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    Published on: November 30, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    There was a big opening on Broadway last night that demonstrated the power of brand equity. The actors on stage included Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz, Katie Homes and Judy Greer, and the play, "Dead Accounts," was written by Theresa Rebeck, who created the TV series "Smash."

    But for much of the play, which takes place in Cincinnati, there is a lot of attention paid to a product variously described as "God's benediction" and the "best ice cream on earth." The product is Graeter's, and the characters played by Butz and Holmes spend much of the first scene eating it and talking about it.

    In the case of "Dead Accounts," Graeter's serves as a metaphor for how the Midwest is different from Manhattan; it is described as crafted rather than manufactured, unpretentious and high quality. All qualities that the folks from Graeter's are likely to appreciate. (Not so much the New York theater critics, who in this morning's papers give the play a mixed reception. That said, the presence of Katie Holmes probably guarantees that "Dead Accounts" will complete the limited, four-month run that has been announced.)

    I saw the play on Wednesday night, at the press preview, and have to say that it made me think a lot about powerful a great brand can be when it symbolizes and represents a culture. That's really impressive, and rare ... and something of which Graeter's should be proud.

    In the end, I left the play hankering for some Graeter's ... and luckily enough, there was some Black Raspberry Chip at home in the freezer ... it isn't widely available on the east coast, but I'm glad that my kitchen happens to be one of the places where one can get it.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 30, 2012

    The first Costco to be built in washington, DC, opened its doors yesterday, and one of its first shoppers was Vice President Joe Biden, who, according to the Washington Post, "flashed a store membership card" and "bought an apple pie, along with a stack of children's books, a 32-inch Panasonic TV, fire logs and other items."

    Biden used the visit to make a pitch for an agreement between the White House and Congress that will prevent the country from going off the so-called "fiscal cliff," and expressed confidence that the two sides will come to a negotiated and reasonable deal; he also suggested that the crowds indicated growing consumer confidence.

    Biden, the Post reports, "was joined at the store by Costco CEO Craig Jelinek and co-founder Jim Sinegal, who supported the Obama-Biden ticket and spoke at the Democratic National Convention.

    Costco is said to be planning another two stores for the DC area.
    KC's View:
    We can all recognize the moment when Biden looked at his full shopping cart and told reporters that it was why his wife generally won't let him shop by himself. One can only imagine that last night, at the vice president's residence, Jill Biden looked at her husband and said, "You bought a 32-inch television?"

    Published on: November 30, 2012

    The New York Times this morning reports that "Sales at stores open at least a year declined in November at major American store chains, including Macy’s, Nordstrom, Kohl’s and Target, sending a shiver through the retail world Thursday.

    "The reporting period included Thanksgiving and Black Friday, the official kickoff of the critical holiday shopping season. Early reports regarding those days had been mixed, and the individual retailers’ dim results suggest a big challenge in the coming weeks for retailers. Craig Johnson, a retail consultant and president of Customer Growth Partners, said that early November was weak across the board and not just in the Northeast, which was hit by Hurricane Sandy in late October."

    The story says that "over all, the 16 retailers tracked by Thomson Reuters that reported results Thursday recorded a 1.6 percent increase in sales at stores that were open at least a year. Analysts had expected a 3.3 percent jump."
    KC's View:
    In reporting same-store sales that were down 1.1 percent, Nordstrom said that the problem was a weaker-than-expected clearance sale, which seemed to happen because its customers want products that are newer and more fashionable, as opposed to on sale. Which is an unexpected read on its particular situation...

    Published on: November 30, 2012

    There has been a lot of discussion here on MNB - and in a lot of other places - about the changing American demographic, and what that means to marketers.

    It was therefore interesting to read the other day that the film rights to the book "How Starbucks Saved My Life," by Michael Gates Gill, have been acquired by The Weinstein Company, producer of films such as The King's Speech. The book was the true story of how a child of privilege fell on hard times and found himself working at Starbucks, and how doing everything from cleaning bathrooms to making lattes reshaped his world view and sense of self-worth.

    At one point, the Gates book was supposed to star Tom Hanks in the leading role. However, that may not happen anymore - Hanks instead made the similarly themed but utterly execrable Larry Crowne, and so he likely won't want to return to that particular well, since not only was Larry Crowne awful, but nobody went to see it.

    But what was interesting was the way that the film website described the demographic context in which the story takes place:

    "It’s Gill’s account of how falling on hard times and actually having to get a job and work for a living gave him a new perspective and generally saved him from a life of behaving like an entitled goon. Suddenly he has to answer to someone who is younger than him, has darker skin, and is equipped with lady parts; he has to actually do manual labor in order to receive a paycheck, and once he gets said check he has to put real thought into how to make his meager wages sustain his life.

    "It’s the sort of situation that’s bound to teach someone how to be humble, how to respect others, and what’s actually important in life."
    KC's View:
    That's a passage worth paying attention to, because it speaks volumes about how businesses and customer are changing...

    Suddenly he has to answer to someone who is younger than him, has darker skin, and is equipped with lady parts; he has to actually do manual labor in order to receive a paycheck, and once he gets said check he has to put real thought into how to make his meager wages sustain his life ... It’s the sort of situation that’s bound to teach someone how to be humble, how to respect others, and what’s actually important in life.

    Welcome to America, circa 2013. Tougher for some, and more diverse for all.

    Published on: November 30, 2012

    The Wall Street Journal reports that the United States is seeing a decline in the national birthrate, with "the annual number of births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44" down eight percent between 2007 and 2010.

    The reason seems to be "a steep decline in births among immigrant women hard hit by the recent recession." In addition, the story says, a slowdown in immigration has affected the birth rate.

    The Journal writes: "Immigrant women, both legal and illegal, still have a higher birthrate than the U.S. population as a whole. Yet the rate for foreign-born women dropped 14% between 2007 and 2010, to 87.8 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44, compared with a 6% decline for U.S.-born women, to 58.9 births. The birthrate plunged 19% for immigrants of Hispanic origin during that period; among Mexicans, the largest group among Hispanics, the rate plunged 23%."
    KC's View:
    Another paragraph worth noting:

    "Over the long term, nations tend to see their birthrates decline as they become more prosperous, a trend that can threaten that prosperity. When low fertility is coupled with low mortality, the result is an aging society with a high proportion of elderly people and relatively fewer workers to support them, a situation that Japan and many European countries face. Overall U.S. fertility has remained around the replacement level, owing to the large number of immigrants it attracts."

    Indeed, if we have an economy driven by consumer demand, if there are fewer consumers in the long term there inevitably will be lower demand.

    It is hard to reconcile two statements from the story - one saying that people are having fewer kids because of the recession, and the other saying that birth rates decline when the nation gets more prosperous. I also think that if anyone reads this story and thinks that a slowdown in the birth rate among immigrants somehow means that the nation will become less ethnically diverse, they are sadly mistaken.

    Published on: November 30, 2012

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Walmart is facing criticism after its clothing was found in the detritus of a Bangladesh garment factory that recently was destroyed by a fire that killed more than 100 people.

    Walmart had said that it stopped doing business with the factory in advance of the fire, when it was discovered by inspectors that the factory was guilty of various safety violations. But reports say that despite Walmart's claims, its clothing was still being produced there, leading to questions about the efficacy of its inspection and enforcement efforts.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 30, 2012

    Bloomberg reports that the Italian supermarket chain Gruppo BSE has created an unusual lottery: Customers who spend more than $39 in a visit have their names put in a basket, and the winners will be offered a part-time, temporary shop-assistant job.

    The offer is made, the story says, in the context of an Italian economy that "is mired in its fourth recession since 2001 and a double-digit joblessness rate is harming domestic demand. The unemployment rate rose to a 13-year high of 11.1 percent in October, the National Statistics Institute said today."

    A company executive said that many chains offer holiday contests with prizes, but that it thought it made more sense to offer temporary jobs in the current environment.
    KC's View:
    Let me get this straight.

    In essence, this Italian chain has figured out how to get people to pay money in order to apply for a job.

    Do they send Don Fanucci to deliver the good news that the people have "won" the lottery?

    Published on: November 30, 2012

    The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has presented the ADL "Americanism Award" to Jane and Neil Golub, of Golub Corp. and Price Chopper Supermarkets, recognizing them for "unwavering commitment to education, the fostering of mutual respect and promotion of ADL’s vision of a world without hate," primarily linked to their commitment to the 'A World of difference" program in New York State.

    “The Golubs are making the world a more respectful place in which to live, work and play, and because of their commitment, they have been able to touch the lives of half a million students, teachers and administrators, equipping them to take these issues into the classroom,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director.  “The Golubs believed they could make a difference in their community, and brought together a powerful community coalition of religious, racial and ethnic leaders, developed school curriculum, and engaged a local TV station for two years to launch 'A World of Difference' in upstate New York.”
    KC's View:
    The Golubs are, simply put, two of the best people I've met in covering this business. Accolades well earned, I think.

    Published on: November 30, 2012

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

    • The Chicago Tribune reports that Supervalu, faced with rumors suggesting that negotiations to sell the company to Cerberus Capital Management had stalled, said yesterday that talks with various entities are proceeding. But that's all it said.

    "The company continues to be in active discussion with several parties," Supervalu said in a prepared statement. "There can be no assurance that this process will result in any transaction or any change in the Company's overall structure or its business model."

    Some reports had indicated that Cerberus was having trouble coming up with sufficient funds for a Supervalu acquisition.

    Reuters reports that Hostess Brands, granted permission by the bankruptcy court overseeing its affairs to liquidate the company, has received "furious" interest in its various brands. According to the story, "Around 110 potential bidders have contacted the company about bidding for at least part of its business, and 70 had enough interest to sign confidentiality agreements, Hostess' banker told the hearing in White Plains, New York."

    • The Associated Press reports that the US Mint is preparing a study that will recommend to the US Congress that the dollar bill be discontinued and replaced with a dollar coin - a move that could save taxpayers more than $4 billion over the next three decades.

    The move would save money because a) coins don't wear out as fast as paper, and b) changes would simultaneously be made in the metallurgical composition of the coins to metals that cost less than the copper and nickel currently used.

    Considering the resounding success that dollar coins have been over the years, one can hardly blame the Mint for wanting to make such a move.

    Yeah, right. reports that Ahold USA CEO Carl Schlicker said this week that the company remains interested in acquisitions: "While we can't predict the future, one of the things we have always tried to do is prepare to react," he said. "If there were stores that would become available, certainly we'd earmark the ones we'd have the greatest interest in. That number could be more or less significant than the acquisitions we'd done in the past."

    Buffalo Business First reports that Tops Markets plans to open a new upscale, small-format, fresh food-oriented store called Orchard Fresh. The first of the format will open in Orchard Park, NY, early next year, and the story says it "could be a template for a fresh expansion tract for the region’s largest supermarket chain."

    “We are not talking about your normal grocery store lineup,” says Tops CEO Frank Curci. “We are talking about specialty foods and upscale foods, with a heavy bent toward healthy and natural and organic foods.”

    Reuters reports that "Kroger Co said Thursday it won a tax battle with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, which has dropped an effort to collect $567 million in disputed deductions from the grocery giant ... The dismissal by a three-judge panel came several weeks following a government move to drop its claims, after pursuing Kroger for nearly a decade, court papers showed." The case concerned a tax dispute related to Kroger's acquisition on Fred Meyer and Ralphs in 1999.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 30, 2012

    • Nash Finch Co. said yesterday that it has hired Kevin Elliott, the former senior vice president of merchandising, logistics and marketing at 7-Eleven, to be its new COO, succeeding Christopher Brown, who left the company earlier this month.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 30, 2012

    I wrote yesterday about traditions and items that have gone, sometimes in a fairly short period of time, from being absolutely critical to how we live our lives, to being tangential, irrelevant or even obsolete. In this case, my example was the handkerchief ... which I use, but that seems to be growing obsolete these days.

    Got lots of email responding to the commentary...

    MNB user Jim DeLuca wrote:

    I am one of the dinosaurs too.  I also feel naked leaving my house without a handkerchief.  And I often get raised eyebrows when I pull it out; even if it is just to wipe the sweat off my brow...

    MNB user Gary Harris wrote:

    I’m in the same boat, Kevin. Phone, keys, wallet, cash and handkerchief are all part of the morning ritual. Interesting thing though, is that while I always carry a handkerchief, I NEVER use one! Now if that isn’t the stupidest damn thing I’ve ever heard, I don’t know what is. Tissues are readily available anyplace I go, and the thought I would never think of shoving one in my pocket after using it, so why would I do that with a piece of cloth?
    Actually, I do use a handkerchief, but it’s always to wipe away a tear during a wedding or funeral or a worship service. Oh, and at the birth of my grandkids. I guess it’s just us sentimental fools that need a clean hankie anymore…

    Another MNB user wrote:

    As I was thinking about all the pretty, colorful little handkerchiefs I used to iron, I realized, that's another anachronism--ironing laundry on a regular basis. I guess people still iron out a wrinkle (maybe) since irons are available in hotel rooms, but we used to iron everything that could be draped over an ironing board. Speaking of which, I wonder how many people remember the ironing boards that used to fold up into the wall and hide inside a skinny little closet? OK, time to stop ...

    Bob Hermanns wrote:

    I am right there with you and the cloth version.  However, you make a good point.  I am constantly amazed at how you can take simple examples from life and make them interesting and informative.

    I said yesterday that putting a clean handkerchief in my pocket is as much a part of my morning as brushing my teeth and strapping on my wristwatch.

    MNB user Curt Lindy responded:

    Just add a wrist watch to your list of old foggy items that “are” or were indispensable depending on your age and state of mind.

    MNB user Tom Robbins wrote:

    I'm a dinosaur myself, because I too carry a handkerchief, BUT I carry it to clean my glasses!

    From another reader:

    What about diapers?  I haven’t heard any recent news but thought cloth diapers were what all environmentally conscious parents were turning to these days.  In a comparison of the two, for more or less gross, diapers win right? Do you think that’s a comparison?
    I’m a relic too, maybe why I enjoyed that piece so much!  It made me think.

    I have to admit that if I had to buy diapers these days, I'd probably use the disposable kind. Mostly, I'm glad that I don't even have to think about the category...

    MNB user Damien McManus wrote:

    I am with you, I too feel that something is wrong when I don’t have a handkerchief in my pocket, however, in my car and at my desk and in every room of our house we have a box of paper issues and I use those before my cloth handkerchief.  I also think back not to the TV shows but to my days as a boy scout back in England, it was essential that you carried a handkerchief, coins (for the emergency phone call) and a couple of other items, the old “be prepared” motto.  The handkerchief being the first bandage, a way to give mouth to mouth without touching the injured skin and a sling the list goes on.  I can also relate to the looks of your son and wife about still having one in your pocket but as with my family they always know I have one, which is why I always get a little nudge in church when someone needs a tissue and doesn’t have one to hand for my clean and neatly folded handkerchief to be passed down the aisle to relieve their running nose.  I have a one person use policy so I don’t take it back after it has been used.  As for the fax machine yep that has gone the way of the typewriter.

    MNB user Gary Loehr wrote:

    Put me in the same column as you.  I'd be lost without it.  A couple points in favor of the handkerchief: Sustainable. You don't have to find a place to throw it away. It doesn't cause a disaster if it is in your pocket and goes through the wash. A handkerchief can get you through the day with a cold, the tissue is one and done. You can't fit a box of tissues in your pocket.

    MNB user Rich McLain wrote:

    Not only do I have the same feelings about carrying that little white square in my back pocket everyday as you, I can’t tell you how many times I have had to use it to wipe blood from a grandchild’s knee or clean a bloody nose while some where. To go even one better I also get teased about the fact that I carry a comb in my back pocket. How many men do that today? We were all brought up to look our best and to always have shined shoes, a clean face and your hair combed.

    From another reader:

    Clearly the marketers at the handkerchief manufacturers must have missed the whole “sustainability” and “carbon footprint” movements…or really, convenience wins out in the marketplace.

    Thanks for the great thought provoking articles.  Even though I am no longer in the industry, I truly enjoy reading MNB every morning.


    From MNB user Rich Heiland:

    I, too, start the day with a hankie in my pocket, even though I have read countless articles that they are not sanitary, etc. I just can't get my arms around carrying tissues in my pocket or even computer bag for some reason.

    As for faxes, my wife is an attorney and when I go off on how out of date a fax is she points out that for a lot of legal matters you actually need a fax. For some reason email attachments won't do. Along these lines I was a witness on a will she was doing for a client recently and we had to dig high and low around the house to find a pen with blue ink. Apparently you can't sign an original document like a will with black ink because it looks like a copy. It was amazing how hard we had to look to find a pen with blue ink.

    Another MNB user chimed in:

    My husband uses the dinosaur method - i.e. cloth handkerchiefs.  I inwardly snickered at him until one day I was without any tissues and he gallantly offered his (clean, unused) handkerchief for me to use. I've been grateful that he subscribes to the handkerchief philosophy ever since.  It's interesting how many "sustainable" ideas are recycled from things that our parents and grandparents used.  Oh - and what a great idea to give kids who want to buy something for their Dad---inexpensive and much appreciated!

    MNB user Jackie Lembke wrote:

    My husband falls on your side of the equation. He never leaves home without a handkerchief, owns many and uses them. He rarely uses tissues, which I use all the time. Kleenex has done a wonderful marketing job, sustainability aside, you throw your germs away with a tissue.

    Still another reader offered:

    I’ve used handkerchiefs for years.  But not as much for cold relief – more so for wiping my brow.   I perspire more than the average person, and I keep a hankie in my pocket to wipe the sweat from my forehead.  I find it to be a bit more professional than using my sleeve...

    MNB user Stephen Burbridge wrote:

    I enjoy reading MNB daily and appreciate the humor as much as the news.  Thanks for the daily chuckle and lively “discussions”.

    I began carrying a handkerchief 12 years ago when my oldest daughter was born and now, like you, I can not imagine not having one in my back pocket.  While it may seem like a throwback idea, I believe they are far more practical than tissues; I can clean my glasses (or my daughters’ glasses), wet it to clean up messy faces and hands, wrap it around a cut kneecap, and – yes – use it to wipe a runny nose.  I once gave a “hanky” to a perfect stranger in an airport whose son’s nose was running incessantly and had run out of tissues (it was a clean one and I had another in my briefcase).  Perhaps it is a bit of nostalgia as well as I always remembering my grandfather – who was the definition of the word “gentleman” and wore a hat and tie until the day he died – having one on his person at all times.  I fear that I will soon have to order them online from a specialty shop (there is a website “” that sells all types).

    MNB user Duane Eaton wrote:

    Holy cow Kevin - incandescent light bulbs, Twinkies and now handkerchiefs - how many stockpiles can my basement be expected to hold?

    Another MNB user wrote:

    You're a true pioneer and zealot for the handkerchief community.

    I did write yesterday that I used to watch "Mannix." Forget blowing your nose - you never know when you are going to need a handkerchief to hold a piece of evidence or wipe the fingerprints off a doorknob or gun handle.

    Which led MNB user Bob Norman to write:

    Like you, Kevin, I don’t feel fully dressed for the day if I don’t have a clean handkerchief in my pocket. I’ve been using them for decades now [we’re about the same age]. I admit that I’ve never needed to wipe fingerprints off a doorknob or pick up a handgun with one, but I have had occasion to offer one to a tearful companion and that was much nicer, I (and she) thought, than a tissue.

    And another MNB user wrote, simply:


    You betcha. I was a total "Mannix" geek. I have an autographed picture of Mike Connors in my office, will own the entire series on DVD when the final season comes out next week, and would fly to California tomorrow for the opportunity to meet Mr. Connors.

    So there.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 30, 2012

    In Thursday Night Football action, the Atlanta Falcons defeated the New Orleans Saints 23-13.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 30, 2012

    Some parents brag about their kids becoming doctors or lawyers.

    Me, I couldn't be prouder. My son is a Klingon.

    That's him, pictured at right.

    He's performing in Chicago in something called "A Klingon Christmas Carol," at the Raven Theater, opening tomorrow night and running through the end of the year.

    Here's how Commedia Beauregard, the company putting on the production, describes the play:

    Scrooge has no honor, nor any courage. Can three ghosts help him to become the true warrior he ought to be in time to save Tiny Tim from a horrible fate? Performed in the Original Klingon with English Supertitles, and narrative analysis from The Vulcan Institute of Cultural Anthropology.

    The Dickens classic tale of ghosts and redemption adapted to reflect the Warrior Code of Honor and then translated into tlhIngan Hol  (That’s the Klingon Language).
    (There are opera-style subtitles providing English translation.)

    This is the second year the show has run in Chicago, and last year it apparently was both a critical and commercial success. But this is David's first go, in the role of Scrooge's nephew.

    If you live in Chicago, are a Star Trek fan or an MNB fan - or, best yet, all three - I hope you'll try to check out "A Klingon Christmas Carol" .

    Just FYI ... I'm going to attend the show next Friday night, December 7 ... and it would be fun if there are some other members of the MNB community in the audience.

    And one other thing...

    Since I'm going to be in Chicago, I thought it might be nice to have one of our little MNB get-togethers before the show. So I'll be at the bar at Bin 36, located at 339 North Dearborn Street in Chicago, next Friday, December 7, if anyone would like to join me for a glass of wine (not Klingon bloodwine, alas), from 4:30 pm to 6 pm. (I'll have to leave at 6 if I'm going to make the 7:30 pm curtain for "A Klingon Christmas Carol.")

    We can raise our glasses and say, "Heghlu'meH QaQ jajvam!"

    I've just finished reading two very interesting books.

    The first is called "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business," by Charles Duhigg (Random House - $28). Essentially, the book looks at how people and companies fall into habits both good and bad, and what they need to do in order to change the negative habits that affect their ability to achieve and excel. "The Power of Habit" is a nice combination of research and anecdote, using examples ranging from the Indianapolis Colts to Alcoholics Anonymous to tell his story. It is very much worth reading.

    The second is a terrific Christmas present for foodies - "The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink," edited by Kevin Young, (Bloomsbury USA - $25). I'm not a big poetry guy, but I found this collection utterly delightful, ranging from the serious to the whimsical, featuring works from poets as varied as Robert Frost and Gertrude Stein, and considering subjects as disparate as the harvest and Wendy's. One of my favorites is "Ode to Barbecue Sauce," by Roy Blount Jr:

    Hot and sweet and red and greasy,
    I could eat a gallon easy:
    Barbecue sauce!
    Lay it on, hoss.

    Brush it on chicken, slosh it on pork,
    Eat it with fingers, not with a fork.
    I could eat barbecued turtle or squash --
    I could eat tar paper cooked and awash
    In barbecue sauce.

    I’d eat Spanish moss
    With barbecue sauce.

    Couldn't have said it better myself.

    Three wines to recommend to you this morning...

    2011 Albarino d Fefinanes, which is yet another terrific Albarino, a Spanish white that is wonderful with seafood.

    2010 Frescobaldi Remole Toscana, a blend of 85% Sangiovese and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon that is a terrific Italian red that is great with a thick, rich lasagne.

    2009 Banknote Counterfeit Zinfandel, a terrific blend of 92% Zinfandel and 8% Petite Sirah, that I served the other night with a steak seasoned with a fabulous spicy rub from Dorothy Lane Markets.


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

    KC's View: