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    Published on: April 9, 2013

    by Michael Sansolo

    It’s long said that the reason we have two ears and one mouth is to remind us to listen twice as much as we speak. As a corollary, anytime it takes two columns to make one point should pose a stark reminder that the point wasn’t well made.

    Once more into the breach, dear friends.

    As apparently many of you noticed, last week I wrote about my reaction to being offered a senior citizen discount at a local supermarket. Unfortunately, I seemed to drive the wrong point home instead of my hoped-for lesson. And that takes us back to the two ears, one mouth bit of wisdom.

    We’re living in a time of supercharged communication and increased complexity. That in turn means every interchange and every experience can now be transmitted far and wide and not just by bloggers like me. It means that more than ever we have to train staff to understand that assumptions can go very far astray, even if it comes to guessing and barely missing on someone’s age.

    But there’s more. In the battle of reality and perception, be careful to pick the correct side. Demographics tell us so much about customers and society in general, but they also mislead. In many ways, we need also understand psychographics, understanding attitudes that truly govern how so many of us act and think.

    Psychographics are the reason we baby boomers claim 60 is the new 40, even though we once swore to distrust anyone over the age of 30. It’s why people make illogical choices whether it’s in being too frugal or spending too much. And it’s why we buy clothing in sizes that once fit or insist our height and weight are something that long ago was close to the truth.

    For the food industry, psychographics and demographics are the battle for the future. As an industry that serves everyone and serves the most basic of needs, we need to understand how to provide customers what they want and need while those same customers buy what they want even when they know what they need.

    All of that is a long way back to my story from last week. Yes, the employee who asked me if I wanted the senior citizen discount was correct. Yes, his guess at my age was actually pretty close if just a little on the high side. And yes, no matter how hip I may claim to be, the truth is that I am aging. I accept it, think it’s way better than the alternative, but it doesn’t make me happy.

    Here’s the thing: I’m not alone. Because if I were, there wouldn’t be an endless sales growth for hair dye, Botox, Spanx, Viagra and so much more. Incredibly enough the desire for denial and good bargains are going to clash constantly at cash registers everywhere as aging baby boomers (like me) decide whether it’s nobler to scorn a 5% discount or just fess up to our real age.

    Which is why we need train front-line staff more than ever in understanding how to have these always-delicate interactions. Because now a faux pas ends up on Facebook or Yelp and lord help us from there.

    One last thing, also from the land of contradictions: Last week I was flattered beyond belief to learn how many of you read my columns and reacted. So even though many of you questioned my insecurities, appearance and reactions, I have to thank you for caring. Plus my eyes, shoulders, cholesterol, knees…well, you name it, keep me well appraised on how old I really am.

    Now consider this: the picture that runs with this column is six years old. As the Grateful Dead once told us: Every silver lining has a touch of grey. Trust me, I have way more than a touch…at least where I have hair.

    Thanks for reading.

    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:
    It was interesting this week that as the debate was unfolding here on MNB, the Wall Street Journal had a piece about how some people get annoyed by what are described as "universal ID check" policies that have employees carding everyone looking to acquire alcohol - no matter how old people are or how old they look.

    "The point," the Journal wrote, "is to eliminate the guesswork and social goofs that often seem to go with making sure youngsters don't drink. But it's a point many oldsters don't get. They've taken to pushing back, and some of the universal ID checkers have been backing down."

    You can read the entire story here.

    You can't win.

    Published on: April 9, 2013

    JC Penney announced yesterday that Ron Johnson, one of the forces behind the Apple Store who was hired 17 months ago to re-engineer the department store chain, has been fired. In many circles, the move was seen as inevitable - sales, profits and traffic have plummeted as Johnson looked to reinvent the store experience as a collection of branded boutiques, and change the chain's pricing profile from coupon and promotion-driven to EDLP.

    He will be replaced by Myron E. Ullman III, who was CEO of JCP for seven years before being ousted in favor of Johnson.

    In its coverage of the story, the New York Times writes: "It is a curious move to go back to Mr. Ullman. Most of the senior employees that he had assembled at Penney either left or were dismissed by Mr. Johnson. And it was dissatisfaction with where Mr. Ullman was taking the company that led Mr. Ackman to look for another leader in the first place. Though profitable, Penney was seen as a mediocre retailer that was losing ground to competitors like Macy’s and Kohl’s.

    "Now, it is unprofitable, still losing ground to Macy’s and Kohl’s, and in the midst of a very expensive turnaround, the future of which is uncertain. Though some of Mr. Johnson’s plans can no doubt be jettisoned, his new merchandise is arriving in stores, the stores are undergoing extensive renovations, and Penney has already revised pricing several times. The company is also fighting Macy’s in court over Penney’s attempt to sell Martha Stewart home goods in its stores."

    Johnson is criticized for making sweeping changes without doing any testing, and for imposing a grand view on the chain rather than phasing it in gradually.

    The Times notes that during Johnson's tenure, the company's stock price has dropped more than 50 percent; JCP "reported a $552 million loss for the last quarter, along with more than $4 billion in revenue that evaporated in all of 2012."
    KC's View:
    It is hard to defend what Ron Johnson did, simply because the results have been so stark. But I would argue that is remains entirely possible that his vision of what JC Penney needs to become could be the right one, and that it was his implementation that was, to say the least, flawed.

    I'm not sure that asking for a do-over, by hiring the old CEO, is the right move. Though maybe he was the only real choice, considering that he at least knows the terrain; the learning curve will be a lot less formidable.

    It does make me wonder about JCP's board of directors. They hired one guy, didn't like his vision and implementation, so they fired him and hired another guy. Then, when that didn't work out, they hired back the old guy. Not sure here what the vision is.

    Or if there is any.

    Published on: April 9, 2013

    Albertsons LLC said yesterday that it is expanding its online presence, "launching new online grocery tools for more than 870 newly acquired Acme, Albertsons, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s and Star Market stores nationwide ... All of the banners will implement digital marketing solutions that provide access to planning tools, digital circulars, online advertising, social media, digital marketing and mobile apps."

    The digital tools are provided by MyWebGrocer, which already was doing business with the Albertsons Markets owned by Albertsons LLC. Once the rollout is complete, MWG will support 604 Albertsons-branded stores once the transition is complete, along with 117 Acme stores in the Philadelphia area, 175 Jewel-Osco stores in the Midwest and 169 New England-based Shaw’s & Star Markets.

    Full disclosure: MyWebGrocer is a longtime and valued sponsor of MorningNewsBeat, making it possible for you to get MNB on a daily basis at no charge.

    According to the announcement, "Acme, Albertsons, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s and Star Market will also be using MWG’s advertising platform where they can feature ads for CPG brands, as well as private label products," ads that "allow customers to add products to their online shopping list with one click and give brands exposure to the largest online grocery audience in the country."

    Karl Meinhardt, Vice President, Digital & Social for Albertsons LLC, said that the move would give the company a core digital infrastructure with "the flexibility of developing and running custom content and marketing programs for our division-centric approach."
    KC's View:
    No question in my mind that this reflects Albertsons' mindset - it is going to get these newly acquired chains into shape as fast as possible, bring them into the 21st century and get rid of what does not work.

    Good for them.

    Published on: April 9, 2013

    Bloomberg reports that if Tesco were to close its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market chain, which operates stores in California, Arizona and Nevada, it would cost it the equivalent of about $382 million (US) in cash, and force the company to take a writedown on its results that would be in the neighborhood of $1.5 billion (US).

    The numbers are compliments of the analysts are Shore Capital.

    The story also notes that Tesco CEO Philip Clarke is engaged in a review of all the company's options for Fresh & Easy, and that the speculation currently is focused on a likely closure of the chain and then a sell-off of its assets to various operators, with Walmart and Aldi among the chains most prominently mentioned.

    According to Bloomberg, "Tesco has invested about 1 billion pounds in the U.S. since creating the business in 2007, targeting the West Coast with a series of neighborhood urban stores in a market dominated by big-box supermarkets. Fresh & Easy distinguishes itself with a focus on budget-priced, healthy food and a predominance of own- brand items. Getting the business to produce an acceptable return would take too long, Clarke said in December."
    KC's View:
    A billion here, a billion there ... and pretty soon you're talking about real money.

    I remain gobsmacked that Tesco was not able to figure the US out, that it got the market so completely wrong, and was unable to adjust when things did not seem to be going right.

    Published on: April 9, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    There have been stories lately about how horse meat ended up in beef meatballs. And stories about moose lasagne had to be pulled from the market because they found pork in it.

    But these stories pall in comparison with another story from Europe about how one animal was not what it seemed to be.

    In the UK, the Daily Mail reports about a guy in Argentina who was selling poodles for hundreds of pounds ... except that they weren't really poodles. They were, in fact, ferrets that had been pumped up on steroids. According to the story, the fraud originally was thought to fall into the "urban legend" category, but that in fact ferrets were given "steroids at birth to increase their size and then had some extra grooming to make their coats resemble a fluffy toy poodle."

    I'm beginning to wonder if we can trust anyone anymore...
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 9, 2013

    The Chicago tribune reports that Caribou Coffee has decided to "close 80 locations nationwide Sunday and turn 88 others into Peet's (Coffee & Tea stores) over the next 12 to 18 months."

    According to the piece, "Caribou didn't provide a list of stores affected by the closings or conversions. But most downtown Chicago Caribou locations will remain open and be rebranded Peet's stores by 2015 ... Following the closings and conversions, Caribou will have (486) stores in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, western Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, North Carolina, Denver and 10 international markets, the company said. Peet's, which has about 200 cafes, has a significant presence in larger retail stores, including Jewel, Target and Dominick's."

    Caribou and Peet's are both owned by the german investment firm Joh. A. Benckiser. The move is said to provide both brands with better positioning for long-term growth.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 9, 2013

    • The Sag Harbor Express reports that Long Island, New York-based King Kullen plans to expand its presence in the "the growing — and increasingly popular — grocery delivery service business" by offering the option to residents and vacationers on the island's South Fork.

    The story says that "most recently, companies like Stop & Shop’s Peapod grocery delivery and the Manhattan based Fresh Direct have provided grocery delivery services on the South Fork, the latter only in high season. Schiavoni’s Market in Sag Harbor also offers delivery service in the Sag Harbor Fire District for $12.50, as well as Shop & Drop services and lunch delivery for orders $20 or more within the Sag Harbor business district and to marinas.

    "King Kullen currently offers delivery at 15 of its 42 Long Island locations, but not at any of its East End branches, which in addition to Bridgehampton include Cutchogue, Riverhead, Hampton Bays and Eastport."

    King Kullen says it hopes to have the service up and running in time for the beginning of summer.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 9, 2013

    • The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Kroger "will spend $1.5 million installing Ecotality’s Blink charging stations at 125 stores in Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Diego. Kroger will install 225 stations in all, including 25 DC fast chargers.  The grocery chain already has 60 Blink chargers in Oregon and Washington, as well as 14 in Texas. Blink customers sign up to use the service and access the chargers by swiping a card on the machine."

    According to the story, competition to lock up locations for electric car chargers tends to be "fierce," and supermarket parking lots are viewed as optimal because a) people go there with a degree of frequency, and b) they tend to spend enough time inside to make charging worthwhile, but not so much time that the charging stations get hogged by one car.


    Bloomberg reports that "Blackhawk Network Holdings Inc., the gift-card provider owned by grocer Safeway Inc. (SWY), plans to raise as much as $220 million in a U.S. initial public offering ... The company will offer 10 million shares for $20 to $22 each ... At the midpoint of the offering range, Blackhawk would be valued at $1.09 billion, according to a filing today with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission."


    • The Los Angeles Times reports that "major baby-food makers such as Dole Food Co., Del Monte Foods Co. and Nestle’s Gerber business are going to court ... to determine whether they need to warn consumers of certain lead levels in their products."

    The court appearance is prompted by a 2011 lawsuit filed by the Environmental Law Foundation, which "alleged that some of the companies' foods and juices -- which included ingredients such as carrots, peaches, pears and sweet potatoes -- contained enough lead to warrant a consumer caution label under California's Proposition 65 toxins warning law."

    The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said, the story notes, that "about 500,000 American children between 1 and 5 years old have unsafe lead levels in their blood."


    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Anheuser-Busch InBev has reached an agreement in principle with the US Department of Justice that will allow it to conclude its $20.1 billion friendly takeover of Mexico's Grupo Modelo. The deal involves the selling and/or licensing of various Grupo Modelo assets as a way of resolving antitrust concerns.


    • Bimbo Bakeries USA said yesterday that it has completed the acquisition of Beefsteak, the bread brand being sold by bankrupt Hostess brands, for $31.9 million.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 9, 2013

    Two women - each of whom made a mark on the 20th century, albeit very different marks - passed away yesterday.


    • Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a grocer's daughter who became the only woman to achieve that office, passed away yesterday after suffering the latest in a series of strokes. She was 87, and reportedly had been suffering from the effects of Alzheimer's disease.

    Known as the "Iron Lady" for her political and governing toughness, Thatcher was a proponent of nationalism, moral absolutism, and a Conservative agenda that made her a natural ally of US President Ronald Reagan.


    • Annette Funicello, who was a Mouseketeer on "The Mickey Mouse Show" during the 1950s, and then starred with Frankie Avalon in a series of beach party movies during the 1960s, died yesterday of complications related to a two-decade battle with multiple sclerosis. She was 70.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 9, 2013

    Yesterday, MNB talked about "Zero TV Nation," the some five million US households that do not pay for cable and/or satellite TV service, don't use an antennae to get free TV service, and who watch TV shows on devices such as computers, tablets or smartphones. Among other things, I wrote, this trend illustrates how traditional businesses are being made irrelevant, slowly but surely, by empowered consumers equipped with technological capabilities that give them unprecedented strength in the balance of power.

    One MNB user responded:

    I am not technically one of the Zero TV Nation members, but I couldn’t agree more with this.  I quit paying for satellite TV 2 years ago, it was ~$85 a month at that time.  Cable was no cheaper.  I did my own research and found only a handful of stations that we watched where we couldn’t get the station over the air.  I installed an antenna in my attic and connected it to the outside where the cable signal comes in, splitting it there (Antennaweb.org is a good place to start for antenna research).  I receive the high definition antenna signal on all my home TVs.  I also have a high speed internet connection with a small older computer I rebuilt, added a wireless keyboard, and connected it to our TV in the living room.  On that I watch TV programs I missed (or couldn’t get previously) by going to the station website (ABC, CBS, TNT, WB, etc…) and watching them there – no need for a DVR.  The other thing I did was get a ROKU box (actually a few of them) and connected it to the TV.  With that I get Hulu Plus, Netflix, Vudu, etc… (hundreds of various “stations” where most are free).  A lot of them aren’t too good, but you get to pick what you want to have.  Plus you can watch several years of shows on Hulu Plus if you want, or get caught up on several episodes in a single weekend.  I now pay Hulu and Netflix $7.99 each per month for a total of $15.98 / month.  Vudu has a lot of recently released movies that I can just stream to my TV without having to go anywhere to check them out.  With the price of gas, even dollar rentals cost more than just a buck.
     
    The one thing you won’t get very well is the various live sports feeds – so that has to be taken into consideration.  My wife and I enjoy watching our favorite teams and if they aren’t on the local stations, occasionally we may make a “date” night of it and hit a local sports bar.  I know that can add up, but getting out with the wife on a date night and doing this makes her happy, so I figure I’m ahead there.  You can get ESPN3 streamed for some of the sports games, and the signal is just as good as regular TV.  There are several other ways to get online feeds from the various sports venues that broadcast live sports.  Of course with Roku, you can also purchase the sports packages if you are really into it.  I am aware of other feeds online, but I stay away from those. 
     
    All in all, I figure I have saved over $1500 in the past 2 years, by not having some things convenient with a single remote access.  A bit of an inconvenience, but not worth the extra cost of subscription TV.  For the station list, I downloaded the TV Guide app to my phone so I can see what is on at any given time.  I have had several people ask me about what I have done because they see their monthly bill and are also tired of paying for it every month, especially for stations they don’t want to watch.  BTW, that is also one of the main complaints I had with my subscription service.  I joke with them that I need to start a consulting service to show people how to set things up.  The main thing is to do your research.  BTW, I am not a young techie.  I am in my mid 50’s and was just tired of paying out so much for the handful of stations I could not get over the air. 
     
    Whenever my wife and I walk into a Sam’s store or some other retailer where a satellite company is trying to sign up customers, they invariably hit up my wife.  She sends me over to talk to them and when I start telling them what I did, they tell me nicely to have a nice day and shoo me along.  I joke with them that I can meet up with their customers and discuss options with them, but pretty much get a “no thanks, not interested” reply.


    From another reader:

    One aspect of the Zero TV households that doesn’t seem to be addressed is those that don’t watch that content at all, in any manner.  Not necessarily as a value judgment, but just a case of “not enough hours in the day.” When televisions switched to digital we considered whether or not we should buy a new set, and decided that since ours was primarily a DVD player (when turned on at all) it wasn’t needed. My pub quiz trivia team knows that when it comes to questions involving television shows, don’t even look at me.

    And MNB user Mike Franklin wrote:

    Appreciated this article…

    13 years ago…disconnected landline.

    6 years ago gave TVs away.

    I have my IPhone…that is my connection to friends and family and the Internet.  Soon to have iPad Mini…





    MNB yesterday took note of a Bloomberg Business Week piece about Jeff Bezos' decision to invest $5 million in a six-year-old news start-up called Business Insider, and how it reflects his belief in the disruptive influences affecting traditional business models.

    "Bezos’s investment in the scrappy news site is perfectly aligned with his overall philosophy about changes in the media business," Bloomberg Business Week wrote. "He believes the intermediary layers or 'gatekeepers' of traditional media are being threatened by tectonic shifts in the economics of content creation and distribution, and Amazon is investing heavily to accelerate the transition and profit from it.

    And I commented:

    Gatekeepers are irrelevant when everybody has a set of keys, a blueprint with all the secret and not-so-secret entrances, and an invitation to come on in.

    MNB user Philip Herr wrote:

    I can’t say I agree with the sentiment of this item. Gatekeepers, whether biased or (seemingly) objective afford a filter for news. The imprimatur of the journalist gives credibility to the article. A sense that someone qualified to evaluate the veracity of news has taken the time to review it and publish it. Sort of a “Good Housekeeping Seal”.  And while I acknowledge that standards in journalism have eroded in the competition for TV ratings or to outdo online sources, the role of the gatekeeper continues to be vital. Even Fox News was forced to overrule Rove as being hopelessly biased in his assessment of the last Presidential election.

    I agree with you ... to a point. There are gatekeepers everywhere. Amazon.com is a kind of gatekeeper, though one with a more democratic - small "d" - view of the content universe. Hell, MNB is a kind of gatekeeper, though I prefer the word "curator."

    But I think the Bezos belief is that traditional gatekeeping entities and institutions are losing their primacy, and that it is worth investing in the alternatives.




    MNB also took note yesterday of a New York Times report on how "a dozen or so state legislatures" have responded to videos shot by animal rights activists - showing acts of animal cruelty that resulted in federal investigations and the loss of business by some suppliers - by proposing or passing "bills that would make it illegal to covertly videotape livestock farms, or apply for a job at one without disclosing ties to animal rights groups.

    I commented, in part:

    This is a crock.

    This kind of legislation is created by people who never read the great quote by Louis Brandeis, Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, who believed that "sunlight is the best disinfectant." Or, it is created by people who believe that sunlight is their enemy.

    I am not saying that every video produced by an animal rights group is accurate, nor that every animal rights group is above reproach. But I am saying that to criminalize the shooting of such videos, and to suggest that all the people who produce such videos are terrorists, is an affront to common sense and, in its own way, dangerous because it diminishes the threat of real terrorists.

    Give me a break.

    It is hard for me to believe that such legislative efforts will hold up to challenges based on Freedom of the Press. But you never know.


    One MNB user responded:

    This move by legislators really is ridiculous. It's like making it criminal to hold potential criminals accountable. Treat animals humanely and they should have nothing to worry about.

    Another embarrassing aspect of misguided government.





    We had a piece yesterday about the growth of online shopping and same day delivery, which prompted MNB user Andy Casey to write:

    This may be a threat to local retailers but right now I'm just not seeing it -  if I'm the Staples CEO (or even the manager of the local Staples store) I'm pretty sure I can figure out how to do local delivery faster than 9 hours and cheaper than $11.97.

    Baby steps. They're all going to figure this stuff out.




    We reported yesterday about how photo studios operating in Sears and some Kmart stores are closing down, yet another victim of digital technologies that also sent Kodak into bankruptcy.

    In commenting on this story, I simply quoted the old Queen song - "Another one bites the dust."

    MNB user David Peterson wasn't impressed:

    Wow!  Your view was very mature and insightful!

    And MNB user Mitch Hill wrote:

    Thanks, now I’ll have an ear worm all day!




    On another subject, one MNB user wrote:

    I read your comments today about the use of watermarks and QR codes in advertising and wanted to add this story:

    Our younger son is the editor of his high school's yearbook and has devoted yeoman hours during this school year to ensure that the product is delivered accurately and on time.   He has worked hard to organize and streamline their production processes in an attempt to bring them a little closer to the 21st Century.   I often find him doing editing work from his laptop in our home and I have been following his work over the course of the year as they are nearing their final production date.    With only 14 of 160 pages left to submit, he took me through his work the other night page by page and we compared notes on how he is able to do so much of his composition work electronically to the extent that the printing company has almost nothing to do other than turn his webpages into paper and ink.    It has come a long ways from the days that we had to use typewriters for copy and paste up page layouts that were sent via US Mail to the printer. 

    On several pages of the yearbook appeared a QR code......recognizing them, I asked him what purpose they served.   He went on to explain that the QR code takes the reader to a website that hosts additional video content that supplements the page.   For example, the QR code on the pages illustrating his school's Prom takes you to video of the "Grand March" held at the high school before the Prom.   The yearbook staff surveyed the students and found that the vast majority now own smartphones or iPods that can read QR codes and there was considerable interest in the access to the supplemental videos.   I asked the obvious question and wondered aloud why the entire yearbook wasn't being delivered to students in electronic form........seems students still want a printed yearbook so that they still have the ability to exchange best wishes and signatures on paper.


    These are the folks creating our future.

    I am impressed.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 9, 2013

    • In the NCAA men's college basketball championship game last night, the University of Louisville Cardinals defeated the University of Michigan Wolverines 82-76. Louisville coach Rick Pitino became the first coach to win national titles at two different schools.
    KC's View: