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: May 1, 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.

    I'm a big believer in setting priorities … and making sure that one's priorities - whether in business or in one's personal life - are in the right order.

    A terrific example of how one organization seemed to get things completely wrong was reported recently by the Washington Post, which wrote about a public school in Elwood, New York, where the principal and four kindergarten teachers decided to cancel the annual year-end kindergarten show.

    The reason? According to the letter sent home to parents, the school reached the conclusion that the time would be better spent on academic pursuits and making sure that the children are college and career ready.

    That's right. The kindergarten students couldn't put on a play because they would be too busy getting ready for college and beyond.

    Give me a break.

    Now, with some justification, critics of this incredibly stupid decision are blaming new educational standards, which put teachers and administrators in the position of having to teach to the test, making sure that kids do well in all the various assessments they are being given. It would be my perception that too much attention is being given to regurgitation, and not enough to learning … but I also don't think that this problem can entirely attributed to federal education standards. I can remember my now 27-year-old son telling us when he was pretty young how he could tell the difference between good teachers and bad teachers. Bad teachers teach the subject, he said, and good teachers teach the kids. Out of the mouths of babes…

    I also think that while this seems to be an education-specific misstep, there probably are plenty of instances when businesses make similar ill-considered moves. They think more about process than people; they focus less on connecting the dots of the big picture and more on painting by the numbers.

    This isn't smart for business. It isn't smart for education. It isn't the way to set priorities.

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

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 1, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    It is being reported that in South Africa, the government is celebrating "20 years of freedom" and the end of apartheid there by recognizing the contributions of a number of citizens who, as one local press story put it, "contributed in the struggle against the apartheid regime and the betterment of the country," recognizing "the contributions made by individuals towards building a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa in various ways."

    Among them: Raymond Ackerman, the founder of Pick n Pay, the South African supermarket chain, "who was awarded the Order of the Boabab, which recognises those who contributed to community service, business and economy, science, medicine and technological innovation, for providing scholarships to young people and conducting socially responsible retail business."

    To say that Ackerman is a socially conscious businessman is an understatement. He is a man who bucked against South Africa's apartheid policies out of an innate sense of decency. He hired black people as managers in his stores, and provided them with housing at a time when they were prevented from owning their own homes. Ackerman ran as color-blind a business as was possible during those years, and was deeply committed to fundamental changes in governmental policies.

    I met Raymond Ackerman back in the early nineties. I'm not entirely sure, but I think it was during the years between the time Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and when the new constitution went into effect and Mandela became that nation's first democratically elected president in 1994. But I am sure that it was one of the most memorable meetings I've ever had with a retailer; there was a moral steel about the man that was palpable.

    Ackerman stands as evidence, I think, that business does not have to be just about business. in fact, it shouldn't be. As a businessman, he believed fervently that he had a broader responsibility than just making money. Ackerman believed that he had a moral and ethical responsibility to make the his country a better place, and to fundamentally improve the lives of his employees.

    That was an Eye-Opening discussion that I had with Raymond Ackerman all those years ago. It makes me happy to see that his contributions - economic and moral - continue to be recognized by a country that, I think, owes him much.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 1, 2014

    The Arizona Republic reports that while Amazon has begun offering tours of its fulfillment center in Phoenix - beginning May 6 - actually getting a chance to see the warehouse facility isn't all that easy.

    It isn't that the process os signing up for a tour of the facility - the size of 28 football fields - is hard. You just go online to do so. (The tours are offered on the first and third Tuesdays of every month.)

    The problem is that Amazon already has booked up tours at the Arizona facility through March 2015.

    There are five other Amazon fulfillment centers offering tours - in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Chester, Virginia; Jeffersonville, Indiana; Middletown, Delaware; and San Bernadino, California.
    KC's View:
    I did a little quick checking, and found that the the Indiana center seems to be the only one with any space left in 2014. Everybody else is booked up into 2015.

    No real surprise here, though … since everybody would like to look behind the curtain. (Though trust me … there are two curtains. We're only going to see behind one of them.)

    Published on: May 1, 2014

    CityWire reports that Walmart has picked a location in Bentonville, Arkansas, for a pick-up depot that will serve as a stand-alone location for customers to collect items that they have purchased on the company's e-commerce site.

    According to the story, "The Bentonville location slated for the new format is near the J. Street and South Walton Boulevard intersection, behind the Chambers Bank which is located on the southeast corner of the intersection across from Zaxby’s and Firehouse Subs. The 15,000 square-foot facility will house 10,000 fresh and dry grocery products – from cereal, chips and bread to fresh produce, meat and milk, according to Deisha Barnett, corporate spokeswoman for Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

    "Barnett said the concept will allow consumers to shop online for their grocery items, schedule a pickup time at their convenience then drive up like they would at a Sonic drive-in, call to the associates who then bring their grocery order to car."

    Walmart has tested pick-up locations at 11 stores in the Denver area, but this stand-alone concept would be the first of its ilk that the company has planned.
    KC's View:
    I think we're going to see a lot more of these sorts of tests from Walmart, as it looks for ways to connect its bricks-and-mortar business with its online innovations, trying to navigate these waters in a way that will bring it even with Amazon. It does have some advantages that can be exploited, if it is able to not worry about legacy issues. An insider told me recently that he thinks that Walmart is finally getting to the point where people are not asking what Sam would do … it is important to respect the company's core values while still being able to embrace and exploit the ways in which the world has changed.

    Published on: May 1, 2014

    The Chicago Tribune reports that Starbucks next week will open its third Teavana Fine Teas & Tea Bar shop there, (the first two were in New York City and Seattle) the beginning of what it hopes will be "hundreds of upscale tea bars around the world that sell everything from exotic oolongs to sweet herbal concoctions. It hopes to entice people to linger by offering scones, soups and salads, then send them home with loose-leaf teas and teapots."

    No coffee, though.

    Starbucks bought Teavana in 2012. The Tribune story notes that not only is tea the most popular drink in the world, but while "Teavana shops get fewer visitors than Starbucks, but its patrons typically spend a lot more as they buy gifts such as Japanese-style cast-iron teapots and loose leaf teas that can sell for as much as $24.98 for 2 ounces."
    KC's View:
    The trick for Starbucks is keeping all these plates spinning - the coffee shops, the tea stores, the juice stores, and all the other businesses with which it is involved.

    It occurred to me after writing the above sentence that there may be an entire generation of people who don't get the spinning plates reference. If you are in that group, click here to watch three minutes from the "Ed Sullivan Show" in 1969, and see what passed for Sunday night entertainment back then. (I suspect that what's on Sunday nights these days would have Ed Sullivan spinning … in his grave.)

    Published on: May 1, 2014

    The New York Times had an interesting piece about how the food business is trying to jump-start fresh produce sales. The paper frames the issue this way:

    "For years, the government has been urging Americans to eat more vegetables for better health, with little to show for the effort. Consumption has been stuck at barely half the recommended amount. Now, from private enterprise, come two very different strategies. One aims to make vegetables more attractive and easier to use. The other would actually make them less visible, slipping them into other foods."

    To read the whole piece, click here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 1, 2014

    • The Chicago Sun Times reports that the City Council there has voted to impose a partial ban on plastic bags, though "they exempted small mom-and-pop retailers least able to absorb the financial hit for paper bags, which cost three times as much as plastic. Aldermen also excused all Chicago restaurants as well as “non-franchise” independent stores with a square footage under 10,000 feet.

    "Stores with less than 10,000 square feet would be included only if they’re part of a chain like 7-Eleven that includes three or more stores."

    Compliance dates range from August 1, 2016 to a year later, depending on company size. Fines will range from $300 to $500 for each offense.


    Reuters reports that the supermarket price war in the UK continues, as Morrisons announced price cuts averaging 17 percent on some 1,200 SKUs - one month after it announced a first round of price cuts, and one week after Tesco announced a set of cuts in its stores. Like Tesco - and pretty much every traditional food retailer in the UK - Morrisons has seen an erosion of market share because of the impact of discounters such as Aldi and Lidl.


    USA Today reports that Taco Bell has revealed that is in its beef - and it ends up that it is 88 percent beef and 12 percent "signature recipe" (which includes spices, thickeners and artificial flavors."

    The story goes on to say that Taco Bell says that it does not use grade D beef, as has been rumored, but rather uses "USDA-inspected, 100% premium real beef."

    • Market Street, the United Family supermarket chain, said this week that it is introducing "a new loyalty program for guests at its Dallas/Fort Worth area stores. The new guest engagement program is free, offering an enhanced mobile application (app) and a more customized shopping experience, saving guests time and money. The new program features purchase recommendations, product coupons and free offers that are individually tailored to each guest based on shopping habits, creating a personalized experience that allows guests to easily take advantage of relevant offers. More than 167,000 guests who are already registered as 'Smart Rewards' members are automatically enrolled into the new program and have until May 20 to redeem existing loyalty points."
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 1, 2014

    • MyWebGrocer yesterday announced the appointment of Alison Abry as the company's Chief Financial Officer. Abry previously was a partner for Bilodeau, Wells & Company, located in Essex, VT, where she functioned as MyWebGrocer’s outside CPA and assisted the company in multiple financial audits and capital raises.

    Full disclosure: MyWebGrocer is a longtime and valued MNB sponsor, making it possible for you to receive our complimentary email, news and commentary each day.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 1, 2014

    Bob Hoskins, perhaps best known for playing the toon-chasing LA private eye in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, but also an influential and respected actor in British TV shows and films such as the original BBC version of "Pennies from Heaven," The Long Good Friday, and Mona Lisa, passed away Tuesday. He was 71, and retired several years ago after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
    KC's View:
    The Salon obituary noted that Hoskins leaves "a delightful, improbable acting legacy that injected a new energy into the British film industry," and suggested that he "is presumably the only person to have played Winston Churchill, Nikita Khrushchev, J. Edgar Hoover and Benito Mussolini."

    Wow.

    Published on: May 1, 2014

    …will return.
    KC's View: