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    Published on: September 21, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    Last night, on "The Daily Dhow with Jon Stewart," former President Bill Clinton appeared to talk about next week's meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City. And he noted that on Sunday afternoon, one of the people on the conference's very first panel, would be Mike Duke, CEO of Walmart.

    Jon Stewart was a little surprised, and asked if Duke would be serving as a greeter as people file in.

    No, Clinton replied, Duke hires unemployed senior citizens like him to do that. But then Clinton went on to explain the reason for Duke's appearance - that Walmart is being exceptionally proactive at trying to engineer into its systems sustainable systems that will be both positive for the planet and profitable for its business.

    Duke will be appearing on the panel - entitled "Designing for Impact" - with Clinton, as well as with Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan; Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General, United Nations; and Jim Yong Kim, President, World Bank Group.

    Also appearing, on Tuesday in separate sessions, will be President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

    It is a fascinating interview with Clinton, touching on a number of issues including American competitiveness, and can be watched, if you are interested, here. (Part two of the interview focuses on the global stuff, while part one is more about US politics.)
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 21, 2012

    Walmart said yesterday that it will no longer sell the Amazon Kindle, or any other Amazon-branded products, once it is sold out of existing inventory.

    Target made a similar decision several months ago.

    Here's Walmart's statement about the decision:

    "Recently, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. made a business decision to not carry current Amazon products beyond our purchase commitments and existing inventory.

    "Our customers trust us to provide a broad assortment of products at everyday low prices, and we approach each merchandising decision through this lens.

    "We will continue to offer our customers a broad assortment of tablets, e-readers and accessories at a variety of great price points. This decision is consistent with our overall merchandising strategy."

    Walmart says it will continue selling Apple's iPad, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and other e-readers. But not the market-leader Kindle.
    KC's View:
    It is amusing to see how Walmart sort of implies that the Amazon products are not a good value, and never says that it doesn't want to carry Amazon products because Amazon is probably the single biggest threat to its retail dominance in the US.

    Which is the real truth.

    Now, I don't blame Walmart. Retailing is hardball, and it does not make sense to sell products that only make your competitor stronger and more profitable.

    The new Kindles are not just e-readers. They are sophisticated tablet computers that Amazon can use to try to sell users other stuff. Lots of other stuff. Stuff that you might otherwise buy at Walmart.

    Remember - it wasn't that many years ago that Borders outsourced its online book business to Amazon, and realized too late that it had handed Amazon the club with which the retailing pioneer would then beat it into submission, irrelevance and, finally, oblivion.

    I suspect the folks at Amazon are chuckling about this. They've probably wondered how long it would take Walmart to come to this decision, and factored it into their sales projections.

    This just confirms, in my mind, what we've been saying around here for a long time - that the clash of the titans is Amazon vs. Walmart, and everybody else needs to figure out strategies and tactics that will make them relevant and vital in an environment where there could be a lot of collateral damage.

    BTW...is was just a week or so ago that Toys R Us announced it was unveiling its own tablet computer designed especially for kids. I wonder if Walmart is considering offering its own tablet computer or e-reader, as a way of creating for itself a differential advantage.

    Published on: September 21, 2012

    The Los Angeles Times reports that insurance company Anthem Blue Cross says it is endeavoring to be more that just a health plan for its members, and is trying to influence their eating habits by sending out coupons for various kinds of foods.

    Except that, as the Times points out, those coupons are not always for fresh foods and healthy products, and sometimes are for things like ice cream, processed meats and mayonnaise.

    According to the story, "Kristin Binns, an Anthem spokeswoman, said the coupons are from a marketing company called Linkwell Health, which has partnered with the insurance giant to encourage more healthful eating choices ... Binns said Anthem receives no money from coupon providers and leaves all such deal making to Linkwell. But the campaign is being offered under Anthem's imprimatur, with letters to members signed by the senior medical director for Anthem Blue Cross of California."

    The idea, Binns tell the Times, "is that many people will buy ice cream or mayonnaise anyway, so why not steer them toward products with lower calories or sodium counts?"
    KC's View:
    I think the Times makes a legitimate point about what Anthem is doing; there does seem to be something a little counter-intuitive about sending people coupons for stuff that may not be good for them. Though, as some will point out, there are no bad foods ... just people with poor eating habits.

    Still, the whole thing does sort of suggest that what Linkwell is really good at doing is selling a coupon program. And the scenario suggests to me that all businesses have to be careful about consistency of message, and about who they go into business with. You may think you are outsourcing a function, but you can't outsource responsibility for your reputation.

    Published on: September 21, 2012

    Lunds/Byerly’s said yesterday that it has opened the doors to their first pet store, Bone Marché, a market just for pets.

    The company says that "Bone Marché carries quality supplies, products and foods for dogs, cats, rabbits, fish and birds. Top pet brand names line the shelves, giving pet owners quality assurance and peace of mind that the special members of their family are cared for." It is "adjacent to Byerly’s St. Louis Park. It’s separate from the grocery store, with an independent entrance.  Pets are welcome inside Bone Marché if they are on leashes. A pet waste bag and disposal area is located outside the entrance doors."
    KC's View:
    Let's just say it..."Bone Marché" is one of the cleverest retail names to be created in years.

    Published on: September 21, 2012

    Reuters reports that Walmart expects to open its retail store in India within 12 to 18 months. The Indian government announced last week that it was changing its policy, which previously prevented foreign companies from opening retail stores, limiting them to wholesale stores and joint ventures with local companies.

    Advertising Age reports that a new study from social-media metrics firm Recommend.ly indicates that "when it comes to Facebook fan love," local businesses are beating Walmart "handily."

    The story says: "Nearly a year into Walmart's ambitious My Local Walmart program to establish individual Facebook fan pages for its 3,500-plus stores, the pages on average lag those of local businesses in fan counts, update activity and frequency of conversations, according to the study," which also found that "around 2,800 Walmart stores have their own fan pages. But only 100, or fewer than 4%, have more than 1,000 fans. And 85% of Walmart's local-store pages didn't respond to any fan comments during the study."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 21, 2012

    CNBC reports on yet another piece of litigation that could have far-reaching affects in terms of future lawsuits.

    According to the story, "Wayne Watson won a $7.2 million judgment Wednesday against supermarket chain owner Kroger as well as Gilster-Mary Lee and Dillon Companies ... His lawsuit charged that the companies were responsible either for making or distributing microwave popcorn that contains diacetyl, which is used to create the 'butter' flavor in the product ... he said he ate two bags of microwave popcorn each day and contracted a rare lung disease which a jury, after a day and a half of deliberations, ruled was caused by ingesting diacetyl."

    This "popcorn lung" case is expected to create plenty of similar lawsuits, which could put both manufacturers and retailers at risk.
    KC's View:
    I'm not saying that someone who eats two bags of microwave popcorn a day deserves what he gets. But really? Two bags of microwave popcorn a day? I probably wouldn't bring that lawsuit just because I wouldn't want to admit that fact in open court...

    Published on: September 21, 2012

    • Tops Friendly Markets announced the introduction Click-to-Card Coupons located on Tops’ new Coupon Central savings center, on the company’s web site.  

    Click-to-Card coupons are electronic, paper-less coupons (e-coupons) that can be added directly to shoppers’ Tops BonusPlus or BonusCard and redeemed upon checkout.

    • ShopRite announced that its new store in Brodheadsville, PA store has been awarded the GreenChill Gold Certification. This prestigious award, distributed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), recognizes food retailers who have implemented sustainable cooling systems, thereby reducing refrigerant emissions and decreasing their impact on the ozone layer and climate change. The ShopRite of Brodheadsville is one of 30 national recipients of gold certification. 
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 21, 2012

    • Supervalu announced yesterday that Kathy Persian has been named the company's new senior vice president and chief information officer. Persian joined the company in February 2010 in the role of group vice president of retail and merchandising systems, and later moved to group vice president of corporate planning, analysis and business process. Persian was named to the CIO post following the decision by Wayne Shurts to accept a position with another company.

    • C-store chain The Pantry announced that Joe Venezia, formerly of TitleMax, is joining the company as senior vice president of operations.

    Worth noting from the announcement: "Venezia earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. He has also served as a captain and company commander in the U.S. Army and received a Bronze Star Medal for his bravery during Operation Desert Storm."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 21, 2012

    ...will return next week.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 21, 2012

    in Thursday Night Football action, the New York Giants defeated the Carolina Panthers 36-7.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 21, 2012

    So last weekend, Mrs. Content Guy and I decided to go to the movies, and we ventured down to a little art theater near us to see Arbitrage, the new financial thriller starring Richard Gere. (Really good, but I'll get to that in a minute...)

    While I like patronizing the local independent art theater, I always feel like I'm getting an inferior experience. The projection system is old-fashioned, the screens are small, the seats are less comfortable and the building itself is ramshackle - not nearly as nice as the AMC multiplex with digital projection and stadium seating that is twice as far away but always worth driving to; but in this case, Arbitrage was only playing at the art house, and I wanted to see it.

    It was only later in the weekend that I realized that I didn't have t go the theater at all to see Arbitrage - it actually was available to rent on iTunes for $6.99 (less than the $20 I spent at the theater). We could have watched it at home on a flat screen high definition TV not that much smaller than the movie theater screen, and could have enjoyed a glass of wine while doing so.

    What interests me about this is the way in which the film industry - and the TV business, for that matter - is breaking away from traditional distribution practices as it tries to reach out to the consumer in new ways. The simple reality is that for many movies, it does not matter whether one sees it on a theater screen or a television screen, especially since so many televisions are technologically advanced. It matters more for "big" movies that depend on special effects, and it is important not to lose touch with the community aspect of going to the movies. But last Saturday night, watching Arbitrage at home would have been just fine.

    On the television front, while most network programs begin their seasons next week, I've watched the pilots for several shows already - for free on iTunes, because the networks realize that they have to find new ways to attract viewers. (My verdict is that "Last Resort," looks like it has real promise, "Revolution" was pretty good, "Men with Babies" was awful, and "The New Normal" seemed pretty funny.)

    This is a great metaphor for what many businesses have to do - to be willing to re-examine how they do things and reconsider how they connect with customers. We're living in a new world, and old ways of doing business, of attracting and keeping customers, simply isn't enough. And to go back to a line we've tossed around before, in a time of fundamental change, incremental business shifts simply aren't enough.

    Now, about Arbitrage...this is a strong thriller from first-time director Nicholas Jarecki, about a highly successful hedge fund guy (Gere) who finds himself trying to find his way out of a nightmare - his company is for sale at a time when he's had to commit a Bernard Madoff-type fraud in order to keep it afloat, while at the same time his personal life is in turmoil.

    In some ways, Arbitrage is the flip side of last year's Margin Call, which looked at what happened in an investment firm during the early hours of the 2008 financial crisis. In that film, Jeremy Irons played the CEO - it was a memorable supporting turn, but a small part of the movie. In Arbitrage, it is as if the CEO role has been brought front and center.

    And Gere is the perfect guy to play it. He's always been a resourceful and talented actor who sometimes has made questionable movie choices, but as he's gotten older, he's gotten better - more sympathetic, more vulnerable, and more willing to explore a character's darkness. He's great - and supported by a wonderful cast that includes Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth and two wonderful young actors named Brit Marling and Nate Parker. (Also watch for Stuart Margolin - who years ago played Angel on "The Rockford Files," in a small but crucial role.)

    Go see it. Or watch it at home. Up to you.



    Some other notes...

    • Just finished "The Sentry," the latest Joe Pike novel by Robert Crais, and it is a typically strong thriller taking place in modern Southern California.

    In "The Simple Art of Murder," Raymond Chandler once wrote about Southern California, "Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness."

    I would not go so far as to say that Joe Pike is not himself mean ... but Crais has created a character who is unafraid, who has a great sense of honor, and who has graduated from supporting roles in his Elvis Cole novels to become the centerpiece of his own. Pike helps lost souls, but he seems like one himself...and following his adventures is a worthwhile pursuit.

    • I've never liked so-called "reality TV," because it seems totally unreal to me. That said, I cannot overestimate how thrilled I am that "The Voice" has returned to television, because it is, quite simply, the happiest show on television. (Or at least it makes me the happiest that I am while watching TV.) It is, at its core, an old-fashioned talent contest, but unlike some such shows, there is absolutely nothing mean-spirited about it. The singers - even the ones who don't get picked - are talented. Some of them are supremely so, and their performances are transcendent. And the judges - Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera - manage to be both competitive and supportive as they build their teams.

    I have no idea how long "The Voice" can keep it up, but for the time being, I cannot wait from one week to the next to see what will happen.




    My wine of the week is the 2009 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris, which is bright and creamy and wonderful...

    That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you on Monday.

    Sláinte!
    KC's View: