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    Published on: August 20, 2013

    by Michael Sansolo

    There’s a bit of wisdom passed down from philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche through pop singer Kelly Clarkson. It reminds us that anything that doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. In many ways, it’s a great business philosophy too.

    In recent weeks we’ve had discussions here on the growing challenges facing businesses from outside the usual competitive box. What’s more, for years we’ve all talked about the vicious pace of change and growing hurdles that confront everyone. Who knew that was supposed to be good news?

    But in reality, it is good news.

    Earlier this summer, Malcolm Gladwell wrote an excellent piece in the New Yorker on the value of struggles and failure. Gladwell, a master of discerning lessons from large tendencies, data, correlations and even happenstance, cited a number of wonderful examples of well-meaning projects that went array. And he makes a powerful argument that it was due to those unexpected challenges that solutions were found and greater achievements were made possible.

    You can read the entire article here.

    In other words, necessity - whether it arose through need, accident or simply poor planning - was the mother of great inventions and solutions.

    Taken in that light, some of the major trials facing the food industry might well be some of the reasons for greatest optimism.

    Sure the emergence of Walmart and other non-traditional players meant numerous companies couldn’t survive, but those that did are likely stronger merchants and better at monitoring costs that ever. That makes them better able to face the challenges of the future, whether those challenges come from Amazon, Whole Foods or some force we cannot yet even identify.

    There’s no two ways about it: competition makes life hard, yet it makes us better if we can survive. As Gladwell’s article also makes clear, there’s tremendous risk of stagnation when competition and challenges are absent. Anyone doubting that need only consider the increasingly uncompetitive state of individual Congressional elections.

    Likewise the growing challenges of the new economy, changing consumer demographics, altered eating habits, technologies and even government regulations make life harder from one moment to the next. But those same challenges also have made companies more nimble, more flexible and better able to react to local market issues.

    In short it might be why a long-time industry stalwart like Kroger is so heavily praised these days because the company (and others like it) found the way to evolve and grow despite all the hardships. Who knows, in time we may even look back at failed experiments (Fresh & Easy anyone) and examine all the incredible lessons it taught Tesco and the industry at large.

    Obviously, the goal isn’t to make mistakes, but neither is it to avoid risk. As a skating coach told me many years ago, you never learn to do anything new on ice that doesn’t involve you falling down a lot of times.

    I’m thinking the same hold true for pretty much everything. It’s only a failure if we don’t learn from it. Otherwise, it makes us stronger.

    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: August 20, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    Interesting piece in the Seattle Times that points to how entrepreneurs are using the internet and social media to undermine traditional business models.

    The industry in question is the commercial storage business, which allows people to rent facilities to store the stuff - big and small - that they don't have room for in their houses.

    But later this week, a company called Stow That will begin offering as cheaper alternative - by essentially matchmaking people who need more storage space with people who have extra room in their garages or basements or even an extra room. Stow That gets a placement fee.

    Based on reactions garnered during the development phase, founder Joe Mele says that he's a lot more worried about supply than demand.

    Stow That may be a small idea. But then again, it could develop into a big idea. Stranger things have happened.

    But the real lesson is that it is an idea, developed to create new competition to an established business ... and it comes from nowhere.

    It can happen to anyone. Anytime. Anywhere.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 20, 2013

    Walmart said yesterday that it will partner with the National Retail Federation (NRF) to bring together some 1,500 people - "including representatives from more than 500 supplier companies, 32 states, major retail industry leaders and other retailers" - to help drive more domestic manufacturing in the US.

    According to the announcement, "Governors and state officials will have the opportunity to connect directly with hundreds of manufacturers who are ready to create jobs in their areas. Likewise, for supplier companies, it is an opportunity to present potential projects and learn about the resources available in different states."

    Among the participants from outside companies are Jeff Immelt, Chairman & CEO of GE, and Hamdi Ulukaya, Founder & CEO of Chobani; Penny Pritzker, U.S. Secretary of Commerce; ands the governors of Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Maine, New Mexico, Idaho, Florida and West Virginia.

    Mike Duke, President & CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, Bill Simon, President & CEO of Walmart U.S., Rosalind Brewer, President & CEO of Sam’s Club, and Duncan Mac Naughton, EVP, Chief Merchandising & Marketing Officer of Walmart U.S., also are scheduled to attend.

    The summit is scheduled to take place in Orlando, Florida, on Thursday, August 22, from 1-4 pm.
    KC's View:
    I'm not sure they're going to get a lot done in three hours, aside from some pretty good posturing. But I suppose that anything that draws attention to the importance of supporting legitimate made-in-the-USA products is a good thing. I just think that companies have to be careful not to simply give this issue lip service ... my sense is that shallow support could be worse than no support at all.

    Published on: August 20, 2013

    Texas-based United Supermarkets announced a name change for the parent company that it said was "the result of a strategic branding initiative for the entire organization. Moving forward, United Supermarkets, LLC will be known as The United Family ... reflecting the company’s multiple store brands as well as its rich family history."

    The company said it has formed an internal Brand Stewardship Committee to help "define and articulate" the organization’s brand portfolio, which consists of 4 retail brands: United Supermarkets, Market Street, Amigos and United Express, along with its subsidiary operations, R.C. Taylor Distributing, Praters and Llano Logistics.

    “The clearer we are about who we are and what we offer, the better we can stand apart from other grocery retailers ... Our goal is to create more distinct and consistent brand identities so we stay relevant to current and future guests," says Monica Schierbaum, United Family's senior marketing director.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 20, 2013

    The New York Times reports that Walmart, Gap, Macy's and Target are among the companies that plan to meet in Chicago today "to start implementing a Bangladesh factory-safety plan announced last month amid criticism it lacks teeth to enforce company promises.

    "The group, made up of 20 companies known as the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, will also announce its board of directors, reveal new signatories like Costco Wholesale Corp. and finalize common fire- and building-safety standards it pledged to put in place by Sept. 10 ... The group is the U.S. industry's response to pressure to improve working conditions in facilities in Bangladesh and prevent disasters like the deadly garment factory collapse in April."

    The companies, which have made a five-year commitment to address factory safety issues, already have started disbursing $45 million to Bangladesh factories, but still needs to hire an executive director and staff to manage the effort.
    KC's View:
    I'll repeat what I said above in a different context ... that shallow support would be worse than no support at all.

    But I also think that this stuff matters more than ever...because the information is out there, and an increasing number of people are willing to make buying decisions based on the social responsibility demonstrated by companies.

    Published on: August 20, 2013

    • Weis Markets announced it has expanded its Weis Online Shopping service to eight New Jersey and Pennsylvania locations. Weis Online Shopping is now offered at Weis Markets’ New Jersey stores in Newton, Franklin, Hackettstown and will be offered at its Hillsborough store when it opens on August 25. In the Delaware Valley, it is available at Weis stores located in Conshohocken, Doylestown, Lansdale and Norristown. This brings the number of Weis locations offering online shopping to 14.

    Weis online Shopping is powered by MyWebGrocer.

    Full disclosure: MyWebGrocer is a longtime and valued sponsor of MorningNewsBeat.


    • In Australia, The Age reports that "Australia's major supermarkets are charging consumers significantly more for purchasing groceries online. The practice has consumer groups calling on Coles and Woolworths to be more 'transparent' with shoppers about their online pricing policies.

    "A sample survey by Fairfax Media has revealed consumers are paying up to 60¢ more for some grocery items when bought online. This is in addition to the delivery fee of between $3 and $13 charged to online shoppers."
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 20, 2013

    The Washington Post reports this morning that, "emboldened by an outpouring of support on social media, low-wage fast-food and retail workers from eight cities who have staged walkouts this year are calling for a national day of strikes Aug. 29." One-day walkouts already have taken place in cities that include New York, St. Louis and Detroit.

    According to the story, "The workers are calling for a wage of $15 an hour and the right to form a union. Organizers of the walkout say cashiers, cooks and crew members at fast-food restaurants are paid a median wage of $8.94 an hour ... The planned August walkout - timed for the immediate aftermath of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the lead-up to Labor Day - is expected to touch 35 or more cities and involve thousands of workers, organizers said. The walkouts have not led to widespread changes, though some workers say they have gotten small pay increases and better hours in the wake of previous strikes."
    KC's View:
    This issue keeps coming up, and my opinion hasn't really changed ... I'm ambivalent about the idea of legislated "living wages," but I do think that smart companies will recognize that wage disparities could undermine their viability, and will do something about it. They'll realize that when you are making billions of dollars in profits, you can afford to pay people a little bit better ... and that'll help your business in the long run.

    I keep saying that if companies do the right thing in this case, they'll render any proposed legislation irrelevant. And I keep getting email from people suggesting that I am calling for living wage legislation, and castigating me for it.

    Which is not what I'm doing.

    Published on: August 20, 2013

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

    CNBC reports that Amazon.com went down for about 30 minutes yesterday. The company has not commented on the reason for the outage,

    The story notes that a series of website outages have taken place recently: "Last week the New York Times website was unavailable for a couple hours, from late morning until early afternoon, which the company said appeared to be the result of an "internal issue." A group calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army last Thursday launched a cyber-attack that affected the websites of the Washington Post, Time and CNN, among others."

    I was on Amazon yesterday when this happened. Mild panic ensued. Oy.


    • On National Public Radio (NPR), The Salt reports that blueberries are less expensive this year because of a bumper crop, but while this may be a good thing for consumers, "the bounty might wreck some blueberry growers."

    The story notes that the enormous blueberry crop is the result of all the positive nutritional press that the berry has received, which led existing growers to increase their planting, as well as bringing new farmers into the market. In addition, the weather has been terrific, which means that there were no losses to reduce the number of blueberries being sold.

    However, the low prices being generated could take some farmers out of the market ... even while demand remains high.

    I can relate. Blueberries are my new thing this year; I'm eating them almost every morning on top of my Special K Oats & Honey cereal. The reason? I got turned on to them by the Farmers' Markets in Portland this summer, and I haven't been able to stop.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 20, 2013

    • The Park City Group announced that William "Bill" Wolfe is joining the company as Senior Advisor, with responsibility for developing business solutions, consulting and expanding sales efforts in the retail channel. Wolfe most recently was Chief Marketing Officer at Resource One, a private label sales and marketing company.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 20, 2013

    ...will return.
    KC's View: