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    Published on: June 4, 2014

    In anticipation of next week's Food Marketing Institute "FMI Connect" conference and exhibition in Chicago, MNB this week will feature interviews with three FMI board members.

    Today: Jerry Garland, president/CEO of Associated Wholesale Grocers and the new chairman of FMI.


    What is the biggest transition you think the industry is going to have to make over the next 10 years?

    Jerry Garland:
    As is the case now, the distribution side of the industry will be inundated with more competition from existing players doing a better job, from new players in category specific niches, from new players that today are not selling groceries and from virtual “store fronts” over the internet selling convenience and unique offerings. The “pie” of retail sales will be getting cut into thinner pieces, making the continued existence of some of today’s store fronts questionable.

    What do you think will be the biggest adjustment you'll have to make in your own company, and how are you laying the groundwork for it now?

    Jerry Garland:
    The conventional food industry needs to address consumer needs in more areas than we have in the past. We need to look for new ideas and additional offerings. AWG over the past few years has expanded our health and nutritional programs, to include a larger variety of organics and diet specific items such as “gluten-free” and “allergen-free.”

    Through our subsidiary, Valu Merchandisers, we have expanded our seasonal programs, bringing a wider variety of depth and breadth to our item selection. VMC has also expanded their specialty foods offerings and made them not so special by lowering costs across the board to entice more trial by our customers.

    As we seek new opportunities to drive sales in new areas, we are focused on reducing our operating costs, which we have done over the past ten years. To have a sustainable business model, costs must be reduced to afford more aggressive pricing on the shelves.

    What demands do you think an empowered consumer base will put on the food industry? How important do you think transparency (about product sourcing, nutritional info, GMOs, etc...) will be going forward, and is there a line you think retailers should not cross because it will be going too far?

    Jerry Garland:
    Consumers are demanding healthier food options, in a convenient fashion and at an affordable price. Transparency builds trust and the goal of the industry should always be to listen to the customer. The Food Industry needs to be in a leadership position as it relates to food labels, which should be accurate, provide nutritional information, cautionary when needed to prevent adverse reactions, but also EASY to read and compare.

    Do you think that retailer priorities will always be in synch with supplier priorities in this area?

    Jerry Garland:
    Generally, suppliers and distributors have the same objectives if they are willing to accept that the customer is in charge. A little bit of putting yourself in the other guy’s shoes goes a long way. While both may have differing operational goals, they are interdependent upon the other for success.

    How about entire new generations of employees that make have different expectations of what the work experience should be like?

    Jerry Garland:
    That question seems to be asked for every generation. While I am not on the front line of hiring, I see very bright young associates at AWG as well as out in the industry. New employees that want to learn, be productive and advance in a long-term career. The real question may be, “What are we doing to attract recent graduates and is the right compensation program in place to retain them?”

    What's the biggest - and in retrospect, the most important - mistake that you've ever made, and how did you grow from it?

    Jerry Garland:
    Upon reflection, my biggest mistake was not mentoring and developing more associates for larger and more responsible positions. As I look back, I was fortunate that many of my bosses took an interest in my success and my growth so I could achieve something that I could never have achieved on my own. Mentoring takes time, resources and requires a genuine interest in the future of the individual.

    During my retail career I enjoyed giving “battlefield commissions” to folks I knew could accept the challenge. As I accepted more responsibilities it grew much harder and with more operational risks to have the time to personally assist in the effort. Asking others to take that role of mentor always seemed to lose something in the translation.

    What is the most significant thing you do each week, and why?

    Jerry Garland:
    Listening. You learn a lot in casual conversations, visual observations and getting feedback from a variety of sources. Over half of my priority list is normally generated as a response to a need.

    What is the single-most important retailing rule that you've learned in your career, and how did you learn it?

    Jerry Garland:
    Never make the assumption that you can speak for your customers. As a young chain buyer, a salesman came in my office with a new product caller Perrier. Thinking, who would ever pay money for water in a bottle I turned down the new item.

    If you had to define the most important aspect of leadership, what would it be and why?  (And, if you are so inclined, could you give an example of this quality in practice?)

    Jerry Garland:
    Success is the most important aspect of leadership, it’s impossible to provide leadership if you don’t have follower-ship. No one wants to follow a dud. People obviously want to be part of a winning organization and want to believe their efforts are worthwhile. Leadership can be difficult in a turnaround situation, but simple achievable goals need to be celebrated when achieved.

    A leader needs to be able to identify the hill to be taken, how the plan is laid out and what success looks like.

    An example of leadership was on display in our new Gulf Coast Division by our newly assigned Division Manager. He saw the need to attract new business to our facility. He marshaled the resources, highlighted the objective and got out of the way. New business fed off new business: Success brought more success.

    Bonus question : What is your favorite movie, and why? (And is there a business lesson in it)?

    Jerry Garland:
    Gone with the Wind. After all, tomorrow is another day…


    Tomorrow: Colleen Wegman.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 4, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    "Fresh Talk" is sponsored by Invatron: Proven Technology.  Innovative Thinking.  Intelligent Solutions for Fresh.

    Content Guy's Note: "Fresh Talk" is a new MNB column, scheduled to alternate on Wednesdays with "Kate's Take."  It will examine all aspects of "fresh," in both the broadest and most focused meaning of that term (depending on the whims of the columnist). "Fresh Talk" is sponsored by Invatron...which you can learn more about here…but which has no input into the subjects covered or responsibility for the attitudes taken.

    I'd read a fair number of articles about Market Bistro, the new format developed by Price Chopper that opened recently in Latham, New York, before getting in the car and driving three hours north to see it. After more than eight decades serving upstate New York communities, the Golub family was justifiably proud of their new baby, and the local media had responded with enthusiasm. I had some sense of what the store might look like, since Neil Golub, the company's chairman, had shown me some sketches and blueprints more than a year earlier; even then, it seemed to me, he was fairly bursting, impatient for the store to open so he could see it in action. But I've been doing this a long time, and I often find that reality does not match expectations.

    Not this time.

    Market Bistro by Price Chopper, as the store if formally known, is a remarkable piece of work, brimming with energy and reflecting a focus on fresh foods that strikes me as an enormous competitive advantage. Bistro Boulevard, which is the spiritual centerpiece of the store, is in fact a kind of fantasyland of fresh foods and service counters … everything from fried fish, burgers and ribs to gorgeously thin lox, thick and succulent corned beef and pastrami (from the Ben & Bill's Deli counter), to custom-made burritos in a department that would put Chipotle to shame.

    Walking through Market Bistro, in fact, is a sensory experience … it sounds and smells like a food store, and when you sample the goods, the first reaction is that this is not supermarket food, but something a lot better than that. In part, this is because the Golubs have been rigorous about making sure the food is as fresh and as tasty as possible; words like "good enough," it seems to me, probably never were used when developing recipes. One of my chief criticisms of many supermarket foodservice operations is that they go for the lowest common denominator when it comes to flavor, so afraid that they might alienate someone that they manage not to tantalize anyone. That's certainly not the case here.

    To be sure, the Golubs are placing a significant bet with Market Bistro, and I'm not just talking about the cost of building the store. While the facility itself is impressive, there also seems to be a conviction that service counters - rather than self-service bars - is the way to go, and that people will respond to the marketplace aspect of the experience.

    I think it also will be a challenge to make sure that quality stays both high and consistent, though I have the suspicion that there will be enough oversight to assure that nobody is coasting on their laurels. And one of the advantages of the Bistro Boulevard approach is that the individual counters can be changed out; if burritos suddenly no longer are in fashion, they can convert that space to something more trendy … they're not locked into anything in perpetuity, which is critical if you;re in the food fashion business. Which they are.

    Now, you may be wondering, based on the headline, precisely what hydroponic tomatoes and french toast do have in common…

    Well, for me, they were the signature Market Bistro features that stand out in my mind, and that, if I lived nearby, would have me coming back for more with great frequency.

    The hydroponic tomatoes are, in fact, being grown in the store - there's a small hydroponic installation in the center of the ample produce department, and you can't get much more local or fresh than that. Once again, this demonstrates an admirable food-centricity, a connection to the land, at Market Bistro that takes it beyond the average supermarket. Or even beyond the above-average supermarket.

    As for the french toast … well, they make maybe the best french toast I've ever eaten at the sit-down Chef's Grill counter that anchors Bistro Boulevard. They make it with this amazingly thick challah bread that is soaked - not dipped - in the special egg mixture for a minimum of 30 seconds … and I ate an entire plate, with fresh maple syrup, even while knowing that I'd probably have to double up on my Lipitor the next day.

    You can check out Market Bistro online here, but as good as the website is, it doesn't do the store itself justice. I think Market Bistro is a legitimate step forward in how supermarkets prepare, present and peddle food … and that's not only because my mouth waters when I think about the french toast.


    KC's View:

    Published on: June 4, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    National Public Radio reports on how Apple, at its Worldwide Developers Conference this week, announced the creation of HomeKit, described as "a single, centralized way to control various automated appliances — everything from your smart thermostat to lights or locks or garage doors. The platform would allow your iPhone to act as a 'remote control' for your smart home devices, and Apple to be the connective thread between various third-party home automation accessories."

    The story goes on to say that "how this Apple entry will affect the competitive landscape will be interesting to watch. Google made its play for home automation with its $3 billion purchase of smart thermostat maker Nest. The company SmartThings, which originally launched on Kickstarter, has been working on a central hub for smart devices since its inception."

    Add into this picture the Amazon Dash, which allows people to create a shopping list and then buy products using at-home bar code scanning and voice recognition technology, and the independent Hiku, which does some of the same things. All of these things are pointing in the same direction - technological solutions that can and likely will change the nature of shopping and potentially, if retailers are smart about it, can create a stronger connection between them and their consumers.

    While I would never suggest that Sears is a paradigm for anything, it is interesting to note that there is a Twice.com report that "Sears is now operating 'Connected Solutions' pilot shops within three flagship stores in Illinois. The experiential shops … provide a selection  of smart, connected home, and personal automation devices across the CE, fitness, automotive, home and mobile categories … The company has also created a dedicated department online at sears.com/ConnectedSolutions."

    If Sears is doing it, then I suspect that we're going to see a lot more of this stuff. It's an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 4, 2014

    Reuters has a story saying that suppliers trying to bring manufacturing back to the US in order to satisfy Walmart's pledge to buy an extra $250 billion in US-made goods over the coming decade "are running into practical problems as they try to restart long-idled corners of U.S. manufacturing. Companies that make the leap have to grapple with a host of challenges, including a shallow pool of component suppliers, an inexperienced workforce, and other shortcomings that developed during the country's long industrial decline."

    The story quotes Cindi Marsiglio, the Walmart vice president overseeing the U.S. sourcing push, as saying that "the retailer and its existing suppliers have 150 active reshoring projects in various stages of development. For all too many, she says, finding U.S.-made component parts has emerged as a vexing problem."

    The story goes on to say that the "issue is so widespread that Walmart is making it the focus of a two-day summit it is hosting in August in Denver. At a similar summit held in Orlando last year, Walmart focused on connecting suppliers with economic development officers from states hoping to lure the new factories. The retailer says it is especially interested in having factory owners with excess capacity attend the August event - even those that aren't interested in supplying Walmart directly. The hope is that they can become contract manufacturers to Walmart suppliers looking to produce in the United States."

    It isn't just Walmart fueling the US manufacturing revival, the story says. "The forces pulling production back to the United States are powerful and real and include lower domestic energy prices, increasingly competitive wage rates, the benefits of greater automation, and a renewed appreciation for the value of being able to respond quickly to shifting U.S. customer demands."
    KC's View:
    Seems to me that Walmart is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to potential investment in US manufacturing. There's a real opportunity here, and I think you are going to see a lot more companies focusing on this .. finding and certifying US-made products, and selling them aggressively to US consumers.

    Published on: June 4, 2014

    The New York Times reports that Walmart-owned Sam's Club will announce a new credit card today that uses EMV chip technology, described as making the card "much more difficult to duplicate than those that use only a magnetic strip."

    While the card technology is commonly used elsewhere in the world, the move by Sam's makes it "the first major American retailer to switch to a more secure payment card technology that has been widely discussed since a customer-data breach at Target late last year." Target had announced it would make the switch, but Sam's has beaten it to the punch … and Walmart plans to have its own EMV chip cards by this summer.
    KC's View:
    Give Walmart credit for being fast off the dime on this one. It matters … and then it starts promoting this card, the implication will be that Target is slow and Walmart is fast. Which has broader implications for the competition between the two.

    Published on: June 4, 2014

    The BBC says this morning that Tesco has reported that its most recent quarterly sales in the UK were down 3.7 percent - the third straight quarter of falling sales - and a six percent drop in profit during April. At the same time, the story says, "data from grocery market analysts Kantar Worldpanel showed Tesco's market share declined to 29% in the three months to 25 May from 30.5% a year earlier, while sales fell 3.1%."

    Bloomberg notes that "in three years at the helm, Chief Executive Officer Philip Clarke has been unable to halt a decline in Tesco’s market share as customers have deserted the chain for lower prices at Aldi and Lidl, and luxury food from Waitrose." Tesco has responded to the challenge by lowering prices and remodeling stores, but as yet the strategy has not seem to have had any measurable positive impact. And Clarke has said that the company will continue to face challenges for the foreseeable future.
    KC's View:
    The news just doesn't seem to improve for Tesco, which can't seem to get a break. From what I hear, morale is in the toilet … and it is hard for me to imagine that, if the board is paying any attention at all, that Clarke is not fast approaching his expiration date.

    Published on: June 4, 2014

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Dollar General has "significantly increased the number of products available at $1 to $5 price points and noted an increased number of markdowns, signs that indicate that the company’s core low-income shopper’s wallet remains under pressure."

    CEO Rick Dreiling told investors this week that "more than ever, given the economic environment that has lingered for quite some time, affordability has now become the focus of our core customer."

    The problem, the Journal writes, is that "growth in wage and salary income slowed to just 0.2% in April from the prior month, marking the weakest monthly increase of the year, the Commerce Department said Friday. After adjusting for inflation, wage and salary income was up 2% from a year earlier. The figures came in a report showing that U.S. consumer spending fell in April for the first time in a year even while inflation crept up … One big problem for discount stores: stagnant wages mean few of their customers – who are often at the lower end of the income scale, as the chart on the right shows – are seeing more money in their pockets."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 4, 2014

    Forbes has a story about a new study, backed by a pro-union, anti-Walmart group, saying that while the Walton Family Foundation "is considered a heavyweight in the world of nonprofits with just under $2 billion in assets," almost none of those assets are "the result of donations from the Waltons themselves."

    According to the piece, "The report goes on to detail how the Foundation has been funded over the years, namely by tax-avoiding trusts established with assets provided by the late Sam, Helen and John Walton or their estates. The study found that 99% of the Foundation’s contributions since 2008 have been channeled through 21 Charitable Lead Annuity Trusts. These CLATs, as they’re known, are specifically designed to help ultra-wealthy families avoid estate and gift taxes."

    And, the report compares "the Walton family’s philanthropic activities to both those of other billionaires and the charitable donations of average Americans … Whereas Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have given 36.2% and 26.9% of their respective wealth to charitable causes, the Walmart heirs have between them given 0.04% of their fortune, per the report."
    KC's View:
    I suspect that the Walton family will greet both the study and resultant stories about it with a collective shrug.

    Published on: June 4, 2014

    • The Boston Globe reports on a new study conducted by public policy group Demos saying that "the average female salesperson earns a full four dollars less than a man every hour. Given the wage gap, a woman would have to work 103 days longer than a man to earn the same salary.

    "The disparity costs women $40.8 billion in lost earnings every year."

    The story says that "the average male retail salesmen now earns about $14.58 per hour, while a woman doing the same job receives only $10.58."


    • The Charlotte Business Journal reports that Delhaize Group has completed the sale of its Sweetbay, Harveys and Reid’s operations to Bi-Lo Holdings for $246 million in cash. In a separate $28 million transaction, Delhaize sold its Plant City, Fla., distribution center to C&S Wholesale Grocers.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 4, 2014

    • Reports out of Portland, Oregon, say that New Seasons Market COO Pat Brown has resigned from the company, and will become the CEO of Mrs. Green's Natural Markets, based in Westchester County in New York State.

    Mrs. Green's has been going through considerable labor tumult and the former CEO, Robin Michel, recently stepped down after less than two years on the job.
    KC's View:
    at Brown is a very smart guy, coming out of HEB, and he's done great work at New Seasons. For the life of me I can't understand why anyone would leave Portland, Oregon, for Westchester County, but this is a very good move for Mrs. Green's.

    Published on: June 4, 2014

    Responding to Michael Sansolo's column yesterday about generational changes, one MNB user writes:

    In thinking about the changes around us and speaking of older folks in their 80s or 90s, it is easy to get caught up in the perceived differences from "back then" and "today". But in the interest of truly understanding the world around us, I would challenge anybody to also look not just at change (that's pretty easy) but at similarities. It's really instructive to think about how these changes may in fact not be nearly as radical as we might think.

    With regard to Walmart's foray into banking services, I can remember back when I was a kid in the 1970s I used to love going to the bank cause they gave me lollipops. But I'd be so disappointed when my mom would explain that we didn't need to because the grocery store would allow her to cash checks. And if she needed to deposit a check, they would take care of that for her as well by running it over to the bank next door. Today we would laud that as a personalized customer service enhancement. Likewise, folks as far back as the mid 1800s could run a line of credit at their local mercantile. True, we now have POS terminals, but the net result of not paying our invoice, be it paper or electronic, is the same (i.e. we get cut off).

    And we can speak of kids with the ability to watch and learn from tablets, but in the 1950s schools used filmstrips, and in the 1970s offer content via films and TV programming.

    I would say that this focus on continuity allows us to better contemplate the truly revolutionary changes that many of us take for granted simply because we are not overtly attuned to them. Ironically, one of the biggest changes that I see ignored by most analysts is the ability to fly around the country to speak at conferences at prices so low as to be rendered largely irrelevant. Never mind the fact that we can deposit checks or use a website run by Walmart. My mom, like most everyone else, had no problems with that. She could not, however, afford to fly us on a plane to places like Disneyland. That's one heck of an eye opener. Next time you speak at a conference, I'd open with "forget all of the developments in online banking, which don't really solve any problems that our own parents had. Really. Instead, ask yourselves 'what kind of world is it that we could all jump on a plane and be sitting in this room today'?"





    We had a story yesterday about how retailers are taking their case for reduced swipe fees, regulated by the federal government, to the US Supreme Court, which prompted one MNB reader to write:

    Ahhhh! Let the banks choose whatever swipe fee they would like to charge and be done with it. Anytime a regulation like this is implemented it alters everyone's incentives and prevents the free market from doing what it does best (help the end consumer).  In this case, limiting the swipe fees may reduce a consumers grocery bill, but it might also lead to their loss of a free checking account or their rewards points since the banks income will fall. If retailers can save $ on swipe fees then it reduces their incentive to develop alternative payment methods or find cost savings elsewhere, both of which can be beneficial for the consumer.

    I'll tell you what. I'll agree to a regulation-free environment in which banks can charge any swipe fees they want if you'll agree to a regulation-free environment in which banks will not be able to prevent Walmart and other non-financial services companies from opening banks.

    Because I'd be willing to bet real money that the banks would not make that deal. The notion of Walmart opening banks and actually competing with them - forcing down fees - scares the crap out of them, which is why they spend a ton on lobbyists to stop that from happening.

    I get real tired of people who say "let the market decide," but only really mean it when it refers to markets that don't affect them. When it comes to their business, and their industries, there's no such thing as too much protection.




    We posted an email yesterday from a guy who said he'd never seen any research suggesting that higher wages lead to higher productivity, which led MNB user Chuck Jolley to write:

    I think the gentleman who emailed you about that is being just a bit too tea party.  The real problem is productivity has risen significantly in the last two decades, making production much more profitable.  Instead of sharing some of those profits with employees, many C level execs have chosen to significantly increase their personal compensation or pay some of it to their stock holders.  One of the defenses of those practices I hear often is “Top management made the investment in the equipment that created those increases, why shouldn’t they get the money that resulted in those technological advances?”  I suppose if top management actually went through the training necessary to run that equipment and then got down on the shop floor and ran the equipment, that argument might hold a little bit of water.  But they didn’t and the argument fails miserably.

    MNB reader Ed Hamilton wrote:

    It seems to me that when I read these stories about communities raising the Minimum Wage that there is a separation from realty.  The moves are made as if they happen in a vacuum devoid of any other economic factors.  We will pay these poor people more and their lives will be better and it will be all rainbows and lollipops.  Basic Supply & Demand theory suggests that if you raise the price of a commodity, in this case labor, the demand for it will shrink.  If that commodity is vital to a product and simply can not be reduced or replaced then those increased costs will be passed along to the consumer.  Look at the rising costs of oil over the past six years.  When mentioned, the focus is strictly on the cost drivers pay to fill up their tanks and not the secondary cost increases in transportation, manufacturing, packaging, etc that are also passed along to the consumer.

    As most Minimum Wages jobs are low-skill or entry level it can be expected that those businesses with high levels of low-skilled employees will be forced to increase their prices.  Fast-food and Supermarkets come to mind.  Now these people who were supposed to be helped will see whatever increase they receive eaten up by higher prices and the cycle will start all over again.

    The way to close the wage-gap is to begin to aggressively grow the Private Sector Economy. Look at North Dakota.  They have high starting wages across the board because of a vibrant economy.

    And what is never mentioned in these stories are folks who have worked hard and bettered themselves to get ahead.  They now see others who did not getting raises simply as a results of existing.  How does that encourage individuals to take the initiative to better themselves?


    There is a legitimate discussion to be had about the impact of an increased minimum wage, and the Seattle decision to increase it over a period of years to $15 certainly will give us a real-world laboratory to look at.

    That said, it seems to me that what deserves even more discussion is the even bigger problem of wage disparity. You have people who work very hard, sometimes and two and three minimum wage jobs (because that's all that are available), and they can't support their families … and this is happening at the same time as the typical CEO in the US makes more than $10 million a year. There is a fundamental economic disconnect here that will have long-term cultural and societal implications, because this probably is not a sustainable road for the country to travel.




    On another subject, MNB reader Gary Breissinger wrote:

    I’d like to offer a slightly different take on Amazon. I don’t disagree with your view that Amazon is only doing to suppliers what other retailers do: looking to negotiate better terms. However, what is their strategic objective in this exercise? Is it to deliver superior consumer value or is it to enhance their own bottom line results without adding any incremental value? Based upon their tactics to extort concessions from publishers and deny consumers access to best-selling authors and publications, I’d argue it is clearly the latter.

    Moreover, I think it is a potential tragedy in the making if suppliers capitulate to their demands and allow Amazon to pollute the emerging world of e-commerce with the same flawed focus on the adversarial negotiation of acquisition price and terms that plagues the traditional bricks and mortar trade to the detriment of focus on delivering consumers better choices, service and value.

    The industry has a unique opportunity to redesign basic supplier-retailer relationships for the future. The objective should be a new trading model that only rewards the creation of shopper value, satisfaction and loyalty. Practices that don’t serve those goals need to be eliminated. As the retail world moves into a more dynamic, multi-channel blend of e-commerce, repurposed physical stores and  new shopper conveniences like subscription sales and home delivery, it cannot be encumbered with win/lose trading practices that lose sight of the consumer’s best interests.
     
    If traditional retailers persist in perpetuating the status quo, they will only hasten the day when manufacturers look to by-pass their obstructions and create ever more direct relationships with shoppers. The same is true for Amazon: if they are perceived as a potential gatekeeper that erects costly, unjustified barriers to a brand’s ability to deliver value to consumers via e-commerce, they are inviting alternative, zero-based business models to enter the market. The last thing forward thinking manufacturers want is to have the future retailing world dominated by a single, overwhelmingly dominant and dictatorial player. The days of passive management of customer portfolio profiles are over. It won’t be practical to stop working with Amazon; but it will be in their enlightened self-interest to aggressively develop alternatives to Amazon. Just like a number of leading manufacturers developed plans to proactively reduce their over-dependence on Wal-Mart in the last decade, it is entirely likely they will take the same approach to Amazon in the future.
     
    Amazon would be well served to keep their focus on delivering better shopper choices, convenience, service and value…and not making the mistake of trying to improve their bottom line profit on the back of suppliers.




    Finally, responding to our story citing a Maya Angelou quote - People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. - as a great business guide, MNB reader Alli Meyer wrote:

    It’s not just tailor made for business – it’s tailor made for life.

    Agreed.
     
    KC's View: