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    Published on: July 19, 2012

    Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy, coming to you this week from Portland, Oregon.

    As regular MNB readers know, I've been spending the month out here - part of it is vacation, and I'll offer some details on that tomorrow in OffBeat. But I've also been lucky enough to be team teaching a class in retail and CPG marketing at Portland State University, an opportunity that Dr. Tom Gillpatrick was kind enough to offer me. Needless to say, I grabbed it.

    I've learned a few lessons myself so far, and not just because I'm pretty sure all the students in the class are smarter than I am. I'm not going to offer any details - I've promised all involved that when I'm in the classroom, I'm wearing my teacher's hat, not my writer's hat - but I think I can tell you a few things without violating that promise.

    First of all, I have to tell you that if you have the opportunity to spend any time in a college classroom, even as a guest speaker, you have to do it. It can be a little bit of work, and even a little nerve-wracking, but it is worth every bit of anxiety you might feel. I've done one-shots at schools all over the country over the past ten years, and it has always been a wonderful experience. This month, it is like wonderful on steroids.

    Another thing - and this one really caught me by surprise - is the discovery that these kids are pretty good writers. I've been going through some papers that they wrote for me, on the subject of their most memorable meal; I think that food companies often don't capitalize on how people feel about food, so I wanted them to get in touch with that. These papers are terrific - well-written, evocative, and sometimes I can even smell the food they are describing. I'm feeling really good about these kids.

    They also ask great questions, and seem to be suckers for a learning experience. Which is exactly what you want from a student.

    Last week, we had a friend of mine, a senior retailing executive, in to chat with the class, and afterwards, one of the students hung around ... and promptly asked if he could go with they guy on store visits the next day. The executive didn't blink - he jumped at the request and I'm told it was an interesting morning for both of them.

    That's a great life lesson, by the way. Go one step farther than anyone else, and you almost always be rewarded. I was reminded of when I was in college, I was taking a class called the "Philosophy of Death." (Give me a break. It was the seventies.) The class was designed to examine the notion of death from the perspective of various cultures and religions.

    Well, I was going to school at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and one evening the professor took us all to the LA City Morgue - where better to see death first hand. We saw bodies being rolled in, autopsies being performed - it was amazing. Well, people are dropping out of the tour right and left, because it was pretty intense. But not me.

    I kept on, with the professor and a few other students, until we got to the cooler - the place where bodies were kept before being processed and examined. I will never in my life forget seeing a young black guy on a gurney. He was not much older than me, and in rigor mortis, with a bullet hole through his throat and his eyes wide open. I turned to the teacher and said, "Can I touch him/"

    The teacher was taken aback. He'd been teaching this course for years, but never had been asked that question before. "Why?" he said.

    "Because I've never touched a dead body before," I said.

    He said I could, and I did, and the feel was cold and waxy and I'll never forget it. Death up close is far different from in the movies or on television or reported in newspapers.

    Two things happened as a result of that. One, I was guaranteed an A in that class, and didn't have to take the final. But more importantly, I learned the importance of asking the question nobody else wants to ask. That's the way you learn stuff that nobody else learns.

    I hope that's what my class at PSU learns this month. And I'm glad that by doing this, I'm getting a whole new learning experience as well.

    One final note. I want to take this moment to wish a Happy 87th birthday to my first teacher, who managed to continue loving me even though I was the only person to whom he could not teach math - my dad.


    You can access the entire library of FaceTime videos on YouTube by clicking here.

    KC's View:

    Published on: July 19, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    Call it the natural next step in encouraging voter turnout.

    According to USA Today, the state of Washington is about to encourage people to start using Facebook to register to vote: "The secretary of state's office said Tuesday it will have an application on its Facebook page that allows residents to register to vote and then 'like' the application and recommend it to their friends. It's expected to launch as early as next week ... Washington state has had online registration since 2008, and since then, there have been 475,000 registrations or changes of address processed through the system ... Users need to agree to let Facebook access their information, which will be used to prefill their name and date of birth in the voter registration form. Users will still need to provide a driver's license or state ID card number to continue."

    "In this age of social media and more people going online for services, this is a natural way to introduce people to online registration and leverage the power of friends on Facebook to get more people registered," said Shane Hamlin, co-director of elections.

    Which strikes me, as I said above, as the natural next step in encouraging voter turnout ... and therefore, the right thing to do.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 19, 2012

    In Detroit, WXYZ-TV News reports that Kroger Co. is considering charging customers using credit cards more for groceries than if they spend cash or use checks.

    According to the story, "This could be the first major change after the recent settlement between Visa and MasterCard with retailers.  Under the agreement, stores would be allowed to pass along 'swipe fees' to consumers for the first time.

    "Kroger says it is exploring the possibility of giving cash users a discount at the register, or posting two prices for everything: one being the cash price, the other the credit card price. The store has not yet said if it would also charge this higher price to debit card users as well, though it does not appear likely, as debit cards are not part of the settlement. Also, the company has not yet said if stores would charge the higher price for American Express and Discover cards, as they were not part of the settlement."
    KC's View:
    I can understand the impulse to do this, but I firmly believe that this is a policy that all retailers should be very careful about adopting. If people can be convinced that they are getting a cash discount, that may fly ... but if they feel they are being hit with an extra fee for using a credit card, however good an idea this may seem to the retailer, I think it will cause a negative backlash. And I'm not sure that retailers will be able to manage perceptions to the extent that they need to.

    It will, I believe, be the supermarket industry's version of all the fees that airlines charge these days. They can get away with them because people have to pay them, but nobody likes them and everybody thinks they are getting ripped off.

    That's not the model I'd be going for.

    Published on: July 19, 2012

    A survey of retail employers conducted by Harris Interactive and paid for by CareerBuilder.com suggests that "while the jobs recovery continues to lag that of previous recessions, the outlook for the retail industry in the back half of 2012 shows significant improvement over 2011. Thirty-six percent of retail employers report they are planning to hire full-time, permanent staff from July 1 through December 31, 2012, an increase of 20 percentage points over the same period last year."

    In addition, "While frequent worker turnover is expected in the retail industry, more employers are concerned top talent will leave their organization as the economy improves, a sign more career opportunities are available in the labor market. Thirty-six percent of retail hiring managers are concerned top workers will leave, compared to 29 percent last year at this time."

    The survey says that  retailers planning to hire full-time, permanent employees is at 36 percent, up from 16 percent in 2011; hire part-time employees is at 39 percent, up from 36 percent in 2011; and hire contract or temporary employees is at 15 percent, up from 9 percent in 2011.
    KC's View:
    Maybe. But maybe not. This kind of hiring is not these sense I get from retailers, but maybe I'm just talking to the wrong retailers.

    Or maybe CareerBuilder.com has a stake in trying to stimulate a little hiring action by retailers.

    Published on: July 19, 2012

    The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Postal Service said on Wednesday that "without congressional action, it will default - a first in its long history, a spokesman said - on a legally required annual $5.5 billion payment, due Aug. 1, into a health-benefits fund for future retirees ... The agency said a default on the payment, for 2011, wouldn't directly affect service or its ability to pay employees and suppliers," but would affect confidence in the sustainability of the system.

    And, the story notes, "Action in Congress isn't likely, as the House prepares to leave for its August recess."

    The USPS also says that "it will default on its 2012 retiree health payment as well—also roughly $5.5 billion, due Sept. 30—if there is no legislative action by then," the Journal writes.
    KC's View:
    If the USPS falls in the woods and nobody hears or cares, does it make a sound?

    Published on: July 19, 2012

    The Chicago Tribune reports that when Dan Cathy, president of the Chick-fil-A fast food chain, said that the company is "guilty as charged" for being anti gay marriage - a position at odds with the company's previously stated stance as not being anti anything - he managed to stir up a controversy that spilled out onto social media networks all over the internet.

    According to the story, "Social media circles were buzzing Wednesday about the company's very public stance, with many users feeling obliged to pick a side. And did they ever. Many thanked the fast-food chain for voicing its support for traditional marriage, while others called for a boycott."
    KC's View:
    He can say anything he wants as long as he is prepared to live with the reaction and possible collateral damage to sales. Which I suspect he is.

    I personally disagree with his position. Too many people I love are affected negatively by such an attitude, and therefore I'll be avoiding Chick-fil-A for the foreseeable future.

    As I say, he has a right to his opinion. I have a right to mine. He'll have to deal with losing my business (no big deal, trust me), and I'll have to deal with finding someplace else to buy slightly-better-than-mediocre chicken while traveling on road trips between Mondays and Saturdays. And I am sure that there are plenty of folks out there who will have exactly the opposite position to mine, and will find his position to be a rallying point.

    My point is this. When a retailer stakes out a political or cultural position - on either side of an issue - he has to be prepared for the potentially divisive impact. That's not usually what retailers want to do, because disenfranchising a percentage of the potential base is not usually seen as good business.

    That's unlike someone like me, who is in the business of trading in divisive subjects and isn't doing his job if a certain percentage of readers don't disagree with me. What makes MNB a community is that we all think differently about things and exchange ideas in a rational and usually civil manner.

    Dan Cathy is taking a risk. This might be a tempest in a teapot, and could go away. Or it might not.

    Published on: July 19, 2012

    Wine Spectator reports on a new Canadian study, conducted by Portland State University in Oregon, with the help of health centers in Quebec and Ontario, saying that "drinking alcohol in a consistent, responsible manner is linked to an overall improvement in health and well being ... Subjects who kept their weekly consumption 'sensible,' according to the authors, also reported feeling happier and had fewer complaints compared to nondrinkers and former drinkers."

    According to the story, "The researchers say the results are important because the study tracks alcohol consumption from middle age onward, whereas prior research lacks age-specific drinking risks. 'Indeed, if anything, continued moderate consumption during middle and later life may have been beneficial,' they added. However, the researchers say their study does not support starting to drink for health reasons."
    KC's View:
    The results sound about right to me. And, if Portland State conducted this study, it must be accurate. Right?

    (Full disclosure: PSU is my employer while I am teaching In Oregon this month.)

    Published on: July 19, 2012

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

    • Standard & Poors said yesterday that it expects Supervalu's "sales and profitability to erode more than we anticipated in fiscal 2013 and 2014 due to intense competition and the rollout of its more aggressive pricing strategy." The S&P said that the outlook for Supervalu is negative, and that this "reflects our view that execution risks related to its new pricing strategy could result in a greater-than-expected fall in profitability if sales improvement does not materialize; or a transaction to enhance shareholder value could further erode SUPERVALU's credit protection measures."

    I think they are grading on a curve.

    • The vast majority of consumers responding to a new survey by health and wellness manufacturer Vitacost.com, Inc. said that "they choose to eat gluten-free foods. Close to half of the 1,484 individuals who responded said they follow an exclusively gluten-free diet, while 38% choose 'some' gluten-free products. Those who don't eat gluten-free foods say the products are too expensive."

    According to the survey, "31% choose gluten-free foods because they see them as the 'healthier' option. Only 13% of those taking the survey said they had celiac disease."

    Also, I suspect, grading on a curve. Or at least working from a possibly non-representative sample...

    USA Today reports that Lay's potato chips "plans to cook one consumer's recipe into a potato chip and pay $1 million for it — or 1% of the flavor's net sales in 2013. It's the winner's choice." The story says that this effort described as "the ultimate crowd-sourcing stunt," will have a winner selected by a Facebook vote.

    Convenience Store News reports that Alimentation Couche-Tard plans to acquire 27 c-stores in eastern Washington State, from Sun Pacific Energy, which operates under the "Sun Mart" banner. Terms of the deal were not disclosed; the deal is expected to be finalize in November.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 19, 2012

    • Stater Bros. announced that David Harris has been promoted from senior VP finance to be senior VP finance/CFO/principal accounting officer.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 19, 2012

    I had class last night, and so did not have a chance to get through all the email. But "Your Views" will be back tomorrow...
    KC's View: