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    Published on: November 18, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    Okay, I have to be honest. I like to think that I'm pretty open-minded about the enormous possibilities when it comes to the impact of technology. I'm with Jean-Luc Picard on this one: "Everything is impossible until it's not."

    But I have to admit I never saw this one coming.

    The Wall Street Journal over the weekend had a story about Central United Methodist Church in Concord, North Carolina, where Rev. Andy Langford, the senior pastor, has a uniquely modern approach when it comes to Holy Communion. People who can't make it to church on Sunday can go online to watch the services … and while doing so, can "grab some grape juice and any bread or crackers they have in the house, and consume them after the pastor, in the sanctuary, blesses the juice and bread as representing the blood and body of Christ."

    It is not an approach universally accepted.

    "On Friday, the denomination's leading body, the Council of Bishops, declared a moratorium on all online sacraments, including communion, and called for further study of which practices would be acceptable online," the Journal writes. "The moratorium was declared at the request of an influential group of United Methodist ministers and theologians, who said in a statement that communion is understood to be celebrated 'within a physically gathered community'."

    Rev. Langford, a 61-year old expert on liturgy and church teachings, is described by the Journal as being anything but a rabble-rouser, but on this one, he is taking a very 21st century view: "The way we operate now, if you want to receive [communion], you have to come to my church sometime between the hours of 9 and 12 on Sunday morning. I don't think there's any other institution in our country that can survive on that kind of business model."

    There's little question in my mind that Rev. Langford is right about how business models work in the 21st century, and that institutions failing to adapt to modern realities are unlikely to survive. And he seems like a man of faith, with no interest other than ministering to his flock.

    When you think about it, this is an extraordinarily interesting discussion, no matter what one's religious persuasion happens to be. Some may equate Rev. Langford's approach with sacrilege, but these same people seem convinced on some level that "community" has to be physical to be meaningful, at least in the religious and sacramental sense.

    And that's the real question, isn't it? And unlike many questions, this one may not have a definitive answer … because it is all a matter of faith. And perhaps even how religion is defined - and certainly practiced - in a digital society.

    It is an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 18, 2013

    The Washington Post had a piece saying that "in the age of Amazon, stores are trying to reinvent themselves, generally using one of two strategies: deliver products more quickly and nearly as cheaply as online sellers, or offer shopping experiences that entice people to visit their establishment and buy something." In other words, retailers need to find a differential advantage that take them beyond the things that Amazon does best, as opposed to falling into the traps that felled retail giants such as Borders, Blockbuster and Circuit City.

    Three examples:

    • Pirch, "a California kitchen and bath company" that offers the "opportunity to build and customize one’s own product. Pirch offers fully functioning showrooms where shoppers can choose and arrange pieces for their own kitchens and bathrooms, just as their kids might choose clothes for a teddy bear." Not only does Pirch have dozens of faucets from which to choose, but they're all functional - which changes the experience.

    • "Like cupcakes, the arrival of blow-dry bars might have felt like a fad," but there is a sense that they are "becoming a permanent niche service akin to manicures, pedicures or a visit to the spa."

    • "D.C. and some of its wealthier suburbs are being flooded by new theater concepts, almost all of them offering restaurants and bars to enjoy on your way in and reserved seating; cushy, reclining chairs and a more selective group of films from which to choose … With tickets ranging as high as $25, it is a more expensive experience than popcorn and a movie at the mall," but affluent and educated audiences are choosing them because they offer an option to both the home entertainment experience and the more traditional movie theater (many of which are upscaling their offerings as well as a way of making going out to the movies a more appealing option).
    KC's View:
    It seems to me that at some level, these are the kinds of questions that more companies have to pose to themselves. Sure, they have to be competitive with the likes of Amazon, but they also have to define, develop and exploit the things that make them special It has to be a continuing and organic process, in which companies need to find ways to offer new and distinct products and services.

    Companies that do not engage in this process have no right to expect that they can survive.

    Published on: November 18, 2013

    • The Associated Press reports that Walmart is saying that 10 out of more than 70 garment factories in Bangladesh that manufacture products that it sells failed safety audits. There remain more than 100 factories there that still need to be audited for their safety conditions.

    The audits were ordered up by Walmart after the collapse earlier this year of a factory there that killed more than a thousand people, drawing attention "to the often grim conditions" at Bangladesh garment factories.

    According to the story, "Bangladeshi garment makers employ millions of people, mostly women, but safety has been an afterthought amid pressure to fill orders, while enforcement of labor rights and building safety codes is compromised by corruption and thin government resources. Last week, garment factory owners agreed to a 77 percent increase in the minimum wage for new unskilled garment workers to 5,300 takas ($66) a month after Bangladesh’s prime minister stepped in to resolve four days of violent clashes over wages."

    • The Huffington Post reports that "Walmart CEO Mike Duke's retirement package of more than $113 million is nearly 6,200 times bigger than the average 401(k) balance of a non-executive Walmart worker, which was $18,303, according to a new analysis by Dana Lime at NerdWallet, a personal finance site.

    "That dwarfs Walmart’s infamous CEO-to-worker pay ratio, a source of controversy for the company in the past. Duke, who pulled in $20.7 million last year, made 305 times more than the typical Walmart manager and 836 times more than the median Walmart worker’s salary, according to the NerdWallet study … Walmart’s CEO-to-worker retirement ratio was the largest of the ten companies surveyed by NerdWallet."

    The other companies looked at were McKesson, GE, AT&T, Philip Morris, Pfizer, ExxonMobil, Bank of America, Google and Oracle, and the multiple for Duke was more than six times as high as the second highest company (McKesson). Though, to be fair, because Walmart hires a lot of entry-level employees, and so its average pay is likely to be a lot lower than people who work for technology companies and banks.

    Walmart spokesperson Brooke Buchanan tells the Huffington Post that Duke's retirement package is not actually a pension, but "technically a deferred compensation plan that accrues over time." Plus, she said, "We are the world’s largest retailer, and this [the CEO job] is a pretty tough job."

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Walmart "has a long list of reasons why its customers aren't spending as much as hoped: the payroll tax cut expiration in January, the November rollback of food stamp benefits, continued uncertainty in Washington.

    Now, the world's largest retailer is hinting at a new one: the looming individual mandate to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act."

    The story continues: "'While it is not coming through in customer research, we do know that some of our customers are concerned about the impact of the Affordable Care Act,' Carol Schumacher, vice president of investor relations, told analysts Thursday. 'For many of our customers, having to afford health care and insurance may be another line item in their personal budget that they may not have had to cover previously'."
    KC's View:
    The confluence of these three stories illustrates the kinds of challenges facing Walmart - dealing with global societal realities that suggest the high costs of low prices, the chasm that seems to exist between executive pay and store level compensation, and the continuing problems it is having with sales and profits in the US.

    And none of this even touches on the elephant in the room - accusations of bribery of foreign officials as a way of greasing the wheels for global expansion, which for some reason have not been resolved despite numerous investigations at the federal level.

    Published on: November 18, 2013

    The Orange County Register reports that McDonald's "is experimenting with build-your-own-burgers made with premium ingredients selected from an iPad menu. The upscale-burger test, launched Monday in restaurants in Laguna Niguel and Illinois, allows diners to choose from more than 20 toppings and sauces. Some new offerings include sharp white cheddar cheese, guacamole, caramelized onions, grilled mushrooms, applewood smoked bacon and creamy garlic sauce. The patty is the same one used on the Quarter Pounder, but it is 'chargrilled-to-order,' McDonald’s said."

    Experts say that this is part of McDonald's strategy for "going after fussier and older fast-food eaters who have migrated to better burger concepts like Smashburger and Five Guys Burgers and Fries."
    KC's View:
    Unless you are of a certain age, you won't remember that for years, Burger King used to distinguish itself by saying you could "have it your way" there, as opposed to McDonald's, which had a more defined menu.

    The thing is, you can always customize your order at McDonald's … the problem is that a lot of McDonald's get it wrong, because they're just not equipped to handle special orders. So I have to imagine that this will be a real challenge for many McDonald's franchisees.

    Published on: November 18, 2013

    Just want to say thank you to the many MNB readers who offered their condolences last Friday and over the weekend upon the passing of Mrs. Content Guy's mom. As my wife has pointed out, she was a strong personality who came from challenging circumstances and perhaps because of them, was a constant champion of the underdog - she hated the Yankees and loved the Mets unconditionally, and even liked me when I was courting her daughter (putting her in a distinct minority). She had a distinct and sometimes discordant voice, but silence under such circumstances is not our friend.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 18, 2013

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

    • The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Grocery Outlet is returning to the City by the Bay, a dozen years after it closed its last self-described "extreme value" store there.

    "After years of searching for the right space, the Berkeley company, which holds the licenses for 200 markets in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Idaho and Pennsylvania, plans to open a 9,000-square-foot shop at 6333 Geary Blvd., between 27th and 28th avenues in the Richmond District."

    Grocery Outlet was founded in San Francisco in 1946.

    I'm a big fan of Grocery Outlet stores, which I've had a chance to visit while out in Oregon. They are simple but powerful stores, with a clear, unambiguous message … and I think they could be a national threat if they ever expand to that extent.

    • The Chicago Tribune reports that Chicago has seen the opening of a new organic competitor in the market - Mrs. Green's Natural Market, which opened last week in Lincoln Park, "taking on upscale competitors like Mariano’s and Whole Foods, and perhaps looking to fill at least some of the void left by the imminent exit of Dominick’s."

    Mrs. Green's is a 14-store chain, based in New York, but this is the first store it has opened in the Midwest.

    Recycling Today reports that Wegmans Food Markets "has joined the American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) Flexible Film Recycling Group (FFRG). The ACC says Wegmans is the first retailer to join the FFRG, a self-funded group within the ACC that is dedicated to boosting polyethylene (PE) film recovery efforts."

    Jason Wadsworth, sustainability coordinator for Wegmans, tells Recycling Today that "recycling of plastic bags and film is one effective way to address environmental concerns. Because of our closed-loop system, bags and film that customers return for recycling at our stores are made into new Wegmans bags, not litter."

    Other FFRG members include Dow, ExxonMobil, Sealed Air Corp., and SC Johnson.

    • Alimentation Couche-Tard said last week that "it has signed, through its wholly-owned indirect subsidiary, Circle K StoresInc., an agreement with Albuquerque Convenience and Retail LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Phillips 66 Company, to acquire 23 stores in the state of New Mexico. The transaction is anticipated to close in December 2013. Also, Couche-Tard has signed an agreement, through Circle K Stores Inc., with Publix Super Markets Inc. to acquire 13 stores, 11of which are located in the state of Florida and the other two in state of Georgia. This transaction is also anticipated to close in December 2013."
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 18, 2013

    • Walmart announced that it has promoted David Tovar to be its VP of corporate communications, succeeding Mona Williams, who has retired from the company.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 18, 2013

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 18, 2013

    In Week Eleven of the National Football League….

    Atlanta 28
    Tampa Bay 41

    Detroit 27
    Pittsburgh 37

    Arizona 27
    Jacksonville 14

    Oakland 28
    Houston 23

    Cleveland 20
    Cincinnati 41

    San Diego 16
    Miami 20

    Minnesota 20
    Seattle 41

    San Francisco 20
    New Orleans 23

    Green Bay 13
    NY Giants 27

    Baltimore 20
    Chicago 23

    Washington 16
    Philadelphia 24

    NY Jets 14
    Buffalo 37

    Kansas City 17
    Denver 27
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 18, 2013

    The Medfield Patch reports that Roche Bros. has chosen a name for its new small store format - Brothers Marketplace.

    The 9,000 square foot downtown store, the story says, "will include several departments: Grab 'N Go, Bakery/Cafe, Floral, Cheese and Bread, Prepared Food, Dairy, Frozen, Grocery, Meats, Seafood, Bulk, Produce, and a lunch counter near the Main Street entrance."
    KC's View:
    Roche Bros., which operates 18 traditional supermarkets in Massachusetts, is doing what every company its size needs to do - find unorthodox opportunities and take advantage of them by creating formats that cater to customers in new ways.

    Published on: November 18, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    When I give speeches around the country, inevitably we do a sound-check before the audience comes in. For some reason - I'm not sure why - I never say "testing-1-2-3-4." Instead, I pretty much always say the first few sentences of the Gettysburg Address, which is my definition of sacred text, even though it is only 272 words and takes less than three minutes to recite.

    Tomorrow, as it happens, is the 150th anniversary Abraham Lincoln's delivery of the Gettysburg Address. Documentarian Ken Burns has been paying attention to this anniversary by doing a film about Vermont's Greenwood School, where all the students - regardless of their learning differences - are encouraged to learn and recite the Address…

    As part of the film, a website has been created - - that serves as a place where a wide range of public and private figures, including every living President, has been recorded reciting the Gettysburg Address. It is a remarkable site, with perhaps the most touching rendition by former Rep. Gabby Giffords.

    So, while it has nothing to do with retailing or business, but everything to do with what this country is supposed to be all about, I'm doing it, too.

    And I hope you will. Because saying the words makes one actually think about the words. Which, in the end, is the point.

    Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

    Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

    But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

    KC's View: