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    Published on: September 11, 2012

    by Michael Sansolo

    There’s a cute new cartoon I’ve seen on line. It depicts a stern-looking woman who has just buried a hatchet in her computer monitor. The caption reads, “Election season has been a great opportunity to whittle down my Facebook friends.”

    Even the most casual user of Facebook is likely seeing the same for the past couple of weeks: the usual banality of Facebook postings at times turns ugly. It starts with a posting extolling or disparaging President Obama or Gov. Romney (or other Democrats and Republicans) and devolves into what can best be described as a shouting match.

    I’ve seen friends post remorseful statements that they will never mention politics again; that political discussions have caused them to “un-friend” someone; or requests that others refrain from posting anything about politics on their wall. And frequently, I see many of those cartoons from SomeEcards (like the one mentioned earlier) such as the drawing of a sad woman coming to grips with troubling political statements from Facebook friends.

    In truth, it had to happen. This is the first election in the age of everyone sharing everything. For decades we’ve all had friends who wore buttons, displayed bumper stickers and posted lawn signs for candidates we either liked or disliked. Somehow we always got by.

    So why is it different in the world of social media?

    Maybe it’s due to the intensely negative nature of the current campaign. Maybe it’s the thinking that “my wall is my wall and I don’t want your opinions on it.” Or maybe it represents something new. I’m thinking it’s the latter.

    The interconnected world of social media allows us to know an incredible amount about people we loosely call “friends” and we don’t always agree. I have friends who are openly fans of the Yankees and Red Sox; the Packers and Bears; and even Star Wars and Star Trek. In this new world, we know it all.

    For businesses, this may not be a laughing matter, especially if your value equation isn’t strong enough to outweigh other passions. With information so readily available, today’s shoppers can easily determine if a company donates to or supports one candidate or another. Consider the show of support for Chick-Fil-A this summer following the owner’s comments on same sex marriage. Consider just how much or little Costco suffers for the very high-profile speech by founder Jim Sinegal at the recent Democratic National Convention. I’m betting that long term both companies do fine because of Chick-Fil-A’s sandwiches and Costco’s high quality products. But for companies with weaker points of distinction the impact could have been enormous.

    So in today’s work, it pays to keep in mind that the information is all out there. Everyone’s entitled to opinions - including on politics - but there’s a time and place for everything. I’m hoping that we will learn quickly that absolutely no one agrees with us 100% of the time and that a diverse circle of friends is a good way to go. But I’m not sure that happens between now and November.

    My son astutely pointed out the problem of Too Much Information when he entered college four years ago. Thanks to Facebook he could suddenly find out everything possible about a girl he might be interested in dating. And frequently, he would find those areas of difference, which in my son’s case eliminates all Yankee fans. Sometimes a little ignorance can be bliss.

    Luckily for him, his girlfriend decided to adopt the Mets. Your business should only be that lucky.

    Remember, everyone is watching.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 11, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    To be honest, I struggle each year with what to write on September 11.

    Living in a suburb of New York City, I have vivid and personal memories of that day 11 years ago, that crisp and gorgeous September morning that quickly devolved into a kind of hell. People I knew died in the attack on the World Trade Center. We attended funerals. And every time I go into New York City, or travel to the airport, I am aware of the empty space in the Manhattan skyline, and the emptiness in so many people's lives that was created that September day.

    I remember how, working on another website at the time (that would quickly go out of business within weeks of the attack), it was extraordinary how readers closed ranks and shared their feelings online in enormously personal and compelling ways. They expressed solidarity and compassion, mourning and disbelief, and did it in a kind of emotionally naked way that, for me, changed the way I viewed the internet and what I wanted to do with my little segment of it.

    Words never seem to suffice on this morning every year. The days and months pass, and the events of 9-11 seem ever distant, but it is not hard conjure up the vivid memories of that tragic day., and to recall even the physical sensations attached to them. Sense memory, they call it in the theatre.

    Even today, so little of what happened that day makes any sense at all. Except that our eyes were opened not just to the vulnerability that sometimes is the cost in living in a free society, but to how, even in the worst of times, we can show the best of ourselves.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 11, 2012

    The New York Times reports on how Amazon and Google "are waging a war to become the pre-eminent online mall. And e-commerce sites large and small are caught in the cross-fire. As for consumers, the question is whether they will see a full range of products available online."

    The story notes that there is a fascinating dual metamorphosis taking place: "Google is a search engine, not a store, but it is increasingly inching into e-commerce with products like its comparison-shopping service, Google Shopping. At the same time, more people are using Amazon, a retailer, as a search engine to look for what they want to buy."

    To this point, it seems to be a battle that Amazon is winning:

    "In 2009, nearly a quarter of shoppers started research for an online purchase on a search engine like Google and 18 percent started on Amazon, according to a Forrester Research study. By last year, almost a third started on Amazon and just 13 percent on a search engine. Product searches on Amazon have grown 73 percent over the last year while searches on Google Shopping have been flat, according to comScore."

    As a way of competing more effectively, the Times writes, "Google has recently changed Google Shopping to require e-commerce companies to pay to be included in shopping results, so product listings are now ads. Inclusion used to be free." The company apparently feels that this shift will provide more targeted and accurate shopping information to consumers.
    KC's View:
    Don't know about you, when when I'm thinking of buying anything online, the first place I go to is Amazon. In fact, I often go there for research purposes, looking for a quote or a reference that I can integrate into a column, or at least some piece of information that can point me in the right direction.

    The thing about Amazon is how transparent the pricing is - you know what they are charging, what third party retailers are charging for the same item, and can work from there. And, of course, the user reviews are equally transparent. It is a good lesson for every retailer about what is necessary to compete in today's marketplace.

    Published on: September 11, 2012

    The Chicago Tribune reports that Ahold-owned Peapod, the online grocery service, plans to open "three locations in the Chicago area this year where customers can pick up their orders rather than waiting for home delivery."

    While Peapod is associated with bricks-and-mortar retailing in markets where Ahold has stores, in Chicago the company has always been a kind of pure-play offering online ordering and delivery services.

    It is only in the last couple of weeks that Peapod has started testing a pick-up model - first at a Stop & Shop store in the Boston area, and now with planned locations in Palatine, Schaumburg, and Deerfield, Illinois.

    The story notes that "the freestanding pick-up locations will be the company's second experiment this year to broaden its customer base. In May, it rolled out interactive grocery store 'shelves' at the CTA's State and Lake station. Consumers were able to use their smart phones to scan and buy items and have them delivered the next day. That program ended in July but a new version of it is expected in the fall."
    KC's View:
    The lesson here is clear. To compete for today's customers, one has to offer a broad suite of services. It is giving the customer what she wants, where she wants it, how she wants it, at a price she thinks is appropriate. This may be the only approach to being relevant in today's retail environment.

    Published on: September 11, 2012

    The Indianapolis Star has a story about how some retailers - no doubt encouraged by retailers like the Apple Store - are beginning to do away with stationary checkout counters and are launching mobile checkouts that let customers pay for merchandise anywhere in the store through clerks who use handheld devices and apps."

    In addition to Apple, Nordstrom already is doing it. And the story says that as JC Penney rolls out its new and redesigned stores, that will be part of the technology package being worked into the design. It will be available at all JC Penney's stores by the end of 2013.

    "This is the road to the extinction of the cash register," Richard Feinberg, professor of consumer sciences and retailing at Purdue University, tells the . "We have just gotten on the highway and not yet reached 65 miles per hour, but it will happen -- sooner rather than later."
    KC's View:
    Of course the traditional cash register is going to go away. Just a matter of time. At some point, they'll be about as useful as eight-track tape players.

    Published on: September 11, 2012

    Whole Foods announced that after months of competition by more than 300 professional butchers from the company, it has crowed a winner in its 2012 national Best Butcher competition - Armand Ferrante, a Whole Foods Market butcher from Middletown, N.J.

    The announcement says that "Ferrante cut and carved his way to the Best Butcher national championship, where he went head-to-head with two other finalists ... The Jersey Boneless Short Rib, the new 'cut' Ferrante created for the contest, will be featured in all Whole Foods Market stores starting Sept. 15, for $8.99 per pound.

    "Armand also won a trip to Iceland's Food & Fun Festival (February 2013, Reykjavik) and a year's worth of bragging rights."
    KC's View:
    Really? This guy wins a contest, and his prize is to go Iceland in February? What the hell did the second place finisher get?

    Wait. I know.

    "Second place is a set of steak knives. Third place is you're fired."

    Published on: September 11, 2012

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

    • The Associated Press reports that "the price of coffee is skyrocketing on speculation that Colombia’s harvest will be smaller than expected for the fourth straight year ... Although Brazil’s coffee crop appears headed toward a robust harvest, Colombia’s crop was hampered by heavy rainfall that caused delays earlier in the season."

    QSR Magazine reports that "according to recent Mintel research, in 2011, the ice cream and frozen novelty market emerged from two years of struggling sales and posted a 4.1 percent increase over the previous year (retail sales of $10.7 billion) and is poised for continued growth of another 4 percent in 2012 ... Not surprisingly, reduced fat (38 percent), reduced sugar (38 percent), and reduced calorie (36 percent) are the most important claims consumers are looking for on the packaging of their favorite frozen treat. However, gluten-free and dairy-free products are rapidly growing in popularity, with 14 percent and 15 percent of Mintel respondents saying they are 'very or somewhat important' to them."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 11, 2012

    • Under new CEO Wayne Sales, Supervalu continues to make executive moves designed to make the company's operations more effective. This time it is at Supervalu's Farm Fresh chain in Virginia, where division president Gaelo de la Fuente has left the company, to be replaced on an interim basis by Bill Parker, Farm Fresh's SVP merchandising.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 11, 2012

    • Richard William La Trace, Sr., the former president of Delchamps, passed away on September 3. He was 75.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 11, 2012

    I often write here about the importance of people on the front lines of retailing, and how they are the most important people in any retail organization because they are the ones who interface with shoppers and populate the store environment. But one MNB user has some concerns about this philosophy:

    You have made this point so many times that I need to express my concerns.  I understand that you want to emphasize the importance of the people who face the customer everyday and it true that they hold a critical role--but the statement should makes no sense to anyone who has worked in the retail food business.  You say the people on the front lines are “most responsible.”  I would say that the people on the front lines are very important since they are the people who take care of the customers needs and convey the company’s culture, and are certainly no less important than the people who work at headquarters.

    However, from the category manager who ensures a steady supply of high quality produce to the warehouse worker who ensures that the product ordered gets to the store, everyone is important and has a critical role in meeting the customer’s needs.  I recognize that there is often misperceptions from headquarter associates about store associates, and store associates regarding office associates but in well run companies everyone must work together to support taking care of the customer.  Accounting, Finance, Marketing, Human Resources, Operations and Merchandising are all important—and I am not sure any department can operate without the other.

    I certainly don't mean to diminish the importance of all the people who work in retail organizations. But...

    I always go back to the great Feargal Quinn, who founded the iconic irish chain Superquinn. From the beginning, he mandated that the company's headquarters would be called the "support office," and anyone in the company who called in "headquarters" had to pay a small fine.

    And, I think about the words and actions of Jim Donald, who at companies like Starbucks and Pathmark helped to create and nurture front line-oriented cultures, and in doing so had a profound effect on the people who worked there. (Jim is one of those guys who, I've discovered, has legions of people who would follow him into battle; he's the person you want next to you in a foxhole. And he's one of the few people that I'd even consider giving up MNB to work for.)

    I get your point about a totality of organizational strength. But for me, the foundation is the store, and the employees there have to be treated like a retailer's most valuable assets.

    MNB yesterday took note of a new report released by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service, saying that at times during 2011, one out of ten US households were unable to provide their children with "adequate, nutritious" food. The Washington Post story about it said that "this translates into more than 16.6 million children — or 22 percent of all American kids — who lived in households that could not adequately feed them."

    For my part, I think this is appalling and unconscionable, and while the 2011 numbers did not change much from 2010, I wrote that this "strikes me as cold comfort in a supposedly civilized nation where people like to congratulate themselves for their exceptionalism."

    One MNB user responded:

    A comprehensive survey should be done so those of us with adequate food security better understand what the living situations of the hungry are. We would address this problem better if we understood as a society what the range of choices have been that got them to this point—as well as what they choose to buy BEFORE they think about food—IF that really happens.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    While I had read the actual USDA report on food insecurity, I had not read the Washington Post story until I read today's MNB.  I was about to call you out on giving bad numbers, but found out that the article itself misrepresented some and outright made up others.  While any single child going without food for a day in a country as wasteful as our is unacceptable I don't think we get anywhere by misrepresenting the problem as Tim Carman did in his article.

    To frame up the numbers we need to know that the USDA defines "food insecure" as having a worry that you can not provide adequate healthy food for any period of time (by the vagueness of the question it could be interpreted as one minute out of a year).  If any eating habits were actually disrupted it is called "very low food security".  With those definitions understood the numbers from the report show that 14.9% of all households or 10% of households with children.  If we look at where eating habits were disrupted at any point throughout the year the numbers are 5.7% of all households or 1.0% of households with children.  The report also states that in the 1% of households with children, the "children are usually shielded from disrupted eating patterns".

    This is still too many children, and adults for that matter worrying or going without, but I think it goes to your transparency theme.  I also find personally that sometimes if a problem is too daunting many people start to feel overwhelmed.  While this is by no means a small issue no matter what numbers you see I do think that by being accurate in defining the problem we are in a better position to do something about it.

    From another reader:

    Agree that it is a bad number… no doubt a legacy of our 2% growth economy. Recently I read that HD TV ownership levels among households getting food stamps is about the same as the rest of the population. This may say that the issue isn't just one of funds availability but more one of spending priority. The projected image seems to be one of hard working parents unable to make ends meet. I'm sure that is the case in some instances. But there also may be an element of selfish parents/guardians who spend on their own pleasures as opposed to nurturing their family.

    And still another MNB user wrote:

    First let me say that my wife and I annually host a Bake Sale to support Harvesters our local food bank.  This year’s event was our 9th annual event and our best to date!  We typically raise $1200-$1500 that goes directly to Harvester’s Back Snack program which helps kids after school and over the weekends.  With the help of lots of friends and neighbors, we strongly support this cause.

    What was eye opening to me are two things, the numbers, and the lack of news coverage.  The reported 8.2% National Unemployment seems grossly misrepresented and incongruous compared to 22% of our kids with food insecurity.  I’m sorry but the math doesn’t add up to me.  Add to that the fact that roughly 40% of all households have no kids and you start to get a truer picture of the desperate nature of economy.  Why are we satisfied with the Official reporting of our unemployment rate from our government when it is clearly worse?  Why don’t we demand a better number?

    Second, It seems that today’s modern day recession isn’t receiving the same media attention that the Great Depression did.  Where are the images of lines at the soup kitchen that we see so often when reporters reference the Great Depression?  I think that we as a nation are in denial.  Denial about poverty, inflation, the national debt, and our education system just to name a few.  It seems that in today’s political climate our government, and the media to a large degree seem complicit in keeping us in the dark and from knowing the real truth.  It wasn’t that long ago that the government “adjusted” how they calculate the rate of inflation.  Why would they do that do you think?  I doubt it was to give us a better more accurate number.

    Education in my view is the only way to combat poverty and unfortunately the system we have is failing our kids just as it did the parents of today’s hungry kids.  I love my country and consider myself a patriot and to watch the decline of our nation is disheartening.  It makes me angry to see how my hard earned tax dollars get squandered.  I guess higher taxes wouldn’t bother me so much if I thought they were doing any good.  Having a government that doesn’t lie to me about the unemployment and inflation rate would be a good start.

    For the record, I don't think I read, heard or watched any new stories about the unemployment rate last week that did not include the observation that the actual number was far worse, and that the 8.1 percent number was arrived at by specific calculations that did not include a lot of people. So I'm not sure it is entirely fair to say that the media is hiding anything. (And, for that matter, the government is simply using formulas that I'm guessing have been around for a long time. And since even the government numbers include the formulas used for reaching them, it is hard to accuse them of lying.)

    As with any numbers, it is possible to slice and dice them in a variety of different ways. And it is always possible to be cynical about the reasons behind the problem, to question how a nation like ours can simultaneously have obesity and hunger issues, or observe that some parents are negligent in how they nurture their children.

    For me, it is very simple. I think that allowing any child in this country to be hungry is a disgrace.

    Speaking of nurturing children, got the following email from an MNB user about a related subject that comes up here from time to time:

    I hate reading comments on how parents and students have been suckered into getting college loans.  Loaning or giving kids money is like giving a gun to a monkey.  Kids should put themselves through college using all the free money opportunities and working.  The worst thing a parent can do is to save money up  for their kid's college.  It only goes to destroy any free financial aid money they could have gotten.  Kids who get loans for college, easy to recognize. They lounging around Starbucks playing Facebook.  Kids without loans are behind the counter pouring coffee.

    I learned the hard way with the first kid.  We saved, she saved, only to find out the free money goes to kids with no money.  So we made sure the next kid had no money in his name.  Both kids worked while their counterparts lounged in Starbucks spending the money on expensive coffee drinks and napping in the chairs.  Now both kids have Master's degree and it didn't cost me a dime. I have no sympathy for parents who bitch about the cost of college or kids who can't repay their loans.

    I firmly believe in kids working their way through school and contributing to the cost of their educations. I think a strong work ethic is critical to success, and that it always helps for a kid to have skin in the game.

    That said...I also believe that for parents who can afford it, there is no greater gift that one can give a child than an education, and the ability to be as loan-free as possible once college is over. And I believe that there should be the ability for families without means to get college aid, and cheap, federally-subsidized college loans are one of the best investments that our government can make.

    But it strikes me as morally reprehensible for a family of means to create a situation in which it appears that it has no money so that its children can get financial aid that really could and should be going to kids who really don't have the ability to go to college. It is people who game the system like this who create cynicism about how the system works, and hurt people who really need help.

    In fact, it almost sounds like fraud. Maybe not legal fraud, but certainly a kind of ethical and moral fraud.

    And what does it say about a person when he is willing to brag about it?

    On another subject, from an MNB reader:

    KC, you made me LOL this am as you described Starbuck’s plan to place coffee vending machines in petrol stations in the UK as possibly tarnishing its premium brand as becoming “ubiquitous”! When I can walk down many streets in U.S cities and find at least 2-3 Starbucks stores within a block of one another (some literally across the street from each other), I think their brand is ubiquitous in the U.S. But, you point was regarding brand and their brand remains strong even with their introduction of instant coffee (Via)!

    I certainly did not mean to suggest that Starbucks is not ubiquitous now. But I guess I'm wondering exactly how far the brand equity can be stretched, and I think it is a legitimate question to ask.

    On the subject of Ben & Jerry's filing a lawsuit against the porn producers releasing a series of "Ben & Cherry's" adult videos, one MNB user wrote:

    A friend of mine who is a trademark attorney had this observation: "And by having this lawsuit filed against them, some easily forgotten porno films get lots of free publicity and a resulting increase in sales."

    Finally, thanks to all of you who wrote in to support my position in the whole "was the content guy expressing an inappropriate political bias by using Paul Ryan's misstated marathon time as a business metaphor about the need for transparency" debate.

    I'm not going to run all of them. (Just one.) They all meant a lot to me, because it means so many of you "get" MNB ... just as the enormous number of suggested mantras that you sent me were enormously heartening.

    I'd rather use this space, as much as possible, to give voice to the folks who disagree with me. Those emails make me think about the stands I've taken, and maybe even provoke thought elsewhere in the MNB community. I'd like to think so, and letters like this one confirm that belief:

    I started reading your blog as a former 25-year employee of the grocery business thinking that I would be able to follow the events and trends in the grocery industry.   I have continued to read it every day because it provides me with ‘life lessons” on a daily basis.    It doesn’t matter that you and I are roughly the same age, have talented wives to whom we are happily married, or both have children who have just started their first few days of college.   What does matter is that you regularly plunge unafraid into thought-provoking topics that often have to do with much more than the grocery business……and that those online discussions provide me with fodder for conversations with my wife and children----conversations that are also thought provoking.   Indirectly, through your blog, I have had great talks with my family about things such as morals, ethics, politics, economics, religion, books, movies, and many other topics in which we often do not engage others…..and those talks have been far from one-sided.   There are few weeks that go by where my wife and sons do not receive at least one article emailed to them from your blog.

    At this stage of life, I believe that anything that gives me an opportunity to participate in intelligent, civil discourse is time and effort well-spent.   Too often, I see couples or families sitting in a room where each member is staring at a computer, iPod, or smart phone and little or nothing is being spoken between them.   When my children are grown and gone, I don’t want them to look back at the time they spent at home and recall that they were raised in a home with lots of modern technology.   I want them to remember that we did everything we could to help them read, write, speak, and THINK effectively in today’s world.

    Thanks for giving me the ability to enrich my life and that of the other members of my family.


    All I can say is, I want this fellow to write my obit when I finally disappear.

    Though, as Jimmy Buffett says, not just yet...
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 11, 2012

    In Monday Night Football action, the Baltimore Ravens defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 44-13, while the San Diego Chargers beat the Oakland Raiders 22-14.

    It took five sets, but in the end Andy Murray managed to triumph over defending champion Novak Djokovic at the US Open to become the first British man since 1936 to win a major tennis tournament. It was also Murray's fifth attempt at winning a major, and he managed to do it in a grueling 4 hours, 54 minutes battle.
    KC's View: