retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: September 13, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

    I got a letter from Time the other day, offering me a one-year subscription ... for what struck me as the astoundingly high price of $240.

    But wait. The letter also informed me that because of my age, they were going to give me a discount. A really big discount.

    Because of my age, the letter said, the annual cost to me would be $20.

    Now, I've always resisted this getting older thing, but if it means that I am typically going to get $220 discounts on things that cost $240, maybe there's an upside.

    Of course, the downside is that it means I'm getting old. Not happy about that, I don't mind saying.

    But then it occurred to me that this pitch means that the publishers of Time may not really know their audience. Because when you think about it, it is old people who, because they may not be as conversant with technology as young people, are more likely to actually buy a magazine in paper form. You might actually be able to get some money out of them ... as opposed to young people, who might look at $20 for a one-year paper magazine subscription and wonder why one would waste that kind of money on something that probably be gotten online for free.

    Think about it. It's an Eye-Opener.

    Though not as much of an Eye-Opener, I must confess, as getting these kinds of age-related offers in the mail.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2013

    Washington, DC, Mayor Vincent Gray has vetoed a bill passed by the City Council that would have created a so-called "living wage" that would have mandated that certain retailers pay a so-called living wage of $12.50 an hour, The DC minimum wage is $8.25.

    The bill was seen as a direct - and even union-driven - attack on Walmart, which had announced plans to open as many as six stores in the district.

    The Wall Street Journal reports that "in a letter to the bill's sponsor explaining his decision, Mr. Gray called this measure impractical and ineffective but said he would work on alternative legislation to raise Washington's minimum wage.> And, in an interview, Gray called the bill a "job killer."

    It remains possible that the bill could still become law, if the Council overrides the veto. The original bill passed 8-5, and nine votes would be required for an override.

    According to the story, "The legislation, which defines 'large retailers' as those whose parent company's annual revenue exceeds $1 billion and whose stores occupy 75,000 square feet or more, would target new stores initially. Existing stores, including Macy's, Target and Home Depot, would have four years before they would pay the higher wages."

    The Washington Post reports that with the veto, Walmart "is moving ahead with plans to open at least five stores in the city. Three stores are under construction already and two others are in advanced stages of planning. Wal-Mart still wants to open a store at the corner of New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road in Northeast D.C., but a developer’s plan to build a shopping center there has fallen apart."
    KC's View:
    I continue to believe that it does not make sense to have one set of rules for one level of retailers, and another set for a different set. I just think you get yourself in trouble that way, because it results in a kind of discrimination that unfairly targets people and companies that have been more successful.

    But if I disagree with the legislative approach to solving the problem, I remain concerned about the problem - people who work very hard, for 40-50 hours a week, and cannot afford to support their families. In the long run, this may be an unsustainable trend that is not good for the culture. Or the economy.

    Published on: September 13, 2013

    Time has a story entitled "The Next Whole Foods? Three Emerging Healthy Supermarket Challengers," that is worth taking a look at here.

    The three candidates, according to Time: Sprouts Farmers Market, Fairway Market, and Wild Oats.

    Check it out.
    KC's View:
    I think the story is interesting and worth reading, though I'm not entirely sure I agree with its conclusions. Wild Oats doesn't even exist right now - there just is a lot of speculation about whether Ron Burkle and Yucaipa will revive it as part of its acquisition of Fresh & easy from Tesco. It may be a brand name with some history, but the company will have to deliver something relevant if it is going to be the next Whole Foods.

    I'm also not sure that Fairway and Whole Foods are direct philosophical competitors. They may compete in specific markets, with some overlap of customers, but they are apples and oranges, I think.

    Then again, I could be wrong about all this. Maybe Time knows more than I do.

    Published on: September 13, 2013

    Harris Teeter announced yesterday that it has struck a deal with Greenbax Enterprises to acquire six Piggly Wiggly stores and one future location, all in South Carolina.

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    The announcement says that "the transaction is expected to be completed in October 2013. Harris Teeter plans to close the acquired stores for three to four days for stocking and training of employees. The pharmacies at the acquired stores will remain open throughout the transition."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2013

    USA Today reports that 7-Eleven, "taking a cue from a generation that demands better-for-you snacks and which snacks more often, is rolling out a revamped snack section at its 8,000 U.S. stores that includes everything from Harvest Snaps Snapea Crisps to Skinny Pop All-Natural Popcorn ... Executives at 7-Eleven are so convinced the new snacks will take off that the chain has asked stores nationwide to place them in special displays at the end of the first aisle customers pass when they walk into the store. Price: $1.49 to $4.99."

    According to the story, "While snacking is an $87 billion business in the U.S., estimates the research firm NPD Group, it's the 'healthy' snacking category that's on a real tear. Some 38% of consumers say they ate "more healthy" snacks last year vs. the year before, reports the research firm Mintel."
    KC's View:
    he piece suggests that a lot of analysts are skeptical about 7_Eleven's ability to make this work, that it has no credibility in this segment. But the company knows that its traditional tobacco-jerky-fuel model may have outlived its usefulness, and so it makes sense to try something new. It may take some time and patience, but I think it can work.

    Published on: September 13, 2013

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that Walmart has promised "to cut down or eliminate 10 chemicals found in household and beauty products currently on its shelves," though it has not said exactly what chemicals those are. "The giant retailer joins Procter & Gamble, which last week said it would phase out phthalates and triclosan – found in soaps, gels and lubricants – from products. Last year, Johnson & Johnson said it would remove the two chemicals along with formaldehyde and parabens from its personal care items."

    The nonprofit advocacy group Clean Production Action told the Times that this was “the first chemical policy of this scope by a major multinational retailer.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2013

    • The Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts-based Staples "plans to open a Seattle development center that will be the company’s first West Coast office dedicated to e-commerce and engineering."

    The move comes a year after Staples announced that it plans to close stores around the US - reducing retail space by about 15 percent - as it looked to develop a great omnichannel approach to retailing that is agnostic to how people shop at Staples, as long as they shop at Staples.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2013

    • Supermarket chain Big Y Foods and FL Roberts & Co. - which owns and directly operates a network of automotive service companies, including convenience stores, truck fueling facilities, car washes, and Jiffy Lube locations - announced yesterday that they will partner "to develop their own brand of convenience stores with fuel under the name Big Y Express. The first facility will open in this fall in Lee at Exit 2 of the Massachusetts Turnpike."


    • The Boston Globe reports that Dunkin' Donuts has signed franchise agreements that will result in its coffee-and-doughnuts shops being opened in the UK for the first time. as many as 50 are expected to be opened in the London area in the next five years.

    The move comes as Dunkin' Donuts is in the middle of a Southern California expansion that is expected to result in 45 stores being opened there.

    "The thinking seems to be," the Globe writes, "that if only folks around the country and abroad had easy access to its menu line-up, Dunkin’ Donuts would be as popular elsewhere as it is in its home territory of the New England."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2013

    • Cargill president/COO David MacLennan will become the company's CEO, succeeding Gregory Page, who remains with the company as executive chairman.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2013

    ...will return next week.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2013

    In Thursday Night Football action, the New England Patriots defeated the New York Jets 13-10.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2013

    Lots of movies to catch up with this week...

    Someday, there will be a first-rate thriller that focuses on terrorism while having as its subtext serious questions about freedom, privacy and both personal and political vulnerability. But Closed Circuit isn't it. Not by a long shot.

    The premise of the movie is that a pair of attorneys - former lovers - are assigned to defend a man accused of orchestrating a deadly terrorist attack in London. But in doing their work, they discover that the accused may have been a double agent working for the government, a possibility that the government will go to any lengths to keep covered up. The situation is complicated by the fact that London is filled with surveillance cameras, making it both hard to hide and hard to hide the truth.

    The lead performances - by Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall - are okay, but neither actor could be described as charismatic. The writing and direction don;t do anything to clarify the British legal system, which strikes an outsider as being confusing and convoluted. And in the end, the whole thing doesn't work very well.

    Too bad.

    My daughter and I went to see Closed Circuit the other night, and when we got home, I told her that I was going to show her a thriller that works on every level. So we popped Three Days of the Condor into the DVD player, and settled down to watch a 1975 that holds up remarkably well.

    Condor has terrific performances - Robert Redford may never have been better, and he's matched by Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson and Max Von Sydow - and the film works like a well-oiled machine, directed by the always dependable Sydney Pollack.

    Not only does it hold up, but Condor actually seems incredibly timely - much of what the film shows us presages events that actually happened. And there's one moment that really grabbed me. It happens when John Houseman, playing a CIA bigwig, is telling Cliff Robertson's CIA section chief about his military background, which goes back to "10 years after the Great War, before we knew enough to number them." Robertson asks him if he missed that kind of action, and Houseman shakes his head. "I miss that kind of clarity," he says.

    The filmmakers could not have imagined how much less clear the geopolitical world would be more than three decades after Three Days of the Condor was originally released. No matter. It is a classic little thriller, and it is worth watching.




    I really liked a little movie called Drinking Buddies, which is an improvisational comedy about four Chicago friends, two of whom work in a local brewery.

    Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson play the brewery workers, and they are soul mates, though they are involved with other people - she with a more conventional boyfriend played by Ron Livingston, he with a marriage-minded woman played by Anna Kendrick. Mostly, the film is about four people talking and flirting and drinking and eating and drinking some more. But I liked it ... it has a loose, shambling feel that seems authentic, and to be honest, I'm a big fan of both Wilde (who is both gorgeous and terrific here) and Kendrick (who was so wonderful in Up In the Air, and makes the most of a small role here). The director is Joe Swanberg, and he's working on a small canvas here ... and I look forward to his next movie.




    Must be a month for drinking movies. I also saw The World's End, which is a typically anarchic British science fiction comedy about five childhood friends - played by Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, and Eddie Marsan - who regroup 20 years after they tried to make a famous 12-pub "crawl" in a single night, but failed. Now middle aged, they all have various reasons for trying to do it again ... reasons that become more or less relevant as their evening takes unexpected turns.

    I won't explain more than that, mostly because it is hard to do so without giving away too much. Suffice it to say that the film - directed by Edgar Wright and written by Wright and Pegg - isn't as good as the first two that they did, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. And as it hurtles toward its outrageous ending, it seems like the filmmakers couldn't quit decide what to do, so they simply threw the kitchen sink at the problem.

    But I kind of liked The World's End. Maybe it's because I responded to the notion of being middle aged and trying to recapture past glories. Maybe it's because I have a thing for British comedy. Maybe it's because the movie has the always-watchable Rosamund Pike in a small but pivotal role. Maybe it's because the filmmakers clearly have a thing for James Bond movies.

    The World's End doesn't work as well as it should, but it worked well enough for me.




    Three quick TV notes...

    • "Longmire," the modern western on A&E, continued in its second season to be a fascinating combination of procedural cop show and character study of a iconic western sheriff, played by Robert Taylor. I've loved it, and hope it gets renewed for a third season.

    • "The Newsroom," on HBO, is a highly polarizing series. Some people love it. Some people hate it. Count me among the people who love it, mostly because I love the way that people in Aaron Sorkin TV series and movies talk and think. it has nothing to do with reality, of course, but it is great fun to watch people who are eloquent and thoughtful and basically decent human beings, even when they are not. And I'm thrilled that it has been renewed for a third season, because it just keeps getting better.

    • There won't be any more episodes of "Burn Notice," which ended its seven-year run on USA Network last night, finishing the saga of Michael Westen, a "burned" spy trying to get his life back. This final season has been darker than past seasons, but now, having watched the finale, I think that the trajectory was inevitable and, in the end, entirely satisfying. Good stuff. I'll miss it.




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

    • the 2011 Halter Ranch 2011 Cotes de Paso Blanc, a blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Picpoul Blanc, and Viognier, that is wonderful with seafood and poultry.

    • the 2011 Willamette Valley Vineyard Pinot Gris, which manages to balance citrus with a kind of creaminess. in the end, the word I like best for this wine is "yummy."




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

    Slàinte!
    KC's View: