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: February 6, 2014

    This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

    Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    Tonight will be Jay Leno's last as host of the "Tonight Show." (That is, unless he finds a way to do to Jimmy Fallon what he did to Conan O'Brian. Just wait and see what happens if Fallon's ratings falter…) Now, I've never been a Leno fan; I think his jokes are trite and predictable, he's a lousy interviewer, and there's something about him I just find annoying. Give me Jon Stewart any old day.

    But I'm interested in his retirement because the New York Times the other day had a story that used his departure from the "Tonight Show" as an example of what many of us baby boomers are going through these days.

    Leno is 63. The Times writes that "although the average age at which current United States retirees say they stopped working is 61, up from 59 in 2003 and 57 in 1993, a January Gallup poll of 1,929 members of that generation found that 49 percent didn’t expect to retire until age 66 or older. One respondent in 10 expected never to clock out for good — assuming they had the choice."

    Money clearly is an issue for some people. The Times writes that "according to the Gallup poll, those who say they have 'enough money to do everything' that they want to do predict they’ll retire at 66. Those who do not have sufficient funds say 73 is a more realistic number."

    Now, I understand that for some people, the idea of having to work longer seems like hell on earth. I get that some jobs are like that. But this also plays, I think, into a broader concern of mine - that too many people are treated like costs in their place of employment, as opposed to being treated like assets. If people felt appreciated - some of this is psychic, some of it is financial - then they might not see working longer in life as being such a problem.

    I know that I'm lucky. I have a job that I love. And my boss, thought he can occasionally be a pain in the neck, isn't so hard to work for.

    But I still think that as a culture, we need to rethink our whole attitude toward work. Work is a good thing … it is how we create value in our culture, how we hopefully contribute to society and to the economy, and how we define ourselves.

    Not to say that we always should do the same thing. I think people who change careers, or take on new pursuits and interests after having done the same thing for much of their lives, are incredibly lucky. Mrs. Content Guy is like that - she started out as a hot shot banker/broker/MBA type, then took 10 years off to raise the kids, and then went back and got an education masters and now teaches third grade. And I'm guessing that at some point, probably when we move out west, she'll find yet something else different to do.

    To me, it ought to be the job of an employer to find ways to engage and excite employees. Like the janitor who reportedly told President Kennedy when he was visiting Cape Canaveral in the early sixties, "I'm helping to put a man on the moon." (That story may be apocryphal, but I don't care. I love it.)

    It can't be like in Bridge On The River Kwai, where the camp commandant tells the prisoners of war to be "happy in your work." He says it, but he doesn't mean it.

    It then becomes the responsibility of people in the workforce to find joy in their work. Not always easy, I know. And not everybody has options, especially in this economy.

    As we get older, we have to make adjustments. Sure. But I put a premium on continued productivity … I want to be like Carl Reiner or Mel Brooks or Maggie Smith or Judi Dench … people who keep showing up for work, getting it done.

    I've always said that my father, an 87-year-old retired elementary school teacher and principal, only started to age when he retired. Before that, he used to spend lunchtime on the playground with the students, shooting baskets and playing softball. (Though I have to admit that he still is a better foul shooter than I am.) And I think he might even agree with me.

    I may not be a Leno fan, but I have to respect the fact that while his last night on the "Tonight Show" is tonight, tomorrow night he has a gig in Florida. He's working, man. And while I'm sure he's getting flown there in a private jet and will make a ton of money for telling jokes, I'm equally sure that he'd probably be willing to drive to some little out of the way town in Southern California if it had a comedy club and he'd have the chance to get some laughs.

    He's working, man. You stop, you die.

    I hope I have the chance to follow the dictates of Dylan Thomas, who wrote, in one of my favorite poems…

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


    That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to know what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 6, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    MNB is fond of pointing out that in the current competitive environment, retailers have to seek out unorthodox ways to reach out to customers, as opposed to just building stores and expecting that shoppers will find them.

    Well, the Associated Press reports that there is an unusual company adopting this approach to generating new business.

    Forest Lawn.

    That's right. The cemetery business that may be the business of that ilk with the highest profile national brand identity, and that has in its Los Angeles plots the bodies of such celebrities as Walt Disney, Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor, reportedly has been opening "movable kiosks in several of the malls that dot Southern California’s suburbs."

    The goal is simple. Unless people need to, it is unlikely that they'll get up in the morning and go by themselves a burial plot. But, if they're at the mall, are doing other things and happen to see a Forest Lawn kiosk, maybe they'll inquire.

    According to the story, "Forest Lawn’s effort began modestly, with just one kiosk (one of those movable things that usually sell stuff like calendars or ties) in a mall in the Los Angeles suburb of Eagle Rock. When no one was creeped out, the program expanded to about a half-dozen malls. Now Forest Lawn periodically shuffles them from one mall to another to reach the largest audience.

    "Unlike the people at other such stations, who can seem like carnival barkers as they walk right up to you and hawk discount calling plans or free yogurt samples, Forest Lawn’s operators are more discreet. At the entrance to a Macy’s department in the LA suburb of Arcadia last year, operators were quick to smile and hand out brochures when approached. But they kept their distance until people came to them."

    Not sure if they're looking for a slogan to use on their kiosks, but I do have a suggestion:

    Forest Lawn: Everybody Is Dying To Go There.

    It'd be an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 6, 2014

    As reported by MNB yesterday, CVS Caremark has announced that it will stop selling all cigarettes and tobacco products, effective October 1, 2014.

    The decision will affect all of the company's more than 7,000 stores, and will cost the company an estimated $2 billion in annual revenue.

    CVS is the first national drug chain to make such a decision.

    Troy Brennan, Chief Medical Officer for CVS Caremark, went on Marketplace, on National Public Radio (NPR) yesterday to discuss the decision, saying, "As a health care company, you just can't be selling the number one public health problem."

    In the wake of the CVS decision, Walgreen spokesman Michael Polzin released the following statement:

    "The company has been evaluating its tobacco line for some time, and … will continue to evaluate the choice of products our customers want, while also helping to educate them and providing smoking cessation products and alternatives that help reduce the demand for tobacco products.”
     
    Walgreens also announced a partnership with GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare to launch a free, Internet-based smoking cessation program called Sponsorship to Quit. The program will provide smokers with customized tools to track their progress in quitting smoking.

    Walgreen is the nation's largest drugstore chain.

    Even President Barack Obama, a famously reformed smoker, weighed in on the CVS move, calling it "a powerful example."
    KC's View:
    I think it is fair to say that there was a range of reactions to the CVS decision yesterday, and they were pretty well represented in all the emails I got. (And there were dozens.)

    There were folks who enthusiastically approved, saying that it was enough to get them to switch their allegiances to CVS.

    And there were folks who argued that if CVS rally wants to be in the health business, then it ought to stop selling alcohol, sugared soft drinks, candy, and any other product that could be considered harmful to your health. Somehow, the suggestion seemed to be that if CVS only stopped selling tobacco, it was being disingenuous about really being committed to its customers health.

    Which, to be honest, strikes me as absurd.

    Tobacco occupies a special position in our culture - it is the nation's number one killer, and it long has been engineered specifically to addict and eventually kill you.

    A little bit of alcohol, judiciously and legally consumed, won't do that. In fact, doctors will say that it may be good for you.

    I think it is kind of easy to take a shot, suggesting that CVS's motivations are questionable. It isn't trying to be Whole Foods here, but it is trying to do something responsible.

    It certainly is fair to point out that while tobacco may represent $2 billion in revenue, but it probably isn't high-margin revenue. And the brand credit that it will get as a result of this decision will probably add to its profit in the long run.

    But this is a good, ethical, even business-savvy decision. Good for CVS.

    Published on: February 6, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    CHICAGO - Okay, let's get the obvious thing out of the way first.

    Chicago in February would not necessarily be anyone's first choice for where to attend a conference. Especially this winter, when the words "polar vortex" have become part of the vernacular. Yesterday, residents and visitors in the Windy City woke up to yet another snowstorm, and as you read this, it is zero degrees here.

    In other words, it is cold and miserable.

    But it was warm and engaging yesterday at the Catalyst Ranch conference facility, where The Hartman Group was hosting its first "ACT" conference, focusing on food and beverage Anthropology, Culture and Trends. There were attendees from the retailer and supplier communities who came in from all over the country; MNB partnered with The Hartman Group in promoting the conference, and I had the privilege of facilitating the event and moderating a consumer focus group that was a centerpiece of the day.

    It wasn't just a polar vortex that we were dealing with. In many ways, the location was instructive. Just a few blocks away, there is a hulking building that used to house a Dominick's store; the empty shelves and lonely checkout stands were a reminder of what happens when a retailer loses its relevance - and, in my view, Dominick's simply lost track of the narrative that long had made it relevant to Chicago shoppers. It will be replace next year sometime by a Whole Foods, which has its own story of relevance to tell. Just a few blocks further away is a splendid Mariano's store, which tries to combine a strong foodie narrative on the perimeter with a value-driven story in the grocery aisles. A few blocks further away, there is a Walmart Neighborhood Market, which tells its own, minimalist story. And, if you walk east for about 20 minutes, along the blustery sidewalk that parallels the Chicago River, you can visit Eataly, the Italian-themed emporium that is like a narrative on steroids and that, in my view, uses its greater space to be even more effective than New York's Eataly.

    In many ways, the ACT conference was in what I think of as the MNB "sweet spot," emphasizing that diversity of thought, food and culture can be an antidote to mediocrity, and that conventional wisdom often can result in conventional approaches … which can have trouble competing when facing off with sharply-defined, culturally relevant, differentiated offerings.

    The Hartman Group experts - all of whom are highly educated, extensively experienced researchers and analysts - were terrific at explaining how understanding culture and authenticity is a matter of having a dialogue … that it requires listening to the customers' individual stories, and being able to convert this understanding into brand and product stories that resonate in fundamental ways.

    One of the things most interesting to me was the consumer panel, which consisted of seven people of wildly varying backgrounds (including an eight-month-pregnant Chicago police officer), seemed largely committed to, whenever possible, eating organic, exploring ethnic cuisines, staying away from products containing GMOs, and encouraging in their children a willingness to be diverse in their gastronomic choices. These were people who were serious about food … and yet, there seemed to be fundamental misunderstandings about food culture. For example, most of them said that "all natural," was an important quality, not realizing that "natural" is a essentially a meaningless labeling term. And there was plenty of room for compromise in their food choices; during the Super Bowl, for example, most of them enjoyed guilty pleasures that were not necessarily healthy and certainly weren't organic.

    In other words, cultural food choices are not necessarily black and white, and consumers' stories are not necessarily written in simple, declarative sentences.

    It was a fascinating day, and part of a continuum of thought … and I'm interested to see how the story will be continued at the next ACVT conference, focusing on health and wellness, scheduled for May 14 in Denver, Colorado. We'll let you know as details emerge…
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 6, 2014

    Reuters reports that US Secret Service agents have "visited the office of a Pennsylvania-based refrigeration contractor, Fazio Mechanical Services," in connection to its ongoing investigation of the data breach at Target Corp. that affected tens of millions of its customers.

    It had been previously disclosed that investigators believed that hackers had stolen the credentials of a Target vendor, which gave them access to Target's network and its customers personal and financial data. Fazio is a Target vendor.
    KC's View:
    At least at this point, it is important to remember that Fazio could be a victim, too … it may have unwittingly provided the cyber window that allowed the bad guys to access Target's systems, as opposed to being any sort of co-conspirator. But you have to figure that forensic specialists are going over its records and systems with a fine-tooth comb.

    Published on: February 6, 2014

    Wired has a piece worth reading about how, more than a decade after e-grocery pioneer Webvan collapsed in the rubble of its own poor decision-making and a mountain of debt, "tech-savvy retailers and retail-savvy tech companies are ready to try again. In San Francisco, bright green Amazon Fresh trucks rumble through downtown, delivering groceries straight to apartment doors. Walmart is sending its own grocery trucks down the same streets. Even eBay and Google will bring packaged food right to your door. And at least one app-powered startup — a latter-day Webvan in spirit, if not in strategy — promises to deliver nearly any groceries you want.

    "Online grocery shopping is back. The question is whether it will work this time."

    The analysis can be read here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 6, 2014

    There are two stories that are worth taking a look at, focusing on two major issues facing Walmart.

    One of the issues comes in the form of one chain that gives it fits on a regular basis - WinCo Foods, which is opening its first two stores in Texas as part of a broader expansion beyond its western US roots. "Looking forward, " Time writes in its piece about WinCo, the company "is expected to keep on expanding, in the West and also to the south and east. Some even expect WinCo’s retail presence to double in size in the U.S. over the next half-dozen years, and then double again six or seven years after that."

    You can read the piece here.

    At the same time, Yahoo! Finance has a story about how the economic recovery is not being enjoyed in many corners of the country, and how "the sliding fortunes of Walmart may best represent this recovery gap. Overall, retail sales rose 4.2% in 2013, or about 2.7% after accounting for inflation. And consumer confidence surveys show Americans on the whole feel considerably better now than they did a year ago. That ought to indicate good times for the nation’s biggest retailer … Yet Walmart is struggling with weak sales and an underperforming stock price."

    The irony is that "Walmart, though known as a discounter, may be too expensive for millions of shoppers finding themselves more pinched — not less — as the pace of the so-called recovery accelerates."

    You can read this story by clicking here.
    KC's View:
    Here's a basic truth. One company's nightmare can be another company's opportunity.

    Published on: February 6, 2014

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

    Texas Public Radio reports that "H-E-B plans to tear down its oldest continuously operating store to make way for a 21st century, high-tech supermarket. The nearly 70-year-old store on Nogalitos Street just north of Hwy. 90 (in San Antonio, Texas) was called 'the store of tomorrow' when it opened to crowds and fanfare in 1945.

    "H-E-B spokeswoman Dya Campos said the mid-century grocery store employed all the latest innovations and advantages of the day. But the new supermarket will occupy two levels of retail space, with escalators to carry customers and their shopping carts up and down and to a parking area below."


    • The Associated Press reports that Subway, the sandwich chain, is "in the process of removing a chemical from its bread as part of an ongoing effort to improve its recipes." That chemical is azodicarbonamide, described on activist food blogs as "a bleaching agent … also used to make yoga mats and shoe rubber."

    Guess that's what always has given Jared that bounce in his step…

    But seriously, folks…it is, IMHO, a mistake for Subway to suggest that it was removing the chemical even before an online petition initiative called for it to do so, and not give the provoking blogger any credit. I'm not saying that because I try to be a provocative blogger, but because I cannot understand why some companies seem to think it is a weakness to be responsive to customers.


    • Anheuser-Busch InBev announced yesterday that it has acquired Blue Point Brewing Co., a NY-based craft brewer known for its Blue Point Toasted Lager. Terms of the deal, expected to close in the second quarter of 2014, were not disclosed.


    • The Maryland legislature reportedly is considering the “Maryland Seafood Authenticity and Enforcement Act,” which, according to environmental advocacy group Oceana, "would provide Maryland residents with more information about the seafood they purchase … In addition to requiring that seafood is properly identified at the point of sale – on the label, sign or menu – the bill would also prohibit a seller from knowingly mislabeling a species. If passed, there would also be stronger regulations for the labeling of Maryland’s iconic blue crab, including identifying its origin and limiting sales of a product labeled 'blue crab' to the actual species Callinectes sapidus, which is the crab that Maryland is known for rather than an imposter in disguise."


    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Coca-Cola has signed a 10-year deal with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters "to sell its drinks through an at-home beverage system." Green Mountain is the maker of the Keurig single-serve coffee maker. As part of the deal, Coke is taking a 10 percent stake in Green Mountain for about $1.25 billion.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 6, 2014

    • Baton Rouge-based Associated Grocers announced that Emile R. Breaux, the company's executive vice president of retail operations, is being promoted to the role of executive vice president, chief operating officer, and is the designated successor to J.H. Campbell, the current president/CEO. Campbell has not announced his retirement, other than to say it will happen “sometime within the next few years," but the AG board wanted to have a succession plan in place.


    Sears Holdings announced that it has hired Mark Panzer, most recently president/CEO of Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy Inc. and previously senior vice president/chief marketing officer at Rite Aid Corp., to be its new senior vice president and president, Pharmacy.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 6, 2014

    ….will return.
    KC's View: