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    Published on: January 24, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    Yesterday, MNB took note of an NBC News report that a new study from Princeton University suggests that Facebook has "already reached the peak of its popularity and has entered a decline phase," and will lose 80 percent of its user base between 2015 and 2017. At some point in the near future, the study says, Facebook will be about as relevant as MySpace.

    The methodology was a little questionable. The researchers compared Facebook's viral nature to an infectious disease and say that, like disease, users eventually will become immune to its charms and move on.

    Well, Facebook now has decided that what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

    The Los Angeles Times reports that Facebook has decided to apply the same logic to Princeton's future…

    In a blog posting, Facebook "found a correlation between the number of students at Princeton and the university's Google Trends index. Like Facebook, Princeton has also seen its search queries fall. Therefore, Facebook concludes that by 2018, enrollment at the school will be half of what it is today, and by 2021, Princeton will have no students at all."

    So there.

    But seriously, folks…

    Michael Sansolo and I were talking about this story yesterday and, quite naturally, came up with a movie that seemed to sum it all up.

    In Annie Hall, Woody Allen's Alvy Singer says to Diane Keaton's titular character, "A relationship, I think, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark."

    Business is like that, too. So are universities. They have to keep moving forward, finding new opportunities and meeting new challenges, or they die.

    In all likelihood, neither Facebook nor Princeton are likely in the short term to become dead sharks.

    But it could happen. Unless they are vigilant about embracing the challenges of the future.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2014

    The Los Angeles Times reports that Google is expanding its Google Shopping Express service from San Francisco to the Santa Monica area in Southern California. Among the retailers that work with Google in San Francisco are Office Depot, Target, Toys R Us, Walgreens, L'Occitane and Whole Foods Market, though Google has not confirmed which ones will work with it in Santa Monica.

    According to the story, "On the Google Shopping Express website, shoppers can compare products from participating brands before placing items into a single online 'basket.' Users can pay shipping costs of $4.95 for each retailer from which they make a purchase. Or they can sign up for a membership that offers unlimited same-day deliveries.

    "For now, Google is offering six months of free membership. The company has yet to determine how to price the membership once the trial run concludes.

    "The next step in the purchase process: Customers choose a window of time for delivery. Goods are sent to customers in Google-branded Priuses or trucks driven either by Google employees or third-party couriers trained by the company."
    KC's View:
    Just another example of how this whole space is changing, and the kinds of options that are being placed in front of consumers. For retailers looking at this landscape and trying to figure out what to do, I would offer the following wisdom from The Shawshank Redemption: "Get busy living, or get busy dying."

    Published on: January 24, 2014

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Neil Ashe, CEO of Walmart's global e-commerce business, is predicting that his company will be able to match Amazon's service levels and product offerings within two years.

    He made the comments at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

    "Amazon has proved a fierce competitor for Wal-Mart, more than doubling revenue to $61 billion from 2009," the Journal writes. "Today Amazon's market capitalization is $180 billion, compared with $241 billion for Wal-Mart.

    "The question for Wal-Mart is how it can efficiently adapt its existing infrastructure for online orders. With its own extensive network of warehouses and logistics expertise, Amazon has often been able to beat on number of product offerings and speed of delivery. The plan under way will augment fulfillment from existing stores and distribution centers with online-only facilities, Mr. Ashe said."
    KC's View:
    I tend to believe that Ashe says what he means and means what he says. But saying it doesn't make it so.

    It will take a colossal cultural re-engineering effort to make Walmart's various points of sale seamless and consumer-centric, and it remains to be seen whether a superstore-centric business model can make that sort of adjustment.

    And here's the thing he seems not to be addressing: Amazon's huge advantage with its third-party Marketplace business, which is an ace in the hole when it comes to a competitive advantage. That is something that Walmart will have big problems trying to replicate or imitate.

    Published on: January 24, 2014

    The Financial Times reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is warning retailers across the country to expect more cyber attacks on their customers' financial data, "after detecting 20 hacking cases in the past year that used the same malicious software that was deployed against Target" during last year's holiday shopping season.

    “We believe POS malware crime will continue to grow over the near term, despite law enforcement and security firms’ actions to mitigate it,” the FBI said in its report, suggesting that "the accessibility of the malware on underground forums, the affordability of the software and the huge potential profits to be made from retail POS systems in the US make this type of financially motivated cyber crime attractive to a wide range of actors."

    There is one report that the hacking software has been available online for as little as $6,000.

    Target saw personal and credit card information of tens of millions of customers hacked last December, while Neiman Marcus has said more than a million of its customers may have been affected.
    KC's View:
    We used to see movies like Goodfellas. The remake will be #Goodfellas. And what we're seeing now is just the beginning of the story.

    Published on: January 24, 2014

    Walmart US CEO Bill Simon told the US Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, DC, yesterday and said that the company would set up a $10 million fund aimed at bringing back jobs to US cities.

    The fund is designed to be administered jointly by Walmart and the Conference, and, according to Walmart, "will provide grants to innovators in the manufacturing sector and seeks to create new processes, ideas, and jobs that support America's growing manufacturing footprint."

    "If we want to grow manufacturing and help rebuild America's middle class, we need the brightest minds in our universities, in our think tanks, and in our towns to tackle obstacles to U.S. manufacturing," Simon said. "The $10 million fund will identify and award leaders in manufacturing innovation and help us all work together to create opportunity."
    KC's View:
    I don't mean to be cynical, but $10 million? It's a nice, image-burnishing move by Walmart, but I have to wonder whether ten million bucks can even move the needle on this issue. That's a couple of bonus checks for some senior executives….

    Published on: January 24, 2014

    The Sacramento Bee reports that the California state legislature has come to an agreement on a bill that would ban single-use disposable plastic shopping bags from grocery checkouts throughout California, while charging consumers at least a dime for paper or reusable plastic bags.

    According to the story, "Senate Bill 270 seeks to temper some manufacturing industry opposition by providing $2 million from state recycling funds. Plastic bag makers would be able to apply for grants to re-train their workers or re-engineer their operations to make plastic bags that meet new criteria spelled out in the bill … Lawmakers plan to unveil the deal tomorrow at a Los Angeles-area manufacturing plant."

    The bag requirements would take effect at large grocery stores in 2015 and at pharmacies and liquor stores in 2016.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2014

    The Washington Post reports that Subway restaurants joined First Lady Michelle Obama's "healthy eating initiative Thursday with a pledge to only include the most nutritious foods on its kids menu and meet the restrictions the federal government has placed on school lunches to include apples on the side and low-fat or nonfat milk or water as a beverage … Subway has pledged to spend $41 million over three years promoting its healthier kids menu with commercials and marketing campaigns, which will include the Muppets and the theme 'playtime powered by veggies.' It has also stocked the kids menu with fruit, vegetables, non-sugary drinks and lean diary products."

    To mark the occasion, the story says, the First Lady traveled to a Subway just a few blocks from the White House and enjoyed "a turkey sandwich on wheat stacked with banana peppers, green peppers and spinach." She will not, however, be appearing in ads for Subway.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2014

    It is a case of target marketing gone bad. Really bad.

    The Los Angeles Times reports on the case of Mike Seay, an occasional customer at OfficeMax, who got a promotional email from the retailer last week addressed to: "Mike Seay, Daughter Killed in Car Crash."


    In fact, Seay's 17-year-old daughter was killed in a car crash with her boyfriend last year.

    There is no good explanation for how or why this happened. OfficeMax released a statement saying that it had rented the list from a third party provider, and apologized for the misstep while saying that it was still trying to figure out what occurred.

    However, Seay has not received a personal apology from the retailer, only word of it through the media.
    KC's View:
    It seems like a complete screw-up from beginning to end. But OfficeMax isn't making it better by being completely tone deaf to both the appearances and reality of a situation in which target marketing seems to have completely gone off the rails.

    Published on: January 24, 2014

    • Pennsylvania-based Weis Markets said yesterday that it is launching a Three More Ways to Save program that it said will offer discounts on more than 2,000 products in every store department.

    The company said that the savings program will have three elements: a "lowest price in the market" guarantee on four weekly items, everyday lower prices on 1,000 items throughout the store, and a 90-day price freeze "on thousands of seasonally relevant items that will remain at these prices through April 13, 2014."

    • The San Diego Union Tribune reports that Baron's Market, a four-store independent operating in the San Diego market, will open a new store in the town of Alpine, in a location formerly run by Fresh & Easy.

    Baron's has a unique approach - simplifying shopping by offering fewer options, a "curated selection of healthy and affordable foods, all tasted and approved by a committee of managers."

    An opening date has not yet been set.

    • The Associated Press has a story reporting that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in the process of revising nutrition label requirements, saying that "knowledge about nutrition has evolved over the last 20 years, and the labels need to reflect that."

    No word on when the new guidelines might be released.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2014

    Internet Retailer reports that "more web merchants are planning to offer free returns and in-store pickup of online order this year, suggest new survey data from Internet Retailer. If so, that would represent a departure from the fulfillment and delivery strategies of most major online retailers."

    At this point, the story says, only 39 of its "top 500" e-railers allow customers to pick up products in stores, and only five offer both free shipping and free return shipping.

    However, the story says, "those numbers could increase in 2014, as survey results from a recently completed Internet Retailer poll that focused on fulfillment and delivery trends show that 17.6% of respondents plan to institute free returns in the coming year. 12.7% of respondents plan to set up buy online, pickup in store programs."

    Variety reports that Netflix is planning a major European expansion, "with possible launches in France and Germany this year, as the Internet streaming leader announced plans to greatly boost its presence on the continent … Netflix is currently launched in seven European countries (Ireland, the U.K., The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland), and in 41 countries overall."

    The expansion comes as Netflix continues to grow its user base. It "added 2.3 million streaming subscribers in the U.S. during the fourth quarter of 2013 — slightly higher than analyst expectations, to reach 33.4 million total. Overseas, the company added 1.7 million to stand at 10.9 million internationally."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2014

    A response from an MNB reader to all the stories about hacking and cybercrime:

    There is a simple way of preventing credit card and personal information from being stolen.  Carry cash or a checkbook.  It worked for years.

    I don't know. That sounds so 19th century…

    And from another:

    As I wrote you just over a week ago, when comparing my credit cards issues outside the US (vs. within US) I find those issued outside US to be safer. It now seems Target is acknowledging the same. What I don’t understand is the comment about “faster”. Typically, one has to sign the credit card in the US. With the PIN system, you simply enter your PIN. These systems are built for check-out speed. I do know that the marketing data on my non-US issued cards is held by the Bank with little information available to the retailer unless they buy it.

    I continue to think the US card issuers are partially if not mostly at fault.  It’s interesting to see that Target is now acknowledging it chose guest security as secondary in importance to their own ability to hold marketing data.  The plot thickens….

    Some thoughts about the complaints by the union representing US Postal workers about the test of post office counters inside Staples stores that are staffed by non-union employees.

    One MNB user wrote:

    What it comes down to is that most U.S. postal clerks probably make $65,000 a year including benefits.  That is a lot higher than a similar job in the private sector.  It is probably more than a skilled auto worker.   And those postal clerks are not noted for their fast service.  One clerk retired form the post office and is now a part-time checkout clerk at Kroger.  He moves a lot faster now than I ever observed when he was a postal employee.

    My local post office had a stamp vending machine for a wide variety of stamps.  Looked somewhat like those machines that sell 20 or so various candy bars, snacks etc. That machine, supposedly available 24/7,  was out of order half the time.  They finally removed it.  I don't think the local post office workers had any incentive to make sure it worked.

    Ohio used to operate State Liquor Stores - anything that was over about 20% alcohol was only sold there.  The clerks were well paid state employees.  Some time ago this was privatized - number of locations and hours open are now better and the state taxpayers saved a lot of money.   The USPS should do the same with their counter service.

    From another reader:

    The USPS has had "contract postal stations" in grocery stores, drug stores, and other retailers (I saw one in Sears once) for decades - and these postal sub-stations are all managed and run by non-USPS employees. In fact, the stores "hosting" these sites used to have to pay the USPS for the privilege - the sub-station was considered a traffic draw and it was worth it to pay for having on onsite.

    I imagine that's the basis of the Staples deal. Makes sense to me - and if you look at Canada Post, they have little postal retail stores all over the place, though I'm not sure if they're contracted out or not. Since Canada Post has decided that dropping home delivery is a good cost-cutting measure, I'm sure contracting out their retail stores is also in place.

    So much from someone who spent 6 years as a US Postie…

    From another reader:

    Imagine a boat sailing across the ocean, full of postal union employees.  The boat hits an iceberg and starts sinking.  The ship that comes to rescue these people doesn’t belong to a union.  Will the postal employees accept the help from the rescue party or go down with the ship?

    I think that in your metaphor, the people running the union (as opposed to the rank and file members of the union) may have their own lifeboat.

    And another:

    In today’s MNB there were pieces on both Amazon and the USPS.  The stories had relevance for me because I am a huge Amazon fan who still frequently sends hand written letters and cards.  But, while Amazon keeps getting better and more efficient, the USPS insists on shooting itself in the foot as it limps along the path to obsolescence.

    Here’s my personal example.  When Hurricane Sandy hit my town I was without power for about 10 days.  Having not learned my lesson from Hurricane Irene, this was the second year in a row I found myself throwing away a couple hundred dollars worth of food.  This time I vowed not to get caught in this situation again, so I went online and ordered a generator from Amazon.  As a Prime member, my 150 pound generator arrived at my door in two days.  A very impressive feat.

    This past holiday season, December 8th to be precise, I went online to the USPS site and ordered holiday themed stamps for my Christmas cards.  Stamps from the Post Office.  A no-brainer; right?  They weigh all of 3 ounces, and there are a zillion post offices in my general area.  I expected two, maybe three days for delivery.  Well, when it got to be December 14th, I decided to go to my local PO, buy my stamps, and keep the ones I ordered online for next year.

    So, I go to my local PO.  I ask the clerk for 31 holiday stamps.  She says I can have 20, or I can have 40.  They come in sheets of 20.  When I told her again that I need 31, she gives me a sheet of 20 holiday stamps, and 11 Purple Heart themed stamps.  After a little back-and-forth about why it’s possible to sell individual Purple Heart stamps, but not individual holiday stamps, I gave in and bought the second sheet of 20.  Now, it’s not like they’re going to go stale, I’ll certainly be able to used them.  But it left me shaking my head, wondering how many other retailers would allow their clerks to determine what quantity of a given product the consumer may purchase.  Oh, the online stamps?  Well, I’m not really sure.  I left for vacation on the 21st (after the day’s mail delivery), and returned home on January 5th.  My mail was on hold while I was away.  Sometime between 12/23 and 1/5, my stamps did arrive.  At best, it was two weeks; at worst, almost three.  To buy stamps from the Post Office.

    I used to think that they would find a way out of the hole they are in.  Now I see they are just digging it deeper.

    And another:

    How is the effort by USPS to open inside Staples terribly different from the postal services other stores provide? For example, Meijer's service desks offer basic USPS services, including envelopes and small packages (up to the 13oz max limit for packages accepted outside of Post Offices, if I remember right), with much more convenient hours (7a-11p).

    I've always been surprised that more supermarkets (and even chain pharmacies) don't offer basic USPS services, and don't seem to advertise them much when they do. Seems like it would be a great way for the stores to potentially get more traffic, and for the USPS to move towards a more sustainable model. It wouldn't be hard to imagine a model where most "over the counter" USPS services are provided by private businesses at USPS rates, earning the retailers a small commission (perhaps similar to the single digit % commissions they earn on lotto sales), with large, USPS-run central post offices to handle the really complex services.

    I love it when MNB readers share instructive customer service experiences. Like this one:

    I just wanted to share you a frustrating customer-service, cross-border shopping experience I had when purchasing a pair of my favourite running shoes in Seattle at the Marathon Expo Booth but noticed quality issues when I returned to North Vancouver, BC.

    To me this story reeks of un-inspired thinking and complacency by the Canadian Head Office in Sherbrooke, QC.

    I purchased my 7th pair of Gel Nimbus Asics running shoes at the Super Jock n Jill expo booth at Westin Hotel while there for the Seattle Marathon on American Thanksgiving.  I tried them on, seemed great, same fit, same size - $30 cheaper than in Canada (but still $146).

    When I wore them on a short jog when I returned home I noticed that the stitching was puckered by my toe.  I showed them to the retailer I normally buy my shoes from, Forerunners in North Vancouver.  He correctly lectured me on the perils of cross border shopping but said he would show them to the Asics rep and they would probably swap out as I was (normally) a loyal customer.   I thought that was great of Forerunners but Asics rep said they could do nothing.   I called their head office in Sherbrooke, QC and they said the same thing as the rep.  Even though the exact same shoe, style, colour etc… was available at Forerunners I would need to return to the US.  I did e-mail Asics Canada Friday Jan 18 but they have not responded.

    Kudos to Forerunners and Super Jock n Jill.  They have been great, but it will be my last pair of Asics.  I’ll pay close to $30 to send them to Super Jock n Jill in Seattle who will swap out but then pay duty on their shipment back to me.  Just seems so absolutely ridiculous to me that it is an obvious QC issue and that Asics Canada can’t do more to replace a poor quality shoe from a loyal customer.

    You would be happy to hear that while I was in Forerunners in North Vancouver, the Brooks representative happened to be there and told me he would sell me a Brooks running shoe for -50% of my next pair.  That to me, is very creative and I will take him up on that!

    By the way – had a FANTASTIC dinner at Etta’s the night before the marathon.  Not exactly a carbo-loading meal but the salmon and crab cakes and atmosphere was WONDERFUL.

    It seems to me that regardless of the circumstances, there are moments when companies can go the extra mile to keep customers, or decide that following the rules is more important. Just reading your email, I can imagine that there were lots of reasons - some of them even seemingly good ones - not to bend over backwards for you. But in the end, they lost a longtime customer. What did that cost them?

    On another subject, MNB user Brian Blank wrote:

    If you recall some of our prior correspondence, you know that I cannot be accused of being a Sears hater.  However, your comments regarding the closing of Sears’ Chicago Loop store timed really well with a Sears commercial I saw just last night.  (This commercial aired in December—I was binge-watching ‘Arrow’ to get caught up while my other half is out of town.  I can’t say if this ad is still running.  Also, I’m not at all sure what caused me to watch this commercial instead of fast-forwarding the TiVo.)  The Sears spot involved two young women trying to catch a movie, presumably at a mall multiplex.  While cutting through Sears to get to the movie theatre, they discover all the hot fashions that Sears has to offer, repeatedly pushing back their original plans with comments like, “we’ll skip the previews”, “we’ll catch the next show”, and “it’ll be out on DVD soon”.  On the clever side, I think.  But what got me was the opening exchange between the two would-be movie-goers.  When asked why her friend was parking where she was (right outside the door of Sears), her friend responded that the theatre was just on the other side, and “Sears ALWAYS has lots of parking”.  Wow.  Lack of customers is their biggest differential advantage???  (I guess it’s a better lead-in than Kardashian clothing…)

    In other mall news, on the same day that JCPenney announced it was closing the Meriden, CT store, the Westfarms store ticked me off so badly that, when the clerk offered to call the manager a second time, I declined wasting any more of my time in a store that clearly didn’t care about trying  to keep a customer, telling them that I would just laugh when Penney’s closes the rest of their stores.  Seriously—when Ron Johnson got the sack, their pricing, practices and employee attitudes not only reverted to the Bad Old Days, they all got measurably worse.  BTW, how long has it been since they abandoned everyday fair pricing, resulting in every piece of merchandise in the store being very obviously marked way up?  It’s insane how much merchandise STILL has price tags with mark-up stickers on them.  That is some stale merchandise!

    Got an email regarding the rankings of consumer electronics companies, which put Samsung high on the list:

    I have a Samsung flat screen TV which I’m very happy with.  But, then nothing has gone wrong with it.  My sister and brother in law recently bought a Samsung washer and dryer.  The washing machine went out due to a Samsung design flaw, 6 weeks ago.  It’s still not fixed.  First Samsung sent out a repair technician who diagnosed the problem and said he would be back with the  parts.  He came back with the Samsung repair kit for that particular issue, however, it was missing a piece that the tech said was needed, Samsung disagreed.  Samsung has now assigned the repair to a different tech. who has to come to their  house, diagnose the problem, get the parts and make the repair, this will require at least two more visits, so this could go on for 2 months, maybe more.  They have made their feelings known to Samsung, that this is unacceptable and will have a negative impact on future sales to them.

    Last week, I had to replace my washer and dryer, didn’t even look at Samsung.  Probably won’t in the future either.

    You don’t really learn about a company or person until something goes wrong and you see how they react.

    And, regarding our story about Harry's, a new start-up looking to challenge longtime razor giants Gillette and Schick:

    I actually stumbled across Harry's on Facebook sometime last summer.  I've been frustrated with the price of razor blades for a long time.  However,  I'm not willing to trade back down to the double or triple blades.

    So, I checked out Harry's website. The site was great and I decided to order a starter kit.  I found the razors to be outstanding!  Since then, I have ordered some as gifts and ordered another set for my travel bag.

    To top it off, their shave cream comes in a TSA-approved carry on size of 3.4 ounces.

    As long as they keep up the great work, I'm finished with Gillette and Schick.

    Which is how empires begin to fall.

    Responding to yesterday's piece about the joy I found in using a Mr. Handyman business that came and address a lot of the DIY problems that I have no idea how to fix, one MNB user wrote:

    Homeowners rule of thumb: When you stumble upon a good, reliable handyman – tell no one.

    That seems so antithetical to the way things are done today. We all rely on recommendations and references. To a great extent, MNB has grown to what it is today because of people telling other people about it. And so, even when it comes to a handyman, I think it would be terribly old-world of me not to share his name and expertise.

    And finally, I had a piece the other day about how Johnson & Johnson has changed its Baby Shampoo formula so that it no longer contains "two potentially harmful chemicals, formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane, that have come under increasing scrutiny by consumers and environmental groups." I commented:

    I only hope that the elimination of these two chemicals doesn't affect the efficacy of the shampoo, which J&J assures us it won't. I have some self-interest here. In fact, I've used Johnson's Baby Shampoo on my own hair every morning for the past 40+ years. I'm not saying that there's necessarily a connection, but of my two brothers and my father, I'm the only one with a full head of hair. And at this point, I'm not changing - it may be more superstition than science, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    Which prompted one MNB user to write:

    The combination of formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane is well known to prevent hair loss.

    If that's true, then it is time to start hoarding….
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2014

    Go figure. I commit to watch three-plus seasons of "Downton Abbey" on iTunes because Mrs. Content Guy wants me to, and she goes to a lot of movies just because I want to see them. And it ends up that not only do I get totally hooked, but that "Downton Abbey" is positively loaded with business lessons.

    Go figure.

    For the uninitiated, "Downton Abbey" takes place during the early 20th century, beginning at the time of the sinking of the Titanic and through World War I. It has a kind of "Upstairs/Downstairs" them to it, tracking the aristocratic Crawley family and the veritable army of servants who maintain their palatial estate in Yorkshire. There is all sorts of high drama and romance and sex and violence and intrigue taking place against the background of post-Edwardian England.

    I don't want to give too much away; one of the real pleasures was not really knowing much about the series other than the fact that it was a big hit with highly dedicated fans. (When there is a series I think I might want to binge-watch, I avoid almost all the media coverage. Which means that at some point, I'm going to watch both "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" and find out what all the fuss is about.)

    One of the things I find most intriguing about the show is the ways in which so many of the characters seem to be resisting the inevitability of social, cultural and economic change. When discussing the management of an estate that has become expensive and unwieldy, one character says, "But we've been doing it this way for hundreds of years." A statement that, if adjusted slightly, probably has been uttered by plenty of 21st century businesspeople. Or, in a slightly more humorous vein (at least to us), there is a discussion about whether wearing black tie to dinner somehow represents an enormous drop in standards for a society in which aristocrats wear white tie every evening to supper.

    "Downton Abbey" is a wonderful series. Sure, it is essentially a soap opera, but it is an extremely well-written and acted soap opera that is sumptuously produced by the BBC. I completely understand the mania that has affected many of its fans, and I urge you to watch it.

    The third season of "Sherlock" is back on PBS - it is an updating of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories to modern day London, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson. "Sherlock" is cleverly written, taking just enough from the original novels and turning them on their ear in a way that is enormously entertaining. Also, the writers and producers know enough not to overdo it … they only produce a few episodes every few years, better to leave the audience wanting more. I suggest that you catch up with the first two seasons on iTunes, and then watch the new three episodes, now being shown on PBS. Great stuff.

    I've always liked the movies made from the Tom Clancy novels about CIA analyst Jack Ryan - The Hunt For Red October (with Alec Baldwin as Ryan), Patriot Games, and A Clear and Present Danger (with Harrison Ford) are models of smart, efficient, thoughtful entertainments - I've always thought that it a lot of ways that they were better than the Clancy books because they trimmed out the technobabble and were a little bit less reverent about Ryan as a character. I liked The Sum of All Fears (in which Ben Affleck took over as Ryan) a little bit less, but still thought it was pretty good.

    Now, Chris Pine takes over the Ryan role in the new Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, which reboots the series by addressing Ryan's early years and how he went from a student at the London School of Economics and eventually was lured into working for the CIA. It isn't taken from a Clancy book, but that's not the problem with it.

    Shadow Recruit just seems a little dumbed down for my tastes - a few too many explosions and car chases, and without the sense of context that the earlier films had. It isn't bad - Pine is very good, as are Kevin Costner as his CIA mentor and Keira Knightly as the women with whom he lives.

    Maybe the producers felt that today's audiences needed the extra stuff. But I hope that if there is a next time, they'll let the movie breathe a bit, and think. That always was one of the pleasures of the Jack Ryan films, and it is missing here.

    Every once in a while it is fun to catch up on old movies, and I went on a bit of a Steve McQueen tear recently, watching both Bullitt and the original Thomas Crown Affair.

    Bullitt remains first-rate and timeless entertainment, with McQueen the epitome of cool as a San Francisco cop working a murder case. it has one of the great chase scenes ever filmed, a fabulous score by Lalo Schifrin, and Jacqueline Bissett.

    But Thomas Crown, it ends up, struck me as hopelessly dated. While released the same year as Bullitt, I found that it does not hold up nearly as well - the production values, the direction and the script just feel labored and anachronistic. Surprisingly, the remake - starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo - strikes me as something that will better stand the test of time. We'll see if I'm right about that.

    Finally, I watched Michael Clayton the other night - the terrific thriller starring George Clooney and written and produced by Tony Gilroy. It remains absolutely riveting … and it struck me as even better that the corporation portrayed in the movie is in the GMO business. If you haven't seen it, you should.

    That's it for this week.

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

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2014

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    Contact us today to learn more about increasing your sweetener category revenue by adding Wholesome Sweeteners to your set: 1 (800) 680-1896 or

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