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    Published on: August 15, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary is out with its newest edition, and, as usual, the newest words included in the tome are a reflection of how the world is changing.

    Like "flexitarian." "Energy drink." "Life coach." And "sexting."

    Slate, however, points out another term that makes the dictionary for the first time:

    "F-bomb."

    Apparently, in tracing the origins of the term, the dictionary editors found that it was Gary Carter, the great New York Mets and Montreal Expos catcher, who apparently used it the first time.

    Carter, who rarely swore, told a sportswriter that he'd only been thrown out of games twice in his life, that it was by the same umpire, and that it happened when he dropped "the f-bomb."

    Carter died last year of cancer at age 57. It now appears that he will be remembered forever by Mets fans, by visitors to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and by anyone who peruses the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary.

    It's an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 15, 2012

    Reuters reports this morning that Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), ranking member of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee, and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California), ranking member of the House Energy Committee, have sent a letter to Walmart CEO saying that "they have obtained new internal records that may point to evidence of tax evasion and money laundering."

    According to the story, the letter says, in part: "We have obtained internal company documents, including internal audit reports, from other sources suggesting that Wal-Mart may have had compliance issues relating not only to bribery, but also to 'questionable financial behavior' including tax evasion and money laundering in Mexico."

    The Congressmen launched their own investigation earlier this year after the New York Times published a lengthy report detailing what it said was systemic and systematic bribery of local officials in Mexico as Walmart worked to expand its footprint and sales there. Yesterday, both Waxman and Cummings said that Walmart had not cooperated with their review, though Walmart is said to be conducting its own probe while cooperating with both the US Department of Justice and the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

    Brooke Buchanan, a Walmart spokesperson, respond to the letter by saying that the company is still conducting a "thorough and independent investigation into allegations relating to corporate conduct."
    KC's View:
    This was entirely predictable, because it always seemed unlikely that, if the original accusations were true, Walmart only threw a little money around south of the border to expedite legal matters like building permits. If nothing else, people who know about such things were suggesting that Walmart would likely face some accounting questions, because it is unlikely that the word "bribes" was going to show up in its ledgers.

    Again, it remains possible that Walmart will be able to explain away any issues and get away with a slap on the wrist. But maybe not.

    "Follow the money," Deep Throat says to Bob Woodward in All The President's Men. Let's see where it leads...

    Published on: August 15, 2012

    The Wall Street Journal reports that a number of major retailers - including Walmart, Hy-Vee, Best Buy, CVS, 7-Eleven and Target - are teaming up to develop a mobile payment network called the Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX) that will enable shoppers to use their smartphones to make purchases.

    No launch date has been set, no CEO has yet been hired for the business, and the companies are not saying how much money each one is throwing into the pot. However, as the Journal writes, "Financial institutions and technology firms are pouring billions of dollars into the development of mobile-payment systems that operate as so-called digital wallets.

    "While few shoppers use their phones as mobile-payment devices, industry executives are convinced that consumers eventually will be just as comfortable buying with their phones as they now are when using credit cards and debit cards.

    "The technology relies on applications that a customer can download onto a smartphone and then make purchases in a store by tapping the phone against a reader placed by the cash register.

    "Mobile-payment transactions are expected to surge to an estimated $600 billion world-wide by 2016, up from $172 billion this year, according to market-research firm Gartner Inc. A Federal Reserve report in March said 87% of Americans have a mobile phone. Nearly half of those are smartphones, cellphones with computer applications and Internet access."

    It was just days ago that Starbucks announced that it is investing $25 million in Square, another mobile payments network. And Google also is in the mobile payments business, with the Google Wallet application that runs on Android smart phones.

    The Journal writes: "All the mobile-payments efforts now under way are aimed at satisfying growing demand from consumers, particularly younger ones, for payments that are less cumbersome and faster. Merchants believe that building such electronic systems will deepen customer loyalty. By setting up their own system, the merchants in MCX also are counting on leveraging existing relationships with customers to get them accustomed to paying with a phone."
    KC's View:
    Everybody wants to get into the act, as Jimmy Durante used to say, but it seems to me that there is a downside to all these competing visions of what a mobile-payment system should be.

    Will I want to have all these different apps running on my iPhone?

    I'm not sure. I suppose that there could come a time when I will choose what retailer I patronize based on which mobile payments system it runs. I also suppose that there is the potential for a VHS-vs.-Beta type of battle here, and I'm not sure that consumers or most retailers win from such a fight.

    Published on: August 15, 2012

    The Cincinnati Business Courier reports that Kroger is putting "self-use health-screening kiosks in all of its 1,950 pharmacy locations," allowing customers free access to technology that can "measure blood pressure, weight, body composition, body mass index, color vision and the ability to upload blood glucose numbers and other biometric data."

    Customers also can create personal health record accounts, which can be accessed at Kroger.com.

    The system has been in a 275-store pilot phase since January. The full rollout is expected to be completed by early 2013.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 15, 2012

    The Los Angeles Times reports that "home improvement giants such as Home Depot Inc. and Lowe's Cos. are ramping up their customer service in a big way, and it's paying off in sales, profits and shopper satisfaction. Over the last year, the price of Home Depot shares have increased 74% and Lowe's shares have gained 35% ... The big home improvement companies have been busy directing store clerks to spend more time with customers, improving the information and advice they offer in online catalogs, installing Wi-Fi computer service in stores and improving do-it-yourself instructions. They are coming up with ways to reach consumers with smaller budgets through multiple avenues, mostly online.

    "How-to workshops have largely moved to YouTube channels, and photos on Facebook and Pinterest, an online photo-sharing pin board, have replaced clippings from a magazine or catalog."

    In part, the story suggests, Home Depot and Lowe's improved their service because of perceptions that smaller hardware chains like Ace Hardware were far better in this arena (though, to be fair, Lowe's never had the kind of poor service image that Home Depot developed during the short and tumultuous reign of Robert Nardelli when he tried to cut his way to prosperity and only managed to get himself onto the CNBC list of "worst American CEOs of all time").

    A key for Home Depot's cultural shift has been its Customers First initiative, which "includes store 'power hours,' when orange-vest-clad associates will drop what they're doing during high-traffic times and actively seek customers who aren't already being helped. Employees are also trained to analyze the customer's basket and cart to see what may be missing in order to complete a task."

    The other problem for these chains was the recession, which led to less construction work being done. Sales dropped, and they needed to find a way to get them back.
    KC's View:
    The Home Depot experience, it seems to me, proves that a retailer can change its culture, can make customer service work without being perceived as way overpriced - all you need is the right leadership, the right strategy, and the will to make it work.

    Published on: August 15, 2012

    USA Today writes that a number of schools are pushing students to go the e-textbook route, theorizing that they will be less expensive and less cumbersome than traditional schoolbooks. However, students are pushing back - in part because the price difference isn't all that great, and in part because they find printed versions easier to study from (and often find themselves printing out copies from the e-book editions).

    Schools are responding to the resistance by working to negotiate better prices with publishers for e-books, as well as mandating e-textbooks in some classes to force the issue and get students acclimated to the change.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 15, 2012

    ABC News reports that an American scientist says that he is close to creating a commercially viable formula for laboratory-grown beef.

    Hungarian-born Gabor Forgacs, of the University of Missouri, the story says, has been able to use things he learned doing research into the creation of replacement tissue and organs for humans into technology that can make artificial meat - albeit meat that, at the beginning, will be priced like Kobe beef and marketed to a niche group of potential buyers.

    "This product isn't going to be for the masses at the beginning, it's going to be for eco-conscious people and people who don't eat meat for ethical reasons," says Forgacs. In addition, he says, the artificial meat could be used in a wide range of products where the presence of "real" meat is not required or too expensive.

    "The rules of the game of meat production are not the same as they were 100 years ago," says Forgacs. "It's not sustainable. We are destroying this planet with intensive meat production. Seventy percent of arable land today is one way or another connected to animals through grazing animals or growing food for them. We're running out of it ... What we're doing is a transformational idea. We're going to produce something that is not exactly the same but it is going to be cost efficient and much less harmful to the environment."
    KC's View:
    Forgacs gets real credit for the "not exactly the same" line, because unlike the GMO crowd, he's not trying to pass something off as being exactly the same when it is not.

    I have no problem with artificial meat being commercially available. (At least, I don't think I do. Someone may dissuade me.) Just label it. Clearly and accurately. Let shoppers decide.

    Published on: August 15, 2012

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

    Reuters reports that Kraft Foods' board of directors have formally approved the October 1spinoff of its North American grocery business, which will continue tom operate under the Kraft Foods Group name. The global snacks business, as previously reported, will be renamed Mondelez International.

    • The Chicago Sun Times reports that Moo & Oink, the iconic Chicago meat purveyor that went into bankruptcy last year, is back with a new corporate brand chef and some new products in the pipeline.

    Mychael Bonner, who also is a partner and executive chef at four Lettuce Entertain You restaurants, reportedly is developing new products for the brand, including a dry rub. Moo & Oink was bought out of bankruptcy last December by Best Chicago Meat LLC.

    Good to see Moo & Oink back. The world is better off - not to mention tastier - when such brands are not relegated to the scrapheap.

    ai-cio.com reports that "rating agency Fitch is concerned about the risks of multiemployer pension plans (MEPP) to participating companies’ solvency, and has calculated the nine firms most exposed to these typically 'significantly underfunded' plans."

    The firms on the list include Safeway, Supervalu, Kroger, Dean Foods, Rite Aid, and Del Monte.

    According to the story, "With multiemployer pension plans, participating companies and their employees bear the risk of investment losses despite having limited control over plan administration and investment decisions. Fitch’s report further noted that 'when a participating employer files for Chapter 11 or liquidates, that employer’s share of the funding shortfall would land on the remaining employers in the plan to the extent it is not recovered in the courts'."

    Reuters reports that "French retailer Auchan has signed a franchise agreement with India's Max Hypermarket to enter the country with its retail operations ... Max, which is run by Dubai-based Landmark Group, operates 13 hypermarkets in India. These stores will be rebranded 'Auchan' in the fourth quarter of the current fiscal year ending March 2013," and the companies plan to open a dozen or more new stores under the banner in India each year.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 15, 2012

    Fast Company had an interesting story the other day about the importance of a company "mantra," which is defined as "a Sanskrit term, meaning 'sacred utterance' or 'sacred thought,' depending on the dictionary. Traditionally concentration aids given by Hindu gurus to devotees, mantras are words or phrases repeated to facilitate transformation. In business, a mantra is akin to a motto, albeit more fundamental to a company's internal purpose than simply a marketing slogan. It's concise, repeatable, and core to a company's existence ... Unlike mission statements, mantras are pivot-proof. They transcend current target markets and quarterly quotas."

    Or, to put it another way: "Make it short, sweet, and swallowable," says author Guy Kawasaki.

    Examples cited in the story:

    "Think different." (Apple)

    "Don't be evil." (Google)

    "Make something you love." (Huge, a digital agency)

    "Style to the people." (Stylecaster, a fashion website)

    A mantra, the story suggests, is necessary because it is "the guiding star, not the operating manual." And every company needs a guiding star.

    This has me thinking. While MNB always has been built around the phrase, "news in context, analysis with attitude," it sounds like the folks at Fast Company would define that as a mission statement. Not a mantra.

    Which makes me think it is time for a contest...

    Come up with an original mantra for MNB, and if you create the winner, you get an MNB goodie box, which includes a t-shirt with that mantra printed on it, an autographed copy of "The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies," and an MNB canvas shopping bag and an MNB canvas wine bag.

    We already have well over 100 entries, but the contest will remain open for a couple of weeks. One suggestion ... remember that the mantra is for MNB, which is not a retailer. (Some of the suggestions received to this point would be wonderful retail mantras, but are not really about what MNB does.)

    Let the games continue...
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 15, 2012

    Kate McMahon is off this week. Her column will return next Wednesday.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 15, 2012

    ...will return.
    KC's View: