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    Published on: January 17, 2013

    This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

    Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    Okay, get ready. I'm going to say something nice about Sears.

    (No, that noise you heard was not hell freezing over, and if you look up, you won't see pigs flying across the morning sky...)

    I probably haven't done any shopping at Sears in a decade. I go in occasionally, for professional reasons, but I would never think of buying anything there.

    But in this case, there were not a ton of choices. We needed a new snowblower, and we wanted to get it before winter really kicked in. I hate snow, and there's a basic fact of life. If you own a snowblower, it won't snow. If you don't own one, you might as well be living above the Arctic Circle. You are screwed.

    The old one was, I'm afraid, beyond repair. So I looked around online, and it ended up that Sears seemed to have the best rated snowblowers at the best price. But this was not the kind of purchase I wanted to make online, and besides, I couldn't have them delivering something to me that would require assembly. Some guys can do that. I'm not one of them.

    So I drove up to the nearest Sears, about 25 miles away. I went into the Home & Garden department, where I met the nicest salesman, named Thada. He showed me the options, told me the price, and made a recommendation based on my description of the driveway. Then, because I wasn't quite ready to make a decision - because the snowblower was pretty expensive, we were sharing the purchase with two neighbors - he then sent me an email breaking down the options, the cost, and the availability.

    I forwarded the email to my neighbors, they agreed, and then I called Thada and bought the machine. A few hours later, it was available for pickup at Sears, all assembled.

    Now, here is where I thought things would get messy - because what were the odds that picking up the snowblower would be a pleasant experience?

    I drove right up to the parcel pickup door, got out of my car and went inside. In about 30 seconds, a guy comes out and asks if he can help me. I gave him my name. He goes back inside, and in less than two minutes, he and another guy are out there with the fully assembled snowblower. They take it out to my car, load it into the back, get me to sign for it, and go back inside so fast there was no time to even tip them. The while process took about five minutes.

    Now, it is true that I had two 25-mile trips to Sears. But that was my choice - I saw the value in making the trip. And when I was there, they were crisp, efficient, relevant and helpful. The product seems great ... though we haven;'t nearly enough snow so far to test it. And here I am, raving about the experience. I also know that I can get Sears to come to the house to service the machine anytime, which is important when you lack certain basic mechanical skills.

    Listen, Sears has its troubles. But when it comes to a certain kind of shopping, it has the game down pat.

    In this case, at least, Sears has a lot to teach other retailers about how to create a compelling shopping experience.

    Go figure.

    That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 17, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    Here's something that marketers need to know about an entire generation of shoppers...

    Reuters reports that "American credit card holders in their late 20s and early 30s have more debt than older consumers, repay it more slowly and risk dying in debt if they don't curb their spending habits ... people born between 1980 and 1984 have on average $5,689 more debt than their parents had at the same stage of their lives and $8,156 more than their grandparents."

    "If what we found continues to hold true, we may have more elderly people with substantial financial problems in the future," said Lucia Dunn, a co-author of the study and a professor of economics at Ohio State University, adding, "Our projections are that the typical credit card holder among younger Americans who keep a balance will die still owing money on their cards."

    Reuters goes on: "The researchers also compared people in different age groups but with similar educations, incomes and marital status, and estimated that the payoff rate of younger credit card holders was 24 percentage points lower than their parents, and 77 points lower than their grandparents' rates."

    This could impact their ability to buy. And it also may something not entirely positive about how seriously they take the responsibility of paying off their debts.

    It's an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 17, 2013

    Fortune is out with its annual list of the 100 Best Companies To Work For, and the retailing/food industry companies that made the cut include Wegmans (4), REI (8), Zappos (11), The Container Store (22), Whole Foods (32), Nugget Market (34), Nordstrom (61), General Mills (63), Starbucks (73), Publix (78), and Accenture (92).

    Number one on the list - Google, which is great because "everything was up at Google last year -- revenue, profits, share price, paid search clicks, hiring -- and so, too, was employee love; the search giant climbed three slots in our ranking to reclaim the top spot. The reason? Employees rave about their mission, the culture, and the famous perks of the Plex: bocce courts, a bowling alley, eyebrow shaping (for a fee) in the New York office. Then there's the food: some 25 cafés companywide, all gratis. Wrote one Googler: 'Employees are never more than 150 feet away from a well-stocked pantry.'"

    Wegmans, the retailer highest on the list, is lauded because "the family-owned grocery chain has made employee health a religion: More than 2,000 workers have enrolled in a free smoking-cessation program since 2009; this year it opened a new 24/7 health hotline."

    Fortune has been compiling the list since 2006.
    KC's View:
    Congratulations to the winners, which not only are great places to work, but also see the value in being named as such, which is why they go to such trouble to submit their names for consideration.

    Published on: January 17, 2013

    The Associated Press reports that while New York City is proceeding with plans to ban the sale of jumbo sugared sodas in certain retail outlets as of March 12, the Board of Health has informed businesses that it won't be imposing fines on violators for three months after the crackdown is implemented.

    Health officials there voted last year to approve a proposal by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to ban the sale of sugared drinks in cups larger than 16 ounces by restaurants, a move that the city said would help address rising obesity rates. However, opponents have said that the restrictions are typical of a nanny state that does not see the value of personal responsibility.

    A lawsuit challenging the new rules has been filed, but has not yet been heard in court.
    KC's View:
    Not being a lawyer, I have no idea how this will play out in the courts. But I continue to believe that while mandated posting of calorie counts is a positive step toward informing customers, this law goes too far. It ignores individual responsibility.

    Published on: January 17, 2013

    Time has a piece about research published in Kidney International by researchers from New York University, saying that the use of bisphenol-A (BPA) in plastics and food packaging could lead to kidney and heart disease.

    Here's how Time frames the story:

    "Based on previous research that uncovered a relationship between BPA and heart problems in adults, the scientists decided to focus on children, who may even be more vulnerable to the effects of chemicals in their environment. The researchers recorded the children’s BPA levels as measured in their urine and found that kids and adolescents with the highest levels of the compound also had noticeably higher levels of albumin, a protein that builds up when kidneys are damaged, than participants with the lowest levels of BPA."

    The story goes on: "BPA is commonly used to line food and beverage cans to prevent corrosion, and until recently, it was also used in plastic baby bottles and reusable water bottles. Faced with increasing consumer concern over BPA’s health effects, however, many companies began phasing out BPA, and in 2012 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that BPA should no longer be used in baby bottles and sippy cups. The agency stopped short of banning the chemical altogether as other countries have done, however, citing the inconclusive evidence linking the compound to health problems."
    KC's View:
    It has been clear to me for a long time that BPA was eventually going to become a pariah, and that companies ought to stop defending its use. There's been too much research, creating too much parental concern, for companies to be fighting this battle. It just seems counterproductive. And more than a little foolish.

    Published on: January 17, 2013

    The Los Angeles Times reports that Dunkin' Donuts is returning to Southern California "with plans to open 150 stores starting in two years — and eventually as many as 1,000 statewide." Dunkin' Donuts pulled out of California in the late 1990s.

    According to the story, "Starting in 2015, franchisees in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, San Bernardino, Ventura and Orange counties are expected to have about 150 stores open, the company said. It also is looking to eventually expand along the border with Nevada, according to its website."
    KC's View:
    I love this story, because it made me start humming the old Randy Newman song with that great lyric...

    Rollin' down the Imperial Highway
    With a big nasty redhead at my side
    Santa Ana winds blowin' hot from the north
    And we was born to ride...


    That said, here is the paragraph from the Times story that interested me...

    The brand is no stranger on the West Coast. Dunkin' Donuts packaged coffee is sold in grocery stores across California, and its commercials are on TV stations statewide. Dunkin' Brands owns 455 Baskin-Robbins ice cream shops in the state and began selling K-cup packs of its coffee there last fall.

    If I recall correctly, Dunkin' Donuts has been planning this incursion for some time, and it began selling its packaged coffee there a few years ago as a way of reacquainting consumers with the brand - in essence, using supermarkets as a stalking horse before it started opening stores that would ... wait for it ... compete with supermarkets for share of stomach.

    I keep thinking that supermarkets have to play hardball in these cases. Too many of them still see themselves as repositories for other brands, and ignore the fact that this can lead to the erosion of their own brands. I know there are limits to how far supermarkets should go, but I think that maybe brand protection and brand erosion ought to be more central to strategic discussions.

    Published on: January 17, 2013

    A federal judge has ordered executives (and lawyers) from Apple and Amazon to meet on March 21 to see if they can work out between them a solution to the question of whether "app store" is a generic term.

    The battle between the two tech giants started in 2011, when Apple sued Amazon for using the term "App Store," which it had attempted to trademark when its launched the "App Store" for the iPhone.

    According to a CNet story, "This case is the latest between Apple and another company over the rights to use 'App Store' and 'Appstore.' Apple owns the rights to both marks in Europe but not in the U.S., where its trademark application for App Store is pending approval. An effort by Microsoft, HTC, Nokia, and Sony Ericsson in May 2011 sought to invalidate Apple's trademarks in Europe. If a settlement is not reached between Apple and Amazon, the case is scheduled to go to trial in August."
    KC's View:
    You'd think that when it comes to giving peace a chance, there'd be an app for that.

    Published on: January 17, 2013

    The Wall Street Journal reports that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued its final ruling against the makers of Pom Wonderful, the pomegranate juice, saying that its ads make misleading claims about health benefits.

    According to the story, "The ruling by the Federal Trade Commission, which has been battling POM Wonderful since 2010, could also affect food and drink makers more broadly because the agency detailed its standards for claims that a product treats a disease. The FTC said POM's claims must be backed by two randomized, controlled clinical trials, the same type of evidence the Food and Drug Administration seeks when approving new drugs."

    The manufacturers of Pom Wonderful reject the ruling, saying that it "ignores what $35 million of peer-reviewed scientific research, centuries of traditional medicine and plain common sense have taught us: antioxidant-rich pomegranate products are good for you." The company plans to appeal the ruling in federal court.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 17, 2013

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

    • It looks like the UK division of Blockbuster may be shutting down, a victim not just of the poor British economy but also reflecting "the shift away from high-street DVD rentals as consumers increasingly opt to stream movies via the Internet or get discs in the mail."

    According to the story, Dish Network, which owns Blockbuster, has been trying to sell the division, but to no avail. Now, Dish has "called in administrators" to deal with the failing business, which is similar to declaring bankruptcy in the US.

    I know I said this early and often, but I think it bears repeating. Blockbuster should serve as a cautionary example to every retailer, proving yet again a central tenet of doing business in the 21st century - that there is no such thing as an unassailable business advantage.

    • The Financial Times reports that Carrefour "reported an improvement in sales in its French domestic market on Thursday and endorsed 2012 operating profit expectations, reinforcing hopes that new chief executive Georges Plassat's turnaround strategy for the world’s second biggest retailer by sales is beginning to work." For the quarter ending December 31, same-store sales were up 1.3 percent compared to the previous year.

    Reuters reports that "Kraft Foods Global Brands LLC, a unit of Mondelez International, sued Kellogg Co.'s North American unit Wednesday claiming the food maker improperly uses one of its patents to keep Keebler and Sandies cookies fresh. The Kellogg cookies are in a re-sealable packaging design that the Kraft maintains is too much like their  'Snack 'n Seal,' according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago. Keebler Co., which is owned by Kellogg, is also named as a defendant."

    • The Washington Post reports that Maryland-based Magruder’s Supermarkets, which opened in 1875, "announced Wednesday that it had sold its store on Connecticut Avenue and is in negotiations to sell its four other remaining stores to another buyer ... The four stores, in Alexandria, Gaithersburg, Rockville and Vienna, will begin offering all remaining products 50 percent off beginning Wednesday."

    The buyer of the Connecticut Avenue store has not been identified, but the company said that store would continue operating under the Magruder's banner.

    • The Fox News affiliate in Atlanta reports that two Winn-Dixie stores in Albany, Georgia, will be closing this year, because "business conditions occasionally force companies like ours to make tough strategic decisions."

    Occasionally?

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that the 1350-unit Chipotle Mexican Grill chain plans to get into the catering business. It will begin the initiative in Colorado and will roll it out across the rest of the country. The story says that "the catering comes with meat dishes for anywhere from 20 to 200 people, paired with sides of rice, beans, salsas and all the other toppings, so people can make their own burrito bowls or tacos."

    Yet another weapon in the ongoing battle for share of stomach.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 17, 2013

    • Michigan-based Meijer said yesterday that J. K. Symancyk has been named the company's president, just a year after he was named COO.

    The company also said that Mark Murray has been named to the new position of Co-CEO, where he will serve with current CEO Hank Meijer.

    • The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) announced that Josh Katz, Ph.D. will be its new Director of Food Safety Programs, reporting to Hilary Thesmar, Ph.D., RD, FMI’s vice president of food safety programs.

    According to FMI, " Katz’s most recent work includes earning his doctorate at University of California Davis in nutritional biology, specializing in human health risk assessment. During this time, he produced five publications, three as first author and two as co-author, investigating the impact of diet on consumer issues, such as food safety (pesticides, acrylamide, cyanide) and nutrition. Prior to earning his degree, Katz spent eight years in the food safety assessment industry, first with The Steritech Group and then with Davis Fresh Technologies."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 17, 2013

    Michael Sansolo had a piece the other day that lauded the Disney theme parks for a gold standard of customer service excellence, and we got a number of emails in response.

    MNB user Bryan Silbermann wrote:

    Brilliant piece by Michael S.  It highlights that treasures of the past can remain treasures of the future as long as they are positioned smartly and relevantly.  A history lesson for any organization, including associations.

    MNB user Chris J. Grathwohl wrote:

    I couldn’t agree more that Disney sets the gold standard in everything they do. I was dragged  - kicking and screaming - to the Magic Kingdom et al several years ago with my wife and 2 little boys.  I hate crowds, waiting in long lines with sweaty strangers, and spending infinite sums on low grade entertainment.  Man was I wrong! 

    No detail is left unattended, whether it be for the kids or the adults.  The smiles on the kids’ faces made the expense worth every penny, not to mention I actually enjoyed it too.  The Disney folks have created enough diversions that even the unpleasantries of long lines are diminished.

    In case you think they are just about theme parks, guess again.  Our family followed the Orlando trip with a Disney Cruise two years later.  As great as the parks are, the cruise is right there too.  The cast members were wonderful, from the cabin service lady who made little animals out of the towels each night, to the dining room waiter who remembered my boys’ “off-menu” requests at each meal, to the glorious Disney’s Private Island.  The kids liked the all-day ice cream, soda and snacks feature too. Makes me want to go back, especially since it is January and 25 degrees here in Cincinnati! 

    Can I get a pay day loan?


    I have to be honest here. Being on a Disney Cruise is my idea of one of the circles of hell.

    I'm sort of with MNB user Kathleen Whelan:

    This slender volume is a must read:
     
    “Team Rodent – How Disney Devours The World” by Carl Hiaasen.  You can’t find it in Orlando, believe me.  But, it’s on Amazon, which will please Kevin!


    I've read the book. I have a paperback copy. And it is terrific ... wonderfully funny, well-written and enormously appealing to the crank in me.




    On another subject - Coke's anti-obesity ads - one MNB user wrote:

    I happened to see the Coke commercial the last night before reading your piece this morning.  In a world of marketing that can bring out the skeptic in any/all of us, I have to say I thought that they did an excellent job.  The longer-than-usual segment was honest and well crafted.  Though many of their lower calorie offerings were probably created in response to pressures over recent years from an already growing epidemic, they included subtle messages about moderation being a personal responsibility.  Lastly, to close with a shot of the 1970's ad of the diverse group of people from around the globe singing "I'd like to buy the world a coke" without sound was an impacting reminder of their iconic status.  That brief, fleeting image brought back a flood of memories for me.
     
    I'm not even a soda consumer but I have to say "good job, Coca-Cola"!





    Regarding the Walmart initiative to hire military veterans, one MNB user wrote:

    Although I applaud Wal-Mart for hiring our vets, I also believe there is an additional motive behind this action. Wal-Mart builds many stores close to or outside the gates of military bases. I believe one of Wal-Mart’s objectives is to take over the military exchange business. A contract with the government to run the military exchanges would be a huge step and resulting in billions of revenue dollars. Wal-Mart wants to build loyalty from active duty, retired and NGR shoppers – use Wal-Mart not your local exchange – more choice – better prices! I don’t necessarily trust this altruistic move by Wal-Mart, but again, a smart move to build and grow a devoted customer base.

    Actually, I've always wondered it if it would make sense to simply outsource the military commissary system to a company like Walmart.

    From another reader:

    In addition to the fact that Veterans understand the importance of organizational discipline, respect authority, and are dedicated workers – they also already have superb benefits – which reduces Wal-Mart’s cost of these hires. Most Veterans will prefer working part-time vs. full time. And, they will be there on Black Friday and other days where “sick calls” are known to happen.
     
    A perfect opportunity for Wal-Mart advantage IF executed properly.


    MNB user Michael Phelan wrote:

    While there’s no wrong way to do the right thing,  we still have to do better for these folks.  I’m hoping that companies in a wide range of industries follow WalMart’s lead, but that they don’t pigeon-hole all of the returning veterans into the jobs they assume would be a good fit. 
     
    Instead, potential employers need to be sure to take an honest look at the skills that each of these people brings to the table.


    When I commented on the story, I wrote:

    The New York Times notes correctly that Walmart likes to hire military folks because they understand the importance of organizational discipline, respect authority, and are dedicated workers. So this makes sense. But it also is smart for Walmart to engage in these kinds of activities as a way of taking the edge off things like the foreign bribery accusations that are costing it time, money and probably a little bit of sleep.

    Which prompted MNB user Tom Robbins to write:

    Your comments were fine until you got to "but-------".

    It wasn't necessary. Your feelings about Walmart and bribery are clear to all of us who read MNB. The very Congress that is investigating is involved in far more "illicit" activity than Walmart.


    Huh?

    I disagree. MNB is supposed to be "news in context, analysis with attitude." I think that's what the "but..." delivered. To ignore the context of this initiative would be to start writing with my eyes closed. (Since I am a hunt-and-peck typist, this would not be a good idea.)

    For the record, I'm less interested in the Congressional investigation (which inevitably be tinged by politics from both sides of the aisle) than I am in the probes being done by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Bingo. You hit it on the head. Mexico and guns are on Walmart's mind and this is a PR move for sure.

    MNB user Timothy Heyman wrote:

    Good publicity stunt.  Vets will be coming home, Wal-Mart is probably short that many workers if not more than that in their stores/warehouses each day as, good workers and todays youth are not used the same sentence anymore.  But what will the pay be? Livable wages or more of their workers on welfare and food stamp wages?




    On another subject, noting a short piece in the Wall Street Journal about a successful independent bookstore, MNB user Mark Baum wrote:

    Always good hear about an independent that is surviving/thriving against the onslaught of chains, big boxes, et al.  We should all be supporting independent supermarkets, bookstores, hardware and jewelry stores, outdoor outfitters, and the like, or see the continued homogenization of the retail landscape.  Do we really want anytown/everytown USA?

    I believe that it is a good thing for consumers to support independents. It is the responsibility of independent retailers to give us a reason to do so.

    From another reader:

    I liked the article about Green Apple books.  For me, the best part of a bookstore is that as you ramble around, you are likely to have some type of book you did not plan on buying catch your eye.  With so many different covers exposed, you could go in looking for a crime novel to read in the airplane and spy a business management novel that applies to an issue you have at work.  Or a history of some sort that fills some knowledge gap.  It is the opportunity for a serendipitous discovery which brings book lovers to book stores.  Amazon can tell you what you have liked in the past and guess at what you might look for, but they can’t program the same level of surprise and delight at discovery.




    Yesterday, in a piece about how horsemeat has been found in beef burgers in England and Ireland, I used the following headline:

    Go Right To The Source, But Don't Expect An Answer That You Endorse

    I also said I couldn't wait to hear the explanation, and concluded:

    I know that people yakkity yak a streak and waste your time of day, but I really want to hear what the explanation is for this.

    Which led MNB user Gary Harris to write:

    Thanks for always being on a steady course and never speaking unless you have something to say…

    And MNB user LuRene Dille wrote:

    I love it when you make me laugh right out loud.

    Then my work here is done.

    There were a number of people in the MNB community who got the references, which makes me very happy. Of course, of course.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 17, 2013

    The shakeup at Delhaize America continues, as the company announced that its Florida chain, Sweetbay Supermarkets, will close 33 stores by mid-February.

    According to a WFTS News story, the closures are designed to allow the company to "deliver profitable growth and accelerate shareholder value."

    After the closures, Sweetbay will have 72 stores left in Florida.

    The move comes as the new Delhaize America CEO, Roland Smith, has instituted a number of management and organizational changes at the company, among them the shift of Sweetbay's top executive, Mike Vail, to be the new chief supply chain officer, based at corporate headquarters in Salisbury, NC.

    Sweetbay always has been a problematic chain for Delhaize. before it was acquired by the company, it operated as Kash n Karry and was both profit and market share challenged. Delhaize made the decision to close stores, focus on western Florida and rebrand the company as a food-focused chain using the name Sweetbay. But despite all the efforts and investment, it appears that the results were not satisfactory.
    KC's View:
    I continue to get email and phone calls about Delhaize, and while there are some that question the current decision-making process, most of them seem to suggest that these are hard decisions that should have been made years ago, and that while painful, these decisions make it more likely that Delhaize will be able to be both profitable and sustainable in the long run.

    There does not seem to be much hope held out for the long term existence of Sweetbay as a Delhaize chain if its performance does not improve.

    I will also say this: Virtually very email I have gotten supporting the current management has included a sentence or paragraph offering enormous affection for the folks that used to run the company, but suggest that they may have been guilty of some level of epistemic closure, only seeing what they wanted to see, and being guided to some extent by emotion rather than business realities.

    I say this with some anguish since some of those people I respect highly and consider friends. But I have to be honest about what I'm being told by people who are on the inside.