retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email responding to Michael Sansolo's column yesterday about how Baby boomers are embracing personal changes as they get older:

The NYT story on divorce increases for those over 50 numerated an interesting trend I have observed.

Having grown up in a Catholic household where I was the oldest of 6, it was not easy let go of a marriage was failing despite various therapist sessions, both inside & outside the Church. But, we couldn’t see either of us growing to hate the other (as happened with others in our respective families) and our son watching us live out the Catholic faith by staying together just because our religion frowns upon divorce. And (as the author points out) knowing that we’re healthy enough to live longer lives than others in our families, it is more respectful to split once college for our son is assured, so that we can enjoy what we want in our remaining years.

Even the Pope himself, who continues to impress me by forcing new discussions around formerly hands-off topics, realizes that change in the Catholic marriage tribunal process is needed and is encouraging faster resolution for marriage annulments.

Which, for me, all points to a long held belief that if “we” (e.g. business leaders, family leaders, church leaders) aren’t growing, we’re dying.

I wonder if this is a more lively debate for MNB readers than the current one surrounding company owners speaking out on same-sex marriage trend, risking their product acceptance.

We'll find out.

Regarding the decision by Gelson's - even as it looks for a buyer and explores "strategic alternatives" - to open two new stores, one MNB user wrote:

As a teenager I lived with my family in Encino, California home of the flagship Gelson’s store. It was the place you went when you wanted something special.  It was like the Whole Foods of its day.

Sadly, when a we were meeting with Gelson’s about becoming a vender – some 7 years ago - it was apparent that Gelson’s had just become a company filled with old farts in silos. No one seemed to remember what the brand stood for in their glory years, nor how to go about getting back the magic. Nor would they or could they make an effort to make the changes..   No new ideas, no new thinking at all, no new blood. couldn’t recognize  the new expectations shoppers have now - how the bar has been raised. Didn’t seem to appreciate even the power of the Gelson’s name. They were too far deep into “this is the way we’ve always done it” mentality.

About the "Ship From Store" strategy that seems to be taking hold as a way for bricks-and-mortar retailers to better compete with Amazon, MNB user Patrick Pitts wrote:

I hope Walmart figures this out.  Several months ago, I found a Philips MP3 player I liked online, with the best price at  I went into the store and found the exact item but $10 higher.  The store associate told me she could match an online competitor, but was not allowed to match their own online price. I ordered the player from, used the free site-to-store delivery, and came back to the store three days later to pick it up, noticing they still had the same item hanging in the electronics department on my way back to the service desk.  There’s no way that made sense.

Which speaks, I think, to the problems that retailers with legacy issues will have competing with Amazon.

On the same subject, MNB reader Patty Salmon wrote:

I saw your story about the Ship From Store Strategy and I just had to share this story that blew my mind.  My son recently started attending Iowa State University in Ames, IA and he left his wireless router extender at home for the family.  Well he quickly came to realize that he probably needed one in his room on campus.  Rather than send ours to him I went to Best to send him a replacement.  I placed the order on a Monday afternoon and he had his unit in hand at noon Tuesday - less than a 24 hour turnaround (and shipping was free).  The only way Best Buy could have fulfilled the order that quickly was to send it from the Ames Best Buy.  I have to say I was excited to see that Best Buy is using their store locations to their advantage and I will definitely turn to them again when we need to send something electronic to our son.

On the subject of changes that McDonald's is making in its menu to assure that more nutritious options are available, MNB user KH Chandler wrote:

Though I haven't set foot in a McDonald's in over ten years (once I learned about the meats and processes they use) and have been a vocal opponent of theirs since the release of Super Size Me, I must take my hat off to them for this move. Just making it an option will give the opportunity to order better foods and bring awareness. We can't change peoples eating habits overnight, but when huge companies like them invest in something like this the fallout will happen. Baby steps, though this is a huge baby! I'd like to see the numbers on worldwide consumption of the alternatives. I'd bet in a year they are staggering.

I've been catching up with some emails that we received about the health care debate.

One MNB user wrote:

I follow your comments and those of your readers on this, and I pretty much side with the “Pro” single payer side.  But I am a salesperson by trade, and I really value the free marketplace and competition, so there is a conflict.  I think you pretty much feel the same, and my bet is many of your readers agree.

I am not sure how it evolved to this point, but the free marketplace for healthcare now amounts to the freedom to get robbed by the thief of your choice, but there are thieves at every step of the way.  There is an interesting article on about the costs of prescription medication that’s worth reading, and likely to convert anyone who reads it to a Costco customer.  My son broke his wrist and at the emergency room they wanted to put a brace on his wrist at a cost of $200 for the brace and another $250 to “fit it”.  It’s the same brace available for $35 at CVS and for $15 on the internet.  And they practically called the police before they let us go.

I think because most of us thought we got health insurance for “free” from our employers, we all got lazy and didn’t look at or care about the real costs, and the vendors at every step of the way understood our willing ignorance and learned they could take advantage and exponentially marked up the “Sticker” price when they realized we would pay it, and we did, because we all thought of it as if someone else was paying.  But like a cancer killing its host, the healthcare industry has become unmanageable in cost.

My hope is the ACA will help things to self correct.  There will still be insurance companies, and care will still be dispensed.  But the insane markups that now exist will have to become reasonable if the market is to survive.  The healthcare industry is now the car salesperson who realizes his customer has discovered the sticker price is not what the car is going to cost.

From another reader:

There's too much politically charged emotion and too little economic reality in the discussion surrounding health care insurance. For example, one of your readers wonders "why make parents pay to cover their children until the age of 26?"

Insurance companies want healthy young people in their risk pools because they lower how much the insurance firm expects to pay out in claims. Similarly, adding contraceptive coverage lowers the cost of the insurance because costly pregnancies are avoided. Policies without contraceptive coverage should cost more.

Eventually the US will get to where most of Europe and Japan are … single payer systems for good basic coverage for everyone with supplemental policies for those who want "luxury" coverage. Really, isn't that what people 65+ have with Medicare and supplemental coverage if they want to pay extra? 

The larger the risk pool, the less costly is the premium. And then you eliminate buried premium charges to cover medical expenses of the uninsured (presuming of course we don't allow hospitals to turn people away because they're not insured).

The Affordable Care Act originated with the conservative Heritage Foundation and the Republican Party back in the 90s.

And the debate continues....

On another subject, Amazon's use of lockers in select locations for people who don;t want products delivered to their homes or offices, one MNB user wrote:

Regarding the whole Amazon locker issue, I think it's always fine to try and innovate, I'm just surprised that this plan wasn't better thought out. A glorified post-office box? In my city the lockers are installed at 7-11s, and trust me when I say that you would probably never find Mrs. Morning Newsbeat there. The last time I visited my neighborhood 7-11, there was a used syringe on the sidewalk and several of the locker doors had been vandalized. What a great brand experience!

And as for the Post Office...Have you been lately? Separate from all of the whining we could do about bloat, inefficiency, blah, blah the real issue is that the vast, vast majority of normal people rarely have any reason to visit a post office.

A friend from Europe who doesn't know better mailed me a package via US Post and I had to visit our local office to pick it up in person. After waiting in line and listening to each customer, it dawned on me that there are only two main reasons people visit the post office: a) They are dealing with some complicated issue (in my case convoluted customs paperwork) or b) They are simply not "educated enough" to understand why they don't need to be there. Gone are the days of admins buying stamps and ordinary people taking care of business. Now it's largely a gathering place for people who don't quite get how the (American) world works-which of course includes my European friend.

Got the following advice from someone who read my skeptical take on the use of "wet wipes" instead of toilet paper:

I would like you to do your "business" and wipe as you always do…..Then while still on the throne, wipe with a wet wipe.
I think you will be kinda surprised to say the least.

I think we just crossed the line into "too personal" territory.

On another subject, got the following email from MNB reader Lisa Bosshard:

I had an experience yesterday, that if I can put mildly was heinous....   I'm beginning to understand why Barnes and Noble is declining.   As a long time, loyal customer, I owned one of the first Nook's created (the 3G version which they don't produce anymore).   After having that less than 1 year, it broke.   So, true to advertising at the time, I went to the store where they promptly replaced it (good experience).   The following year, I decided to purchase the Nook simple touch backlit for travel needs.  I was tired of having a separate light for reading on planes.  So last Christmas, my husband purchased that as one of my gifts.   Everything has been golden until this week's travel when it began to severely malfunction.  Upon arriving home yesterday, I promptly contacted their on line support to learn more information about warranty and that's where things began to go south.

After chatting on line with 3 different people and being disconnected from chat when they put me on hold, I was finally able to reach someone that could assist.  However, to my dismay, they no longer process replacements in store.  You have to "buy" the warranty replacement which is then shipped to you in 5-7 days, then return ship your defective merchandise back for credit with original cables.   Now, first of all, in the middle of a great book and being a frequent traveler, I don't really have 7 days to wait for my "replacement".   Second, I'm really peeved at having to purchase the replacement and then wait for them to process and credit their defective merchandise.  What is the point in having brick and mortar stores if the consumer can not use them?   After chatting on line and going through that process, I then had to "call" them to actually process the new purchase and return.

In light of my poor customer service experience, I recalled this is my 2nd devise that had to be replaced in less than one year.  It does not inspire confidence in their product!   Additionally, ultimately to their loss, I was forced to use the Nook app on my iPad for the first time and was pleasantly surprised at that experience.  While I will replace my broken devise because it's under warranty, I will not be purchasing another Nook from them and Apple has earned my loyalty yet again!

Lesson - be careful of how you treat your customers, because they ALWAYS have a choice!  In this instance, B&N lost a current and future customer.

I was impressed about the number of emails I got from people who were amazed by my recent confession that I've never had a breakfast taco.

One MNB user wrote:

I moved here from Austin after living there for 10 years.  Even back then in the 90's there were tons of taco stands all around town.  They throw them up near convenient intersections and people just stop off at whichever one is on their way to work.  Breakfast tacos are just smaller breakfast burritos in the side-of-the-road taco stand world.  They are tasty and cheap at around a dollar each and the service is super quick.  They know you're on the way to work, so by the time you're done saying "I want two bean, egg and cheese tacos" the lady in the back is already slapping those together and wrapping them up while the first is taking your money.  The convenience alone is almost  the reason these things are crazy popular.  Think how long it takes to park and walk in to a McDonald's or even a Starbucks - even their drive throughs don't compare.  WIth these little taco stands, you're back in your car 2 minutes later, 2 dollars lighter, and with a sack of breakfast treats that none of the big fast food chains could compete with, either on size or quality.

I sure miss those taco stands.  Many were tiny trailers only large enough to fit the two workers inside.   They set up in little section of grass or parking lot that they rent or lease from local businesses.  Some stay for lunch, some go home, dragging their little trailers with them.  The larger, more established ones have bigger trailers that you may be used to seeing used for catering, a few use those catering vans.

I see that kind of thing around here in St Pete, Florida, but much more rarely.  I keep telling people it would be an easy, quick business to start up and there is hardly any competition.  You just buy the little trailer and the food, then go get a couple ladies to work the trailer (no problem around here, maybe it would be up north).  The hardest and most expensive part would be angling for the right space to do it, because you have to rent your little piece of parking lot, and you need it to be near a busy intersection and all that.  But yeah I see it as money left on the table - it's not just Austin's proximity to Mexico that make it a hot market for tacos.  It's the ease and convenience of these taco stands combined with the competitive product they serve when compared to big fast food.  On top of all this, for the health and eco-conscious people, they know they are getting a more whole, natural product and are supporting local businesses and all that jazz.

And from another reader:

You have never even heard of a breakfast taco??  This is incomprehensible! 🙂
Of course I am a born and raised Texan and Austinite for the past 11 years so I am in the middle of the breakfast taco action but it NEVER would have occurred to me that someone such as you hasn't even heard of a breakfast taco.  THAT is the eye-opener to me!  This gets me thinking though...what incredible and so seemingly common local fares are there around the country that I am totally oblivious to??  If you have never heard of a breakfast taco then I must for sure be missing out on many similar culinary wonders.  I guess I should find a way to travel more...

MNB reader Nancy Lazara wrote:

Anyone who’s worked for HEB and spent any time in South Texas is well aware of the absolutely local tradition of Breakfast Tacos. When I first moved to San Antonio/HEB  several years ago I was astounded that the bring-to-the-office breakfast was NOT a box of doughnuts, but rather a brown bag of small, warm, handmade breakfast tacos! Potato and Egg, Bacon and Egg, the list goes on……..simple, small and fresh made with HEB tortillas or handmade flour tortillas in many cases from the local Molino. They put the Sunday-newspaper-sized Burrito to shame – and remain a tradition in our home back in Seattle now.

And from MNB reader Gary Hudman:

If you come down to Texas, you definitely need to visit San Antonio for the best breakfast tacos you have ever eaten.  I would venture that we have at least twice the number of taco places as Austin, and as for quality, no less than gourmet Magazine named Taco Taco as the best tacos in America.  My own favorite is confusingly named The Original Donut Shop.  Come on down and experience the best breakfast you have ever had.

And from Ray England:

You don’t have to go to Austin for a great breakfast Taco, although I would never pass up the opportunity to do so. I’m a native Texan and I can tell you that you can get great breakfast Taco’s pretty much anywhere in the great state. I had a superb breakfast taco at a United Supermarkets European Marketplace store a couple years back and it was outstanding, as are the ones at HEB. Come to think of it, I can imagine that after a night out on  6th street in Austin, a breakfast Taco would be just what the doctor ordered. Breakfast Tacos are like a breakfast burrito, only different. Muy Delicioso!

And I loved this email from MNB reader Chris Weisert: 

One does not need a reason to go to Austin.

Point taken.

I wrote recently about how a new Keurig store is going to open in the Burlington Mall in Massachusetts, as the company tests whether or not such a concept is viable.

Which led one MNB reader to write:

Nespresso has been doing this for some time. Several stores in Manhattan and also Chicago and Beverly Hills. More to come I understand.

And another:

Not a first...last October in Paris I walked past, but did not go inside, a Nespresso 119 Champs-Élysées (not far from the Arc de Triomphe). There are a few other locations in Paris.

You're right. I've been in them, and should have remembered.

BTW...George Clooney does TV commercials for Nespresso outside the can see one here.

We had a story the other day about how Walmart is mad at a Bloomberg reporter for, it says, writing an inaccurate story about cutting back on Q3 and Q4 orders because of excess inventory. I said that I'm biased, but I tend to believe the reporter.

Which prompted one MNB user to write:

I think, based upon my many years of experience, that reporters are biased, as are you and for that matter, I or is it me.

What does cutting orders mean?  Did the orders not meet what one, a few or many manufacturers forecasted.  Or was this Intel from a few companies that products are trending down and/or nearing the end of their lifecycles. 

How many sources did the reporter have?  Or is Ms Dudley, trying to get some ‘street cred’ by bashing Walmart?

On the other hand, recently, Walmart announced that they were adding more people to the payroll for the Holiday season and converting thousands to full time, why would they do that if they were cutting orders?  Just asking.

Well, they still need people to put old inventory on the shelves, right?

If I'm not mistaken, one of the things that led to the story was an internal Walmart memo ...

I'm also pretty sure that Bloomberg is not exactly a bastion of liberal media bias.

But as I said from the beginning, I tend to be biased in terms of reporters.

Responding to the story about how Trader Joe's is maneuvering to figure out the best way to provide health care to its employees, MNB reader Ben Loy wrote:

It’s amazing to find a company that is willing to provide any support to workers that work less than 30 hours per week. Trader Joe’s is apparently now even willing to expand that support when faced with the realization that their actions could be detrimental to some workers. I give Trader Joe’s kudos for their willingness to assist their part-time workers.

With all the debate about health care, and the feeling on the part of some that the Affordable Care Act will convince many companies to stop offering it to employees, I continue to believe that progressive, competitive companies will use health care as a way of differentiating themselves to attract better employees.

We do continue to get email about the Barilla kerfuffle over how the chairman of the pasta company views and talks about gay people.

One MNB user wrote:

Just wanted to tell you that I thought your response to the comments on the Barilla “controversy” was concise, intelligent and spot-on.  Thanks for being thoughtful – it’s a rare commodity these days.

I’ll strike a deal with you: when you start selling pasta, I’ll stop reading your blog … so keep selling discourse.

And from another:

As Kris Kristofferson said to Sinead O'Connor when she was booed at MSG, "Don't let the bastards get you down".


MNB reader Chuck Jolley wrote:

You wrote, "Let me add something here. I've gotten a few extraordinarily personal emails over the last couple of days attacking me for my personal beliefs, questioning my morals and my values, and accusing me of being "militant."

Those authors of hate need to be banned from your subscription list.  I see those kinds of messages, too, and I immediately question their personal beliefs, morals and values.  Their beliefs should not be accepted and their morals and values should be questioned.  If they consider you to be militant, please continue to be militant.

Banned? Never. I think it is great that they continue to read MNB and continue to challenge me, and allow me to respond. (Though the tenor of some of these emails is the reason that I'll never allow emails on MNB to appear unedited and uncurated.)

I don't allow personal attacks expressed in emails to run on MNB, except for personal attacks on me ... because I'm a big boy with a thick skin, and besides, by the nature of how this works, I usually get the last word.

One MNB user weighed in on the other reader who suggested that Barilla pasta isn;t all that good, anyway:

She's spot on.  IMHO, DeCecco pasta is, by far, the best pasta on the market.

Give your daughter's meatballs a try on it sometime.  You won't be disappointed.

And from another reader:

You hit the nail on the head with this one. One thing I just thought of – I’ve dined at Maggiano’s a lot and seem to remember their menus being stamped with “we proudly serve Barilla pasta” on them. Even if they don’t use it, I’m sure other restaurant chains do. I wonder if the impact of his comments will extend beyond just grocery shelves…

And another, responding to the accusation that I am a militant:

Kevin - you are far from militant!  Your responses are (almost) always reasoned and thoughtful!

Sometimes, maybe. When I get enough sleep.

And sometimes I screw up, as MNB user Mike Nichols pointed out:

I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read your article today about the Huffington Post poll regarding the change to Starbucks firearms policy. The sentence that did it for me: “But as the politics of the issue changed, Starbucks adjusted its position and asked that customers not bring weapons into stores without actually banning forearms.”

Personally, I’m happy to leave the guns at home, but I’m attached to my forearms and won’t go anywhere without them.

I fixed it. Though I admit I giggled a bit at the typo.

Finally, this cautionary email from MNB reader Ken Wagar:

"Your Views” seems to be falling to the wayside lately on MNB. IMHO, this section is one of the mainstays of MNB as it provides some feedback and commentary on the issues of the day and the views of the readers as support or counterpoint to the views of KC.

If in fact your mission is “analysis with Attitude” much of that is lost if readers views aren’t also included on a regular basis. I give you credit for choosing which views to publish and how to edit those for clarity but I hate to see them gone so often. Their absence takes away from the value of what you do.

I completely agree that "Your Views" often are more provocative and interesting that my views. And since I like it when you all view MNB as your site as much as it is mine, "Your Views" is a critical component of that.

It is true that "Your Views" hasn't run every day lately. A big part of that sometimes my workload and schedule give me less time than I'd like to do MNB, and reading, culling and editing emails actually is one of the most time-intensive things I do. No complaints, and no excuses ... this is just the way it is, and as Hyman Roth says in The Godfather Part II, "This is the business we have chosen."

Just please understand that I'm doing my best. And if some editions of MNB does not have "Your Views," rest assured that I save every email and try to catch up when I can.

Like today ...

The thing is, I don't have time to do everything.

One MNB reader wrote:

I have always enjoyed your observations on various TV programs, but I have never seen you comment on "Breaking Bad."  Just curious if you ever tried it or not.  I believe it's one of the best TV series ever produced, and obviously based on the Emmy haul I'm not alone.  I think it's time for you to do some binge watching on this program!  As I'm sure you know, the series finale was last night, so make sure you avoid any spoilers over the next couple weeks.

My guilty secret is that I've never seen even 60 seconds of "Breaking Bad," though one of these days I'm going to pick up either the DVD set or download the whole thing to my laptop and engage in a little binge viewing. I've been successful so far at avoiding any stories about the finale - no mean feat - so I can keep as much of it as a surprise as possible.
KC's View: