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    Published on: January 30, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    Reuters reports this morning that the US Patent and Trademark Office has "granted Apple's request last week for trademarks on the minimalist design and layout of its retail outlets," or what is commonly called "trade dress."

    According to the story, the "description of the trademarks includes 'a clear glass storefront surrounded by a paneled facade' and, within the store, an 'oblong table with stools ... set below video screens flush mounted on the back wall'."

    And, the story says, "To be successful in a trade dress claim, Apple would need to show that consumers confuse an allegedly infringing store design with its own."

    While such protections will not extend beyond US borders, it is expected that Apple will use its domestic trademark protection to file for such protections in other countries, such as China, where it has had to deal with copycat stores trying to pass themselves off as the real thing.

    While I have to wonder how the Apple trademarks will affect the new Microsoft Stores - which sure seem to fit into at least some of the descriptions - I do think it is fair to say that the Apple Stores are distinct and differentiated entities ... a very specific retail creation that deserves trademarking. It is extraordinary to realize that the very first Apple Store opened less than a dozen years ago ... and it is hard to remember what I did for computer expertise before they existed.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 30, 2013

    Chief Super Markets, a 12-store Ohio-based chain, said yesterday that it is switching wholesalers, moving from Supervalu to Spartan Stores.

    Stephanie Skylar, Chief’s president/CEO, said: "We are committed to delighting our customers with great food and experiences, and believe that our new partnership with Spartan will help us achieve our mission as we offer our customers superior value and service."

    And Dennis Eidson, Spartan’s president/CEO, added: "Chief is known for having strong grocery selections and well-merchandised stores and we look forward to supporting their continued success with our broad selection of private brand and national brand products, as well as value-added services. We are also very excited about our expansion into Ohio as securing new business in contiguous states is one of our key strategic business growth initiatives."
    KC's View:
    I'm not saying that one thing has anything to with the other. But...

    I have to wonder what Supervalu's independent retail customers think when they read about the millions of dollars being paid out in bonuses and golden parachutes to a few people at the top of the organization, including a CEO who was there for a whopping eight months.

    Don't they look at those dollars and wonder how come that money is not being put into the cost of goods and the provision of services to their companies?

    And, I have to wonder what they think when they read some of the comments Supervalu employees are making here on MNB about the company. Don't they have to wonder about whether these people - good and decent and hardworking folks caught in a bad situation - are being undermined by circumstances in their efforts to provide products and services to their customers?

    Published on: January 30, 2013

    John Catsimatidis, the owner/president/chairman/CEO of the Red Apple Group and Gristedes Foods, yesterday officially announced that he is a candidate to be mayor of New York City, hoping to succeed Michael Bloomberg, who is retiring because of term limits.

    In making his announcement, Catsimatidis praised the Bloomberg administration: "The world has confidence in our city. They have confidence in Mayor Bloomberg, they have confidence in (Police) Commissioner Kelly. And tens of billions of dollars of money is flowing into our city keeping our economy going … because of this confidence,” he said. "This is an important election, because if we go in the wrong direction at all … that money dries up. … We have to maintain the world confidence. The money is rolling in from Russia, Europe, Asia, the Middle East."

    According to Politicker.com, Catsimatidis also sought to differentiate his style from Bloomberg's. "It’s not that I’m only a business person, I came from 135th Street. I never forgot where I come from. I’m not a Mike Bloomberg billionaire, I’m not wearing a $5,000 suit. I think my wife paid $100 for this,” he said, noting that the suit came from the sale rack at Jos. A Banks.

    Like Bloomberg, Catsimatidis was once a Democrat but changed parties, and now hopes to get the nomination on the Republican line, though he emphasized that he is a moderate who is pro-gay marriage. Catsimatidis has pledged to spend as much as $20 million of his own money on the race, and said that he would work cheaper than Bloomberg, who has only taken a dollar a year in salary as mayor.

    "I was a grocer, I’ll work for 99 cents," he said.
    KC's View:
    I read a bunch of stories about this, but could not find any coverage of how Catsimatidis would deal with quality of life issues such as mandatory calorie count postings in fast food restaurants,, jumbo soft drink bans, and the like - which have been a hallmark of Bloomberg's work as mayor.

    Because it is relevant to the MNB audience - and because I'm just curious, I am going to reach out to the Catsimatidis campaign to find out how he feels about such things. If they respond, I'll report back here...

    Published on: January 30, 2013

    The Conference Board's monthly index of US consumer confidence was down in January to "the lowest level in more than a year as higher payroll taxes took a bigger bite out of Americans’ paychecks," Bloomberg reports.

    The January Consumer Confidence Index was 58.6, down from a revised 66.7 in December, and the lowest it has been since November 2011.

    According to the story, "The drop in confidence coincides with a two percentage- point increase in the payroll tax used to fund Social Security, a hurdle for consumers after a projected pickup in spending in the fourth quarter. The outlook for employment prospects and incomes also deteriorated this month, today’s data showed ... The 8.1-point slump in the gauge of sentiment from a month earlier was the biggest since August 2011. Estimates of the 73 economists surveyed by Bloomberg ranged from 59 to 70. The measure averaged 53.7 in the recession that ended in June 2009."
    KC's View:
    It is fascinating that a time when the stock market seems to be doing great, housing seems to be doing better and unemployment numbers appear to have stabilized, that both consumer and corporate confidence remain shaky.

    Hard to figure, but maybe inevitable in today's complex and confusing economic environment.

    Published on: January 30, 2013

    The Wall StreetJournal.com has a piece about the importance and challenges of offering Wi-Fi to retail customers, noting that "shoppers are coming to expect it: in a recent survey by SapientNitro and GfK Roper, 63% said free Wi-Fi would enhance their shopping experience ... Wi-Fi also offers opportunities to improve employee productivity and customer satisfaction–for example, by allowing a sales person to check the stockroom without leaving the floor, or even to complete a sales transaction in the aisles."

    But, apparently, it is more complicated a proposition than one might expect.

    Here's what the Journal reports:

    "In fact, Bain & Company’s work with retailers finds that rolling out Wi-Fi to a network of stores is among the most capital intensive and complex projects IT departments will tackle this decade. That’s true in other industries as well, whether it’s a cruise line installing Wi-Fi in its ships or a large company rolling Wi-Fi out among a network of offices.

    "Much can go wrong. At one chain, IT managers planned for enough bandwidth to stream instructional videos, only to discover later that employees’ devices were too slow to run them. At another store, installers disrupted shopping when they dropped access points from 50-foot ceilings. One retailer had to convince its competitor at the other end of a mall to allow a network connection to pass through their store. Another was shocked to see its original planning estimate of a few million dollars balloon to more than $100 million over just a few months because its IT department lacked the experience to gauge the real costs, not only of hardware and connectivity, but of managing different building and electrical codes, varying regional labor laws and the full impact of business disruption in stores."

    In addition, retailers have to ponder other questions, such as: How much bandwidth do we really need to offer? And what do you do about customers who use Wi-Fi to compare prices and services with other retailers?

    You can read the entire analysis here
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 30, 2013

    • The National Retail Federation (NRF) is predicting that online sales in 2013 will be between nine and 12 percent higher than in 2012, a higher rate of growth than in bricks-and-mortar stores, where it is forecasting a 3.4 percent increase this year.

    This would represent a continuing trend of online sales outpacing traditional retail sales.

    According to the story on Internet Retailer.com, the actual sales growth figures for 2012 have yet to be released by the USA Department of Commerce, but in 2011, online sales were up 16.1 percent over 2010, while bricks-and-mortar sales were up 5.5 percent.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 30, 2013

    The Associated Press reports this morning that bankrupt Hostess Brands is preparing to announce that two investment firms, C. Dean Metropoulos & Co. and Apollo Global Management, are the lead, "stalking horse" bidders for its iconic Twinkie brand as well as other cake products.

    The opening bid for Twinkies - expected to be in excess of $400 million - will serve as the floor against all other bids for the business will be measured.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 30, 2013

    Reuters reports that JC Penney is yet again switching gears, and will begin "offering targeted discounts at certain times throughout the year," a move away from the focused EDLP approach advocated by the retailer's new CEO, Ron Johnson.

    When hired by JC Penney, Johnson - who was a guiding force behind the Apple Store - said that he wanted to move the company away from the avalanche of sales and promotions that he believed were confusing customers and diluting the chain's brand. However, in doing so, the company appeared to be disenfranchising longtime shoppers, and sales, Johnson has conceded, "have gone backward a little more than we expected."

    "That doesn't change the vision or the strategy," Johnson says. "We made changes and we learned an incredible amount. That is what's informing our tactics as we go forward."
    KC's View:
    The thing that we have to remember is that Ron Johnson wasn't brought in to be the caretaker of a thriving retail enterprise. No, he was brought in because the company was in a downward spiral, and drastic changes were required if JC Penney was going to be put on a sustainable path.

    Published on: January 30, 2013

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

    Bloomberg reports that Tesco's "U.K. revival is gaining momentum, with the country’s largest supermarket chain matching market growth for the first time in more than 18 months, according to Kantar Worldpanel’s latest market share figures. Spending at Tesco stores rose 3.3 percent in the 12 weeks ended Jan. 20, the same pace as the industry," the story says.

    "Tesco’s sales growth exceeded gains of 2.1 percent for Asda and 3.2 percent for Sainsbury ... Spending at Morrison stores fell 1.7 percent from a year earlier," Bloomberg writes.

    • The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts that 179.1 million people will watch the Super Bowl on Sunday, up from 172.5 million people who watched last year. And, NRF says, is is expected that, on average, each game watcher will spend more than $68 in game-related purchases - on everything from chicken wings to flat screen televisions.

    • The Associated Press reports that Open Table, the restaurant reservations site, is buying Foodspotting, an application that allows people to find and share pictures of the food they are eating, for $10 million.

    This is amazing. Though fascinating, because the move will allow Open Table to dramatically enrich its content offering. Which in the end, is the name of the game.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 30, 2013

    Yesterday, an MNB reader suggested that the Supervalu board of directors ought to be sued by shareholders for handing out millions of dollars in bonuses and golden parachutes to a few executives, even as the rank-and-file were seeing their wages and benefits frozen or reduced.

    Another MNB user responds:

    I have to say, I agree with the writer saying there should be a lawsuit. When certain high level people who drove this company into the ground can walk away with millions and millions of dollars while the rest of the employees are stripped of everything, something needs to be done! Drastic measures call for drastic measures. The employees shouldn’t feel bad about filing a lawsuit when the top executives don’t feel one bit bad about raping this company. Why should we take it?

    At the very least, everyone should decide not to show up to work on a single day – Say February 15! A Friday, when all our grocery stores are busy. Let’s see if the executives who think of themselves as the most important and obviously only important people in this company, can run this company alone for just one day. Give them what they’ve asked for – that they and they alone are responsible for making this company “work”.

    All this news makes me want to vomit!!


    And another MNB user offered:

    I don’t know what the lawsuit would be – the laws seem to be geared toward the wealthy anyway.  The whole thing reeks.  Wayne Sales should really run for office.  All that balderdash about “all in”, blah blah blah.  He must’ve been playing a poker game, went all in (stacked deck) and won the pot.  How can he, in good conscience even take that obscene amount of money.   Add that to the money they paid Herkert for sign-on bonus and the golden parachute and tell me this company has NO MONEY for raises, etc.  It is representative of the culture in this country right now – screw the little people because you can.  Bullying doesn’t just happen in school. We are trapped rats basically, especially if you’re long in the tooth.

    Thanks for continuing to tell it like it is and keeping us in the loop.  Sometimes we learn more from you faster than we do from inside the cellblock.


    Yet another reader chimed in:

    I have no problem when executives get huge bonuses, as long as there is a tangible value for stock holders and employees. In this case, there is no value being delivered to either party. I can’t believe these executives can visit stores, see employees in the lunch room, see their trucks going down the interstate and think to themselves, “wow, I really make a difference around here”. Terribly wrong and equally sad.

    From another reader:

    Just read this morning’s “Your Views: Not Such Super Values” and wanted to drop a quick note of appreciation.

    At a time when our entire political and economic environment permeates cloaked agendas and unabashed self-serving activities…it is a pleasure (refreshing actually) to find a few like yourself with the courage and conviction to just tell it like it is.


    Thanks.

    And, from another reader:

    I worked for the former ABS company for 25 years and am now employed at ABS LLC. I have a young family member, 3 years into their career at SVU, who is experiencing all these cuts, reductions, no merit increases and so forth while watching the Executives be handsomely rewarded for minimal service and value.

    I’ve been around some time as you can see from my years of experience and realize that this is how the “GAME” is played and candidly, lawsuits, protests or whatever will probably not change a thing; that said, what I do think that makes sense is we as a country should tax these Robin Hoods at 70% or more for their greed…..! But when many of these fat cats give to our public servants so “freely” (with their easy money) then it’s a revolving door. The rank and file workers deserve MUCH BETTER than this treatment they’ve been receiving for years.

    Keep up the good work Kevin and the candid comments...





    Regarding the future of Amazon Fresh, one MNB user wrote:

    With regard to the never-ending saga of Amazon Fresh I would suggest that there are two basic questions. 1) Can Amazon execute & 2) Do folks want the service. The first question remains open and discussion would just be speculative. On the other hand, with a few notable exceptions, the consistent evidence suggests that this is not a service that really works with the way we live. It’s a lesson we should learn from Fresh & Easy fiasco. It sounds great to consultants because it’s a “new” idea and an unexplored terrain. And it screams convenience. We always like that. And if you ask people they will say, “Hey that sounds cool.”
     
    But the reality is that when (most) people begin to use the service on a regular basis it becomes burdensome. “It doesn’t work so well for spontaneous week-night cooking, so I’ll set up a standing order of staples.” “Oh darn! I forgot to change my order last night because we’re leaving town and now the guy is going to be here in 3 hours with stuff I don’t need that has already been charged to my account” or “I’ve got to get Madison from school ‘cause she’s sick and I don’t want the delivery guy to leave everything out side because it’s 87 degrees. These things all seem like small outliers, but if you’ve ever tried to manage a household of 2, let alone 4 or 5, you might realize how likely these are to add up. And none of this even addresses quality or execution errors
     
    Food needs aren’t like book needs. They change every day, sometimes by the hour (You drank the last of the milk! I needed that for my recipe tonight!), and they require special care. Just like Fresh & Easy, nobody is clamoring for this solution. Trust me, if Amazon Fresh was truly dialed in to a huge unmet need, they would’ve rolled this out nationally long ago, rather than spending several years tweaking with margins determined to make things work. Sound familiar F & E?
     
    Yes, it works in NY, but NY doesn’t count because it’s not Plano TX.


    I think you underestimate how generational changes are dovetailing with technological advances, centered on evolving consumer needs and desires.

    MNB user Ken Fobes wrote:

    Amazon may be struggling with the question of how to get around the expensive logistics issue of “one-order delivered to one customer.”  The secret is “many orders delivered to one location.” There are some interesting methods to achieve this benefit, that other online retailers have recognized.



    MNB the other day took note of a Los Angeles Times report that "brominated vegetable oil, a synthetic chemical that has been patented in Europe as a flame retardant, will no longer double as an ingredient in Gatorade sports drinks."Molly Carter, a spokeswoman for Gatorade owner PepsiCo Inc., said the company has been considering the move for more than a year, working on a way to take out the ingredient without affecting the flavor of the drink."PepsiCo denied that a petition on Change.org generating more than 200,000 signatures had anything to do with the decision ... which I thought was sort of dumb:

    With all due respect to my friends at PepsiCo, the people who believe that the petition had nothing to do with the decision a) could have a convention in a phone booth, and b) have been drinking the Kool-Aid, not the Gatorade. Maybe they'd been analyzing the situation for more than a year, but it strikes me as silly - and even a little insulting - to suggest that 200,000 signatures meant nothing.In fact, many of those 200,000 people may be Pepsi/Gatorade customers who cared about the brand; would it kill Pepsi to suggest that the passions of its customers, combined with scientific analysis, had an impact?

    An MNB user agreed:

    Pepsi's ham-fisted approach to the petition drive has further implications, I think, than you suggest. If I'm an annoyed customer, and I sign a petition, I want the company to respond by (1) taking action, (2) bragging that they listen to their customers and (3) thanking customers for having the loyalty and interest to bring the matter to their attention. What I won't tolerate is an insulting dismissal of my petition -- or a statement that they knew all about it, but did nothing for a year -- which will stop me from ever drinking their product again. It might even inspire me to urge my 5 million social media "friends" to stop drinking it as well. Consumer product companies need to rid themselves of their robotic spokespeople or face the consequences.




    MNB yesterday wrote about how various press reports say that a Kroger store in Charlottesville, Virginia, had a situation to deal with on Sunday - a man who walked into the store carrying a semi-automatic rifle.

    Police were called, and they drew their guns on the man - only to find out that he owned the gun legally, was not a felon, had a permit, and, in fact, wanted to carry the gun into the store as a way of demonstrating his Second Amendment rights.

    There are no restrictions on carrying unconcealed firearms in the state of Virginia; permits are required to carry a concealed weapon.

    Kroger has banned the man from its store, the stories say.

    I commented:

    Even local National Rifle Association (NRA) folks seem to think that this guy was misguided in his efforts to demonstrate the importance of the Second Amendment ... especially because he had a note in his pocket that explained his rationale, which suggests that he expected to be shot by police.

    I'm not sure what he was demonstrating for - Virginia has some of the most relaxed gun laws in the country.

    I've said it before, and I firmly believe that in view of recent events that there ought to be room for reasonable discussion about gun laws in America while still respecting the spirit of the Second Amendment. But I read stories like and I cannot help but think that this is completely nuts - that innocent people are going to continue to be hurt or killed. I also think that retailers ought to be concerned about this issue - because while so many incidents of mass violence have taken place in schools, it seems entirely possible to me that supermarkets and mass merchandisers are ripe to be victimized. Then what will they think?

    Of course, someone will probably suggest that the best approach is to arm the checkout personnel.


    MNB user Brian Blank responded:

    Kevin, I’ve gotta say it’s a pretty fine line between a nut job with an assault rifle staging a non-violent protest at a supermarket and a nut job with an assault rifle mowing down an untold number of innocent victims of all ages.  I don’t see anything noting that the ‘demonstrator’ was carrying an unloaded assault rifle. (To be fair, there was also nothing stating that the gun was loaded, either—but one of the first rules of gun safety is to always assume a gun is loaded until you know for sure.)

    But that’s not why I wrote to comment.  It isn’t “possible…that supermarkets and mass merchandisers are ripe to be victimized”, it’s already happening.  It seems like mall shootings are becoming a yearly holiday tradition—Portland this past year, and Omaha a few years ago, and many more that aren’t on the top of my mind this very second.


    MNB user Christine Walsh wrote:

    We talk about guns as if we are talking about chewing gum.

    The second amendment rights in 1776 should be considered differently in the high tech world of 2013.

    We ask the government, businesses and churches to stay modern and address the issues of the times, why wouldn't we expect the same of killing machines?


    From another reader:

    Kroger is no place for an assault weapon, and whatever the intentions of the man who brought the gun into the store was, his actions do not help the cause and principled position of those that believe that more gun control laws will have no impact on mass murders inflicted by crazed individuals.  Certainly background checks are reasonable, but the recent bill introduced by Senator Feinstein of California is nothing more than a regurgitation of past legislative efforts that proved to have little or no effect on homicide rates.  Further, this legislation has no chance of passing, even among Senate Democrats and is consequently nothing more than a political statement, not a solution.  The "spirit" of the 2nd Amendment is the individual's right to protect himself from the bad guys or in extreme situations, the government itself.  It has nothing to do with hunting or skeet shooting. 

    The stark fact is that schools that are designated as "no gun zones" are easy targets for these deranged maniacs, knowing they can inflict significant damage, no matter what weapon or weapons they use, before any resistance  to their crimes are is offered.   Schools and our kids deserve the same protection that malls, banks, government officials and celebrities receive from the respective security entourages and efforts.   There are more the 300 million guns in circulation and the vast majority of them are registered and legal.  That does not mean that in the wrong hands, they can be come instruments of evil.  When they do, there needs to be a neutralizing force nearby, especially if our kids are in harms way.

    Defending our schools with additional security is not an extreme stance.  Nor is reviewing mental health standards and practices and the type of content that kids are exposed to on-line and in our movie theaters.  The rational conversation we should be having should include more than the banning of firearms.  So far it has not.


    And from another reader:

    Here is yet another reason to be an online retailer – shop from the safety and security of your own home.   More and more folks aren’t going to risk the trip – bummer.

    I’m a firm believer in the 2nd Amendment, have a concealed weapons permit and pack a weapon on regular occasion.   However, the need for anyone to own an automatic weapon is beyond me.   Until our country stands up and recognizes that mental health and mentally ill people coupled with drug misuse and abuse are destroying our communities, nothing is going to change.  That is a sad thing for our communities and our kids.   I pray that I’ll be “packing” when chaos breaks-out in a parking lot over a drug deal gone bad or someone from a “tent camp” decides he’s had a calling, hopefully I’ll be able to protect not only my own children, but also others.


    I was about to suggest that the US in 2013 is beginning to sound like the wild west ... except that I seem to remember that Wyatt Earp, when he was sheriff of Tombstone, used to require that when people came to town, they'd have to go to his office and have their guns locked up, to be collected when they left town.

    Sounds like a pretty good idea to me. (Though it probably is legend. But, as they say in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, one of the best westerns ever made, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.")

    And from another reader:

    Being an ex police officer I can only imagine what it must be like today to have to confront a person ( good guy or bad) and now have to wait even longer to determine their intentions. In the past you at least knew that something was not right, but now you don’t know if you looking at a killer or jokester. I find it really hard to believe that our second amendment was created so people could take an assault gun to Kroger….  Seems some folks love their guns and rights more than their family and kids. What happens next time that this guy pulls this stunt and a non police officer pulls the second amendment gun on him ... and in a grocery store. Thank you for allowing me to express my first amendment right.  

    Responding to my quip about arming checkout personnel, one MNB user joked:

    That certainly changes the rules and excitement level at the Best “Bagger” Competition at the NGA show!

    That's funny. Except, when you think about it, maybe not.




    Yesterday, MNB wrote about a Los Angeles Times story about how an analysis of 2001 tax documents filed by Chick-fil-A shows that the company made no donations to groups that oppose gay marriage - a reality that may come as a surprise to some considering the company's public position on the subject. That position, as stated by the company's president, Dan Cathy, had enraged gay marriage supporters who called for a boycott of the fast feeder; conversely, anti-gay marriage forces had coalesced around a grass roots campaign calling for people to eat more Chick-fil-A, not less.

    I commented:

    One of the nice things about this story is that it talks about how one of the top people from the Campus Pride organization actually has developed a personal relationship with Dan Cathy, even being invited to attend with Cathy the college football bowl game sponsored by the retailer.

    Apparently, good and decent people, if they try hard enough, can find ways to connect even if they disagree on some issues. It gives one hope.


    One MNB user wrote:

    While the company itself has not directly donated to or otherwise supported anti-gay organizations, the boycott calls have been in response to Dan Cathy’s support of these organizations, using the fortune he has earned through his company.  Some of these organizations go beyond fighting against marriage equality, but actively and financially support efforts to maintain anti-gay laws in other parts of the world—laws that not only criminalize homosexuality, but make it punishable by death.  Just to clarify that it’s a deeper issue than much of the reporting would suggest.

    Fair enough.

    But another MNB user wrote:

    Most of the people that came out to support Chick-fil-A during this last controversy did so not because they were anti-gay.  They did so because they are tired of being bullied by pro-gay activists.  The sooner you realize this, the sooner you stop jumping on the "those guys are homophobes" train which is not true at all.  Most of us that don't believe in gay marriage are not against people doing what is their right to do.

    I don't think that everybody who is against gay marriage is a homophobe. I realize that for many people, marriage is a religious ceremony, and I would never suggest that a priest, minister or rabbi be required to marry gay people. But, marriages are also performed by judges, and they don't get the same religious protections.

    Also ... I'm always amused by the reference to "pro-gay bullies." In my experience, these folks aren't bullies ... they're just looking to have the same rights and privileges that other people do. And, as I've said before, I'm really not pro-gay marriage or anti-gay marriage. I just think it is arrogant for me to think that I have any right to foist my opinions or beliefs on anyone else, at least not when their actions have absolutely no impact on me.

    Whatever gets you through the night, as the Beatles once sang.
    KC's View: