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    Published on: January 14, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    Great piece in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend about Pete Mulvihill, co-owner of Green Apple Books in San Francisco, an independent bookstore that is profitable and thriving, despite competition from the likes of and Barnes & Noble.

    "To reflect shifting reading habits and business in the Internet age," the story says, "Green Apple has a Facebook page, a Tumblr blog, a book-of-the-month club and offers an option to buy electronic books. Mr. Mulvihill says he closely watches costs, including credit-card processing fees, and gets ideas from other bookstores he visits."

    Some excerpts from the interview with Mulvihill:

    • "There have been a never-ending series of things that should have run us out of business. First we had a Crown Books down the street, and then the rise of the mega bookstores. We should have been gone a long time ago, [but] this year was better than last. We're not just treading water, we're doing better."

    • Amazon is "definitely our biggest competitor. The only good news is California is finally making them [Amazon] collect sales tax.

    "One main advantage we have now is instant gratification. If someone is on their way to a kid's birthday party and forgot to buy a gift, they can come into our store. But when Amazon can deliver in a couple of hours, they eliminate that advantage."

    • "Some of it is watching the balance of products that we sell. We have catchphrases, including, 'Sell more of what's selling.' We used to have three [book]cases of kids' books and now we have 25. After 9/11, when travel plummeted, we shrunk the selection devoted to travel books, and now travel is booming again."

    It is always nice to see when independent retailers are managing to compete - and succeed - despite the power of the forces allayed against them.

    You can read the entire piece here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 14, 2013

    Reuters reports that best Buy is saying that in certain markets it is seeing an increase in online purchases when Amazon has begun collecting sales taxes on purchases made from its site.

    "In California, Texas and Pennsylvania where recently started collecting tax, it is very early, but Best Buy has seen a 4 to 6 percent increase in online sales observed in aggregate versus the rest of the chain," says Best Buy spokeswoman Amy von Walter. "While some people may still prefer to shop online, the sales tax parity has shown that people will shift their buying habits."

    According to the story, "Critics of Amazon have argued it had an unfair advantage because big retailers, including Best Buy, Wal-Mart Stores Inc and Target Corp, have had to collect state sales tax on online sales for years because they have stores and other physical operations in these locations ... Big retailers hope the requirement to collect sales tax will reduce Amazon's price advantage and help them recoup some sales that lost to the Internet retailer."

    Amazon did not respond to requests from Reuters for a comment.
    KC's View:
    I'm a little surprised by this, and I'm not sure whether this reflects reality or wishful thinking.

    But, it certainly could be that in markets where its prices seem more in line and there is more than an in-name-only relationship between its online and bricks-and-mortar stores, Best Buy is able to gain back some lost ground.There's no question that retailers with a smart, relevant and sophisticated multi-channel presence should be able to turn it into an advantage against a pure-play retailer. Not a lot do, but it certainly is theoretically possible. I haven't gotten the sense that Best Buy is doing that in any sort of broad way, but I'm open to the possibility ... and I think that in the long run, it would be good for business and good for consumers.

    Published on: January 14, 2013

    In a memo circulated on Friday, Roland Smith, the new president/CEO of Salisbury, North Carolina-based Delhaize America, laid out his vision of the company's organizational structure, and shared with members of the company the evolving structure of what is being called the Delhaize America Leadership Team (DALT). "In the summer of 2012," Smith writes, "Delhaize America initiated a Strategic Cost Program in an effort to significantly reduce SG&A costs. The intent was to bring the ratio of SG&A to revenue in line with market standards and reinvest those savings in our banners to improve our customers’ experience and drive revenue. Despite best intentions and efforts, our cost-saving targets were not achieved.

    "Accordingly, over the past six weeks, the DALT has worked diligently to build a DA Officer structure that is both effective at achieving our goals and as efficient as possible. Through intensive workshops and significant collaboration, each DALT member has worked to develop the structures and teams they need in order to serve their customers, grow our businesses, and create shareholder value.

    "Our new structure includes 50 Officers, which represents almost a 25 percent reduction, and is a balance of position creation, position elimination, and some positions remaining the same. The following Officers were carefully selected for their roles, whether the position is new or represents continuity."

    The follow DALT structure is said to be effective immediately:

    Strategy and Development: Reporting to Chief Strategy and Development Officer David Criscione, located in Salisbury...

    • David Hilse, Vice President, Strategy, Delhaize America, located in Salisbury.

    • Kyle Mitchell, Vice President, Store Development, Delhaize America, located in Salisbury.

    Finance: Reporting to Chief Financial Officer Greg Amoroso, located in Salisbury...

    • Tom Kelly, Vice President, Controller, Delhaize America, located in Salisbury.

    • Lionel Desclee, Vice President, Finance, Delhaize America, located in Salisbury.

    Supply Chain: Reporting to Chief Supply Chain Officer Mike Vail, located in Salisbury...

    • Tod Pepin, Senior Vice President, Center Store Merchandising, Delhaize America, located in Salisbury.

    • Tim Jacques, Vice President, Center Store Merchandising, Delhaize America, will report to Tod and will be located in Salisbury.

    • Geoff Waldau, Senior Vice President, Fresh Merchandising, Delhaize America, located in Salisbury.

    • Mark Messier, Vice President, Fresh Merchandising, will report to Geoff and be located in Salisbury.

    • Chris Lewis, Vice President, Supply Chain Services and Solutions, Delhaize America, located in Scarborough.

    • Gerry Greenleaf, Vice President, Distribution and Transportation, Delhaize America, located in Scarborough.

    • Attila Akat, Senior Vice President, Our Brands, Delhaize America, is joining the organization and will be located in Salisbury.

    • Mike Cantrell, Vice President, Pharmacy, Delhaize America, recently joined the organization and is located in Scarborough.

    Food Lion, Harveys and Reid’s: Reporting to President Beth Newlands Campbell, located in Salisbury...

    • JJ Fleeman, Vice President, Strategy and Business Development, Food Lion, located in Salisbury.

    • Karen Fernald, Senior Vice President, Merchandising, Food Lion, located in Salisbury.

    Hannaford and Sweetbay: Reporting to President Brad Wise, located in Scarborough...

    • Peter Forester, Vice President, Strategy and Business Development, Hannaford and Sweetbay, located in Scarborough.

    • Rick Meyerkopf, Vice President, Merchandising, Hannaford and Sweetbay, located in Scarborough.

    • Mary Wright, Vice President, Marketing, Hannaford and Sweetbay, located in Scarborough.

    • Bob Schools, Senior Vice President, Retail Operations, Hannaford, located in Scarborough.

    Bottom Dollar Food: Reporting to President Meg Ham, located in Salisbury...

    • Gene Faller, Vice President, Retail Operations, Bottom Dollar Food, located in Salisbury.

    • Jason Wilson, Vice President, Strategy and Business Development, Bottom Dollar Food, located in Salisbury.

    • Hans Lefebvre, Vice President, Merchandising, Bottom Dollar Food, located in Salisbury

    Information Technology/Info Security: Reporting to Chief Information Officer Deb Dixson, located in Salisbury...

    • Odile Ducatez, Vice President, Global IT Business Office, Delhaize America, located in Salisbury.

    • Nathalie Haddad, Vice President, Solutions Delivery, Delhaize America, located in Salisbury.

    • Eric Norden, Vice President, Global IT Infrastructure, Delhaize America, located in Salisbury.

    John Kirkwood, Vice President, Chief Information Security Officer, Delhaize Group, located in Salisbury.

    Human Resources is a category where the new person in charge has not yet been named, though it has been determined that whoever holds the office will be "located in Salisbury." Smith writes, "As I mentioned in my last message, we are conducting a search for a new Chief People Officer. We have made progress with recruitment, but have yet to make a final decision. In the meantime, Hannaford and Sweetbay President Brad Wise will serve the organization in both his new position and his previous role as Senior Vice President of Human Resources."

    Smith also used the memo to take note of the "departure of many longtime, well-respected leaders" from the company, including Pete Bonneau, Vice President, Center Store Merchandising, Delhaize America; Mike Brooks, Vice President, Strategy, Delhaize America; Jim Corby, Vice President, Produce Merchandising, Delhaize America; Steve Culver, Vice President, Government Relations – Northeast, Delhaize America; James Egan, Senior Vice President, Retail Operations, Food Lion; Kristen Hanson, Vice President, Our Brands, Delhaize America; Mike Harris, Vice President, Risk Management, Delhaize America; Lisa Miller, Vice President, Sustainability, Delhaize America; Kyle Price, Vice President, Produce Merchandising, Food Lion; T.R. Robinson, Senior Vice President, Merchandising, Food Lion, and Lisa Toner, Vice President, Legal Affairs, Delhaize America."

    In the memo, Smith wrote about the internal group looking to develop what is being called a "Delhaize America Vision," which he said "is meant to support, not replace, the Delhaize Group Vision. We have also made significant progress in reducing hundreds of previous 'priorities' into 12 to 15 clearly defined critical priorities on which we will focus our full resources on achieving in 2013. I look forward to sharing our new Vision, operating principles, and critical priorities with you in the near future."

    Finally, Smith wrote: "In my last message, I relayed that my intent was to relocate my team of direct reports and a select group of key leaders to Salisbury and explore consolidating Support Services in late 2013 or early 2014. After completing the moves contemplated in this announcement, approximately 80 percent of Delhaize America Officers will be located in North Carolina.

    "After additional analysis and review with the DALT, I now believe that further consolidation of Support Services would result in unnecessary loss of critical talent. Accordingly, our plan is to assess the success of our new structure before making any decisions regarding consolidation.

    "To be clear, beyond the relocation contemplated in this announcement, if our new structure is effective in accomplishing our goals, we will not consolidate all of Support Services in Salisbury. However, if a current associate leaves Delhaize America, we will carefully consider the optimal location for his or her position before hiring a replacement."
    KC's View:
    I've posted so much of the memo for a reason. For one thing, I wasn't sure I could do justice to the emotional kick to the heart and stomach of many people at Delhaize that the memo delivered, and I thought that rather than paraphrasing, it made sense to just hit you with the highlights. (There's more. I just tried to pick off the big stuff.)

    I want to be clear here. I am not saying that Smith, who has been with Delhaize just since September, and who comes to the company from Wendy's/Arby's, is wrong or misguided in his approach. Hell, while this is being by some within the organization as a take-no-prisoners approach to leadership, and that while much of the tumult is based in Salisbury, the management style would be more appropriate to the burning of Atlanta, which is less than 300 miles to the southwest.

    I'm not saying that because sometimes - as in the case of JC Penney, for example - radical change is called for. Only time will tell if the kind of changes being instigated by Smith make Delhaize a better, more responsive and more relevant retailer. If he's right, it will be kudos all around. If he's wrong, I have no idea whether the company would be able to repair the damage.

    I do know this. While I am not seeing emails from people like those, for example, that I've gotten from people who worked at places like Supervalu and A&P, I am getting the sense of pervasive organizational disquiet. There's a feeling in the air that everybody's head can be placed on the chopping block, and I also get the impression that there may be some level of paranoia at Delhaize. Go figure. (I suspect that there were more than a few stiff drinks poured on Friday after folks got that memo.)

    On the one hand, people don't always perform well if they are paranoid about their ability to survive in the workplace. However, I think people do feel better about a company that they feel has a strong captain at the helm with an excellent sense of direction. (As long as he doesn't steer them into an iceberg, of course. The captain of the Titanic, as it happens, also was named Smith - Edward Smith. I have no idea of there is any family connection.)

    I also think that there may be some skepticism about the Salisbury-centric culture that is being imposed on the company. (Some are seeing a subtext in the Smith memo that he is a little grudging about not moving everyone to Salisbury.)

    About this, I think Delhaize has to be exceedingly careful - supermarket chains can rise and fall based on their ability to serve and reflect communities. They are not like fast food restaurants, which thrive on homogenization. Hannaford, Food Lion, Bottom Dollar, Sweetbay - these are all very different chains, serving different communities, and exhibiting, at least to this point, very different kinds of character. While efficiencies can be found, effectiveness won't necessarily always come with a 28145 zip code.

    I'm sure that strong leaders like Beth Newlands Campbell, Mike Vail and Meg Hamm know this. They sure as hell don't need me to tell them.

    But stating things like this is what I do. There are a lot of moving parts here, and the complete puzzle has not yet been assembled. It is important, though, to keep in mind what Ernest Hemingway once said: "Never confuse movement with action."

    Published on: January 14, 2013

    USA Today has piece saying that "subscription services have become such a hot trend that you can get a regular delivery of just about anything, from monthly underwear to weekly fresh-made soup."

    You can read the entire piece here.
    KC's View:
    I'm not going to break down the whole USA today story because this is a trend that we've been talking about here on MNB for quite some time. Plus, they miss the big dog in this fight -, which has been aggressive and successful with its Subscribe & Save program.

    Subscription services lock customers in, take them out of the market for certain products and categories, and creates a more connected relationship with store and shopper. (And, potentially, manufacturer and shopper in cases where the manufacturer decides to create its own subscription programs.)

    It strikes me as a great opportunity for retailers trying to find new ways to be relevant to their shoppers.

    Published on: January 14, 2013 has a piece about Amazon's fulfillment service for third-party sellers, which it says tends to be more expensive than other options but generally is chosen by vendors because "Amazon tilts user feedback ratings to favor its own shipping service ... According to its terms of service, Amazon reserves the right to remove negative feedback about a shipping-related issue, such as delivery delays or corrupt packaging - but only for sellers that opt-in to Amazon’s fulfillment service ... Rival providers of fulfillment services claim this is stifling the growth of the business, and is an anti-competitive practice. An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment."
    KC's View:
    The piece suggests that Amazon probably isn't doing anything illegal by slanting the reviews in its favor, even if competing fulfillment services are less expensive and maybe even more reliable. And, the fact seems to be that companies using Amazon's fulfillment services tend to be seen as higher in the search rankings, which would make sense, since Amazon is more in control of the process.

    The thing is, from my own personal experience - and it is limited, even though I'm a big Amazon shopper - I tend to prefer dealing with third part vendors who are using Amazon's services ... it is my sense that I'll get the product faster, in better shape and with greater options for appeal if something goes wrong. Maybe that's a mistake, but so far it seems to have worked out. I'm betting I'm not alone in this.

    Published on: January 14, 2013

    Talking Points Memo reports that "a coalition of gun violence survivors and consumer watchdogs will deliver a petition with nearly 250,000 signatures to a Walmart near Newtown, Conn., Tuesday, asking the nation's largest gun retailer to stop selling assault weapons and munitions. The petition, as well as a protest outside the Walmart, was organized by the watchdog group"

    According to the story, "Among those who signed onto the letter to Walmart are family members of the victims from recent mass shootings, including Aurora, Col., Tucson, Ariz., Oak Creek, Wis. and the shooting at Virginia Tech."
    KC's View:
    here are those who think that this debate will go away at some point, but I don't think it will ... and I also don;t think that Walmart, as the nation's largest gun and ammunition retailer, will be able to avoid being at the epicenter of this important political and cultural debate.

    Published on: January 14, 2013

    The Seattle Times reports on the decision by the National Retail Federation (NRF) to give Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos its annual Gold Award, noting that "the trade group's selection of Bezos as retailer of the year may be the most surprising one yet when you consider the fierce rivalry between Amazon and the organization's brick-and-mortar base." Bezos is the first online-only retailer to get the award, following in the footsteps of people like Kip Tindell of The Container Store, Terry Lundgren of Macy's, Millard Drexler of J. Crew, and Howard Schultz of Starbucks.

    As the Times writes, "No company has done more in the past decade to disrupt the traditional retail establishment than Amazon. It upended the book industry with its Kindle e-reader, then created a tablet for movies, games and other things sold on Amazon. The competitive implications of a mobile device designed to get people buying more from Amazon soon became terrifyingly clear." Indeed, Amazon has even taken an in-your-face approach, suggesting to customers that they use traditional retailers as showrooms, checking out products there and then using their smartphones, tablets and computers to order those items from Amazon.
    KC's View:
    Giving the award to Bezos makes sense. It probably could be argued that it is long overdue. After all, give me the name of another retailer who has had as much impact on commerce and popular culture as Bezos has in the last decade.

    Published on: January 14, 2013

    Walmart announced that Enrique Ostale, president and CEO of Walmart Chile, has been named executive vice president, president and CEO of Walmart Latin America, where he will oversee Walmart's operations in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua.

    Ostale will assume his new role on March 1, at which point Eduardo Solorzano will retire as president and CEO of Walmart Latin America while continuing to serve as chairman of the board of directors at Walmart de Mexico.

    Gian Carlo Nucci, currently executive vice president and COO of Walmart de Mexico, has been named to replace Ostale as president and CEO of Walmart Chile.

    Reuters notes in its story that Solorzano "had run the retailer's business in Mexico when the company reportedly began a probe into bribery allegations in the country," but reports that Walmart says the moves have nothing to do with the ongoing internal and federal probes into what the New York Times said was systemic and systematic bribery of Mexican officials as a way of greasing the wheels of growth there.
    KC's View:
    Walmart says that none of these moves have anything to do with the various bribery investigations, but if you believe that, Walmart also has a bridge it would like to sell you in Brooklyn.

    Depending on how the investigations go, and the extent to which senior executives in a number of countries are implicated, these could just be the beginning of some executive shifts and retirements (forced and otherwise) that reshape the retailer's top team.

    Published on: January 14, 2013

    Bloomberg Business Week has a piece about how, "as Cerberus Capital Management buys half of Supervalu, the private equity outfit will also gain a big say over the embattled supermarket operator's remaining businesses ... Supervalu's post-deal chairman is the CEO of Cerberus-owned Albertson's LLC, an entity created when the private equity group bought the dregs of the old Albertsons chain in 2006 and Supervalu got its prime stores. Albertson's is seen as a successful investment for Cerberus, while Supervalu's stock peaked at more than $40 in 2007 and closed Friday at $3.53."

    ""One executed well. The other destroyed value on an epic proportion," Karen Short, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets, tells Bloomberg Business Week.

    It is suggested in the piece that "with Cerberus on board, Supervalu's management might be on a tighter leash from its board of directors. And cost-cutting could get more intense."

    • The Wall Street Journal writes that in investing $3.3 billion to buy five Supervalu grocery chains made up of 877 stores, Cerberus may be getting "real estate worth at least as much as the group paid." About half the stores involved, the story says, "are either company-owned or subject to ground leases, people familiar with the deal said. Ground leases are long-term deals that let tenants develop and make improvements to land, as if they were the owner ... At an estimated value of at least $150 to $200 per square foot, those properties could be worth a total of between $3.3 billion and $4.4 billion."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 14, 2013

    Bankrupt and liquidating Hostess Brands said Friday that it made a deal to sell many of its bread brands - including Wonder Bread and Nature's pride - to Flowers Foods.

    According to the LA Times story, Flowers "will spend $360 million for the Wonder, Nature’s Pride, Butternut, Home Pride and Merita labels as well as 20 Hostess bakeries and 38 depots. Hostess, based in Irving, Texas, will sell Flowers its Beefsteak bread brand separately in a $30-million arrangement."

    However, the deal still needs to be approved by the bankruptcy court overseeing Hostess's affairs, and there is still a possibility another company could swoop in with a better offer.

    The Hostess snack brands, including Twinkies and Ding Dongs, remain on the market.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 14, 2013

    • The Rochester Business Journal reports that Wegmans has introduced "the latest version of its mobile shopping application for iPhone and iPad, with updated features that "include a database of past purchases linked to a user’s Shoppers Club account and a function that organizes shopping lists by aisle using the store’s layout. It also displays Wegmans recipes, more nutritional information and has the ability to scan barcodes using a camera phone."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 14, 2013

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

    • Daymon Worldwide announced the launch of Be Heard, which it described as "a loyalty and payments platform that offers retailer and supplier partners a competitive edge in connecting with their customers in real time, and avoids expensive credit and debit transaction fees."

    The move, the company said, "is part of Daymon’s ongoing commitment to serving its supplier partners and retail customers, by adding new capabilities that complement the company’s core businesses of private brands and retail services.

    "Daymon has partnered with loyalty technology and strategy experts Midax and IncentEdge to deliver the modular software solution that provides a convenient one-card and mobile option to add and redeem coupons, receive targeted offers, earn loyalty points and pay for purchases."

    • The Denver Post reports that Kroger-owned King Soopers plans to open an urban store in the city's Riverfront Park neighborhood northwest of Coors Field and northeast of Union Station. While the size and style of the store have not yet been announced, the story says that "downtown residents and business boosters long have sought a full-service grocery store. Grocers have held off, awaiting sufficient population density provided by residential development in the fast-growing LoDo, Central Platte Valley and Ballpark neighborhoods."

    The unit is expected to open in 2014 or 2015.

    Marketing Daily writes that 28 percent of Americans say that "they have already purchased or plan to purchase one of Starbucks’ new $1 reusable coffee tumblers, aimed at  reducing paper cup waste."

    According to the piece, "Specifically, 2% said they had already bought one of the cups; 7% said they will 'definitely' buy one but haven’t done so yet; and 19% said they will “probably” buy one. Even 12% of non-Starbucks customers said they intend to purchase one of the cups.

    "Also, regardless of whether they would purchase a cup, seven out of 10 respondents said they believe it’s a good idea, and four out of 10 consider it a 'very good' idea."

    I hate it when my cynical side kicks in, but am I correct that this study says that 19 percent of Starbucks customers and 12 percent of non-Starbucks customers say they plan to buy the cups? Really? Because the road to positive poll numbers is paved with good intentions that are not necessarily delivered on...

    • The Boston Globe reports that "shift supervisors at local Starbucks cafes plan to deliver a petition to the coffee chain’s local headquarters demanding a pay raise following a recent court decision barring supervisors in Massachusetts from sharing in baristas’ tips, said a group that says it represents many of the supervisors ... While strongly disagreeing with that decision, Starbucks said it agreed to abide by it.

    "One potential result is that supervisors could make less money. Starbucks said it is taking steps to ensure that supervisors will continue to be 'fairly rewarded for their work'."

    • The Seattle Times reports that a federal judge has ruled that " a group of investors led by actor Patrick Dempsey can buy Tully's Coffee out of bankruptcy ... The decision came after Dempsey's group, coffee giant Starbucks and other bidders sparred before U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Karen Overstreet for the 47-shop chain.

    According to the story, "Bidders in court Friday had participated in a private auction for beleaguered Tully's last week, when the chain's management and creditors chose the Dempsey group's $9.15 million bid. Starbucks and a Filipino company called AgriNurture cried foul, saying their combined bids of $10.56 million should have been selected."

    There was one story suggesting that Starbucks claimed that Dempsey, "McDreamy" of the "Gray's Anatomy" TV series, had "charmed" his way into winning the fight for Tully's. Which struck me as kind of like being a sore loser. Y'know, not every coffee shop in Seattle has to be Starbucks...
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 14, 2013

    On National Public Radio this morning, Marketplace features a brief story about some of the issues being dealt with at the National Retail federation (NRF) show in New York ... and MNB's Kevin Coupe is one of the folks interviewed. You can hear it here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 14, 2013

    On the subject of the Supervalu-Cerberus deal, MNB user Carl Henninger wrote:

    I look at the Supervalu transaction from three points of view, as an industry insider, an elected member of the Village Board of my Chicago area suburb and as a Jewel shopper. As an industry insider I am glad that Supervalu it finally ending this disastrous chapter. As a Village Board member, I am hoping that the sale will lead to improved performance of the Jewel Osco store in my community. Within a year it will be facing new local competition from a new The Fresh Market store in our community and a new Mariano’s opening on the same road, a mile away, in another community. On its present course, I am concerned about the store’s viability. The impact on our community to the closure of this store would be the loss of the sales tax revenue, particularly to the new Mariano’s. As with most Illinois municipalities, we rely heavily on sales tax, a key funding source. As a shopper, I am hoping that the new owners can develop a pricing strategy that will enable our family to heavily shop this store once again. Because of Jewel’s former dominance in the Chicago market, they have always been high priced. But, in the current hyper-competitive Chicago area marketplace, Jewel and Supervalu have not been able to implement and maintain an effective pricing strategy to retain or win back shoppers who have migrated to newer competitors such as Walmart, Target, Trader Joes, Aldi, Costco and a host of smaller local competitors. I hope that this transaction is successful for both parties.

    MNB user Glenn Cantor wrote:

    I grew up in Philadelphia and, therefore, grew up with “Acme” being the generic term for supermarket in the Philly region.   My wife’s mother lives in an active adult community in the Philly market.  During a recent visit, she needed a few things from the food store.  Acme is the closest store, so I offered to go to Acme to pick up the things she needed.  She emphatically stated, “Don’t go to Acme.  They are too expensive.”  Apparently, one of the common topics of discussion among the seniors in Philadelphia (a close second to discussing medical issues and today’s doctor visits!) is the high cost of shopping at Acme.  This is a common perception throughout the Philadelphia market.

    As an industry veteran who regularly visits the grocers in the Philadelphia market, I understand that the actual high pricing may or may not be true but the perception is more damaging.   Acme has failed to establish their own positioning in this market and therefore has not been able to distinguish positive values provided from being an Acme shopper.  There is little loyalty, even though the chain has many positive benefits that they have failed to effectively communicate- localized personal service, best of class perishables (especially meat), and neighborhood locations.  As a result, they have let the  negative perceptions create positioning for them. 
    Hopefully, Cerberus wants to do more than maintain the status quo and reap a declining value from an outdated store model.  Acme stores are local.  Shoppers in Philadelphia have grown up with these stores as part of their lives.  And, unfortunately, most of the good local competitors no longer exist- Clemens, Genuardis.  This sale should be a great opportunity to leverage many enviable assets to  reinvent a valuable, well-liked local grocer- one in which my mother-in-law will like shopping.

    Regarding the retirement of Safeway CEO Steve Burd, and the company's search - both inside and outside - for a successor, one MNB user wrote:

    He has ruined every chain that was bought or touched by Safeway.  He can’t leave fast enough for me.

    Actually, he wrote a lot more than that ... but this was the part that was civil and printable.

    I've had a number of conversations with people about the Safeway situation, and there is a lot of interest in which direction the company will turn. The general feeling, if I can sum it up, is that Safeway's board is likely to choose the current CFO, Robert Edwards, to replace him, but that this is not the direction the company should take. (The sense is Edwards, like Burd, is essentially a numbers guy, and that Safeway needs a hardcore merchant to take the helm.)

    Not surprisingly, there is one name that keeps coming up in my various conversations as an ideal choice to succeed Burd - Jim Donald, the former CEO of Pathmark, Starbucks, Haggen, and current CEO of the Extend Stay hotels chain. He is a former Safeway executive, so he knows the company ... he specializes in making companies both more effective and efficient ... he is terrific at motivating organizations ... and he builds value.

    In the words of one person with whom I talked, the board would be "negligent" if it did not at least reach out to Jim Donald to see a) if he is available, b) how he identifies Safeway's problems, and c) what he would do to fix them.

    On another subject, one MNB user offered:

    We just noticed that our Personnel officer is now called Chief People Officer.  Just for a giggle, we looked on wiki for definition.  Explains it to a tee.

    For the record, this is how defines a "Chief People Officer:

    A chief People Officer was a VP of Human Resources, but that wasn't touchy feely enough and neither was VP of Personnel. So, some clever HR type decided that all they had to do to impress their employees with how much the company cared about them was to create the third generation of the "personnel manager". That's sure to fool them. don't change the policies, benefits, or management skills, just change the name of the personnel manager. Can't you just see the employees celebrating?

    Funny, huh?

    Though there are companies out there that go through this exercise, breathe their own exhaust, and then believe that they've made a cultural shift, not just a cosmetic change.

    Nothing wrong with having a Chief People Officer. You just have to mean it.

    Once again, let's quote Hemingway: "Never confuse movement with action."

    MNB took note last week of an Associated Press report that at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, entrepreneurs from a French company called Hapilabs showed off a gadget called the HAPIfork, which "contains a motion sensor, so it can figure out when it's being lifted to the mouth. If it senses that you're eating too fast, it warns with you with a vibration and a blinking light." The company believes that using the fork 60 to 75 times during meals lasting from 20 to 30 minutes is ideal. "Between meals, you can connect the fork to a computer or phone and upload data on how fast you're eating, for long-term tracking," the story said.

    One MNB user responded:

    I have been reading MNB for years now and look forward to it every morning. Today is the first time I just had to comment on an article. I actually love the idea of the talking fork. I have a degree in psychology and the idea of a fork vibrating to let you know when you are eating to quickly makes perfect since. It will easily train you to slow down as you begin to associate the vibration with eating too fast. I live alone and sometimes struggle with eating too fast when I’m alone in front of the TV for dinner. So the idea of having the fork training me to slow and creating muscle memory after so many uses sounds very appealing. I would love to buy one right now. Just thought I’d give you my perspective as someone who thinks it’s a great idea.

    I thought that the talking fork was the beginning of the rise of the machines, which led one reader to comment:

    Wouldn’t it be a hoot if the forks and spoons sensed when to vibrate the food right off the tines, or spill the ice cream in your lap or back into the bowl?
    Agreed!  Be very afraid!

    I commented last week about a story regarding how Walmart has been included in a lawsuit over working conditions at a warehouse it does not own, but that does handle its products, and I suggested that Walmart strikes me as a bit of a control freak, so it isn't hard to believe that the warehouse owners are doing its bidding.

    Which led one reader to respond:

    I work for a company that does business with Walmart and can tell you that they have no idea what happens in our warehouse.  Luckily, it's a good place to work and we don't have problems.
    I can tell you that what they do control. If we don't have an item they requested you have to have it to the store within 24 hours or they can fine us a pre-determined amount.

    Regarding the ongoing nutrition debate about glucose, high fructose corn syrup, one MNB user wrote:

    Just the other day, I had a customer looking for cranberry sauce which did not contain high fructose corn syrup. We looked in the organic aisle and in the mean time he told me he was a biochemist and knows of the bad affects of this on the body. He said the liver cannot properly break it down and it ends up being absorbed by the body as fat. It was an interesting conversion and a little more technical than what I explained. Bottom line, makes me think twice about corn syrup, after all even though the government says it is safe, can we trust them?

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Nutrition studies such as this are revealing, but they may not be practical.  Pure glucose may have less impact than pure fructose on appetite as measured through brain activity.  But what foods contain pure fructose?  Not many other than a few highly formulated beverages in the Nature’s set.  Fruit juice contains a mix of sugars depending on the fruit.  Table sugar and high fructose corn syrup are both about half fructose and half glucose.   Alternatively, the only foods that contain pure glucose are highly processed sugars derived from grains like wheat, rice or corn.   Sorry folks, Karo syrup (100% glucose) is no nutrition star!

    From another reader:

    I think the summary of the study regarding fructose was too simplistic. Fructose occurs naturally in fruit and is added to processed foods through the use of high fructose corn syrup. When fructose sweetens foods that could have been sweetened with glucose, fructose failed to produce feelings of satiety and fullness that glucose did produce, thereby failing to signal that it was time to stop eating. That's different than "causing overeating."

    And another:

    The United States is always way behind other countries when it comes to this type of thing. Many countries have banned the use of high fructose corn syrup because of these types of affects on the body. We wonder why diabetes and overweight people are so high – it’s because of the use of fructose in so many of our foods. Regular sugar is by far much more safe but once again, corporations run this country and the FDA believes their lies that it’s a beneficial product. When will this country start working for the better of its citizens instead of what’s good for a corporation?

    And another:

    So we have finally found the culprit to all of our over-eating ! Thank goodness, I was about to give up. I am so glad it had nothing to do with "super sizing" fast food meals, eating processed foods, or just plain eating too many calories. I am ordering new smaller sized clothing as we speak.

    I love emails like this one, from an MNB user talking about a consumer experience:

    I pretty much thought I knew what "set up and put in place" meant when I recently purchased a ping pong table from Sears to give to my kids as a Christmas gift.  I asked the sales employee if Sears would be able to put together the table for me and he assured that was part of the delivery process for which I was paying $69.99.  I was reassured when my receipt and three confirming e-mails I received from Sears clearly stated, "Set up and put in place".

    I was thankful for this service and decided to purchase from Sears instead of Costco.  Costco offered free shipping, but clearly no "set up and put in place" service.  I scheduled a delivery for December 24, so that I could surprise my kids as close to Christmas as possible.  The delivery service called 30 minutes ahead of their scheduled time and delivered the table to the middle of my family room floor.  I confirmed with the driver that he would be setting it up and putting it place.  "No, I only have 9 minutes scheduled for this stop. We don't put together tables."

    On January 1, I contacted Sears customer service via Twitter @SearsCares. I wanted to share with them that I was disappointed that the "set up and put in place" had not happened.  I had a Twitter reply immediately; they followed me which then allowed me to send them a direct message with my contact info.  A day went by, and I heard nothing.  Then another day, and so on.  Each day, I tweeted to @SearsCares asking when I might hear from someone.  Each time, I was told they were assigning my issue to a case manager and that I should hear from someone soon.  By January 8, I still had not heard anything.  When I tried to send another direct message via Twitter, I discovered they had "unfollowed" me, which then meant I could no longer direct message them.  Finally I got an e-mail reply which said: 
    While your sales check does say set up and put in place, it refers to the delivery of your table. Putting your table together would be considered an installation and would be a separate cost. We apologize for any confusion or inconvenience this may have caused you.
    To be fair, they did offer me a $40 gift card for my troubles.  I turned it down.  Their lack of a timely response and definition of "set up and put in place", are unacceptable. Why would I need a $40 gift card to a retailer at which I won't shop again?   
    Through my own informal consumer research, I have not found anyone who would interpret the words "set up and put in place" to mean "delivery only". 
    Fortunately I know my way around a Phillips-head screwdriver, monkey wrench, pliers and a glass of wine, so the table is now "set up and put in place" and functioning just fine.  @SearsCares, yeah, I don't think so.

    Sounds like bait-and-switch to me.

    Here's my question: Y'think Fast Eddie Lampert knows what to do with a screwdriver, monkey wrench and pliers?

    Regarding the self-checkout experience at the Apple Store that I raved about, one MNB user wrote:

    So, you check yourself out without any other human interaction? And you're cool with that? I'm not shocked OR surprised. Maybe saddened. If great customer service is the one I give myself then I sure would like a paycheck for it.

    I love human interaction. I thrive on it. I enjoy it so much that I've created a business in which I am part of a 25,000+ member community that communicates every morning. (MNB is not impersonal, at least not in my estimation.)

    But I don't need it when I am buying a charger for my iPad.

    More comments regarding the recent Baseball Hall of Fame voting, as MNB user Douglas Madenberg wrote:

    As a fellow Mets fan, I’m surprised you found this result satisfying.  I found it doubly disappointing that Mike Piazza didn’t make the cut on this first ballot.  With only Tom Seaver wearing our team’s cap currently in Cooperstown, my son and I were looking forward to his being joined by a catcher who (presumably) didn’t take part in the whole PED craze and still managed to put up some of the best historical numbers for the most demanding of positions.  I understand that these things tend to take more than one vote (Yogi Berra also missed on his first try), but to me, this would have been the BEST year to induct some great, clean players while excluding the dope heads.  I fear what will happen is that Bonds, Clemens etc will get in eventually, perhaps in the same year as Piazza, and it will turn into a controversy about the steroids era, rather than a celebration of his career and accomplishments.

    From MNB user Ryan Tonies:

    I agree with your take on Pete Rose and his absence from the HOF (“…eats away at his soul.”), however the issue I have with it is that his banishment is a result of his gambling as a MANAGER; not his accomplishments as a great baseball player.  This clearly isn’t a case of him possibly taking PED’s (Performance Enhancing Drugs) and cheating as a player.  Quite frankly he should be in the HOF as a player in my opinion based solely on his playing merits.  Although I see from the Hall’s POV that it would be somewhat contradictory to now reverse this decision and allow him inducted simply as a player; not the complete package. 
    Regarding Bonds, Clements, McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro, potentially A-Rod, etc., all these guys have a potentially endless battle into the HOF and I really don’t see them ever getting into the Hall in my lifetime.  It’s a shame when you consider their on-field accomplishments, however I firmly believe most people have a real problem with cheating even though none of them were caught with PED’s (except Palmeiro) and there wasn’t testing during the majority of most of the aforementioned players careers.  Palmeiro’s suspension was especially stinging after he went on Capital Hill and vehemently denied ever taking PED’s, but I digress...

    MNB user Clay Dockery chimed in:

    I was out of the Country and got behind on MNB.  Seeing the number of comments about Pete Rose was interesting to say the least.  My take….he has been sent to the outpost of baseball for a long period of time.  While many will look unfavorably on his gambling, there is one key reality.  Pete Rose never bet against the Reds!  In other words, he did not use his gambling to ever attempt to throw a game.  He simply had more money than common sense and made some poor decisions.
    Clearly, gambling is banned because you would not want someone to negatively perform as a way to lose.  I know it is splitting hairs, but with all of the second chances for other various addictions given to players in every sport, why on earth is this the singular egregious violation that is worthy of no second chance?  If he had ever bet against the Reds while he was managing them, I would absolutely agree to a lifetime ban.

    Finally, on Friday the "Eye Opener" was about a new entry into the monthly subscription business - a tampon company that has decided that one monthly event deserves a monthly delivery program that is customized to the ebbs and flows of nature. (That delicate enough for you?)

    To which MNB user Theresa Ruppert responded:

    Only on MNB can you read about Feminine Hygiene products and just be amazed.  I cannot believe someone did not think of this years ago.  This is one of your best eye openers ever.

    Thanks, I thought so, too.

    And another MNB user was delighted by the headline:

    I love the title on this one.

    Friday Morning Eye-Opener: The Perfect Monthly Subscription Category

    Said another way, The PMS Category.  Brilliant.

    It was brilliant.

    Also, if I am going to be perfectly honest, completely accidental. I didn't intend it that way, and didn't even notice it until you pointed it out.

    But, as Lefty Gomez once said, I'd rather be lucky than good.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 14, 2013

    In the National Football League Divisional Playoffs...

    Baltimore Ravens 38
    Denver Broncos 35

    Green Bay Packers 31
    San Francisco 49ers 45

    Seattle Seahawks 28
    Atlanta Falcons 30

    Houston Texans 28
    New England Patriots 41
    KC's View: