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    Published on: November 27, 2013

    by Kate McMahon

    "Kate's Take" is brought to you by Wholesome Sweeteners, Making The World a Sweeter Place.

    MNB's readers have spoken, and I’m happy to report that a man’s place is indeed in the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day, along with the rest of the family.

    Our informal poll confirmed the results of a Butterball survey finding that 84% of men are involved in some aspect of holiday meal preparations and 42% say they take on the role of preparing or cooking the turkey.

    The survey, and the increasing number of men calling Butterball’s Turkey Talk-Line for advice, also prompted the poultry giant to seek out its first male spokesman. RJ Jaramillo, a single father of three from San Diego, won the contest with his enthusiasm and turkey know-how.

    So let’s forget Black Friday brawls and teeth-gnashing over sales predictions for a day. His story – and the spirited responses from the MNB community – point to everything that is right about Thanksgiving: family, friends and food.

    Jaramillo - who writes the blog “CookLikeADad” – gathers his entire extended family for the day and competes with his older sister and younger brother in the “Turkey Playoffs.” All of the relatives judge the best bird “in a loud and boisterous event.” (His secret: savory herb butter.)

    Teamwork was a consistent theme in our reader responses. Writes John Lacaria: “Over the last few years at our house we have learned that by throwing the turkey on the smoker outside you free up the kitchen for more cooking opportunities and end up with a delicious, smoky treat.  My father and I are always the ones standing outside in the freezing cold here in Minnesota, generally with a beer or whiskey in our hand.  The other great thing about smoking the turkey is you can easily leave the bird on the grill cooking while we go downtown and run the turkey day 5K.  We do ask that the ladies feed the smoker with more charwood and wood chips until we get back.”

    At Stacy McCoy’s home, their large Thanksgiving gathering requires three turkeys.

    “I roast one in the oven, my husband cooks one on the grill, and my mother in law brings one over in her roaster!”

    Patti Pagels and her husband tag team brining, dunking and basting the turkey. He takes the early shift on the big day and monitors the bird. “I make the stuffing, green bean casserole and salads.  He makes the potatoes and gravy.  Our moms usually handle desserts.  Best of all, I set the table but he does the dishes.” 

    Adds Joni Huffman: “My husband does the maple-basted, bacon-wrapped turkey while I do the sides and baking. Works beautifully!”

    At Steven Ritchey’s Thanksgiving lunch, the lines of responsibility are well-drawn. “I’m responsible for smoking the turkey, and for making the Butterscotch Cream Pie.  My sister does the pumpkin pie and the cornbread dressing, the sweet potatoes and marshmallow casserole, my brother and his wife will provide another dessert and vegetable dish.”

    From John Carnathan: “It is a team effort. She cleans it. I mix the stuffing. We both stuff it. I cook it and carve it. Been that way for 41 years.”

    Not surprisingly, some couples vie for best turkey bragging rights. Quips John LeTourneux: “I brine and deep-fry a succulent, juicy and perfectly seasoned turkey for our dozen family and friends on Thanksgiving.  Meanwhile my beautiful wife cooks her overcooked, dry and boring bird in the oven.  Of course, I would never tell her that.” (Though I think he just did.)

    Others are more than happy to turn over the potholder. Says Amalee Jayasinghe: “My hubby cooks the Thanksgiving turkey. He LOVES to cook, so why spoil his fun?"

    Adds Linda Porritt: “My sons, married and with children, revel in the chance to come up with something different every year to impress us.  Last year’s turkey covered with bacon slices and basted with a maple syrup sauce was incredible.  And there is nothing wrong with me and my daughters in law watching the football games while the men cook for us!”

    Still other cooks prefer to do it all. Writes Jeff Bentel: “I make the turkey and all the trimmings. Even make turkey soup with the carcass and leftovers.”

    From Bob Deering: “I do all the cooking and love it.”

    Says Marilyn Phillips: “I cook the turkey along with the ham and all the fixin's. And it's fun.”

    Now that the kids have gone off to college, Doug Baumgartner has assumed head chef duties in his household on weeknights and holidays.

    That said, I think Jane Golub speaks for many women with this anecdote: “I cook the turkey – my husband, Neil, carves it in front of the dozen to eighteen guests we have each year, most of whom equate carving to cooking – telling him ‘This is the best turkey ever!’  Thanksgiving remains my favorite holiday!”

    It must also be noted that not every family opts for turkey. The Content Guy cooks beef tenderloin at chez Coupe and this year plans to grill salmon as well. Scott Donnelly’s yearly tradition is “a nice rib roast prepared by the guys.”

    I wish I could include all of the comments, which truly debunk the stereotype of the woman in the kitchen and the man in the recliner. One reader’s response spoke to the evolving American family and creating traditions. She and her partner share children with the kids’ dad and his male partner, and both households gather for Thanksgiving as one large family. They alternate homes, and this year’s plan calls for each family to make dishes from the other family’s recipe book. The one given? “Gravy and mashed potatoes or cheesy mashed potatoes seems to be the one thing all the kids like.”

    Clearly, what matters is not the menu, but rather the joy and effort put into creating a communal meal, and pausing to give thanks. I know I speak for Kevin and Michael in wishing you and yours a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving.

    Comments? Email me at .
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 27, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    This has nothing to do with retailing or business, but it is something to be thankful for.

    Bruce Springsteen has announced that he will be out with a new album, entitled "High Hopes," on January 14, that will consist of covers, re-recordings and unreleased songs. Published reports say that the album will feature collaborations with Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, as well as material featuring E Street Band members Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici, who died in 2011 and 2008, respectively.

    The title track is already available for downloading on iTunes.

    Give me help, give me strength
    Give a soul a night of fearless sleep
    Give me love, give me peace
    Don't you know these days you pay for everything
    Got high hopes…

    Something, as I say, to be thankful for.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 27, 2013

    The City Wire reports that a bankruptcy court has approved the sale of 150 Fresh & Easy neighborhood Markets in the western US by Tesco to Ron Burkle-controlled private equity firm Yucaipa Cos., bringing to an end the British company's misguided and ill-fated American experiment.

    In a statement, Yucaipa said that "there will be many exciting changes in the coming weeks that will improve convenience, hours and customer service, along with greater value, better prices and stores that are easier to shop.” Among the changes - the installation of Jim Keyes, former CEO of 7-Eleven, to run Fresh & Easy and find a competitive sweet spot that Tesco somehow missed. Keyes has been quoted by the LA Times as saying that the goal is to deliver "healthy, high-quality product at an affordable price."

    The Times writes: "Given Yucaipa's track record in grocery-store turnarounds, analysts expect the private-equity firm will do what Tesco could not: squeeze profits out of the operation. Chains such as Fred Meyer, Jurgensen's and Ralphs have passed through Mr. Burkle's hands in the past, and he has proved adept at finding value in the grocery industry, where margins are razor-thin."

    Tesco actually is financing the deal with a $120 million loan, and has the ability to buy warrants in the company at a later date, if it so chooses.
    KC's View:
    It probably won't be easy, but the real challenge for Yucaipa is to somehow wipe away the stench of failure from the Fresh & Easy locations and make them viable. The hot speculation is that we're going to see some sort of resurrection of the Wild Oats brand … and I certainly would not bet against it.

    Published on: November 27, 2013

    The New York Times this morning has a story about how retailers are embracing social networks, forging partnerships that they believe can help them blunt the impact of "showrooming."

    When the trend began, with shoppers wandering stores with smartphone sin hand, looking for better deals online, "some retailers explored blocking Internet service in stores," the Times writes. "Others swapped out bar codes to make them incompatible with their competitors’. But ultimately, most major retailers decided that many customers would be on their phones regardless of what stores did — so they decided to get on their customers’ screens.

    "With online retail competition increasing, nowhere is that frantic embrace more evident this year than in the parade of partnerships and projects traditional retailers have formed with digital companies, many of them for the holidays."

    This makes sense, because, as the Times reports, "A recent survey conducted by Deloitte found that a huge amount of holiday shopping activities would be done on smartphones this year, if not the actual buying itself. The survey found that about two-thirds of smartphone owners planned to use their phones during holiday shopping, but primarily to find store locations, compare prices and look for product information."

    You can read the whole thing here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 27, 2013

    Bloomberg Businessweek has a good piece about PetSmart, saying that the traditional bricks-and-mortar retailer "has continued to fetch sizable returns despite pressure from Amazon’s The e-commerce giant’s pet store is well into its third year of business, with no shortage of treats and toys on offer. And those consumers regularly tasked with laying in a 31-pound bag of dog food probably appreciate Amazon’s 'free' delivery service more than most."

    The reason, the story suggests, can be found in the company's self-description as a "retailer of services and solutions for the lifetime needs of pets." It is a description that does not mention "products," because PetSmart increasingly is finding that the "sticky" and growing part of its business is the grooming, training and boarding of pets, services that Amazon can't offer online and that serve as a key differentiator for PetSmart.
    KC's View:
    Boy, do they have this right.

    I hadn't really thought about it, but the fact is that as much as I shop online for many things, I still buy my big bags of dog food from PetSmart … because that's also where we get the dogs groomed. (We have two, Buffett and Parker - and how perfect is it that we have two labs named after Jimmy and Robert B.) Not only do we get them groomed, but we even have a favorite groomer - Kayla - who does a great job at the Norwalk, CT, store. And so I've never even thought about buying dog food elsewhere.

    That's the key to competing, isn't it? Finding things the other guy can't or won't do, and then investing in those areas of the business so that they become a differential advantage.

    Retailers concerned about losing business to Amazon (and other e-railers) ought to take this lesson to heart. Don't just do the same-old, same-old, and hope that you can continue to appeal to people who don't like to shop online (a diminishing demographic, by the way).

    Published on: November 27, 2013

    Sears Holdings Corp. yesterday denied reports that it was talking to bankers about a possible sale of its Sears Canada division.

    "Sears Holdings reiterates its October 29, 2013, statement that Sears Holdings will work with the board and management of Sears Canada with a goal of increasing the value of our 51 percent interest and realizing significant cash proceeds to support our transformation and to create value for our shareholders," the company said in the statement.

    One way that the company is looking to increase value: cutting labor costs. The Associated Press reports that Sears Canada is laying off close to 800 employees, the vast majority of them in its repair services and parts business.
    KC's View:
    I'm not saying that the employees being laid off deserved to keep their jobs, but it is ironic that Sears Canada thinks that the best way to become a more viable retailing enterprise is to cut back in the areas that could directly impact customer service.

    On the other hand, maybe Fast Eddie Lampert has figured out a way to cut your way to prosperity. Because he's clearly figured all the other retailing stuff out…

    Published on: November 27, 2013

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

    • Unhappy with the fact that the Jos. A. Bank men's clothing chain tried to acquire it for $2.3 billion, a bid that was rejected, Men's Wearhouse has turned around and made a bid to buy Jos. A. Bank, valuing the smaller retailer at $1.5 billion.

    The New York Times reports that since both sides have acknowledged that some sort of deal makes sense, "there is reason to believe Men’s Wearhouse now has the upper hand. Jos. A. Bank shareholders will expect management to engage in discussions, and Eminence Capital, a hedge fund that owns 10 percent of Men’s Wearhouse shares, cheered the offer."

    • The Boston Globe reports that Avis-owned Zipcar has unveiled a new plan "that gives members more flexibility in how they pay their membership fees and that may entice more people to give Zipcar a try. The new option gives members the option to pay membership fees on a monthly basis rather than once a year. In the past, members have paid a one-time application fee of $25 and an annual membership of $60. Members can still choose to pay that way, but now they also have another option. With the monthly plan, a new member would pay $6 a month along with the $25 application fee."

    I know that Zipcar management is positioning this as being about flexibility, but I cannot help but wonder if it also has something to do with increased competition from other car sharing services.

    BTW … I have no idea if it has anything to do with the $500 million acquisition of Zipcar by Avis, but I've noticed lately that there seem to be a lot fewer Minis for rent than there used to be. I'm still a fan of Zipcar and use it often, but I sort of miss being able to rent a Mini convertible for a few hours….

    The question, for me, is whether Avis is watering down to me what was one of Zipcar's stronger selling points. Which would not be a good thing, in the long run…

    KC's View:

    Published on: November 27, 2013

    • Wisconsin-based Shopko announced that Peter McMahon, COO at Loblaws and a former Walmart and Tesco executive, has been named the company's new CEO, succeeding W. Paul Jones, who left the company in 2012.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 27, 2013

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 27, 2013

    This is Thanksgiving weekend here in the US, which I always think is the best holiday of the year - just food and football and family. (And because I know I'll get questions about it … we'll be serving good Oregon wines at Thanksgiving - Pinot Noirs from my favorites, Willamette Valley Vineyards and the Carlton Cellars, and probably one of Mrs. Content Guy's favorites, Evolution white.)

    In keeping with tradition, MNB will be on hiatus for a four-day weekend.

    Have a great holiday ... a great weekend ... and I'll see you Monday, December 2.

    KC's View: