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    Published on: June 21, 2013

    Consider the case of George Zimmer, founder of Men's Wearhouse.

    He created the company in 1973, built it into a 1,000-store chain, and stars in its commercials, closing each one with the catch phrase, "You're gonna like the way you look. I guarantee it."

    At least, he used to.

    Because this week, Zimmer was let go by the company that now owns Men's Wearhouse.

    There were, apparently, conflicts about how to run the company, with some saying that Zimmer, 64, was having a hard time letting go of the reins as younger managers were brought in.

    There was even some suggestion - though not officially - that a man with gray hair and a beard was the wrong spokesman for a company trying to appeal to men 20 and 20 years younger. One store even implied that Zimmer was no longer relevant ... which may be the worst thing you can say about an executive.

    But here's where it gets interesting, as the New York Times reports that the company's board and the consuming public may have different definitions of what "relevant:" means:

    After Zimmer's firing, the story says, "Reaction on social media continued to be fast and furious, indicating that Mr. Zimmer had made the jump from business executive to cultural icon. 'George Zimmer' was one of the top searches on Google on Wednesday, and news of the firing made the gossip sites TMZ and Gawker.

    "And the Men’s Wearhouse Facebook page had more than 200 comments criticizing the company for ousting Mr. Zimmer, with sentiments like 'If George Zimmer isn’t coming back, neither am I!' and riffs on Mr. Zimmer’s signature ad closer like 'You’re going to miss the way I shopped. I guarantee it'."

    Which simply underlines something that companies ought to know by now ... that consumers can be loud, demanding, and insistent about the products they buy and the companies they patronize.

    The suspicion here is that this story is not yet finished. So stay tuned.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 21, 2013

    There is a terrific piece in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, available online now, that is about how the technology operatives who so effectively targeted voting blocks for the Obama campaign in 2012 have gone into business for themselves - they've created a business called Analytics Media Group (AMG, and, the Times writes, the "bland name obscures its relatively grand promise: to deliver to commercial advertisers some of the Obama campaign’s secret, technologically advanced formulas for reaching voters."

    An excerpt from the story:

    "Previous campaigns would make decisions about how to direct their television-advertising budgets largely based on hunches and deductions about what channels the voters they wanted to reach were watching. Their choices were informed by the broad viewership ratings of Nielsen and other survey data, which typically led to buying relatively expensive ads during evening-news and prime-time viewing hours. The 2012 campaign took advantage of advanced set-top-box monitoring technology to figure out what shows the voters they wanted to reach were watching and when, resulting in a smarter and cheaper — if potentially more invasive — way to beam commercials into their homes. The system gave Obama a significant advantage over Mitt Romney, according to Democrats and many Republicans (at least those who were not on Romney’s media team). Now A.M.G.’s founders say the company is at the forefront of a move to turn upside down the way the $60-billion-a-year television-ad market has functioned since its start. And they hope to get very rich in the process."

    The story makes clear that it is all about the data - how it is targeted, compiled, sliced, diced, and acted upon. It has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with the future.

    It is worth reading..
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 21, 2013

    The New York Times this morning reports that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) "has approved a label for meat and liquid egg products that includes a claim about the absence of genetically engineered products.

    "It is the first time that the department, which regulates meat and poultry processing, has approved a non-G.M.O. label claim, which attests that meat certified by the Non-GMO Project came from animals that never ate feed containing genetically engineered ingredients like corn, soy and alfalfa," the story says, noting that "Labeling foods to indicate the absence or presence of genetically engineered ingredients is one of the most contentious issues in the food business today, with about two dozen states mulling labeling requirements and the biotech industry fighting back with intense lobbying."
    KC's View:
    We're going to start seeing cracks in the regulations, I think, as the bureaucrats begin to realize that transparency is not only the best policy, but the only policy in a technology-fueled, communication-driven society.

    Published on: June 21, 2013

    The Boston Globe reports that Mexican fast food chain Chipotle said that it will begin labeling all ingredients in its tacos, burritos and other products that contain genetically modified ingredients, saying this is part of its "Food with Integrity" approach.

    According to the story, "Chipotle posted a list that identifies which of its ingredients contain GMOs on its website. 12 of the 24 ingredients, including chicken, pork, rice, and tortillas, are labeled with a red 'G'."
    KC's View:
    Well, maybe the whole scarlet letter thing is unfortunate, but kudos to Chipotle for being up front about what it is selling and why. Integrity has to do with being willing to explain and educate, as opposed to hiding behind lobbyists and trying to keep people from knowing what is in their foods.

    Published on: June 21, 2013

    Forbes writes that when Dunkin' Donuts CFO Paul Carbone made the following statement to investors and analysts this week:

    "We are a beverage company."

    Not a doughnut company. Not a doughnut-and-beverage company.

    No, Dunkin' Donuts is setting itself up as a direct competitor to Starbucks.

    The reason? Dunkin' Donuts has its eye on California, "where the Boston-based chain has no presence to date, but where top competitor Starbucks operates well over 2,000 stores - more than triple the number in the Seattle coffee giant’s second most saturated state, Texas.

    "Carbone said the company has been targeting California with its coffee ads since 2010, despite having no plans to open up shop there until 2015. 'By the time we’re in California, they’ll have seen five years of national media focused on beverages,' he said of the plan.
    KC's View:
    Dunkin' wants to be a beverage company. Starbucks wants to be seen as more of a food company.

    Talk about the grass always being greener....

    Published on: June 21, 2013

    • The Chicago Tribune reports this morning that Ahold-owned Peapod is expanding its grocery pickup service to Lincolnshire, Illinois, after successful tests of the service in Palatine and Deerfield.

    The story notes that "Peapod delivers to a majority of the Chicago area, but offers pickup as an alternative in some suburbs.

    "Customers next month will be able to order online or through Peapod's mobile application and schedule a pickup at Lincolnshire Corporate Center. Peapod associates will then meet customers at their car and load their groceries."

    • Chalk up another victim of the e-conomy.

    USA Today reports that The Oregonian, that state's largest newspaper, will go to three-day-a-week home delivery later this year as a cost cutting measure, though the paper will still be published daily and be available on newsstands throughout the state.

    According to the story, "The paper's parent company, Staten Island, N.Y.-based Advance Publications, will also launch a new company, Oregonian Media Group, this fall to assume operational control of, The Oregonian and its related print products ... It joins a small but growing number of publications that are shifting resources to digital properties, many of them owned by its parent."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 21, 2013

    • The Dallas Business Journal reports that Walmart has filed a lawsuit against a number of activist organizations, including the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, OURWalmart and Dallas’ Job With Justice - Texas, saying that they "have trespassed on Walmart property across Dallas-Fort Worth and other parts of the nation." Walmart charges that "the groups often went into stores, blocked entrances and exits to parking lots and parking spaces, traffic and store entrances. It also claims that the activists disrupted operations, customers and diverted management and police from their jobs, only leaving when forced by authorities."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 21, 2013 reports that "the farm bill collapsed in the House Thursday, the victim of continued divisions over food stamp cuts and the shape of future agriculture subsidies.

    "The 195-234 vote is an embarrassment for the Republican leadership and caps a remarkable year in which the GOP first blocked any farm bill floor action last summer and now was unable to prevail even after Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor won key amendments in the final hours.

    "Both amendments contributed to a deterioration of Democratic support even as the GOP still lost 62 of its own members on the right."

    According to the story, for many legislators "the 'last straw' had been a Cantor-backed amendment that opened the door to states imposing more work requirements on able-bodied food stamp recipients."

    The story notes that "at a time when sequestration is bleeding government agencies of discretionary funds, the farm bill had been one of the few examples of the parties working together to reduce mandatory spending. The Senate version promises more than $24 billion in 10-year savings; the House, $39.7 billion. Even a split would have been the first real progress on the deficit prior to the appropriations and debt battles that will follow after Labor Day.

    • The St Louis Business Journal reports that The Fresh Market has signed a letter of intent that should allow it to open its first store in St. Louis.

    The company is said to have been looking at the market for some time; so far, the story says, "The Fresh Market has opened two locations, with another 32 slated to open by the end of 2013."

    • In Toronto, the Globe and Mail reports that Loblaw Cos. has "rolled out a 10,000-square foot outlet in Calgary called the Box by No Frills, which is a smaller version of its discount outlet that it started in Ontario and has expanded to western provinces. Now the Brampton, Ont.-based retailer is experimenting with a new twist to its high-performing No Frills stores for city locations in a race among all grocers to find coveted urban locations to respond to growing demand from consumers who are moving back to cities."

    The story says that The Box offers “a quick and convenient shopping experience with low prices on fresh food, grocery and general merchandise items," and even "highlights $1 items in most aisles."

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that Sun Capital Partners, parent company to Boston Market, has acquired hamburger chain Johnny Rockets, which has 300 restaurants in 30 states and 16 countries.

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    I'm always amazed to find out that Boston Market is still in business.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 21, 2013

    It is amazing what a little customer complaint can generate.

    Yesterday, in FaceTime I talked about a disappointing experience I'd had in try to track down frozen Italian meatballs made by a company called Rosina's; they are my teenaged daughter's favorite comfort food and, since I'm going to be out of town for all of July, I wanted to have plenty of them in the freezer. Stew Leonard's, where we've always bought them, doesn't carry them during the summer, and while they were willing to special order them for us, I also reached out to the manufacturer to find out what other local retailers might carry them.

    As I said yesterday, this effort was largely unsuccessful: the company sent me a form letter, adding that I could buy the meatballs at Stew Leonard's ... when I had clearly informed in my original voice mail message that Stew's didn't have them. My point was simple - that Rosina's, by not paying attention, risked turning an enthusiastic, long-time consumer of its products who was willing to drive some distance to buy them, into a ticked-off shopper more than willing to share his negative experience. And I thought it worth sharing the experience, if only because it struck me as a classic case where customer service should have been easy, but through pure indifference (or maybe incompetence), it turned into customer disservice.

    Well, this complaint generated an enormous amount of email. So let me see if I can answer most of the questions, which broke down into six categories:

    • Yes, I would be a better father if I only fed her handmade, freshly made meatballs instead of the frozen kind. But I don't always have the time and/or energy. Sue me.

    • For all of you who wrote to me to tell me that your stores carry the Rosina's meatballs and are happy to sell them to me, thanks. I'm not sure that traveling to places like California makes a lot of sense in the short term. But thanks.

    • For all of you who suggested alternative frozen meatballs, I appreciate it. When feasible, I'll run the options by my daughter, who is the ultimate arbiter of what is acceptable. (After all, it is her comfort food.)

    • For the couple of you who said you'd like to send me frozen meatballs, I'll be in touch shortly with an address.

    • To the person who asked why I had not given Rosina's another chance to respond correctly after they sent me the form letter, the answer is - I did. Almost immediately, I called the company's customer service number and explained what had happened, how I thought they'd dropped the ball, and once again gave them my phone number. That was more than a week ago. I have not yet gotten a call.

    • To the person who suggested that I might have been more effective by writing a letter to the Rosina's CEO to explain my complaint, the truth is that doing a piece on MNB is my version of writing the CEO a letter ... this is what I do for a living.

    The big lesson here, I think, is worth repeating ... and really has nothing to do with meatballs.

    It has to do with the power of the 21st century consumer to communicate positive and negative feelings to a broad and expanding audience that, to coin a phrase, eats this stuff up. There's a reason that I got all those emails yesterday. We all relate to customer service problems like the one I described - either because we've experienced similar scenarios, or we worry that our organizations might be making the same kinds of mistakes, doing perhaps irreparable damage to our brands.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 21, 2013

    In the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs 95-88, in the final game of the best-of-seven series, winning a second straight NBA championship.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 21, 2013

    First, let me get the business lesson out of the way. Man of Steel is, in the end, a subliminal treatise in the organics vs. GMO debate.

    Yes, that's right. If you haven't yet seen Man of Steel, I'm not going to explain it to you. But if you have seen it, you know what I'm talking about.

    Now, about the movie...

    Growing up, I was always a DC Comics kid. I much preferred the adventures of Superman and Batman to those of the heroes of the Marvel universe, such as Spider-Man, Iron Man and the X-Men. Not sure why, except that maybe there just seemed like too much angst and suffering by Marvel's heroes, and I preferred the simpler, more straightforward values of the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel.

    This, of course, has changed. The success of the various movies made about Marvel's heroes has the folks in charge of DC's various properties salivating at the thought of replicating those kinds of box office numbers. Thus, we had the Christopher Nolan-directed series of Batman films, which were about as reality-based as movies could be considering they were about a vigilante who dresses up as a bat. That said, they were gritty and character-driven, with a terrorism subtext, and extremely successful.

    Now, we have Man of Steel, produced by Nolan, directed by Zack Snyder, and making the attempt to get under the skin of Kal-El, the last child of Krypton, who finds himself growing up in Kansas and torn between his human upbringing and his alien roots. Because this is 2013, Man of Steel is a far cry from the technicolor, tinged-with-humor Christopher Reeve Superman films of the late seventies and early eighties ... there are not a lot of yucks in Man of Steel, the palette is dark, the performances anguished and the world view is grim.

    You may think from reading this that I did not like Man of Steel, but that would be an incorrect reading of my reservations about the movie. While the new film takes some liberties with the Superman mythos, I was okay with most of them; I think that filmmakers need to feel free to revise and revisit legends, to remake them for modern audiences. And I very much liked the first two-thirds of the movie; rather than simply retell Superman's origin story, it uses flashbacks to touch on moments of his upbringing, and this works, largely because so much of Superman's youth has been portrayed in film and TV shows. And the acting is excellent, from Henry Cavill as Kal-El/ClarkKent/Superman, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Ma and Pa Kent, Russell Crowe as good as he's been in years as Jor-El, Kal-El's Kryptonian father, and Michael Shannon as General Zod, the enemy of the piece.

    But my enthusiasm breaks down when it comes to the third act of the movie, when Superman faces off against Zod and a crew of Kryptonian villains, and the filmmakers' near total focus seems to be on how much of Metropolis they can destroy, how many explosions and building collapses they can depict, and how little attention they can pay to actual character development and plot. (Sort of like the last act of The Avengers.)

    Maybe I'm just getting old. My kids, who are in the demographic that the studios are targeting when they make these movies, loved Man of Steel. And the movie has made a ton of money, enough to justify a sequel ... which I hope will be better, because it'd be nice to have a Superman movie leap expectations in a single bound.

    The Internship, the new Vince Vaughn-Owen Wilson movie about a couple of middle-aged salesmen who find themselves unemployed and trying to land internships at Google, is pretty much a one-joke movie, pretty much predictable, and not as good as their previous collaboration, The Wedding Crashers.

    That said, I had a really good time at The Internship. And from the reactions of the audience we saw it with, I'd have to say that it has been a while since I've heard an audience having so much fun at a movie.

    The movie may be particularly appealing to Baby Boomers, because it addresses the notion that we may all be sliding into a kind of professional irrelevance, suggesting that we have to continue to upgrade our interests and abilities. One joke, one lesson ... and one entertaining movie.

    I have two wines to recommend to you this week...

    the 2011 De-Classified Pinot Noir from Patton Valley Vineyard in Oregon's Willamette Valley, which my son brought home for Father's Day and which was just wonderful.

    the 2012 Carlton Cellars Pinot Blanc, light and bright for these increasingly hot and humid summer days.

    That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    KC's View: