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    Published on: July 26, 2012

    This commentary is available as a video or in text form - the subject is the same, but the content is somewhat different. Enjoy either, or both.

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

    One of the real pleasures of coming to Portland is the chance to spend time at Powell's City of Books, one of the most amazing independent bookstores in the country. When I say "spend time," I mean it. I walk in meaning to spend a few minutes, but somehow it stretches to hours, just wandering the stacks, looking at both the used and new books. I may be an Amazon junkie, but I haven't completely lost my soul.

    Powell's has an initiative that I find very interesting, and that could be applicable to other retailing venues...

    The retailer has a subscription club that it says "delivers the best new books, with special attention to independent publishers. Signed first editions. Inventive, original sets. Exclusive printings.... "

    Every six weeks, subscribers get a package of books, as well as things like cookies and other goodies from local purveyors. The charge is $39.95 per shipment .... which, apparently, thousands of people are willing to pay for items over which they have no control.

    Sort of like the wine clubs to which I belong. I don't control what they send me, but I trust that they're going to send me great stuff, which they almost always do, and I end up getting educated in ways that I might not have otherwise.

    Same with the Powell's program. People are putting faith in the bookstore that they are going to be challenged, illuminated and entertained by their choices.

    That's a lot of faith to put in any retailer ... but in a lot of ways, that's the kind of relationship that a retailer of almost any venue should be aiming for.

    Imagine if your store had a list of people who were willing to pay real money to be send products that they believed would make their lives better, more interesting, more rewarding. Of course, that would be a pretty heavy load for the retailer to carry .... but wouldn't it be worth it?

    Especially for an independent retailer, facing competition on all sides and trying to figure how to create a differential advantage?

    I think so.

    You can check out the Powell's program, by the way, by clocking here.

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

    As always, you can access the archive of FaceTime commentaries on the MorningNewsBeat Channel on YouTube by clicking here.

    KC's View:

    Published on: July 26, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    Talk about the law of unintended consequences.

    National Public Radio the other day has a piece about something new to worry about for young people who were given hyphenate last names by parents concerned about gender equality.

    It seems that in some cases, men with hyphenate last names are falling in love with women who have hyphenate last names. Because of how they were raised, they believe in hyphenate last names. The problem is that if John Jones-Smith marries Mary Wilson-Black, they then have to deal with the possibility that they will be known as John and Mary Wilson-Black-Jones-Smith. Or some variation thereof.

    "Hyphenating has waned since its peak in the '80s and '90s, in part, experts say, because it's become less of a feminist statement and more of a bureaucratic nightmare," NPR writes. "But also — as most 'hyphens' will now tell you — it wasn't really sustainable anyway. Hyphenating was destined to hit a wall after one generation."

    One can only imagine what their email addresses will be.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 26, 2012

    The New York Times has a piece this morning about how big box retailers are tailoring their offerings as they look to push into urban markets - a necessity as more and more people move into cities and the retailers look for new ways to grow their bottom lines.

    "It is a significant shift from their approach in the past, when they tried to cram their big-box formats into cities, often prompting big fights," the story says. "This time, the retailers studied city dwellers with anthropological intensity and overhauled things as varied as store sizes (the city stores are a small fraction of the size of the suburban ones), packages (they must be compact enough for pedestrians) and signs (they are simple, so shoppers can get in and out within minutes)."

    The Times continues: "Retailers are now willing to come into cities on the cities’ terms — with all the zoning headaches, high rents and odd architecture — because that is where the growth is. Most large American cities are growing faster than their suburbs for the first time in almost a century, according to a Brookings Institution analysis of census results released last month, largely because young adults are choosing urban apartment life. That population shift, along with Internet competition, have made the car-focused, big-box model less relevant."

    And so retailers - including Walmart, Target, and Office Depot - have to create formats that are relevant to this expanding shopper base, with appropriate selections that are edited to reflect neighborhoods, and ease of shopping that will appeal to these dazzling urbanites.
    KC's View:
    We're going to be seeing a lot of these stories in coming days because of the new City Target stores that are opening. In the end, these stores will be successful if they can get the assortment right ... especially in places like New York City, where often different neighborhoods can seem like different countries. A lot of big retailers aren't set up for that - it goes against their corporate DNA and runs contrary to their preference for lowest-common-denominator marketing.

    But maybe they can make it work. But they have to get it right the first time, because urban consumers may not give them a second chance if they get it wrong. They simply have too many other options.

    Published on: July 26, 2012

    The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is saying that the "record-setting drought scorching the Midwest" is likely to result in food price increases of three to four percent next year, with poultry, beef and milk prices "expected to rise more quickly than historical averages."

    However, the story notes, "Food prices these days represent a relatively small slice of consumers' daily living expenses—about 14%. And a drop in energy prices in recent months has brought overall inflation down. That means the price increases might not have a major effect on growth."
    KC's View:
    Good thing that global warming is a myth. Because if it were real, we'd be screwed.

    BTW...Congress is expected to take up the issue of drought relief at some point. But since this is an election year, and politicians seem temperamentally unable to agree on anything anyway, if I were a farmer I wouldn't count on any help from Washington.

    Published on: July 26, 2012

    • The Associated Press reports that the Center for Independent Living and two disabled individuals have filed a federal lawsuit against Walmart, charging that the retailer "refuses to make payment machines accessible to customers who use wheelchairs and scooters."

    According to the story, the plaintiffs say that Walmart "knowingly placed point-of-sale terminals beyond the reach of disabled customers at many of its more than 200 stores in California — in violation of state law and the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act."

    Walmart did not respond directly to the lawsuit, but did say that its "goal is that every point-of-sale machine be accessible within the regulations of the (Americans with Disabilities Act) and California law."
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 26, 2012

    The Chicago Tribune reports that the City Council there has voted 45-1 to approve a measure to expand food truck offerings.

    According to the story, "the ordinance would allow cooking aboard trucks, longer operational hours and special food truck stands in busy neighborhoods. Last-minute changes last week included banning operation between 2 and 5 a.m. rather than allowing 24-hour service and prohibiting operation in vacant lots even with the property owner's permission.

    "The main objection of food truck advocates is a requirement that the trucks stay 200 feet away from restaurants, except in certain locations. Beth Kregor, director of the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago, said last week that the rule gives special protection to restaurants at the expense of trucks."
    KC's View:
    I didn't have much experience with food trucks before coming to Portland a month ago, but now I can really see both sides of this issue. I think that restaurant owners have every right to push for rules that restrict how close they can be to their locations; that just seems fair. But I also think that food trucks can add a sense of entrepreneurial vigor and culinary adventure to a city, and I've really enjoyed them. So a balance has to be found ... which seems to be what has happened in Chicago.

    Published on: July 26, 2012

    Advertising Age reports that when the New York City Board of Health convened a meeting earlier this week to hear public comment on Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed ban on the sale by restaurants of jumbo sugary soft drinks, it got a packed house and an extended session.

    "Early on," the story says, "a number of elected officials made passionate cases for why they opposed the ban. But as the hearing progressed, a number of university professors and public-health officials came out in support of the ban. More than 30 had spoken by the three-hour mark, with over half in support of the ban."

    The board is expected to rule on the proposal in September. Since all the members have been appointed by the Mayor, nobody will be surprised if they approve it.

    "If the ban is instituted, Ad Age writes, "it would be Mayor Bloomberg's most aggressive move yet to curb obesity rates and improve New Yorkers' health. Many of the measures adopted in New York have become models for other cities, such as restrictions on smoking and trans fats and the requirement that restaurants post calorie counts next to prices. The city has also been extremely aggressive in running graphic advertisements that criticize smoking and the consumption of sugary beverages. Mayor Bloomberg also supported a state tax on sodas and other sugary drinks, though that effort failed."
    KC's View:
    I understand all the good and honorable reasons why a ban makes sense, but I just cannot wrap my head around the idea that a ban is appropriate, that government ought to be putting limits on soft drink sizes. I would never drink one, but that ought to be my decision.

    Published on: July 26, 2012

    The Chicago Tribune reports that "a Chicago alderman wants to kill Chick-fil-A's plans to build a restaurant in his increasingly trendy Northwest Side ward because the fast-food chain's top executive vocally opposes gay marriage.

    "If you are discriminating against a segment of the community, I don't want you in the 1st Ward," says Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno.

    "Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, when asked about the issue. "They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents. This would be a bad investment, since it would be empty."

    Meanwhile, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino told the Boston Herald he would block the chain from opening in his city, saying in a letter to Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A, that the city is "full of pride for our support of same-sex marriage and our work to expand freedom to all people. We are proud that our state and our city have led the way for the country on equal marriage rights...There is no place for discrimination on Boston's Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it."

    As previously reported here on MNB, Cathy told the Baptist Press in an interview that the company is "guilty as charged" for being anti gay marriage, adding that "we are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit.… We are a family owned business, a family led business, and we are married to our first wives."
    KC's View:
    At this moment, I feel sort of like Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Part Three. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in...

    I've decided to do this story not because I want to reignite the discussion that we were having last week, but because a lot of MNB readers send me links to the stories about Chicago and Boston.

    This is, in fact, the only reason that I brought up the story to begin with. Dan Cathy took a position, which is his right. He put his privately held company right in the middle of a contentious cultural debate, and now he's going to have to deal with the consequences. I gather they've already lost a marketing deal with the Muppets, with the Jim Henson Company deciding to sever their relationship because of the comments. (I did sort have to smile of the poster that showed Kermit the Frog and a caption that said, "He'll eat flies, but he won't Chick-fil-A.")

    I suspect Dan Cathy is okay with all this. He's comfortable with his position, he believes in what he says, and he could give a damn if he's lambasted by the media, boycotted by a segment of the population, and spurned by a bunch of sock puppets. And he probably figures that whatever business he loses from one demographic, he'll pick up from another.

    I've made my position clear on this issue, but I do have to say that I am uncomfortable with governments denying zoning and building permits because of the political/cultural beliefs of a private citizen and corporation. If he obeys the law, pays his taxes and follows all the rules, then he ought to be able to open fast food outlets in places where they are allowed.

    If a Chicago alderman and the mayor of Chicago don't want to eat there, that's their right. If they want to organize or participate in a boycott, that's also their right. But blocking a perfectly legal business from operating because of an owner's political/cultural beliefs ... well, that's one step farther than I think they should go.

    Published on: July 26, 2012

    • Whole Foods yesterday announced that it plans to open 70 stores over the next two years, in addition to the 25 being unveiled this year. The company currently operates 329 units.

    The announcement came as Whole Foods said that its third quarter net income was up 32 percent to $116.8 million, that total sales for the quarter rose almost 14 percent to $2.7 billion, and that same-store sales were up 8.2 percent.

    Co-CEO Walter Robb tells Reuters that so-called "bigger basket" customers - those who buy more items and spend more per visit - increased purchases during the quarter.

    • The Orange County Register reports that Safeway-owned Vons in Southern California is dropping its double coupon program, effective August 1.

    "The grocery business is highly competitive and we frequently refine our promotions based on the market. That said, effective August 1, we will no longer be accepting double coupons," company spokesman Carlos Illingworth told the Register.

    As a replacement, the story says, "the chain is pushing consumers to try its new Just for U program. Launched in January, the mobile app allows customers to load digital coupons, view weekly ads and build personal shopping lists."

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that the city of El Monte, California, "faced with a crippling combination of low revenues, high labor costs and decreasing funding from the state ... is moving to declare a fiscal emergency and seek a tax on sugary beverages sold within the city."

    According to the story, "El Monte officials said they are not at the edge of bankruptcy but need the sugary drinks tax revenue as a protection against insolvency down the road."
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 26, 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: