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    Published on: September 20, 2013

    The commercial at right is the very definition of an Eye-Opener, because it succeeds in cutting through the clutter of political advertising that is largely devoted to demonizing the other guy.

    In its own way, it is all about loving the other person, even if you hold diametrically opposite political beliefs.

    The candidate is Carl Sciortino Jr., an unabashed liberal running in a Democratic primary for the right to face off against a Republican in the Massachusetts 5th Congressional District. While it isn't mentioned in the commercial, it also so happens that Sciortino is openly gay and is scheduled to marry his partner 10 days before the primary.

    What makes this commercial special is that Carl Sciortino Jr. shares the screen with his father, Carl Sciortino Sr., who happens to be a Tea Party Republican. And while there is no question in the commercial that the dad is appalled by his son's political beliefs, it also is clear that there is a lot of mutual love and respect. (For the record, the son has said in interviews that it was a lot harder to tell his father that he was a liberal than it was to come out as gay.

    Forget about the politics of the ad. Just look at it as a standout piece of advertising that finds a unique angle on its subject, and then spotlights it not by being negative and exploitive, but with respect and, yes, even love.

    I daresay that if the positions were flipped - if the dad were the liberal and the son running for office a Tea Party conservative - the ad would work as well. I also think that either way, the commercial could serve to get people on the other side of the political aisle to at least take a look at the candidate. Maybe not vote for him, but at least pay attention to his positions. (The commercial might actually turn out the opposition, but my feeling is that anything that gets people to vote is a good thing.)

    It is wonderful. And an Eye-Opener. (I think there's a TV series in these two guys...)

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 20, 2013

    This is why Blockbuster is almost irrelevant these days. Not to mention why traditional venues - such as TV networks - are struggling to remain a factor in the minds of viewers.

    USA Today reports that The Nielsen Co. is out with a measurement of how it believes consumer consumption of entertainment programming has changed.

    According to the report, "38% of Americans 'use or subscribe' to Netflix, up from 31% last year," while "18% use Hulu, up from 12% last year, with 12% saying they use the free version and 6% using the subscription-based Hulu Plus." And, "13% said they use Amazon Prime Instant Video, nearly double the 7% who said so last year."

    In addition, "The study also found 88% of Netflix users reported watching three or more episodes of a TV show in a single day, and 45% said they watch original series on streaming services, such as Netflix's Emmy-nominated House of Cards.

    "Among Netflix users, 48% watch on a computer screen (up from 44% last year); 23% watch on a smartphone (up from 11%); 15% watch on their iPad, way up from 5% last year."
    KC's View:
    The lesson here for every marketer is that to a great degree, the traditional TV networks and Blockbuster didn't see these changes coming. The networks are trying to adapt, while Blockbuster was turning irrelevant almost, it seemed, overnight.

    No marketer can make the mistake of being so blind and/or tone deaf that they don't adapt to changing consumer habits.

    Published on: September 20, 2013

    Bloomberg reports that Staples and RadioShack has removed Amazon Lockers from their stores after a one-year test.

    The retailers installed the lockers about a year ago as a way for Amazon customers to pick up products ordered online that they did not want delivered to their home or offices. The hope was that these Amazon customers would do additional shopping when coming to pick up their purchases from the lockers, but apparently this did not end up being the case. Meanwhile, as Amazon has continued to grow and expand into new categories and expand its footprint in various categories, Staples and RadioShack decided that making it easier to buy from Amazon was not in their best interests.

    Amazon continues to have locker installations in 7-Eleven stores and various other locations, such as public garages.
    KC's View:
    I think the test was a good idea, and I fully approve of Staples and RadioShack playing competitive hardball - it never makes sense to help the competition.

    That said, I continue to believe that if Amazon wants to have a nationwide network of locker installations, it ought to go visit the US Postal Service, which has offices all over the country and would be a terrific partner. Hell, the USPS ought to visit Amazon's headquarters and get down on its institutional knees and beg for an audience.

    Published on: September 20, 2013

    The Wall Street Journal reports that "hundreds of German workers at two of Inc.'s German sites are walking off the job for three days from Thursday, the latest in a series of strikes aimed at pressuring the online retailer to resolve a wage dispute ... Union representatives didn't rule out additional strikes, after repeated labor action since May. The union is demanding higher pay and other benefits, including paid vacation and extra overtime pay, common perks in many German wage agreements."

    This dispute, the Journal writes, "reflects the inherent tension between Amazon's aggressive pricing strategy and the realities of doing business in much of Europe, where a combination of union influence and strong labor protections give companies far less flexibility than they enjoy in the U.S."

    The broader tension is illustrated in a Reuters story this morning, reporting that "France is pushing for the European Union to regulate global internet companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook "more aggressively, to counter their growing dominance over online commerce and services." The belief in France - at least in the office of the minister for the digital economy - is that "Europe needed new regulatory powers to intervene much earlier, to level the playing field in the internet economy and allow the emergence of alternatives in Europe to U.S. Web giants."
    KC's View:
    The French approach to globalization strikes me as being so 19th century. Just because you legislate against global e-companies doesn't mean your own country will be able to innovate and create competitive options. One does not follow the other.

    Published on: September 20, 2013

    Yesterday, in the Eye-Opener, MNB reported that the growing popularity of wet wipes - which are meant to replace toilet paper, and that are being embraced by people who are concerned about their personal hygiene - are having a negative impact in one particular area - they can congeal with grease and don't dissolve, which means that they can jam up sewer pumps and have to be cleared by hand.

    According to a Cincinnati Business Courier story, "wet wipes pose problems for sewers from here to London, according to news reports. Earlier this summer, it took 10 days to dislodge a 15-ton clog of flushed wet wipes and grease from a sewer in London. The size of a double-decker bus, the so-called fatberg clog had reduced the flow in a sewer tunnel by 95 percent. It was discovered after people complained their toilets had stopped flushing."

    While there are different kinds of wipes - some flushable, some not, with labels that reflect this fact - the problem seems to be growing.

    Well, yesterday I got an email from Dave Rousse, president of INDA, the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry,informing me that his organization has joined forces with the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), the Water Environment Federation (WEF), and the American Public Works Association (APWA), "to work together to reduce the burden of non flushable disposable products in the wastewater system."

    Rousse wrote that "the wipes marketed as 'flushable' that pass the industry Guidelines (7 tests, all of which must be passed) are NOT the cause of the problem.  Better labeling, and consumers paying attention to the labeling, will reduce the burden on the wastewater systems."
    KC's View:
    I have to be honest. I had no idea there was an Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry. Hell, until yesterday I didn't even know there was a nonwoven fabrics industry, because I never thought about it. (I checked their website, and saw that they have a number of meetings and conferences each year. It is now my goal to get invited to speak at one of them.)

    It's funny. As I thought about this story, there were a ton of jokes that immediately came to mind, especially because in my view, the wet wipe category strikes me as one that has been invented to replace a segment - toilet paper - that was working perfectly well. (Except, of course, in certain parts of Europe, where "bring your own" was a maxim to be taken seriously.) Wet wipes, it seemed to me, was a category created by marketing that people didn't really need or want.

    Except...the more I think about it, the more it occurs to me that there are an awful lot of us that use products every day that at some point we never would have believed we needed or wanted. Innovation. combined with savvy marketing, isn't a negative thing ... even if we can make jokes about it.

    I'm not sure that I'm going to switch to wet wipes anytime soon, but I'm very sure that this is going to be a growing category, supported by smart marketing and growing concerns about personal hygiene. No jokes here.

    Published on: September 20, 2013

    • The Arkansas Traveler reports that "the success of the smaller, compacted Walmart on campus prompted the store to continue their test run of the campus stores by opening locations on other campuses across the nation, Walmart officials said ... There are three operational campus Walmarts in the U.S. Besides the store at the UA, which opened in 2011, Arizona State University and Georgia Tech both have campus Walmarts that opened in 2013. Walmart plans to open another location across the street from the University of Missouri.

    "The new locations will range between 2,500 and 5,000 square feet and offer pharmacy services, as well as financial services, including in-store check cashing and bill pay."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 20, 2013

    The Chicago Tribune reports that Fox & Obel, a gourmet grocer operating in the city's Streeterville area, has filed for bankruptcy protection, saying it has assets of less than $1 million and debts between $1 million and $10 million, plus for than 100 creditors. The store remains open.

    Earlier this summer, Fox & Obel was shut down by health inspectors after a food poisoning incident led to an inspection that revealed a laundry list of serious problems, including, as Crain's Chicago Business reported, "more than 200 fruit flies in a food prep area, a cockroach sighting and failure to keep foods including sausages, eggs, hamburgers and chicken salad at sufficiently low temperatures, both in the deli displays and in coolers used during food preparation ... In a failed inspection last November, the inspector noted two live cockroaches in the coffee area and restaurant's food storage room, as well as 'tens of dead ones'."

    When the store reopened, the store manager was quoted as saying that the problem, all "minor," had been corrected.
    KC's View:

    Somehow, it is not surprising that one of the creditors demanding to be paid is a pest control company.

    This retailer has failed six health inspections in three years. They hurt the reputation of the food retailing business in general, and they ought to do everybody a favor and just shut down, shut up, and go away.

    Published on: September 20, 2013

    LivingSocial reportedly is converting its business model "from an e-mail service that delivers deals daily into a Web site and mobile app where people can browse through thousands of offers at local merchants at any time."

    The Washington Post reports that "discounts to spas, restaurants and retail outlets catapulted LivingSocial into a multinational corporation, but creating new revenue streams that help it stay there has proven to be a challenge." The company at one point tried offering short-term hourly deals, but discontinued that effort. But the company remains focused on finding ways to expand into new categories and generate incremental revenue.
    KC's View:
    The story correctly makes the point that this isn't just a business shift ... in fact, it is a fundamentally different reading of the consumer.

    LivingSocial, like Groupon, traditionally has depended on the ability to put before consumers deals on products and services that they may not have realized they needed. Not always, but often. (For example, I recently got a Groupon offer for picture framing services. I knew we had stashed away somewhere pictures of the kids that my wife took years ago that we'd always meant to have framed, so I dug them out and got them done. It was money I hadn't planned to spend, and I really liked the results, so I may go back to that store in the future ... though I also may wait for another Groupon.) But in this new incarnation, LivingSocial will depend on people like me going to its site and seeking out deals on products and services ... which is an entirely different thing. Not necessarily less effective, but different.

    Published on: September 20, 2013

    MNB has been informed that Jean Dreshner, a former Hughes Family Markets and Ralphs executive who most recently has been a partner at HOWS Markets in Pasadena, California, which was started by former Hughes execs, has passed away of cancer. She was in her late 50s, and, we are told, was much loved by her company and the broader family of people working in Southern California's perishables food business.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 20, 2013

    From MNB reader Mike Sommers:

    I think it has been documented from the rise in retailers like Whole Foods, and Natural Grocers like Sprouts Farmers Markets and Natural Grocers/Vitamin Cottage, that people are willing to pay more for non-GMO labeled foods.  And if we want to take this further, a lot of the foods with the 'starches that are in many of our foods simply can't be had in non-GMO versions in sufficient quantities or at reasonable prices', should we be eating these foods in the first place??  US companies that sell their products over seas, let's take Kraft Mac 'n Cheese as example, put on their label which ingredients are GMO.  This should dismiss the thought that it would cost companies a lot of money to change labeling, because clearly it is possible, and even already being done.  For me personally, I want to know if my food has been modified. I want to support retailers that provide products that are labeled non-GMO, or even better, Organic, and not support companies that are trying to hide this fact from me.  I'm not a fan of a few giant corporations owning the majority of food brands that are available, and I will support companies that choose to be transparent.  If GMOs are supposedly harmless, label it, give me the option, and I will decide.

    From another reader:

    For the record, you are right that you have not been demonizing GMOs.  But that's the nature of the campaign that's being run.  It's not easy to educate against hysteria.  How many people in America still think Obama is a Muslim?

    And another:

    I agree with you on the GMO labeling issue, largely due to the law of unintended consequences.  So much of our food has been altered that we no longer consume the foods our bodies evolved over eons to consume efficiently.  Our cattle have been re-engineered to be able to process corn, which they didn’t originally, but corn is a cheaper food to feed them, so re-engineer the cow.  We have all kids of altered foods in our system, and we really don’t know what the generational effects of them will be.  We do know that wonderful food supply provides cheap calories, but deficient nutrition, causing epidemic obesity, and a sudden increase of auto-immune disorders, which may or may not be the effects of changes in our food supply.  It’s not what we know, it’s what we don’t know yet that worries people concerned about GMOs, and a growing number of people want to be able to moderate consumption for cautionary reasons.

    And still another:

    Then you would heartily endorse a statement on products such as “This product contains Genetically Modified Ingredients; the USDA and FDA have studied the impact of GMO ingredients for over 20 years and have found them to have no adverse effects."
    Simple transparent and accurate.

    I have no particular problem with that. Though I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that the USDA and FDA would not want that on the label, because if something foes wrong, they wouldn't want labels out there reminding people that they got it wrong.

    Regarding the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) decision to launch a website that promotes the use of GMOs, MNB user Shellie Howe wrote:

    If the GMA and its members truly believe this, they should have no issues what so ever in labeling their products.  In fact, they should be promoting GMOs proudly?   This same group also thought tobacco wasn’t harmful……

    On the subject of changes in the health care system, one MNB user wrote:

    The reader who wrote in support of an open and competitive marketplace for health insurance makes what should be a valid and compelling point:  that in a monopoly situation, there is no incentive to strive for good customer service.   That makes every bit of sense and I’m sure every one of us can point to a multitude of examples to support the truth of that. (I grew up in a small town in rural Ohio.  Many of the merchants were apparently trained on some evil, mirror-universe version of the planet Vulcan judging from their collective attitude of “The needs of the few or the one do NOT outweigh my need for you to either buy what I have or get the **** out of my store, preferably both”.)  However, despite the open and competitive marketplace for health insurance that we have had up to this point, can any of us say that they have had anything but pain and frustration when dealing with any of these companies?  I actually would rather go to my local post office branch than try to deal with a health insurance issue—and, thank God, I’ve never even had to deal with anything catastrophic thus far in life.

    From another reader:

    I get why you support covering pre-existing conditions but why make parents pay to cover their children until the age of 26? 

    As a parent, I've been thrilled that we can cover our kids until they get this old ... if they are working jobs without health care benefits, or have been looking for work in their post-college years, it has given us enormous peace of mind. Health insurance will be their problem soon enough ...

    Regarding the Starbucks decision to ask gun owners not to bring their weapons into its stores, MNB user Robert J. Wheaton wrote:

    Interesting…….I have a sudden urge to run out to my corner Starbucks and get a cup and maybe tomorrow and the next day, etc.

    But MNB user Timothy P. Heyman asked:

    When Chick-Fa-Lay's owner made his view about gays known, he was raked over the coals by liberals, told he should keep his personal views out of business etc.  So I ask what is the difference about Starbucks views on guns!?!

    I suppose the argument would be that on the one hand there seemed to be a kind of implied discrimination, while in the other it was a matter of securing public safety. But both of these argument could be debated, and I think you make a valid point.

    For the record, my position always has been that companies can allow their political/cultural views to be expressed and implemented, but that they have to understand that there will be consequences. I think Starbucks knew exactly what it was doing ... and made an informed, strategic decision.

    On a different subject, I love this email from MNB reader Joe Davis:

    I’m so fascinated with this wet wipes category and its apparent momentum and shopper reach.  Not to poo-poo the value proposition, but I can’t imagine buying these – the stigma of being seen shopping for them parallels the dreaded guy-errand for the spouse’s tampons.  This latest revelation about not being able to flush them down the toilet seems like a crappy design on the part of the manufacturers.

    First, the comment about consumers being smart enough to know how to dispose of them is pretty naïve to me.  But second, who exactly is okay with throwing them in their bathroom waste bin?  That certainly soils the appeal for anyone with sensibilities and/or a spouse.  It doesn’t seem all that eco-mindful either to have greasy bum-wipes making their way to landfills – I’m not in the habit of hugging trees, but the green establishment would be really down in the dump about this. 
    I’d have to agree, Kevin – this category might be circling the toilet bowl unless the makers can get something moving that won’t clog pipes...(Pun-tastic)

    Bada-boom! But seriously, folks....

    Finally, this sort of email warms my heart:

    Kevin, I have been reading MNB almost from the beginning and have had read many stories about Etta's.  I'm on vacation in this week in the Seattle area and had lunch there with my wife today.  Etta's was even better than my high expectations.  We had a couple of the seafood items and a great white wine.  All very nice.

    Thank you for the recommendation.

    My pleasure. Trust me.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 20, 2013

    In Thursday Night Football action, the now 3-0 Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) 26-16.

    And, in Major League Baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers became the first team this season to clinch its division championship, winning the National League West. (The Boston Red Sox have clinched a playoff berth, but not their division. Yet.)
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 20, 2013

    Jesse Stone - one of the creations of the late Robert B. Parker - is back in a new novel, "Damned If You Do," written by Michael Brandman, who wrote and produced a half-dozen highly rated TV movies about Stone that starred Tom Selleck.

    This is the third Stone novel by Brandman, who is part of a trio of writers hired by the Parker estate to continue the various series begun by the man who virtually restarted the modern detective novel with his first Spenser, "The Godwulf Manuscript," back in 1973. (Ace Atkins is writing the Spenser novels, with "Lullaby" and Wonderland" already out, and a new one due next spring. Robert Knott is continuing the Hitch & Cole series of westerns that began with Parker's "Appaloosa.")

    The good news is that Brandman is getting better with every book, and even though his books tend to feel like screenplays that have been fleshed out, that sort of works for the way he evokes Parker's minimalist approach. "Damned If You Do" is the story of Stone's search for the killer of a young woman who was found in a seedy hotel in Paradise, the coastal Massachusetts town he serves as police chief; one can almost hear Selleck's world-weary delivery of Stone's dialog ... in fact, they should get Selleck to do the audio book. It is a good mystery, though I sort of wish more of it took place in Paradise rather than nearby Boston. (One of the things that Parker liked to do was poke fun at small town and suburban lifestyles.)

    There's also a solid subplot about a Paradise nursing home that mistreats elderly residents. And if I have one suggestion for Brandman, it is that he should let his subplots breathe more. (He could have done even more with this than he did.)

    For those of us who loved Parker's work and were fans of the Jesse Stone novels, Brandman delivers. (There are a lot of us...."Damned If You Do" already is making the best seller lists.) He's still not a novelist in the class of Ace Atkins, but he's getting better with practice.

    You can check out "Damned If You Do"


    Meanwhile ... Lee Child, a consistent best-seller with his series of Jack Reacher novels, has a new one out - "Never Go Back." And it's a crackerjack effort.

    If you don't know Reacher, he's a former Army military policeman who is wandering the US with only the clothes on his back and a toothbrush in his pocket, a kind of knight errant solving problems, fighting bad guys and rescuing damsels in distress. "Never Go Back" propels to the foreground a back story that started four novels ago in "61 Hours," when Reacher heard a woman's voice over the phone and decided he wanted to go to Virginia to ask her out to dinner. Since then, he's been crossing the country to get there ... and "Never Go Back," he's made it.

    The problem is that the woman has been arrested, and Reacher also is detained and accused by military police of various crimes. Needless to say, this doesn't go down well with Reacher, who escapes with his usual panache, rescues the woman, and launches into a nationwide odyssey during which he is sometimes the hunter and sometimes the hunted.

    It is great stuff, and a total page turner. I enjoyed every minute.

    You can buy "Never Go Back" here.

    One of the nice things about iTunes is that they sometimes will post free episodes of TV series, especially new ones that the networks are hoping to generate buzz for. I've watched two this week. "Ironside," a remake of the old TV series starring Raymond Burr, this time starring Blair Underwood, is just awful. And "Brooklyn Nine Nine," a cop comedy starring Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher, was pretty good, reminding me in good ways of the old "Barney Miller" series.

    A wine recommendation: the North Valley 2011 Pinot Noir from Soter Vineyards in the Willamette Valley. Excellent red ... just delicious. Enjoy.

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

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 20, 2013

    The Kroger Co. announced this morning that David Dillon, a 37-year company veteran who has been CEO for the past decade, will retire from that job on January 1, 2014, and will be succeeded by W. Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s President and Chief Operating Officer since 2009.

    Dillon will remain with the company as chairman of the board for a year, according to the statement.

    In a prepared statement, Dillon said: "As Kroger implements its strategic growth initiatives, the time is right for the transition of leadership. I am delighted that the Board has elected Rodney McMullen to succeed me. Rodney has played a leadership role in every major decision Kroger has made for the past 25 years, including the development and implementation of Kroger’s Customer 1st approach as well as our current growth strategy. He is ready to be CEO. I have been honored to lead this great company for over 10 years and look forward to assisting Rodney and the Board in the transition while continuing to serve as Chairman.”
    KC's View:
    I suspect that for a lot of people at Kroger, this is a sad day ... not because of any lack of respect for McMullen, but because Dave Dillon is a revered figure. But I suspect - and I think Dillon would agree - that Kroger is larger than him, and that there is a culture there that will enable a smooth transition.

    No drama here, unlike some other companies where not only has there seemed not to be a succession plan, but a kind of delight in creating a kind of Sturm und Drang that creates uncertainty about leadership.

    Dave Dillon may retire, but his imprint on Kroger will be felt for decades. Again, unlike with some other companies (Tesco, Supervalu), I believe firmly that a few years from now we won't be wondering how he managed to get out before the house of cards collapsed. Rather, we'll be marveling at the firm foundation.

    One final point. Dillon is just 62 years old. I hope he's not planning to just go fishing somewhere. I want to see what he's going to do next.