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: November 5, 2013

    by Michael Sansolo

    Football, George Will once wrote, combines the two worst things about America: "It is violence punctuated by committee meetings."

    If current news reports are to be believed, that violence doesn't always take place between the goalposts. It may also be happening during practices and in the locker rooms, as a few players on the Miami Dolphins have provided us with a dramatic look at what can happen when a workplace becomes toxic because of the presence of bullies.

    The story began to unfold last week when Jonathan Martin, a Dolphin player, left the team. In short order, it was disclosed that he was having problems getting along with teammates. Given the gargantuan size of the player and the violent reality of football itself, it seemed possible that the player might have been overly sensitive.

    Then another very large shoe dropped.

    Yesterday a second Dolphin, Richie Incognito, was suspended for leading the mistreatment of Martin. The early reports accused Incognito of sending Martin texts that were racially charged and physically threatening, on top of previous reports of Martin being shaken down for money.

    Where the story goes next is anyone’s guess, but the likelihood is it won’t end nicely. Almost instantly stories were appearing about Incognito’s behavior on a previous team and in college, and there are clear hints that he wasn’t alone in his treatment of Martin.

    Now it would be really easy to simply dismiss this entire incident as unique to a sports team. After all, athletes are anything but typical workers. Their skills are specific, the salaries unusually large and their physical traits are equally outsized. Yet it strikes me that the drama playing out on the Dolphins might open our eyes to a much bigger situation: the culture of the workplace in general.

    First, we know that football players, despite their size, are subject to the same pressures we all face and maybe worse. The award-winning film The Blind Side offered a dramatic look into the sad background of one of those behemoths, whose career—and life—was saved through the intervention of a caring family. So let’s set aside the notion that a 300-pound football player should be impervious to threats.

    Second, and more germane to the rest of us, the work place is constantly getting more complex. With more age groups, more ethnicities and more demographics of all kinds mixing then ever before, the rules are changing. What was accepted behavior just a few decades back is way beyond the pale today.

    That last line may irritate some of you, but it’s the truth. For any company to succeed today it needs to draw on associates from an ever-widening mix of society. That means you need create and support a culture that makes all those associates feel comfortable so that productivity can rise. Virtually every successful company I know boasts that all its success comes from its people.

    That can’t happen if the workplace is toxic.

    But be warned, this won’t be an easy issue to tackle. After all, what one person sees as bullying another might see as just having fun. Plus, as anyone who has read the wonderful biography of Steve Jobs can tell you, sometimes even a revered genius can make for a challenging workplace.

    The trick is to build excellence and encourage camaraderie, and yet at the same time ensure a culture that allows people with different sensitivities to flourish.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . 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: November 5, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    The press is abuzz with the story of how MacKenzie Bezos, who is married to Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos, has leapt to her husband's defense following the publication of "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon," by Brad Stone.

    The book has been well reviewed and has been selling respectably. But MacKenzie Bezos takes issue with some of the reporting, and she decided to do something about it …and so she wrote a review of the book. And posted it. On Amazon.

    An excerpt:

    "Everywhere I can fact check from personal knowledge, I find way too many inaccuracies, and unfortunately that casts doubt over every episode in the book … I have firsthand knowledge of many of the events. I worked for Jeff at D. E. Shaw, I was there when he wrote the business plan, and I worked with him and many others represented in the converted garage, the basement warehouse closet, the barbecue-scented offices, the Christmas-rush distribution centers, and the door-desk filled conference rooms in the early years of Amazon’s history. Jeff and I have been married for 20 years.

    "While numerous factual inaccuracies are certainly troubling in a book being promoted to readers as a meticulously researched definitive history, they are not the biggest problem here. The book is also full of techniques which stretch the boundaries of non-fiction, and the result is a lopsided and misleading portrait of the people and culture at Amazon. An author writing about any large organization will encounter people who recall moments of tension out of tens of thousands of hours of meetings and characterize them in their own way, and including those is legitimate. But I would caution readers to take note of the weak rhetorical devices used to make it sound like these quotes reflect daily life at Amazon or the majority viewpoint about working there."

    And, she concludes:

    "One of the biggest challenges in non-fiction writing is the risk that a truthfully balanced narration of the facts will be boring, and this presents an author with some difficult choices. It may be that another telling of the Amazon story—for example, that people at Amazon have no secret agenda they’ve been able to keep hidden for 19 years, really do believe in the mission they keep repeating, and are working hard and of their own free will to realize it —would strike readers as less exciting than the version offered here. I sympathize with this challenge. But when an author plans to market a book as non-fiction, he is obliged to find a suspenseful story arc that doesn’t rely on mischaracterizing or avoiding important parts of the truth."


    I have to be honest. I knew absolutely nothing about MacKenzie Bezos before these stories started being posted.

    But now, having read her impassioned defense of her husband and the company he built, I'm kind of impressed with her.

    I have the book downloaded to my Kindle app. I'm looking forward to reading it … but her comments about the book cannot help but color my view of it.

    In all fairness, Stone says the book was scrupulously reported, and that he spoke to more than 300 past or present Amazon employees before writing it. And, he seems a little surprised by the attack, saying that he believed it was not "an unflattering account" of the company's evolution.

    And, to be fair, Amazon's corporate communications folks also have officially questioned the book's verisimilitude.

    Either way, it's an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 5, 2013

    The New York Times had a terrific piece the other day that essentially posed the following question: What would happen if the kinds of resources that are put against the sale of processed foods were applied to the sale of fresh produce?

    Which is an object lesson in the importance of selling. Not to mention a primer in how to sell.

    You can read it here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 5, 2013

    The Wall Street Journal has a piece about Walgreen's "prescription for future success," suggesting that it "lies in the partnerships it has forged in the past year, giving the drug retailer a world-wide presence and powerful drug-buying clout."

    According to the story, "Walgreen agreed to pay $6.7 billion for a 45% stake in Alliance Boots in June 2012, with an option to buy the rest by 2015 … By 2016, Walgreen projects the combined companies will generate $130 billion in revenue, compared with the $72 billion Walgreen reported in 2012." Even more importantly, the Journal writes, the alliance with Alliance Boots is designed to help Walgreen "lift sales, slash costs and boost earnings and margins."

    In addition, the story says, Walgreen "should also benefit from macroeconomic developments such as the Affordable Care Act, which took effect in early October and aims to give an estimated 29 million previously uninsured folks access to health care by 2019. Moreover, prescription volumes are expected to rise along with the aging baby-boomer population…"
    KC's View:
    It is instructive how, at least in the eyes of investors, Walgreen has managed to turn the Boots investment from a negative into a positive. I do think it is instructive that Walgreen is getting more competitive as it becomes a more global entity.

    Published on: November 5, 2013

    Forbes reports on how last Friday "was the date on which Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart’s case labeling mandate for produce went into effect," requiring that "all fresh commodity produce delivered to a Wal-Mart Distribution Center … be required to have standardized case labels."
    The goal is not just to provide traceability that will give consumers confidence, the story says, but also to save Walmart money by ensuring that produce deliveries take place as early in the lifespan of the product as possible, thus "insuring that produce has a good shelf life associated with it helps retailers compete on freshness."
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 5, 2013

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

    • The Huffington Post reports that "at least eight people were sickened after eating sandwiches at Denver-area Jimmy John's that were contaminated with E. Coli bacteria. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration are all investigating the outbreak, which has been positively linked to three restaurants in Colorado's Denver-metro area. But none of the restaurants are being closed, nor are they being publicly identified because the restaurants are not believed to be at fault … The FDA is currently conducting tests to see where the contaminated produce came from."

    • Sears-owned Lands' End announced yesterday that it will offer holiday shoppers free standard shipping on all orders over $50, and also will offer two-day shipping for $5.

    According to the announcement, Lands' End previously "only offered free shipping on purchases over $50 as part of yearly promotions, and customers were required to enter a code in order to redeem the discount. Not only will customers now save money on shipping, but the site has also been updated to simplify the checkout experience. Customers will no longer have to enter a promotion code, and shipping preferences can be easily selected."

    The announcement probably should have read, "Lands' End, the only profitable or even mildly desirable part of Sears Holdings…"

    • Safeway Inc. announced that it has completed the sale of the net assets of Canada Safeway ULC (formerly Canada Safeway Limited) to Sobeys Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Empire Company Limited.

    • The Detroit Free Press reports that Kellogg Co. plans to cut its global workforce by seven percent over the next four years, part of what is described as "an effort to cut costs, with the cereal maker citing weaker-than-expected sales for the third quarter of 2013."
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 5, 2013

    • Weis Markets announced that John Neuberger, formerly director of loss prevention at Price Chopper Supermarkets, has been hired to be the company;s new vice president of operational administration.

    • Dollar General Corp. announced that Todd Vasos, most recently the executive vice president and CMO, has been named chief operating officer with responsibility for Store Operations, Merchandising and Supply Chain. 

    In addition, the company said that David D’Arezzo has joined the company as executive vice president and CMO. D’Arezzo most recently served as executive vice president and chief operating officer of Grocers Supply and previously served as senior vice president and chief merchandising officer for Duane Reade. 
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 5, 2013

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 5, 2013

    In Monday Night Football action, the Chicago Bears defeated the Green Bay Packers 27-20.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 5, 2013

    I was overwhelmed yesterday by emails and Facebook messages from friends and readers wishing me a happy 59th birthday. For which I am grateful … and hopeful that as I start my 60th year, I have about 60 more ahead of me.
    KC's View: