the quick-service chain, which removed the word 'coffee' from its corporate logo early last year to underscore its ambitions beyond coffee. Within the last six months, Starbucks has opened test stores for Tazo Tea, Seattle's Best Coffee and Evolution Fresh juice. In May, Starbucks announced the acquisition of La Boulange bakery, promising to bring the products to its stores and expand the bakery chain. However, the Tribune notes, "some experts wonder if the company is straying from its core coffee-and-espresso mission, a problem that plagued the chain four years ago."

    • "The seven Starbucks cafes offering wine and beer in the Pacific Northwest have seen double-digit same-store sales increases after 4 p.m., the company said." Which means if the concept works in Chicago and elsewhere, Starbucks may have found an effective way to build its bottom line sales from existing stores.

    Starbucks is said to be hoping to introduce the new evening menu into as many as six more Chicago-area locations by the end of the year.
    KC's View:
    Speaking as someone who has a son working for a Chicago-area Starbucks - a job he loves - I hope his store gets the "Evening" initiative. He can use the hours.

    Published on: June 28, 2012

    In Florida, the Sun-Sentinel reports on how Supervalu-owned Save-A-Lot "is looking to create a competitive edge in the South Florida market." The discount-driven, limited assortment format, in less than a month, "has opened a new store in Oakland Park, announced plans for a new distribution center in Pompano Beach and will launch another Fort Lauderdale location in the newly redeveloped area off Sistrunk Boulevard, in late July ... The supermarket chain plans to open 50 stores across the country this year, including 10 in Florida. A new store will open in Pompano Beach later this fall. Two stores in Miami and one in West Palm Beach will open sometime next year."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 28, 2012

    The Wall Street Journal reports that chefs and foie gras aficionados in California are counting down the days until Sunday, when the sale of goose liver in the state will be banned.

    The ban was enacted seven years ago, with the food industry and consumers given until July 1, 2012 to get used to the idea that they won't be able to get foie gras anymore.

    The story notes that animal rights activists were behind the ban: "To achieve the buttery flavor and velvety texture of foie gras ... farmers force-feed ducks and geese (typically a Mulard duck or Toulouse goose) to enlarge their livers, prying open their esophagi and funneling food into them. Activists call such feeding torture ... A cooks' group recently formed the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards, or CHEFS, to lobby lawmakers to rescind the ban. Members, like most foie gras farmers, say the feeding doesn't bother ducks and geese because they don't have the gag reflex human beings have; they swallow a fish in one gulp, for example."
    KC's View:
    I know this makes me a heathen in the eyes of some, but I define the eating of foie gras - or liver of any kind - as torture.

    What I'm wondering about is the over/under on when California state officials - who clearly have nothing better to do, because the state is in such great shape - bust a black market foie gras ring smuggling the stuff into Beverly Hills. I see roadblocks and trunk checks on Rodeo Drive ...

    (BTW...where does NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg come down on the issue of foie gras? Just curious...)

    Published on: June 28, 2012

    • Tops Friendly Markets announced that the company will add its 35th store in Erie County, NY by purchasing the North Boston Market Place, located in North Boston, NY. Specific terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

    • The Associated Press reports that "Coca-Cola Co. and its bottlers plan to invest an additional $3 billion in India over the next eight years to boost the soda giant’s stake in the rapidly growing market." The story notes that Coke "is seeing some of its biggest gains come from emerging markets as growth at home slows. In its first quarter, for example, Coca-Cola said its volume rose 20 percent in India, compared with a 2 percent increase in North America."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 28, 2012

    • CVS Caremark announced the appointment of Stephen J. Gold to the position of Chief Information Officer. Gold joins the company from Avaya, Inc. where he held the position of CIO. Prior to that, he served as the CIO and chief technology officer for the eCommerce solutions provider.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 28, 2012

    Responding to yesterday's piece quoting a Sir Terry Leahy column about management precepts that was in the Wall Street Journal, one MNB user wrote:

    I thought I’d share a story that came to mind when I read Sir Leahy’s comment, “I realized how much one learns—for free—by simply walking around their stores and looking how they did business . . .”  Just proof that this type of logic cuts across many industries (which is why I read MorningNewsBeat every day and promote it to my co-workers).

    My father worked for Buick for 40 years.  In the early 60s and into the 70s, he was part of the team that supported the import, sales and service of vehicles under the Opel brand—and sold through Buick dealerships.  You might remember the gold Opel GT “Maxwell Smart” used to drive.

    Anyway, when I was in high school, I went with some friends to one of their homes for the evening.  As he introduced us to his parents, the father asked, “What is your father’s name?”  I told him (proudly) “Bill.”

    Well, I was completely baffled by what happened next.  “THE SPY!” he yelled. At first I thought he was kidding.  But, no.  He didn’t exactly show me the door.  However, I didn’t get the feeling he was all that happy to have me in his house.

    When I returned to my home, I asked my dad about this.  He laughed and said, “Oh, I used to go to his Toyota dealership and talk to the sales people.  They’d sit and swing on the car doors to prove how well-built the cars were.  They’d tell me all about their products and plans.  And, then I’d use the information for my reports at work.”

    Ah, the days before the internet.

    Looks like my dad had something in common with “Sir” Leahy.  Not to mention I will always remember him as my knight in shining armor.

    Thanks for sending me on a very pleasant trip down Memory Lane.

    I'm pretty sure I've told this story before, but years ago I was doing a magazine piece about a Missouri retailer named Dave Trottier, and after we looked at his stores, he took me to see the competition. When we were there, we bumped into one of his regular customers, who was a little nonplussed to see Trottier there. "What are you doing here?" she said.

    "Never mind that," he replied. "What are you doing here?" And then they had a long conversation, Trottier took copious notes, and he walked away with an understanding of things he needed to do better.

    That must have happened more than 20 years ago, but I'll never forget it.

    More discussion of Apple...

    One MNB user wrote:

    Your discussion about the increased wage scale at Apple Stores spurred these questions:

    How soon will there be price increases for Apple products?

    Will service fee charges be transparent?

    Will there be fewer staff to assist customers?

    What implications does your discussion about Apple have for your core audience (the low margin food industry)?  Help us connect these dots with our retail reality. 

    Will Michael’s point about doing “more with less” be in play more than ever at Apple in light of this changing cost structure?

    The discussion to date seems to be about Apple retaining quality employees and making up for lagging in market surveys about pay scales.  The pay increases (in dollars or percentages) Apple is contemplating, or already taken, are unheard of in our industry.   The typical supermarket retailer could not sustain these kinds of increases without significant cost-savings measures to offset them.

    I bet that is the discussion going on in the minds of your core readers.

    Full disclosure:  I’m a grocer and a fan/customer of Apple.

    I get your point. I could be wrong about this, but I suspect that Apple won't be making wholesale cuts in staff because of these increases. At least I hope not. Smart. committed people are among its greatest assets, and I think they know that. There will be some on Wall Street who will argue that if you raise salaries you have to raise prices and margins (they've been telling Costco that for years), but hopefully Apple will resist, believing that in the long run, this helps its brand and its sales.

    As for lower margin retail industries...I think the lesson is not one of economics, but philosophy. All the most important stuff in any retail business happens in the stores, and it is front line personnel who serve as a retailer's face to consumers. I believe you have to value those people, nurture those people, train those people, empower those people, and treat them as valued assets.

    One reader the other day suggested that it is none of my business what Apple pays its people and that this "is between them and the employee. Only do gooders want to dictate to them. I assume if someone is underpaid they can leave." But another MNB user responded:

    I can’t begin to write how much that comment annoyed me.  I’ll go out on a limb and assume he has a relatively well-paying job and has little concept of how difficult it is to become employed and his assumption is on the shakiest of grounds.  If an employee leaves, finding another job is extremely difficult and, of course, that now unemployed-on-the-dole person will be faced with the flip side of the MNB user’s persona – “just get a damn job!”

    He might use the term ‘do gooder’ derisively but I see it as an honorable term.

    Me, too.

    I offered a link the other day to a piece in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter called "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," which I thought was provocative and well-written.

    One MNB user wrote:

    Both my wife and I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” and discussed it over our anniversary dinner last night.   Like you, I have great admiration for my wife and her ability to multi-task her many talents, keeping our family on schedule and under budget.  I continue to marvel at her attempts to find a balance between her work career and her desire to spend time with our two sons, especially as they are now both very near to leaving home.

    Over the years, there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over my wife’s decision to forgo her career opportunities in place of raising our children, with very valid arguments having been made on both sides of the debate.   Ms. Slaughter’s comments have convinced me that my wife “did it right” in that she got her degree and established her career first before having children, scaled back her work hours and obligations while our children were in school, and now faces an incredible opportunity to shift her career into a different gear in her late 40s as the kids are grown and gone.   Given the contacts that she has accumulated over the years, I am confident that if my wife chooses to reinvent her professional life and work more going forward, she will have no problem finding employment she truly enjoys.   Most of all, I am proud of the fact that she had the ability to make these choices, based on our mutual willingness to exchange family responsibilities whenever necessary.

    In my wife’s current role as an adjunct professor for a college of pharmacy, she serves as a preceptor to many students who spend five week rotations in her store with the expectation that they are going to work in a retail setting to see how “the real world” of pharmacy works.    The vast majority of these students are now women….and my wife often finds herself in discussions with female students helping them determine their expectations for finding a life partner, having children, and balancing a challenging career.    The employers who can best understand and work with these expectations will have the greatest success in hiring, training, and retaining talented women in the years to come.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Last night I checked out the Atlantic cover story about women not being able to have it all.  My wife and I both work and have 2 young children (ages 1 and 2), so I was naturally interested in here commentary regarding work life balance.  While there were some nice insights in the article (even though our kids haven’t reached school age yet, I’m already dreading what we’re going to have to do once they are in school for 6 hours a day with summers off – that doesn’t exactly mesh with a full-time work schedule), the rarefied air she operates in (having to settle for a tenured position at Princeton) is at times quite off-putting in my opinion.  At the very least her problems come across as difficult to relate to for your average (or even above average) human being.

    I get what you mean, but it didn't bother me. Sure, she lives a more rarefied existence than most of us, but she's also more eloquent and perceptive ... and I just thought she did what she wanted to do, which was provoke thought and discussion.

    From another reader:

    Appreciate you sharing that article.  As a working mother in the CPG industry, there are far too few role models and productive conversations about this subject.  Often it always taboo to discuss…as if talking about “work-life balance” means you aren’t a hard worker or even broaching the discussion of being a stay at home mom vs. a work outside the home mom.   Much appreciated.

    A sweet note from MNB user Linda Wish, who wrote:

    I believe two of your most insightful and touching pieces were RIPs.

    Christopher Hitchens and Nora Ephron were both authors who inspired us to look harder at the things, people and cultural anomalies around us. I think it is notable that you wrote RIPs that identified them so clearly and yourself in reflection. Well done, again.


    No surprise, I have a weakness for writers who have a specific voice and a unique take on the world, an incisive writing style, and an ability to touch my mind and heart. I wish I could be that kind of writer, but at least it gives me something for which to strive.

    By the way, yesterday afternoon I read a quote from Nora Ephron that I thought was wonderful. Remember, she was the writer who was once married to the philandering Carl Bernstein, who she skewered mercilessly in her novel "Heartburn." Well, something I did not remember - or did not know - was that Ephron also was an intern in the Kennedy White House.

    She once told an interviewer that she may have been the only intern JFK did not make a pass at, perhaps because he “somehow sensed that discretion was not my middle name.”

    What a great line.
    KC's View: