retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Got a number of emails about the criticisms being leveled at Subway for using 11-inch rolls for its footlong sandwiches.

MNB user Kurt Mueller wrote:

Must of been a slow news day on Monday to have this topic  your feature commentary!  Subway is not the first to make a claim and not deliver.  Ever heard of a " foot long" hot dog!  The industry standard on a foot long hot dog is 10".  The bun the hot dog goes on is an industry standard 12".  Now granted, there are some hot dogs called foot longs that are larger than 10" and called "foot longs".  The challenge here becomes the bun which isn't more than 12" causing the hot dog to overcome the bun.  In the name of not living in the world of "Crock", if one would use your logic, foot longs should be sold as 10" hot dog in an 12" bun!  Or better yet a 11.5 hot dog in a 12" bun! Or I'm confident  what your would prefer, a 13" hot dog in a 12" bun!  Isn't the sizzler of a 12" Subway sandwich or a "foot long" hot dog what marketing is all about?

Another MNB user wrote:

Can't stop laughing about the "footlongs." It brings back memories from my youth working my Uncle's "footlong" hotdog stand at the State Fair. Health inspectors used to visit once a day and check temperatures, etc. -- and measure the length of  a sample hotdog. According to law it had to be some odd number like 10.5 or 11 inches in order to qualify as a "footlong." It seemed weird then and it seems weird now. Yes - life ought to be simple - and Subway should get out their rulers.

MNB user Beth Coon wrote:

I think you are splitting hairs with the Subway issue. Anyone who bakes knows that yeast dough can be temperamental especially to those just learning (ever try to make a round pizza from scratch?).  Had they chalked it up to a training issue and then followed up by addressing that, this would not be an issue.

And from another reader:

It would be interesting to know if the sandwich was ever 12 inches in length… this feels like an executive decision to cut the cost, and they got caught! Wonder if the baking form or dough size changed in the last year?

MNB user Greg Beehler wrote:

I wonder if the Footlong sub may have been, at one point, twelve inches and not eleven as it now appears to be.
Could have been a hidden cost increase (just like the cereal companies downsizing the box, or putting one fewer granola bars in the package instead of actually charging more)
Of course “the eleven incher” doesn’t have the same ring to it…at least not in a fast food ad!

MNB user Bill Justin chimed in:

I assume it is a human problem. Most likely this product is mass produced and frozen. Product shrinks and need to be stretched and proofed before baking.

I am a long time Subway fan. Lets just fix the problem and not try to damage a great firm that has a great product.

From another reader:

The Subway marketing staff must be all male - men have been lying about size for centuries.

But really, it's what's inside that counts.  Remember Wendy's "where's the beef"?.

I see a class action in Subway's future.

Maybe it's a Weight-Watchers foot long.  If we all ate 8.33% less food  - poof, obesity epidemic solved.

MNB user Kathleen Whelan wrote:

They could have said that they did it for Jared – so he would think he was eating more than he was.  All those extra inches of carbs not eaten really added up!
Now, here’s something that demonstrates how much the MNB World View influences me.  I recently bought a new convertible laptop case  to replace one that I had finally destroyed.  They no longer make the eBags ‘Router’ anymore, which I liked because it has a side compartment for your laptop.  I hunted around and found a comparable one from Heyes.  When it arrived, I read the card that listed its features and was struck by this one: “Organizer compartment has a CD player pocket with audio port”.
Good MNB user that I am, my immediate thought was “who listens to CD players anymore?”

I love it.

On the subject of the Made-In-The-USA trend, MNB user Christy Meyer wrote: 

Just a comment on your news brief … My husband and I went to our local Lowe’s recently to look at doing a kitchen remodel. In the course of looking at cabinets, the associate we were working with told us that all their cabinets are made in the USA (and she named exactly which states for each manufacturer and had even visited one of them as part of her role in the design area). We were both very pleasantly surprised -- especially after looking online for deals and all those cabinets were made in China. I mentioned to her that Lowe’s should shout “Made in the USA” cabinets – that definitely took us over-the-top on our decision to purchase our cabinets from them. (Didn’t hurt, either, that the associate, Pam, was very helpful and patient with us!)

Regarding Blockbuster's decision to close 300 stores, MNB user Mike O'Shea wrote:

Who would have thought that Blockbuster even had 300 stores to close!

MNB user Cindy Sorensen wrote:

Today, one of my friend's posted this breaking news on Facebook:

News headline today, Blockbuster is closing 300 stores.

In other news, Blockbuster still has stores.

On another subject, one MNB user offered:

I’ve heard a lot of commotion from people on the issue of the “increased” Social Security taxes for January 1, 2013 and am continually baffled by the comments I hear.

This is not a new tax or a higher tax, it’s the same tax that we had prior to the temporary reduction in 2012. This reduction was temporary – we had a nice break with some additional spendable income for 2012 – but that’s all it was meant to be is temporary. It’s difficult to see your first 2013 paycheck with such a dramatic cut in net pay, I agree. But this is an example of how it hurts to give someone a “deal” over a period of time because it always comes back to bite the “giver”. Instead of appreciating what we saved all year in 2012, people are looking at it as a huge negative. It’s similar to awarding someone with a 20% discount in their grocery bill for one year and then the next year, ending it. What they’re now having to pay seems horribly high but rather than blaming the person who gave them the 20% discount in the previous year, they should be appreciative of how much they were able to save while they received the discount. You just can win by being a nice guy I guess.

Regarding the loss of users being suffered by Facebook, MNB user Steven Ritchey wrote:

I’m a Facebook  user, but I don’t live on it like some people I know.  I agree, it does seem to bring out the narcissism in some people who seem to think we are interested in every little thing that happens in their lives.  I have no need to tell the world every detail about my life, even I find my life boring at times, and I’m sure others would be equally as bored with the details.  I for certain don’t post when I’ll be out of town, that’s like inviting my house to be broken into.
MNB user Catherine Storer wrote:

I recently deactivated my Facebook account for a number of reasons.  The primary reason was that it was just a waste of my time.  I found myself becoming cranky while scrolling down most of the sappy re- posts. But the others included 1)  privacy considerations, 2) a mistrust of what Facebook could  be doing with my information and 3) tired of the advertisements.

Done with Facebook!

I've gotten a lot of email about my piece last week about a good shopping experience I had at Sears...

MNB user Philip Herr wrote:

Hard goods has always been Sear’s sweet spot. I’d imagine the salespeople in that department take pride in that and consequently you got great service. Good for you.

From another reader:

I don’t share your animosity towards Sears.  OK, back in the day when shopping was a sport, not a chore, I would have been horrified at the thought of shopping at Sears for anything but hardlines—which I almost never had need for back then.  Now, as a full-fledged grown up, Sears is among the places where I shop and buy—admittedly with some mixed results.  I have had many terrific experiences like yours in the lawn-and-garden area, most notably buying a very nice gas grill, and having it assembled and loaded into our SUV on the spot.

This past Black Friday, my mother wanted a Lands’ End jacket that was on sale, but they did not have the color she wanted in her size.  The Lands’ End specialist took incredible care of us, contacting the Lands’ End call center (and making sure to find a phone rep who was as on the ball as she was!), getting them to match the in-store price, and having the right jacket shipped free to my mother.  A refrigerator purchase a couple of years ago did not go quite as smoothly.  However, in contrast to the reader with the ping pong table, it was the delivery crew who saved the day.  Our salesman in the store made all sorts of promises, insisting we call him if we encountered any problems or issues with delivery or with the refrigerator itself and he would take care of it.  In actuality, he could not have cared any less when the delivery crew wheeled in a fridge with a badly dented freezer door handle.  It was the delivery crew (in conjunction with their dispatch center) who took the initiative to swap out the damaged part with a new one from another unit so that we wouldn’t have to set up another delivery (and be without a refrigerator in the meantime).

Another MNB user chimed in:

You just described a typical experience.  You need to move closer to civilization and trade your on-line habits for old fashioned ones.

Give me a break.

Another reader wrote:

Like you, Sears is not my shopping spot of choice and, like you, I have been lured in there by reviews of a product here and there. I gotta say that every experience except one dealing with water heaters (which was bad news many places though they had a distasteful approach to their WH program), was conducted excellently service-wise. Kinda old-fashioned service in fact, you know,the kind that caters to your questions, is there when you need it, friendly no pressure and is efficient?  Stuff from my youth but in action today kinda service.  We shopped for some appliances there and got great service but despite some very contrived and overly tricky/complex promotional programs, their pricing "sounded good" on those appliances but with analysis never merited the purchase and we purchased elsewhere but the sales team was always very good. I might add that their Craftsmen stuff is a continuing draw. By virtue of these rare, focused visits (e.g. for appliances) I have stumbled into the virtues of their Craftsmen line of tools and garden stuff.   Their garden dept is now my go to spot for the basics as I stumbled into finding they have the best garden pruners, quality hose nozzles and hoses that I can find (short of Felco pruners that cost a firstborn). I also have become a fan of their Craftsmen tools. Seem a much better quality and they stand behind them. 
The stores are tired and kinda depressing daunting you from going in, but they have some really good things going for them.  I have become a fan of the basement anyway.

And from another reader:

Gosh, I wish I had the same experience.  Over Christmas I went in to my local Sears to buy a gas grill.  I have purchased my last 3 grills from them and wanted to do so again.  You could have shot a cannon through the store.  I stood in the gas grill department which is adjacent to their appliances area with credit card in my hand to make a purchase and no one was around to take my money. 
Not to give up, I went home, logged on to their site and tried to order the grill.  I was told that the grill was out of stock within my area for delivery, but I could go to my local store to pick it up. 
Are we talking about the same Sears?

And another:

My experiences are the same as the one you describe. I might not go there for clothes any more, but for tools, lawn equipment and I need to add electronics, there is no retailer more responsive to the details. The details keep me loyal.

 MNB user Brian Blank wrote:

We had occasion to go to our closest Sears this weekend; we had a planned errand near the mall, and made sure to grab the Sears gift card that we received for Christmas since we were going to be right there.  We had our mind set to replace an old Waterpik that was failing.  Sears had a comparable device from another maker, so my having checked Target’s price on a recent trip was moot, so I pulled out my iPhone and used the Amazon price check app, which showed a $10 savings over Sears’ sale price.  Under other circumstances, we might have just placed the order with Amazon right then and had it on Tuesday, but since we were there to utilize a gift card (plus the instant gratification taking it with us), we asked about price matching.  The first answer to be uttered was “We match local competitors”.  Fortunately for them…before I could pipe up to say that Amazon is EVERYONE’S local competitor, he set about finding a work-around of some sort to match Amazon’s price, and we were rung up and on our way.  We had barely gone 20 feet when we saw something that was a perfect solution for a need we had.  Since we didn’t need a price match, the clerk was able to check us out right from a handheld device, and we left happy and satisfied.

And from another reader:

Two years ago, I needed tires for my car.  I went on line to check where I might find them and Sears 'had them in stock.'  I drove to Sears, bought them and my car was put on a hoist so they could mount the tires.  After 15  minutes, the sales lady came out and told me they had searched for the 'in stock' tires and they were actually out of stock.  because they were a hard to find item according to her, it would take a week to get them so I agreed to wait.  It took another 15 minutes to get my car off the hoist.  The next day it became apparent that one more week wouldn't do so I dropped by an independently owned tire store just a few miles from my house.  The salesman said he didn't have the tires, either but, after checking, he said he could get them from the distributor in about 30 minutes.  It took 45 minutes for which he apologized profusely and added a free tire alignment for my trouble.  I called Sears to cancel the order.  Had to wait until the sales lady came to the phone.  At first she refused to cancel - I had prepaid with my credit card - then relented and proceeded to ream me out for 10 minutes for wasting her time while she processed the paperwork.   BTW, I'm pretty sure the same tire distributor services  Sears and the independent that sold me the tires.

Got the following email regarding Kate McMahon's column yesterday about John Mackey and the tumult created online by some of his comments - specifically referring to Obamacare as "fascism"...

Regarding the comment from John Mackey.  Despite the comment and if you agree or disagree with the comment I am concerned with the knee jerk reaction to penalize rather than understand the reason for the comment.  When a progressive (or as us older guys say Liberal) makes a statement it is understood by all progressives that the entire population should line, in agreement, behind the comment.  And if we disagree we are to remain silent because we are uneducated.
Maybe those claiming to be so enlightened should use their enlightenment to be more understanding.  Applying the same standard (just walk a mile in my shoes) that they expect from a conservative.

You missed the point of Kate's column, which was to focus on the online response to Mackey's comments ... including the fact that Whole Foods' corporate office addressed the comments almost before the tumult commenced.

Also, to be fair ... there are plenty of ways to criticize and disagree with the whole of Obamacare, or some of its elements. But if you call if "fascism," that is a code word. and one should expect to get some blowback.

Mackey can say anything he wants. But when you contribute to the public discourse, what you say can have consequences - both positive and negative.

And from another reader:

It seems that more and more Jack Nicholson's quote "you can't handle the truth" remains relevant.  It is disappointing that when someone speaks the truth about pretty much anything, they are shouted down by those who don't know and/or except reality.  Mackey speaks the truth, and that is controversial?  Being honest used to be  the right thing to do, now it seems that it has changed to only say what is popular.  I worry for the future of  our diminishing republic.

Funny that you put it that way.

Mackey spoke his opinion. People who disagreed with him expressed their opinions.

I'm really tired of people who see one opinion as "the truth" because it matches their world view, and refuse to even consider the possibility that people who disagree with them may have a point to be considered.

Epistemic closure, I think they call it.

Responding to one of yesterday's stories, MNB user Ben Ball wrote:

Talk of “experiential retailing” and “an experiential shopping experience” confuse and bemuse me. Oh, I get the jargon alright – but what is really being said? Shoppers have a “shopping experience” NOW. Every time they go into the store. They just don’t like it. To change the “shopping experience” you must make tangible and meaningful changes to the store and the way it works. You can’t change the shopping experience. You can only change things that change the shopping experience. This conversation reminds me of the holy grail of strategy wonks from years back – to seek “sustainable competitive advantage”. There is only one competitive advantage that is sustainable – and that is continuous innovation and improvement. Everything else can and will be copied – better, faster and cheaper.
As a consultant now myself, I’m sure I am as guilty as any of using what Dad called “25 cent words” to communicate. It seems that some folks won’t listen unless you do. But it also seems that we get in the way of our own progress when we conceptualize things that are, in fact, tangible. Maybe we do that because changing the tangible stuff is hard work.

I get your point, and you are right that all shopping trips are, in fact, experiences. But I still think it is a good idea to pay attention to "experiential shopping experiences" that transcend much of what is out there today.

Also, to be clear ... I may write about experiential shopping, but I'm no consultant.

Finally, I had a story about the hiring by Tesco of a new CEO for its Malaysian business. In the piece, there was a typo - it said "haired" instead of "hired" - which I corrected when it was brought to my attention.

Most of the emails about the typo simply mentioned it, suggesting that I should fix it if possible. But one, from MNB user Bill Back, was a little more elaborate...

I would think that in these enlightened times, multi-national companies would not be concerned about the appearance of their leaders. To read that Tesco has "haired" their new CEO of the Malaysian operation is surprising and some one should get to the "root" of the problem. I believe there may be a bigger "cover up" story to unfold. Tesco should not be able to sweep this under the "rug". Maybe Tesco will open a "Hair Club for Men" inside their stores.

Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I'm glad you didn't just "comb over" this "piece" of information. If necessary, I would be willing "to pay" for the rest of the story.

Keep up the good work. I especially appreciate that you spell check your righting. To many writers are getting lazy and making spelling errors.

Puns noticed. Point taken.

To be clear, I spell-check everything. For some reason, that did not get picked up.

And to be fair, I can - and often am - accused of a lot of things. But laziness is not usually one of them.

But I'll try to do beter. I mean, better.
KC's View: