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    Published on: February 5, 2013

    by Michael Sansolo

    Every so often I remember the old adage that we have twice as many ears as mouths for a reason: we learn much more when we listen. So I listen and I learn.

    This past weekend I had the good fortune to teach at a professional studies program at West Liberty University in West Virginia. While I like to believe my session was valuable, I know that I learned a lot more when I listened to the presentations of a group of students.

    Their class was on financial management for professionals. The women presenting in this class were eye-opening as they detailed how the course helped teach them to better understand their finances, better question financial managers and better control their financial future. As one student succinctly put it: everything began when she started opening her monthly statements.

    These are professionals at various stages of their careers and lives who, in the safety of this one class, were able to admit—and correct—their fears and limitations when it comes to financial management. Just like that, they became empowered.

    It got me thinking about all the articles I’ve written here at MNB on social networking over the past year due to the work I’m doing with the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council. Thanks to those articles and countless presentations, I’ve learned something similar to what I heard at that college course last week: once people discover what they don’t know, they are willing to ask really good questions.

    Those are important admissions. The social web is so new and so huge that it’s essential for business to get a handle on this new world. Yet, most of us are so busy with the old world that we struggle to find time for a broad new topic even though we accept its importance.

    That’s one reason why I’m so excited to be conducting a workshop on the social web at next week’s National Grocers Association (NGA) Convention in Las Vegas. The session, which will include a discussion with Dennis Host, the director of marketing at Coborn’s, will focus on both understanding the social web and taking the steps to building a useful strategy for engagement.

    These lessons are important to all businesses, but especially the many independent retailers who attend the NGA show. Many independents have long found community links and understanding as their key to business success. Although they battle far larger companies in town after town, independents have learned to survive and thrive by better knowing and serving those communities.

    In 2013, it’s impossible to do that without understanding the social web. In many ways, the social web substantially changes the competitive picture. Small companies can use networking sites to build stronger community ties than ever and become trusted allies to shoppers struggling to manage busy lives. Of course, large companies can do the same...

    In other words, businesses have to engage. And hopefully they can engage progressively and well.

    So if you’re in Las Vegas for the NGA show, join us for the session at 8:15 a.m. on next Monday. (Here’s hoping that people aren’t stopping in on their way to bed!) I’ll share the some findings of the CCRRC study and Dennis will offer real world experiences at Coborn’s.

    If you can’t attend, check out the study by clicking here. Download it and discuss it in house as you try to build your plan.

    Because as the very smart young woman explained to the class last weekend: if you don’t open your statement, you can’t possibly plan for the future.

    You have to start somewhere.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 5, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    So, I got a press release from Victoria's Secret, a company I don't ordinarily get a lot of mail from. Some highlights:

    "Earlier today, a breast cancer survivor and her daughter hand-delivered more than 118,000 Change.org petition signatures to Victoria's Secret's New York office on Thursday, asking the lingerie giant to make a line of 'survivor' mastectomy bras to help breast cancer survivors feel beautiful again.

    "After delivering the signatures, Allana Maiden and her mother Debbie Barrett met with Tammy Roberts Myers, Vice President of External Communications for Limited Brands, Victoria's Secret's parent company, to share their ideas for a 'survivor bra.' Myers then invited the mother and daughter to travel to the Ohio headquarters of Limited Brands for further discussions ... Allana started her Change.org campaign asking Victoria’s Secret for a 'survivor line' of mastectomy bras after years of watching her mom, a breast cancer survivor, struggle to find bras that were pretty, affordable, and a comfortable fit for her new shape."

    Here's the paragraph that I found most interesting:

    “If there’s anything I could tell the 118,000 people who’ve signed my Change.org petition right now, it’s that Victoria’s Secret is taking very seriously the comments from survivors and their families and friends who want to see ‘Survivor Bras’ in their stores,” said Allana, after leaving the meeting.  “I know their heart is in the right place and they want to do the right thing. Making this bra line would be a win for Victoria’s Secret and a win for survivors -- there’s no downside. I think they see that now.”

    Now, I want to compare this message with a story that was noted on MNB about a week ago:

    "The Los Angeles Times reports 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 ... PepsiCo denied that a petition on Change.org generating more than 200,000 signatures had anything to do with the decision."

    When the brominated vegetable oil story ran, I commented that it made no sense to me that Pepsi seemed to go out of its way to say that 200,000 petition signatures had no impact on its decision, that it was engaged in the process of eliminating it for more than a year. Even if that is true - and I'm willing to accept on faith that my friends at Pepsi are being honest about it - it seemed pointless to essentially demean people (many of them customers) who only signed that petition because they cared about an issue

    It would not have killed Pepsi to give them some credit, to offer some respect, to acknowledge that 200,000 signatures have meaning.

    Compare that to the Victoria's Secret approach ... which seems to embrace the fact that 118,000 people signed a petition, and that these signatures amounted to a kind of corporate consciousness raising. If Victoria's Secret actually makes that "Survivor Bra," there are going to be more than a hundred thousand people who are going to feel invested in that product, in that company.

    I bring this up not because I want to pick on Pepsi, but because the Victoria's Secret story offered such a contrast, such a powerful, Eye-Opening lesson.

    The balance of power has changed. Deal with it. Embrace it.

    Taking direction from the shopper is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength. Of confidence. Of being tuned in, not tuned out.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 5, 2013

    Yesterday, Supervalu employees were sent the following email that was "sent on behalf of Wayne Sales," the company's president/chairman/CEO:

    "Today, SUPERVALU announced that its Board of Directors has named Sam K. Duncan President and Chief Executive Officer, effective immediately. The board decided to install Sam in this role before the completion of the previously announced transaction to ensure a smooth transition.

    "This is the right decision for SUPERVALU and one that the Board and I fully support. As Executive Chairman of the Board, I will work with Sam to prepare the business for closing. Over the past several weeks, Sam has been busy visiting stores, meeting with independent retailers, and getting to know many of our team members. These visits have reinforced his belief in the potential of SUPERVALU and he looks forward to meeting with more of you in the weeks ahead.

    "Sam is a talented and highly-respected executive and I am confident in his ability to lead SUPERVALU. Please join me in congratulating Sam as he takes on his new role."

    Last month, Supervalu announced that it will sell five of its retail chains - Albertsons, Acme, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s and Star Market stores and related Osco and Sav-on in-store pharmacies - to AB Acquisition LLC, an affiliate of a Cerberus Capital Management-led investor consortium which also includes Kimco Realty Corporation, Klaff Realty LP, Lubert-Adler Partners and Schottenstein Real Estate Group, in a transaction valued at $3.3 billion.

    In addition, a Cerberus-led investor group will acquire up to 30 percent of Supervalu's common stock, paying $4 a share.

    It had been announced that Duncan, the former chairman/CEO of OfficeMax and the former president/CEO of ShopKo Stores, would become president/CEO. The non-executive chairman of the new board will be Robert Miller, who is the president/CEO of Albertsons LLC, the Albertsons stores that have been owned by Cerberus. The deal reunites the Albertsons chain under one ownership.

    However, the fallout from the deal has raised some hackles within Supervalu, where a culture of austerity has led to most employees being denied bonuses and salary increases. Sales - who was chairman of the board that hired Craig Herkert to run the company, only to fire him and give him reported termination package worth close to $3 million - reportedly will get more than $12 million for his eight months work at Supervalu's CEO.

    At the same time, three other executives who got retention bonuses last August received golden parachutes: Sherry Smith, CFO, $3.51 million; Janel Haugarth, president of Independent Business and Business Optimization, $3.65 million; and J. Andrew Herring, executive vice president for real estate, market development and legal, $2.82 million. These new amounts would be paid to the executives if they are terminated within two years of the closing of the Cerberus deal.

    In Illinois, the News-Gazette reports that Supervalu has unveiled to potential lenders their vision for a smaller, more efficient company that will have three business segments: Save-A-Lot (1,300 stores in 35 states), five regional brands (including Cub, Shop n' Save, and Farm Fresh), and the wholesale distribution business, which has 19 warehouses around the country, and that it characterizes as "a stable business with strong operations."

    According to the story, the company is "looking for additional places for savings," including: "right-sizing (the) organization for ongoing operations," "streamlining processes," "cutting what it pays for professional fees and services," and "trimming costs in maintenance and information technology."
    KC's View:
    There will be those who will say that Sales, having arranged for his big paycheck, now cannot even be bothered to work the last eight weeks before the deal closes. (I know this because I've already begun to hear from them.)

    But I'm not sure this is true. I think it may be fairer to suggest that within the organization, Wayne Sales was already so morally and ethically compromised that he was useless - he was a general that lost the confidence of his forces. It was time to go.

    However, if I were him, I would not spend the $12 million too quickly. I think it is highly likely that there could be a lawsuit filed that will endeavor to stop him from being paid a pot load of money, and that Supervalu may be forced to justify a compensation strategy that rewarded top executives - even failures - millions of dollars while the people on the front lines saw nothing but cuts and freezes; it can also be argued that the millions of dollars handed out to executives could have been used to reduce the cost of goods being sold to independent retailers, and to improve the service levels provided to those retailers.

    (By the way ... it is instructive that Wayne Sales' goodbye note was not sent by him, but rather "on his behalf." What a crock. In another life, his name must have been Henry F. Potter...)

    As for the new management ...

    People as accomplished as Bob Miller and Sam Duncan don't need my advice. But if you ask me (and if you're reading this, I'm assuming you are), I think his first steps absolutely have to be people-centric. He has to let the people on the front lines know that they are the most important factor in making the company viable and sustainable, and then he has to take actions to prove it. They have to bring people in who don't drink the Kool-Aid, but who are willing to challenge conventional thinking at every turn.

    If they don't do that ... if they don't marshal their forces in an effective way ... then, while Supervalu may experience some movement, there is no guarantee that it won't be marching toward a cliff.

    My sense, though, is that they get this.

    As a CEO friend of mine likes to say, if companies give employees more than they expect (not talking just about money here, but also responsibility, respect, the ability to innovate), then employees almost always will give back to the company more than leadership expects.

    Or, in the case of Supervalu, perhaps more than they have any right to expect.

    Published on: February 5, 2013

    Safeway announced yesterday that Peter Bocian, executive vice-president and head of corporate services and finance at JP Morgan Chase & Co., will be joining the company as its new CFO.

    He succeeds Robert Edwards, who was promoted from the CFO role to the company presidency almost a year ago, but who had remained as finance chief while a replacement was sought.

    Bocian previously has worked as CFO at Starbucks and CAO at Hewlett-Packard.

    Safeway is undergoing a number of changes in the executive suite, as Steve Burd, the CEO for almost two decades, has announced that he will retire on May 14, 2013. A new CEO is being sought in a search said to be both internal and external.
    KC's View:
    I've been told two things about the search.

    One is that Robert Edwards is the odds-on favorite to get the job.

    The other is that while he is highly regarded, there is some feeling within the organization that what Safeway really needs in the top job is a great merchant, not another CEO from the finance side of the business.

    And so, there are some internal concerns that Safeway will not take advantage of the moment to bolster itself where it needs to be strengthened.

    Published on: February 5, 2013

    The Washington Post reports on a new study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project suggesting that "brick-and-mortar retailers’ efforts to keep even the most Web-savvy shoppers in stores is having some early success."

    According to the story, "More consumers, 58 percent, consulted their phones during the 2012 holiday season, compared with 52 percent in 2011. Young shoppers, wealthy shoppers and smartphone owners were the most likely to leverage their cellphones while shopping.

    "About 12 percent of those who used their phones to look for cheaper prices opted to buy the products online, about the same percentage as did in 2011, according to the report.

    "But the report contained some good news for retailers: Almost half of the people who comparison shopped with their phones, 46 percent, still ended up at the cash register, an 11-point increase from 2011."
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 5, 2013

    • The Associated Press reports that Amazon has agreed to begin collecting sales tax in Connecticut, "ending a two-year dispute over the tax that the online retailer had previously refused to charge its customers. The retailer also promised to spend $50 million to build an order-fulfillment center at an unspecified site and create hundreds of jobs."
    KC's View:
    Well, now we're going to find out if I put my money where my mouth is.

    I've always argued that sales taxes charged for Amazon purchases would have little or no impact on my shopping the site. But that was sort of easy to say since there were no sales taxes here.

    Things are different now. Time to pay the piper.

    Published on: February 5, 2013

    Crain's Chicago Business reports that "OfficeMax Inc. is joining other big box chains like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Best Buy Co. in jumping on the smaller-store bandwagon ... The new stores will range between 5,000 and 15,000 square feet, compared to current stores that can run as large as 30,000 square feet."

    This is part of a broader OfficeMax effort to become more competitive. The company closed close to five percent of its store fleet last year, and is also relocating some units "to locations with a heavier concentration of small business owners."

    The first small stores are slated to open in April.

    Furthermore, CEO Ravi Saligram tells Crain's, "OfficeMax is positioned to transition from a product-based company to a service- and technology-based one," though it will "retain a strong bricks-and-mortar presence."
    KC's View:
    I was amused by the passage in the Crain's story pointing out that "OfficeMax just introduced what it hopes will be one more of those reasons. Last week, it announced a partnership with GoDaddy.com, the web's largest hosting and domain registration provider, to offer website set-up packages and support to small businesses in OfficeMax stores."

    Really? GoDaddy.com?

    I'm thinking that in addition to website setup packages, they ought to consider a kissing booth....

    Published on: February 5, 2013

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

    • NACS is out with its annual Consumer Fuels Report, revealing that "nearly 9 of 10 consumers (88%) surveyed in a national poll of gasoline purchasers said that the price at the pump has an impact in how they feel about the economy ... nearly three-quarters of consumers (71%) rated price as the most important reason why they select a particular location for fueling, a significant increase from the 63% who said so a year ago."

    • The National Retail Federation (NRF) is predicting that the average person plans to spend $130.97 this Valentine's Day on candy, cards, gifts and more, up from $126.03 last year ... Men will spend an average of $175.61 on jewelry, flowers, a romantic evening out and more, while their counterparts will spend approximately $88.78."

    Forbes has a piece about the next hot food trends, as predicted by some of the nation's best and most progressive chefs.

    Let's see if we can break them down: cultural and ethnic flavors, "less glamorous vegetables like carrots and Brussels sprouts," tasting menus, the "polished casual scene," which seems to mean exceptional food at affordable prices, sustainable seafood, restaurant gardens, molecular gastronomy, and wood grilling.

    What's interesting is that some chefs think that food trucks will continue to be "in," while others think they are on the way out.

    Really? Brussels sprouts? Yuck.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 5, 2013

    • Ahold USA announced that Jan van Dam, most recently the president/CEO of Albert/Hypernova, Ahold’s supermarket business in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, has been appointed to the position of Executive Vice President of Supply Chain and E-Commerce.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 5, 2013

    MNB took note the other day of an NPR/Marketplace story about how the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston is one of some 900 churches around the country that are dealing with the problem of a cashless society - making it harder for people to put money in the Sunday collection basket - by installing collection kiosks, touch-screen units that allow people to donate using a credit or debit card.

    One MNB user responded:

    The church’s use of a digital kiosk for payment reflects my son’s Boy Scout troop getting over 50% of its dues paid via a Paypal account.  Parents seem to NEVER go to meetings with cash or, even more rare: a checkbook.

    I wrote, in the original story:

    One thing the story does not address is whether people making the e-donations in Boston are able to use the touch-screens to say where they'd like their money to go - to upkeep of the cathedral, or supporting the free clinic or the food pantry or school programs for low-income kids.

    Which some parishioners might want, since reports are that the Boston Archdiocese has paid out close to a hundred million dollars to settle charges brought against it because of the sexual abuse of minors by its priests and the cover up of these cases by local Catholic officials.


    Which prompted MNB user Gary Loehr to write:

    Taking a cheap shot at the Catholic Church?  No business lesson, nothing funny, not even wise guy sarcasm (which I love).  C'mon you're better than that.

    First of all, I think the Catholic Church offers lots of business lessons in how to fundamentally squander its value proposition - moral authority - while trying to protect the organization. Talk about tone deaf, misguided leadership - the Catholic Church protects priests who sexually abuse young people, while suspending and threatening excommunication of an irish priest, Father Tony Flannery, who has the temerity to question the church's leadership.

    Second, you're right that I was taking a shot. But it wasn't a cheap shot ... because a cheap shot would be undeserved.

    Finally, you're right about something else. It wasn't funny.

    It is all disgusting.

    Let me be clear about this.

    I am a former altar boy who went to Catholic elementary school (taught by Dominican nuns), Catholic high school (Irish Christian Brothers), and Catholic college (Loyola Marymount University, taught by Jesuits, who, unlike the rest of them, actually encouraged thinking and questioning). So I have some expertise in this area, and while I know and like members of the clergy who are good and decent and caring people, I am filled with contempt for an organization that seems to have more regard for the protection of its own bureaucracy than with the nurturing of the people to whom it supposed to be ministering.

    So, yeah. I took a shot.




    On "House of Cards," so-called "binge viewing," and how Netflix getting into the original content business reflects broader business changes that affect many retailers, one MNB user wrote:

    Hallelujah!  I just joined Netflix - specifically  to watch whole seasons of award winning shows that are not on my basic cable package.   My fiancé and I don't have the time to watch during the week so we do marathon Friday date nights and watch 3-4 episodes in one night.  That's the one disc at a time option, which we then have to send back and wait another week to view.  If we have that one disc of an entire season,  (pathetically) we could  watch the whole weekend!

    And from another reader:

    I couldn’t agree more.  We have cancelled all the movie channels (HBO, TIC, etc.) and are only carrying premium coverage on cable because we need the premium sports package (our carrier won’t let us just buy that – again, we don’t get the purchase what we want.), and watch movies, TV series, etc. on Netflix and Hulu plus.  The folks that say TV doesn’t need to change their model are the same folks that said retail doesn’t need to worry about online shopping – it’s coming, and it will win, if you don’t adjust.




    Responding to our story about how airline pricing and customer service models may find their way into traditional retail businesses, one MNB user wrote:

    The airlines change prices hourly to balance loads and fill planes.  It is now expanding to other retail areas.  Makes it more of an effort for the purchasers but it is coming so we better learn.?




    Weighing in on the eternal argument about online shopping vs. bricks-and-mortar stores, one MNB user wrote:

    I shop online and at physical stores.  I can understand people choosing to purchase online at a merchant who has a physical presence, it is easier to make a return at a store, than it is to pack it up and mail it back to an online source.  While I’ve bought some large items, most notably a lawn edger online, the price difference  has to be pretty staggering to make me do that.  Last year I bought a table saw at a local Home Depot.  I could have gotten the saw from an online tool supplier for $50.00 less, but the thing weighs over 150 pounds, returning it if there was a problem would have been a problem.




    I love it when MNB readers offer a snapshot of their own customer service experiences:

    I wanted to share with you a wonderful experience I had that never took place.  Let me explain.  I had called to make a reservation, to celebrate my wife’s birthday, at a local dinner called Vitor’s.  It is a small high end restaurant where the chef is the owner and cooking is his passion. The menu is constantly changing, everything is done from scratched and the chef is spectacular.

    My story starts with me calling on a Monday and leaving my name and number along with the time and day I wanted to make a reservation on their answering machine.  Well it came to be Wednesday and I hadn’t had a confirmation so I called again.  A lady answered the phone and I explained to her I had called on Monday and left my information and hadn’t heard back.  She asked if I could hold and with that the chef/owner came on the line.

    First words out of his mouth were, I apologize for this inconvenience and am sorry that we haven’t gotten back to you.  I said that is quite all right can I make my reservation now.  So I told him the time and day and with that he informed me the restaurant had been reserved for a wedding. So I’m thinking okay I’ll just have to go somewhere else.  Before I could say thank you for your time he asked me for my name and address.  I asked may I inquire as to why; he said because we didn’t get back to you right away I want to send to you a gift certificate to be used at your convenience.  I was shocked, and said that wasn’t necessary for I had every intention on coming back at a later date.  He insisted upon it and five days later I had gift certificate and a hand written note apologizing again for the mix up.
     
    How come a small little restaurant can understand the importance of customer service and relationship building while so many larger companies completely take the customer for granted?


    I think it is called "skin in the game." In places where people have it, the service tends to be better. If they don't, it often tends to be perfunctory.




    On another subject, MNB user Don James wrote:

    As a regular reader for many years, I have finally tired of comments disparaging Wal-Mart Wages. I do not and have never worked for Wal-Mart and as CEO of a foodservice disposable manufacturer elected not to sell to Wal-Mart.

    Living in a rural area my best grocery option was Wal-Mart and I became friendly with several of the employees. I was shocked when a Wal-Mart “friend” who worked in the service deli shared that she just received a raise putting her over $20.00/hour based on her seniority and performance. She was proud talking about how, growing up poor without a high school education, she had worked her way up at Wal-Mart from minimum wage to her current level.





    I wrote recently that while it is great to shop at independent stores, it is the responsibility of independent retailers to give us a reason to do so.

    One MNB user responded:

    You totally hit it on the head. While I do a lot of shopping at big chains, Amazon, etc., I also try to keep independent retailers in the mix as much as possible, so long as I deem them worthy of my business.  For instance, I enjoy the experience of going to my local hardware store and when I can, I avoid buying from the big box store down the road.  But then, there are others….the ones who cop an attitude or just plain ignore their customers, or—my favorite—the ones whose stock answer is always “They don’t make what you are looking for; either buy what I’m pushing, or leave me alone.”  When I was a kid, my parents were told that shoes were not made in my size.  If there hadn’t been a shoe store in a town a half-hour away that not only cared to check, but actually had my size in stock, I don’t know what I would have worn to school.  Fortunately as an adult, it’s even easier to prove them wrong and give my business to those more deserving, whether online or at a brick and mortar store.




    Had a story recently about how Starbucks has a new national policy - baristas have to wear name tags, as a way of providing a higher level of personal interaction.

    My comment:

    The odd thing here is that I didn't even realize that they didn't wear name tags.

    I guess this makes me wonder if there is a little concern at Starbucks headquarters about whether the culture of customer service and interaction is dissipating a bit, and that it needs to create the illusion of personal connections because few of them are taking place.


    MNB user Caesar Armenta responded:

    Gotta echo your comment; I get my fix every day at my local Starbucks and me and my coworkers who frequent the nearby location have always known all the baristas names regardless of name tags or not.

    And another MNB user chimed in:

    Call me a cynic... I'm guessing that this has more to do with image than anything else. And just like the "names" at certain "gentlemen's" establishments, I expect the names to be equally staged.  Stormy on the latte, Autumn on the triple espresso. And don't forget to tip your cashiers, they work hard for the money too...

    Wait a minute. Y'mean "Stormy" wasn't her real name?




    Diane Dietz, executive vice president/CMO for Safeway, recently told the FMI Midwinter Executive Conference that food retailers have to provide a more experiential shopping experience, and "get away from stocking shelves and move to selling benefits."

    To which one MNB user responded:

    "We have to get away from stocking shelves?"  From my experience, Walmart is ahead of the curve on that one.

    Boom!




    Regarding the importance of family meals, one MNB user wrote:

    I attended a group pregnancy class with my wife last night.  The facilitating midwife, led a discussion about what family traditions we wanted to carry forward into our new families.  I've got to admit, the most commonly cited response was some variation of eating meals together as a family.  Apparently, it left a lasting impression on the kids (who are now parents or about to become them) and it turns out was more meaningful and generally positive than the second most cited response.....piling into the minivan and driving to visit grandparents/Disney in FL.  I know eating together as a family is a tradition that I carry on and I sincerely hope that my kids do too.




    Along these same lines, on the importance of retailers being "curators" of products, rather than just stocking and selling them, MNB user George Denman wrote:

    While retailers need to have a curator to ensure that their stores remain relevant to shoppers, so do brands. Our company, Graeter's, has been around over 142 years and is run by the 4th generation of family.

    Four years ago the family decided to take the brand national and there were major concerns not only by the family but the tens of thousands of consumers who were currently spending $100+ to have our product shipped overnight on dry ice to them. Would this product that has become revered by its consumers and celebrities all over the US be able to provide the same quality going through retailer’s supply chains. Would our new plant with all its efficiencies before and after the hand-crafting element of our small batch process change the outcome of the final product.

    If not for the uncompromised commitment by our CEO and his desire to stay true to the identity of the brand, we would have failed. We had our fair share of hiccups for sure, but overall the brand has been able to grow bigger without growing bad.


    Fair point. For any company, one of the first things you have to curate is your brand equity.




    Regarding Apple's efforts to trademark its Apple Store concept, one MNB user was skeptical:

    The  US Patent and Trademark Office is smoking something. This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of in the store design business. "...a clear glass storefront surrounded by a paneled facade..." Hello!!!! Gee -- I've never seen that before. How unique -- the idea of using glass. I may try to trademark the use of paint on walls. I am beside myself just thinking about this craziness.

    MNB user Bob Thomas wrote:

    It is more than evident that Apple is really using the US trademark to get a similar one in China.  The Chinese store that copied them even copied how the employees were dressed.  Now that China is buying some famous brands such as Volvo, AMC Entertainment and Lenovo, the Chinese Central Government is becoming more aware of the need for intellectual property protection.

    My company receives a lot of help from the Chinese Customs Agency in confiscating counterfeit products before they leave China.  However at the local level, mayors and governors are rewarded for their economic development.  Thus they do not care what is being manufactured as long as it is manufactured in their areas.  Demand for fake products, such as Apple and luxury brand fakes is increasing.

    Presently the cost of enforcement lies with the brand holder. If shipping companies (they know who the shippers are) were responsible for the cost of enforcement the problem would decrease.  US brands are well respected in China and the Chinese strive to buy genuine products because of that respect. Walmart and KFC in China recently suffered when it was reported that they allegedly had some quality problems from their suppliers.

    Apple will benefit in China because they are making a large effort and investment to protect their brand. The Concorde crashed because of a fake part that fell off of a jet that preceded its take off.  Over 200,000 people a year die because of fake medicines.  Fakes are also linked to organized crime and terrorists.





    On another subject, MNB user Jeremy Survance wrote:

    Perhaps I’m just having one of those glass half full kind of days, but I found WSJ’s coverage of the troubles associated with rolling out Wi-Fi in retail locations not a cautionary tale, but one that reinforces a potential source of competitive advantage—especially for small retailers.
     
    Written from Bain’s experience working with large scale retailers, it appears that many of the issues they encountered would be much less or even insignificant for small retailers.  I couldn’t help but think of what an operational advantage these mom and pop retailers have if there is a clear benefit for their customers.  A small footprint equals fewer hot spots to install, and thus fewer shoppers that will be accessing their Wi-Fi (ultimately requiring less bandwidth to purchase from the utility).
     
    It’s no surprise, then, the prominence of Wi-Fi in coffee shops: very small shops with lots of folks working/doing business or taking a break and surfing the web—all over a cup of their favorite caffeinated beverage.  If I’m looking to get work done at a café, I know I’m going to choose one with Wi-Fi.  For other types of businesses, that customer need may not be so clear.  So talking to some of your (best) customers about how Wi-Fi would help them is a simple way to gauge, in addition to showing them how you care about making their overall experience better.
     
    I took away that, regardless the size of your business, a clear understanding of the benefits to your customers (both directly and indirectly, via better service) and the real costs of putting in a system is critical.  Even for the mom and pop store that can install the Wi-Fi system on their own, the inevitability of having to deal with the local cable/utility company should make anyone think twice about whether it’s really worth it!





    And, regarding the subject of guns and concerns retailers ought to have in this area, one MNB user wrote:

    Supermarkets are mostly located on private properties with public access.  I agree, Kevin, that, given the recent Kroger incident, MNB is a good forum for this debate before supermarkets and other public accesses become such fearful places that people will stay home rather than become part of the community of change.  We’ve seen such rancor and arrogant behavior among the various political interests about this issue (and so many others).  Would it not be so much more productive if those who read MNB who are mostly bright, caring people could voice opinions without the common intimidating and narrow-minded responses we are so used to hearing?  Can’t everyone be just a tiny bit more open minded to hearing the opposition?  Do not tear down the opposing side by calling them ignorant or focusing on side comments about Wyatt Earp but rather stick to your logical position and try to convince the other side with facts and solid reasoning.  Let’s stop the bullying, adults, and be respectful and get to a solution.

    This conversation was started when a guy brought a shotgun into Kroger as a way of demonstrating his support for Second Amendment rights.

    One MNB user wrote:

    I’ve been watching your “discussion” about gun, the Kroger incident and various opinions and I am dumbstruck at the egregious use of presumptions!

    You stated in your comments: “I'm just glad a firefight didn't break out between some well-meaning and armed private citizen and the guy with the rifle, which could have ended up in the deaths of a lot of people. (By the way, that's going to happen. Just wait. And then the discussion will change yet again.)”

    Do you think those of us who carry a firearm, just see a guy with a gun and start shooting?  Do you think that we’re walking around, gun on our hip, full of swagger, just looking for the next fight??

    You have stated that you have never fired a handgun, never been to a range, correct?  So why do you presume that, in this scenario, a “well-meaning and armed private citizen” would have opened fire and started a “firefight?”  This isn’t Mogadishu.  Those of us who take on the responsibility of carrying a firearm in the general public, have, first, a duty to diffuse any potential situation.  This isn’t the same as a home, where firing on someone who is in your home who should not be and was not invited in may be warranted.  This is in the public.  So, NO, I don’t believe “it’s going to happen” anytime soon.

    I strongly encourage you to get rid of the presumptions and get educated because you look foolish.  Go to range, hold and shoot a firearm.  Talk to those of us who carry a firearm.  And then, maybe you can actually see the perspective, training, and responsibility of the “well-meaning and private armed citizen.”


    Let's be clear. I said "could" have happened.

    And I think it is foolish to suggest that every citizen with a legal gun is going to do the right thing when faced with such a situation.

    Many will. But some won't.

    From another reader:

    I  beg to differ with what one of your responders wrote for todays blog.  If I see a man in a public place with a gun that has a large magazine attached to it, I’m going to assume he is up to no good and make every effort to call the  police.  If some well -intentioned citizen tried to stop him with a handgun, it would be like taking the proverbial knife to a gun fight and a lot of people stand to be seriously hurt or killed.




    And finally, responding to my comment the other day that when Amazon's home page went down for a while last week, I sort of staggered backward - I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I feared something terrible had happened, an MNB user who clearly thinks I pay too much attention to the Star Trek universe wrote:

    Thank you for the Star Wars reference!  See?  There is room in the universe for two galaxies to co-exist and equal blog time references!  Live long and prosper, Kevin...

    And MNB user Brian Blank wrote:

    I guess the server farm on Alderaan wasn’t such a good idea…

    See? That's why I love the MNB community. You folks get the references, you build on them, and you're funny.
    KC's View: