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    Published on: October 29, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    In mid-August, I was reading a story in Fast Company about why it is important for companies to have mantras. According to the story, mantras are different from mission statements, which are designed to give companies a road map; a mantra, the story suggested, can serve as a guiding star. (One of the best examples: Apple's "Think different.")

    It was about 5:30 am when I read this story and turned it into an MNB Eye-Opener. And, I wrote that this got me pondering:

    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.

    Well, it never occurred to me that in less than a month, we'd get some 400 entries.

    The thing about all these entries is that they did not just tell me what you thought MNB's mantras should be. They also told me what MNB means to you. I did not intend this to be a form of market research; it was just a whimsical thing to do on a warm summer morning. But the words you used, and the sentiments you expressed, were vivid and specific.

    I am, to be honest, humbled.

    It has taken me a bit of time to sort through all the entries, to give them serious thought and consideration. I turned to a crack team of advisors to help me do this - Michael Sansolo and Kate McMahon, both of whom contribute regular columns to MNB; Luci Sheehan, who does so much to find and nurture the family of sponsors that keeps MNB going; Jim Roxbury, who runs Roxbury Strategic Directions and has long advised me on marketing issues; Marv Imus, a good friend and former independent retailer who continues to contribute to the industry in a variety of ways (including through his work at Western Michigan University); and, of course, Mrs. Content Guy.

    And, we have a winner - John Rand of Kantar Retail Market Insights, who came up with the words and format that I think make this an ideal mantra for MNB:

    Think.  Provoke.  Laugh.  Repeat.

    That's what we try to do here every day - to be smart and contextual about the stories we report, to be provocative about the commentaries we offer, to never take ourselves too seriously, and to do it every day, always trying to learn and get better each day. And I think those four words pretty much capture it.

    Plus, they'll look good in white typeface on the back of a black t-shirt.

    (My second favorite, by the way, was "Life is too short to read crappy blogs." Except that he didn't say "crappy." He used another word. But it made me laugh out loud.)

    So, thanks to all of you who submitted entries, and congrats to John Rand, who immediately will get an autographed copy of "The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies," an MNB canvas shopping bag and an MNB canvas wine bag. He'll also shortly get a goodie bag from Wholesome Sweeteners, one of MNB's regular sponsors, which wanted to get in on the fun. (The t-shirt will take a little longer...I have to get them made up.)

    Now it is time to get back to work. And to...

    Think.  Provoke.  Laugh.  Repeat.

    A quick side note ... For the next few days, I'll be posting MNB from California. I am stranded after all flights to the east coast were cancelled because of Hurricane Sandy, which at the moment looks like it is going to be moving directly up my driveway. Unfortunately, Mrs. Content Guy and a couple of the Content Kids were not as lucky ... and will be there to keep the hatches battened down. But even if power goes out there, I'll be here, putting out MNB each morning. I just hope I get out before I have to register to vote and make a decision about Proposition 37...
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 29, 2012

    The Sacramento Bee reports that Raley's is unilaterally imposing the terms of its most recent - and, according to the company, final and best - contract offer on its unionized employees. This offer includes wage concessions such as a two-year wage freeze, the elimination of extra pay for Sunday hours, and a reduction in bonus pay for holiday shifts, that the company says is necessary if it is to survive.

    According to the story, CEO Michael Teel said that "Raley's financial struggles need the economic relief that this new deal will give us," and he expressed frustration that the United Food and Commercial Workers leadership had not submitted the offer to membership for a vote: "Based on the union's refusal to call an election, I have decided to bring this to a conclusion now."

    The retailer says that it believes that the contract offer is actually more generous than the terms of an offer by Save Mart that already has been accepted by the UFCW, which said that if it did not grant that retailer concessions its financial viability would be questionable.

    The story suggests that since Raley's employees already have authorized a strike against the retailer, this unilateral move could precipitate a walkout.
    KC's View:
    I'm sure that there is a lot of posturing going on here, but it seems to me to be entirely fair for Raley's to expect a vote on its latest proposal. This retailer has been laboring (pun intended) under a lot of uncertainty in the recent past, and it at least serves to know where its unionized employees stand.

    Life is tough. Times are tough. But the unionized employees perhaps need to consider how tough things will be if Raley's has to close some more stores or do something even more drastic.

    Published on: October 29, 2012

    The Chicago Tribune reports that more than 500 restaurant owners and chefs - including Mario Batali, Rick Bayless and Daniel Boulud - have signed a petition posted by Oceana, the conservation advocacy group, asking "the US government to prevent unapproved fish from reaching the American market by mandating tracing programs ... The petition cites studies that up to 70% of seafood is mislabeled, with common and inexpensive species often disguised as more in-demand varieties."

    The chefs and restaurant owners say that traceability information for the fish they buy often is limited, and want the government to mandate a higher degree of transparency.
    KC's View:
    I have no particular problem with the government mandating traceability. But I also think that the chefs and restaurant owners may be in a position to apply a little independent, free market pressure ... like by saying that they won't do business with suppliers that do not provide such information/certification after a certain date. They don't have to be unreasonable; they could give the suppliers six to nine months to get into compliance with their demands.

    It seems to me that there is plenty of room here for anyone who sells fish - from restaurants to retailers - to get tough and specific if they feel they are being duped by suppliers.

    And Oceana could be the conduit through which these demands are made.

    Published on: October 29, 2012

    Marketing Daily reports that Whole Foods is perceived by consumers as being the nation's top "green brand," according to the 2012 Green Brands Survey, conducted by Landor Associates, a brand consulting and design firm, and Penn Schoen Berland, a research and communication firm.

    Whole Foods is the only retailer to make the top ten list. The other companies ranked in the top ten are, in order, Waste Management, Johnson & Johnson, St. Jude Medical, Walt Disney, Google, General Electric, Kimberly-Clark, Procter & Gamble and Whirlpool.

    According to the story, "The brands were measured across a wide array of general and environmental attributes, including 'strong brand,' 'high quality,' 'good value,' 'is a green company,' 'is an environmental leader,' and 'has environmentally friendly products.' Consumers also provided insight into their green purchasing habits and their perception of brand packaging and the impact of green advertising ... The results of the study measures consumer perceptions of green brands and corporate environmental sustainability practices. The results of this year’s survey were used to produce a reputation score for each company."
    KC's View:
    Keep in mind that this particular study is all about perception and branding. Not that Whole Foods isn't good in the area of being green ... just that it is important to understand the parameters of this particular study.

    Published on: October 29, 2012

    Reuters has a story suggesting that Tesco's US adventure - which is called Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets, operating almost 200 stores in California, Arizona and Nevada - "may have only months to run as investors and management focus more squarely on the British retailer's struggling home business and slowing growth in emerging markets."

    According to the story, one of the company's 25 biggest shareholders said - not for attribution - that "we never liked the U.S. expansion, never thought it would work and never believe it will work, so the sooner they acknowledge this and exit F&E the better."

    As the Reuters piece points out, "Launched with great fanfare five years ago, F&E was a gamble on a new format for U.S. shoppers - a convenience store, with self-checkouts and a focus on cheaper own-brand goods. But it is was quickly clear that Americans attached to their brands and used to customer service would not easily be won over, leading Tesco to start a series of changes and experiments - like some assisted-service checkouts and even smaller format F&E stores - that continue to this day."

    Tesco CEO Philip Clarke continues to maintain, the story notes, that "progress is being made and customer feedback is hugely positive, with 55 F&E stores profitable in the first half, up from 30 at the start of the year, and nearly half targeted to be profitable by the end of the year." And he has pledged to limit the division's expansion until the format is right and the existing stores are largely profitable.
    KC's View:
    Five years is a long time. And I remain conflicted about how I feel about Fresh & Easy's future. I think that Tesco remains committed to it, but am convinced that if a viable exit strategy became apparent, Clarke might be tempted.

    I will also tell you this. Fresh & Easy, from my various visits, remains a tough format to love, or even like. It is just hard to warm up to.

    Now, yesterday I visited another small store format in LA - it is called Yummy, and it is a store with a limited assortment of branded products, a solid fresh foods offering, and a value proposition that has it delivering orders within certain neighborhoods within 30 minutes of the order being placed.

    It is a three-store operation, so there isn't much scale. (You can check them out here.) But when I stopped by the Playa Vista store yesterday, I have to admit that I found it to be shoppable, interesting, and with a kind of warmth that sometimes Fresh & Easy has struggled to find. To be sure, they are different kinds of stores with different goals. But Yummy showed me that relevant innovation is certainly possible.

    Published on: October 29, 2012

    Reuters reports that Walmart "plans to open 100 more stores in China and create 18,000 jobs there over the next three years ... in a bid to boost its presence in China's booming but highly competitive hypermarket sector."

    Walmart currently has 370 stores and over 100,000 employees in China. According to recent reports, it is facing not just competition from the likes of Tesco and Carrefour, but also local retailing companies that have proven perhaps more adept than expected at competing with the global players.

    Economic Times reports that in India, "Bharti Enterprises is in talks with its US partner Wal-Mart for rolling out front-end stores after the relaxation of FDI norms in retail and it wants the government to remove the differentiation in sourcing rules between single and multi-brand segments ... The two companies have an equal partnership in wholesale business and the Indian partner is hopeful of replicating it in the retail business, following government's decision to allow up to 51 per cent FDI in multi--brand retail."
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 29, 2012

    Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports that "after opening Evolution Fresh stores in its hometown of Seattle and Bellevue, Washington, Starbucks is speeding up expansion with a shop in San Francisco now operating and another in Seattle set to open in the next month. It’s also quickly introducing the cold-bottled juice to grocery stores and may soon add Evolution Fresh branded food to its juice line-up at Starbucks cafes.

    "Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz has said that selling juice and better-for-you food is a significant part of his recent health and wellness pursuit. The company has started opening Tazo tea shops and selling energy drinks made with green-coffee extract, all of part of Starbucks’s plan to get healthier."

    The story suggests that Starbucks is responding to the national obesity crisis, as well as to observations that venti caramel frappuccinos may not be helping Americans stay in the best shape and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
    KC's View:
    I would call this a healthy business approach, in the sense that it spreads the company's bets around a bit ... part and parcel of the Starbucks approach since it took the word "coffee" out of its corporate logo. However, since the juice and tea shops seem to be just about as pricey as Starbucks, it remains to be seen whether it can turn them into the kind of destination shops that get people to look past the price tag and accept the broader value proposition.

    Published on: October 29, 2012

    The Boston Globe reports that Whole Foods is acquiring six leases for supermarkets owned by Johnnie's Foodmaster, a family-owned chain, that will give the natural foods retailer new units in South Weymouth, Arlington, Charlestown, Brookline, Melrose, and Somerville.

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed. All the stores will close by November 30, and will be reopened under the Whole Foods banner by next spring.

    The deal will give Whole Foods, which now has 21 stores in Massachusetts, 27 units; the Johnnie's stores average about 31,000 square feet.

    Johnnie's will be left with just four stores to its name.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 29, 2012 reports that Spartan Stores "plans to open three ValuLand stores in Metro Detroit, marking its first foray into that market as a retailer ... These smaller format, value-focused stores are a new direction for the Byron Township grocer which operates about 100 stores across the state under the banners of D&W Fresh Market, Family Fare Supermarket, VG’s Grocery and Glen’s Market.

    "Less than half the size of a traditional Spartan corporate store, the 20,000-square-foot stores carry more than 7,000 products."

    The format is designed to compete with Save-A-Lot, Aldi, and dollar stores.

    CNBC reports that Dunkin' Brands plans to open as many as 720 stores around the world this year, including "280 to 300 new Dunkin Donuts locations in the U.S. in 2012, up from an earlier forecast of 260 to 280." The stores outside the US will include both Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin Robbins units.

    • The Associated Press reports that Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) have "called on federal regulators to close what they say are loopholes that allow energy-drink makers to sell products with additives and high levels of caffeine that the lawmakers say have not been proven safe."

    The calls come after a New York Times story last week saying that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released a report suggesting that "five people may have died over the past three years after drinking Monster Energy ... The reports, like similar filings with the F.D.A. in cases involving drugs or medical devices, do not prove a link between Monster Energy and the deaths or other health problems. The records were recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the mother of a 14-year-old Maryland girl who died in December from a heart arrhythmia after drinking large cans of Monster Energy on two consecutive days."
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 29, 2012

    Regarding the stories we have posted here about the "showrooming" trend, MNB user Lisa Cartolano wrote:

    Many retailers are "becoming more like showrooms"? Their inventory in the store is low and I frequently go online to buy what I need since the store didn't have it.  Just last night I searched online and a retailer's online site said they had the item in stock in a particular store. When I got to the store, there were none to be found.  That was a wasted trip and that just frustrated me as a shopper. It will make me cut down on my trips to that retailer in the future.

    We had a piece the other day in which I ranted - a bit - about how some CEOs end up out of touch with the front lines, using as an example the way the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, Michael Jeffries, demanded certain perks on his private jet.

    MNB user Katie Whelan wrote:

    I am all for corporate jets and don’t believe for a second that traveling “private” necessarily obscures one’s view of the world.  Don’t you just have to question any leader who mandates such silliness as Jeffries requires and publishes it?  I find his requirements  absurd and completely incongruous with the role of a “leader” in a private jet or not.  CEOs and their perks are the business of the leaders, their board and their shareholders.  If I had an investment in A & F, or any interest in shopping them, I’d be re-thinking it right now.

    To be clear, I did say in my commentary that I understand the need for private jets, and that they allow CEOs a greater level of flexibility and can permit them to be more effective. I was just saying that in this case, it seemed to have more to do with personal comfort than business efficiency and effectiveness ... and seemed particularly incongruous since the retailer hasn't been doing very well lately. (Y'know, that might be a great way to incentivize CEOs. Keep the company's performance at X level, and you get to use the jet. If it falls to Y level, you right commercial, but first class. If it falls to Z ... it's coach.)

    MNB user Glenn Cantor wrote:

    There is a great line given by Richard Gere’s character, Robert Miller, in the new movie Arbitrage that effectively symbolizes how corporate leaders lose touch with reality.

    A young man that Robert Miller has helped support is explaining his plan to begin his life anew, in Virginia.  He tells Robert Miller that he bought an “Applebees.”  The corporate exec’s response is, “what’s Applebees?”


    And extra credit to the MNB readers who cite business lessons from the movies...

    On the subject of stores that stay open on Thanksgiving - and those that do not - one MNB user wrote:

    I echo your sadness and view regarding how much earlier the stores are opening, or heck - the fact that they're open at all during a holiday, but isn't this indicative of what's happening in the workplace today?  By that I mean the erosion of work/life balance.   It's not a worker's market, it's an employer's marketplace these days.  While I realize that sounds cynical, it's simply the truth as I see it.  In my household, my husband works a "standard" 60 hour work week with some weeks eking into the 80 hour range.  He works for a major corporation and across departments this is the expectation, not the exception.  They do not have 40 hour work weeks and no, they do not get paid overtime.   Another member works when they take a day off work (scheduled vacation days) and still has to claim it as a vacation day.  The expectation is you are on call at all times and an on-call phone is rotated for weekend.  The two companies represented here are in two completely different industries.   Sadly, when talking with friends from other industries, I hear similar stories which leads me to believe this is a widespread issue and not isolated to my household.

    Regarding retail companies choosing to open during the holidays - my daughter recently worked for Walmart as a front line employee.  She started her tenure last September and worked through the holidays.  I fully anticipated her chagrin when faced with working Thanksgiving and Christmas, however much to our surprise she was thrilled at the prospect of overtime and co-workers were happy to give her the chance so they could time with their families.  While am personally opposed to workers being forced to work during a time that should be dedicated to family, I'm also open to the idea that it does work out well for some folks too.

    From another reader:

    My family is mixed, religiously. We don’t all celebrate Christmas and Easter, or Passover and the High Holy Days. However, there are two holidays that always bring us together: The 4th of July and Thanksgiving.

    Every July 4th my parents, brothers and their families trek to my house where we always spend the time around the pool relaxing and all the cousins can be together and the grandparents can revel in having all their grandkids in one place, BBQ and fireworks displays. At Thanksgiving we all head to my parents’ house where we all cram around folding tables as the cooks in the family scramble to keep everyone full to overflowing while we argue politics between football downs.

    I recently entertained a job offer that would have meant a very long-distance relocation. When speaking to my family about the opportunity and if I should accept, my teenage children only asked one question: “Will we still be able to be able to go to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving?” When I said yes they both responded that they were OK with whatever I decided to do.

    I know different holidays mean different things to different people and that many would rather be shopping on Thanksgiving, but when I think about people not cramming around tables, elbow to elbow, taking in the love and the loved-ones around them, I can’t help but feel a little sad that something special, something uniquely American has been lost. Of all the holidays we celebrate, why not emphasis those that bring us together, rather than those that highlight our differences?

    We had a piece the other day about "the slow death of the DVD," which prompted an MNB user to write:

    When I read your eye-opener today, I thought you could have just as easily reported on “The Slow Death of the CD”.  Case in point:  My daughter is in our church Christmas musical.  The director gave us a script and a CD.  We don’t even have a CD player anymore!  We had to import the CD into iTunes and put it on her iTouch (a repurposed iPhone, actually), so she could practice.  A few years ago, it seemed inconceivable that CDs would go the way of 8 tracks, yet here we are.

    I have to tell you that last week, I actually went to a Target store near me to pick up the new Taylor Swift CD for my 18-year-old daughter ... she wanted the actual CD because the Target version had bonus tracks, and she asked me to do it because she's away at college and had no way to get to Target.

    I did it on one condition - that I could open the package and download it to iTunes before sending it to her. (FYI...I used the USPS. I figured they could use the business.)

    So, Target and the record company (do they still call them record companies?) got me to buy a CD by establishing a differential advantage. There's a lesson there.

    I'll also tell you this. I love the CD. (I'm a big Taylor Swift fan ... I've even been to a concert with my daughter, though I have to admit that I think I was the oldest male in Madison Square Garden that evening.)
    I also have to tell you that the Target near me - in Stamford, Connecticut - is one of the most depressing, badly merchandised Targets that I've ever been into, and that if I never have to walk through those doors again, it'll be just fine with me.

    Sadly, I don't think we'll be getting back together. Ever, ever, ever.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 29, 2012

    • The San Francisco Giants completed an extraordinary and improbable sweep of the Detroit Tigers, capturing the 2012 World Series in convincing fashion with a 4-3 Game Four extra-innings win.

    Pablo Sandoval, better known as "Kung Fu Panda," who became only the fourth player in Major League history to hit three home runs in a World Series game when he did it in Game One, was named the Series' MVP.

    • In Week Eight of National Football League action...

    Chicago 23
    Carolina 22

    Cleveland 7
    San Diego 6

    Detroit 28
    Seattle 24

    Green Bay 24
    Jacksonville 15

    Miami 30
    NY Jets 9

    Atlanta 30
    Philadelphia 17

    Pittsburgh 27
    Washington 12

    New England 45
    St. Louis 7

    Indianapolis 19
    Tennessee 13

    Oakland 26
    Kansas City 16

    NY Giants 29
    Dallas 24

    Denver 34
    New Orleans 14
    KC's View: