Published on: March 3, 2014
MNB had a piece last week about Winder Farms, a company that's been in the grocery delivery business for more than a century and is adapting to the new economy, and differentiating itself in the marketplace and growing.
Which prompted MNB reader John Rand to write:About four retail revolutions ago (somewhere in the 1990s) I had the brief pleasure of being the one guy in my company responsible for developing a relationship with all the new e-commerce startups- the late and not terribly lamented Streamline, Shoplink, Webvan triad among others.
I felt personally responsible, somehow, for not being able to keep them alive, though I was hardly in a position to do much about it. It was a valiant effort for its day and I’m not sorry to have been part of it.
But in the course of working on home delivery retailing I came across an astonishing fact – in 1950 about 35% of all grocery products were home delivered!
By contrast we are forecasting about 10% in the near term for the new wave of e-commerce – and a lot of that will be some form of click-and-collect, where shoppers order online but pick up at a store or dedicated location.
We forget, today, that there was a time when the milkman came to every house on the street, when the pretzel-and-chip truck delivered every week, when wooden crates of seltzer water were routinely brought to your door and the empties carried away. Talk about buggy whips! We had trucks that came by and sharpened your knives and scissors – now you just buy new ones.
Sure – this was before item and category proliferation, vastly expanded frozen foods, dairy, deli products, packaged goods. Diapers were cloth and the diaper service came and took away the stinky ones and exchanged clean ones for you every week if you were affluent enough. Towels were usually cloth, not paper. Most people gardened and canned their own, citrus fruit and juice was only available seasonally unless you lived in the South. It was a simpler list of products, and it was still common to go to a specialty butcher instead of a chain grocery store, and that store was about the size of today’s drugstores. But people who say it can’t be done, that e-commerce won’t impact the store very much, that the last mile will never be conquered – pay attention, people, this has happened before.
I am only a little older than the Content Guy but I can just remember those days. So it was delightful to hear of Winder Farms, well into their second century, as the wheel comes around their way again. Most excellent. And instructive to those who can listen and hear the changes happening.
MNB took note last week of a New York Times
story suggesting that the business community has become the gay community's most powerful constituency, because it works vigorously against legislation perceived as intolerant - such as the Arizona bill that would have allowed businesses to deny service to customers if they claimed that serving those customers would violate their religious beliefs.
The point that we've been making all along here on MNB is that this is a business story - that companies need to think about how these various scenarios are playing out in their stores, because it could have major implications for how they are perceived in the community. And, it is not just an Arizona story; there also have been highly publicized similar cases in Colorado and New Mexico.
And, I commented:Go figure. Tolerance is good business.
One MNB reader responded:While this sounds good in theory that is not workable in practice. I am sure you will agree that there are things that are intolerable. Examples, people producing food in factories that do not meet health requirements, employees stealing from their employers, companies that make addictive products that harm a person’s health (cigarettes). So thus the actual question is what actions are acceptable (those will be tolerated) and what actions are unacceptable (these will not be tolerated). Who decides what actions are tolerated and what will not be tolerated? If we think it is society, remember how many actions that we believe are not acceptable today were at one time deemed to be acceptable. Thus tolerance is not good business, because there always exists some intolerance.
I'm not sure what your point is.
The kind of tolerance you are decrying strikes me as hardly the kind that could be cited in a discussion of religious freedom. I suspect that if people try hard enough, they can always find a rationale to be intolerant. There was even a time, if I'm not mistaken, when people used religion as a reason for racial segregation and discrimination.
MNB user Mike Franklin wrote:While I applaud business for its stance against S.B. 1062 in AZ…I continue to believe that the values of America should be derived from a secular American (corporations and religious sects are not citizens) vision that protects and provides opportunity for all and extends a helping hand to the vulnerable amongst us. Business is for making profit, religion is for soothing life, and neither should be defining our values…but both should be supporting them.
Responding to our story about how H-E-B has found success with private label Creamery Creations ice cream, which is effectively competing with the iconic Texas brand Blue Bell, one MNB reader wrote:HEB has such large market share in the San Antonio market that they sometimes forget that consumers want choice. They have a great private label program, but have delisted many national brands, giving their consumers few alternatives within many categories. I look forward to trying their new PL ice cream, but hope that they recognize that selling Blue Bell, which consumers like me love, is not a bad thing. Congrats to HEB and any other retailer when they provide new, innovative products in a category. But when they copy the national brand and provide a less expensive alternative, let me, the consumer decide which product to buy. If they don’t, the next thing we’ll read about is how Blue Bell has an ice cream shop inside the Amazon warehouse….won’t that be fun!
On another subject, an MNB reader wrote:Kevin, one of your readers commented on the minimum wage issue "Management and boards are entrusted with delivering shareholder value which in most cases works directly against increasing expenses."
That is such a narrow short-term perspective on delivering shareholder value. Perhaps in the long-term (years and decades down the road), shareholder value is better delivered when you take better care of your employees.
If I recall, Costco has been communicating this long-term vision for years, but the Wall St investment community just cannot think beyond today or this week or at most this month.
This is why I'm so wary when a CFO ascends to the top spot in a company.
We had a story last week about how a video rental chain, Family Video, has managed to remain relevant even in a world where Blockbuster has fallen victim to the competition provided by the likes of Netflix and Redbox, and now has acquired a pizza chain franchise that it intends to pair with those video stores. Which prompted MNB reader Christine Neary to write:Wow, it sounds like Family Video is really listening to what their customers want/need! It’s certainly refreshing to hear about, and I know that –were I to live in that area – I would be likely to visit a Marco’s/Family Video location.
I noted last week that I particularly admired an email I got from an Arizona restaurant called Cowboy Ciao! that referred to Arizona being "once again the national butt of jokes thanks to politics from the 1800s," and added, "To recap, we are apparently against immigrants, gays, lesbians, transgenders, drinkers, people of color, female golfers – did I leave anyone out? Trombonists?"
Which prompted MNB reader Mitch Hill to write:What a wonderful little restaurant! I love their food!
Good point. For the record, Cowboy Ciao! makes one of the best chopped salads I've ever had … utterly delicious. And, they have a great wine list … and a scallops-and-risotto dish worth driving long distances for. Just FYI.
And finally, I noted last week - within the context of a review of 3 Days To Kill
- that my kids occasionally have advanced the theory that, in fact, I am an assassin. They can't imagine that being the "Content Guy" is a real job, plus I travel a lot by myself, and they suggest that while I may say that I'm in Chicago, who is to say that I'm not actually in Paris killing terrorists? This is not the case, of course, though I admire their imaginations and appreciate their belief in my non-existent abilities. At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it…)
Got lots of email about this one … but my favorite was from the MNB reader suggesting that when they make the movie, they should cast Sam Rockwell as me.
And I'd just like to say that I'm totally cool with that. Like every American male, I probably would have chosen Clooney or Pitt … but Sam Rockwell seems like an inspired choice. Or, if he says no, maybe Greg Kinnear? (That's who I've cast in my mind for the movie version of the novel I'm writing … though Sam Rockwell seems like a pretty good idea, too…)
What can I say? I have a rich fantasy life…