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    Published on: July 15, 2014

    by Michael Sansolo

    Sometimes the most telling business news comes outside the business section of the news. Try the comics or sports section for instance.

    This past Sunday, Scott Adams’ endlessly fabulous Dilbert cartoon was must reading for any business. In the strip, Dilbert tells his boss that a study of their company has identified their key areas of excellence. Of course, this being Dilbert’s world, you know these will be sarcastic answers.

    The fictitious company excels at automating tasks they shouldn’t be doing, clinging endlessly to the status quo, covering up financial problems and only hearing what they want.

    Here’s the sad news: many of you may find those same flaws inside your companies, yet your world isn’t a comic strip. It’s for real and every one of those shortcomings could be undermining your entire company’s ability to compete. Ask yourself if you do things that really no one needs; if you cling to the status quo; and if you hear only what you like. If the answer is yes to any of those you have a problem.

    Then consider a lesson of shocking success to remind you that there is always a new way to win. As Major League Baseball pauses for its annual All-Star game it is instructive to look at the standings - where we find the Oakland A’s in possession of the best record in the entire league so far this year.

    Even non-baseball fans know about the A’s, thanks to both the book and movie Moneyball, which highlighted how the low-budget team found a way to win by re-examining the time-honored statistical wisdom of the game.

    But here’s the thing: Moneyball was written about the 2002 baseball season. Since then, every team in baseball jumped on the new-age statistical bandwagon and negated the A’s advantage. From 2004 to 2012 the A’s only made the playoffs once.

    Yet today, the A’s are still a low-budget team and back in first place. So how are they doing it?

    As many recent articles make clear, Billy Beane, the A’s general manager and the hero of the movie, keeps adapting even after being portrayed by Brad Pitt in a movie.

    Sure, he still relies on statistical analyses, but Beane knows everyone is doing that now. To keep winning, he’s gotten creative with trades and by rescuing players given up by others.

    Most interestingly, he tries to find players who understand the limits of their skills and asks for and expects nothing more than their abilities. That way the player succeeds at what they can do and the team reaps the maximum benefit. In baseball terms, that means the A’s platoon a large number of players - in essence sharing jobs to favor each individual’s skills. (New York magazine recently had an excellent piece about the 2014 A's, which you can read here.)

    In many ways, the A’s seem the polar opposite of Dilbert’s company, by constantly shattering the status quo and forcing themselves to deal with the unvarnished truth of their financial limitations.

    The question you need to ask yourself if which company you’d want yours to be more like: Dilbert’s or Beane’s? The answer may be so obvious, except in many cases, it isn’t.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 15, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    You may remember that about 10 months ago, Guinness came out with a television commercial that I described as the best beer ad ever … that may have been a bit of hyperbole (there have been a lot of great beer commercials over the years), but I found it to be well conceived and executed, with a twist that'll get you, showing that a great brand knows how to make connections between its values and the values of its target consumer. (You can see that original ad here.)

    Well, Guinness has done it again, with yet another wonderful television commercial that is almost certain to bring a tear to your eye and make you think a little bit … and it gives Guinness brand equity that goes beyond just being a great beer.


    KC's View:

    Published on: July 15, 2014

    MNB has paid a lot of attention to - and cast a lot of aspersions about - French legislation that is designed to limit Amazon's ability to compete there and protect independent booksellers.

    Yesterday, we took note of a Christian Science Monitor piece about how the French Parliament has passed a law, described as the "anti-Amazon law," that "would ban online websites from offering free shipping in combination with a five percent discount to customers in France." The law is expected to be signed into law by President Francois Hollande, consistent with a long tradition in France of passing protectionist legislation that helps small independent bookstores survive in the face of larger competition.

    The commentary here has pronounced such efforts as insanity, suggesting that French protectionist policies ignore the realities of 21st century living and actually do local booksellers a disservice by allowing them to avoid raising their games in the face of heightened competition. But there is another point of view … expressed in a New York Times column by Pamela Druckerman, author of “Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.”

    Druckerman, who lives in Paris (which, she notes, often is thought of by outsiders as "a Socialist museum where people are exceptionally good at eating small bits of chocolate and tying scarves"), has seven bookstores within a 10-minute walk of her apartment. She suggests in her piece that while the French legislation is hardly a panacea for independent booksellers, it does encourage both diversity and balance, and essentially identifies books as a precious natural resource to be nurtured and protected.

    It is a piece worth reading here. Even if it is a little dismissive of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as just "an ambitious billionaire with an engineering degree."
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 15, 2014

    The Telegraph reports that Amazon is responding to the French legislation banning online websites from offering free shipping in combination with a five percent discount by charging French customers just one cent for delivery.

    The move, the story says, risks "a standoff with French authorities."

    According to the Telegraph, Amazon says on its French website that "we are unfortunately no longer allowed to offer free deliveries for book orders. We have therefore fixed delivery costs at one centime per order containing books and dispatched by Amazon to systematically guarantee the lowest price for your book orders.”
    KC's View:
    Sacré bleu!

    I have this image of Inspector Clouseau showing up at Amazon's French headquarters and announcing, "I arrest you all in the name of the leahw!"

    Published on: July 15, 2014

    Advertising Age has a long piece looking into the business practices of Vani Hari, known as the 'Food Babe," who uses her website to "brazenly" attack "corporations in the name of better eating as she questions processed-food ingredients and manufacturing methods."

    One thing is for sure, Ad Age writes: "As she bashes mainstream food marketers, including Kraft Foods Group and Subway, Ms. Hari is emerging as a powerful brand herself, routinely appearing on national TV, where she is often presented as a food expert. In doing so, the Babe is positioned to capitalize on her growing fame with a burgeoning business model that includes making money by referring her loyal readers to several organic and GMO-free food brands via her website.

    "Under the program, known as affiliate marketing, she often posts editorial content praising these small brands, including links to their sites where readers can purchase the goods. She gets a cut of some of the transactions, according to the rules explained on some of her partners' websites."

    You can read the entire piece here.
    KC's View:
    I know a little something about writing a website and trying to make a living at it, and I think that perhaps the Food Babe goes to far by suggesting she has expertise that she, in fact, does not have - she is a former management consultant who is neither a scientist nor a nutritionist.

    I'm loathe to throw stones, though. The simple fact is that the internet provides plenty of people with soapboxes that we might not otherwise have. This is a reality that manufacturers and retailers have to grapple with, understanding that some folks get a level of influence that goes beyond what seems appropriate.

    It always has seemed to me that the best one can do is try to be honest in what one writes, admit one's biases and mistakes, and be as transparent as possible about who is paying the bills. I've always been lucky about having terrific sponsors with great businesses - if you look at what companies such as MyWebGrocer, Wholesome Sweeteners, Park City Group, Invatron, Webstop and Samuel J Associates, these are companies of integrity that are progressive and innovative - I'm thrilled to be as loyal to them as they've been to me.

    Personally, I'd rather provoke thought (and laughter) rather than become an advocate for one cause or another, but that's just my approach. And I always think that when websites go too far, eventually it will catch up with them … credibility is a precious thing, and it is to be protected at all costs.

    At any rate, check the story out. See what you think.

    Published on: July 15, 2014

    • CVS Caremark said yesterday that it will acquire Miami-based Navarro Discount Pharmacy, described as "the largest Hispanic-owned drugstore chain in the U.S. " The company said that the deal "includes Navarro's 33 retail drugstore locations and Navarro Health Services, a specialty pharmacy serving patients with complex or chronic diseases."

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    Navarro Discount Pharmacy has annual sales in excess of $340 million. Completion of the deal depends on regulatory approvals. reports that in Ohio, Bed Bath & Beyond is adding another "b" - booze.

    According to the story, a Solon, Ohio store "is asking the city's approval to pursue a state license to sell wine, beer and some liquor in a new gourmet foods section planned for the store.

    "The Solon retailer would be the ninth store in the chain to sell alcohol, and the first in Ohio. If the store obtains the license, Bed Bath & Beyond will join Giant Eagle Market District, Mustard Seed Market & Cafe and Marc's as one of the few businesses selling alcohol in the city."
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 15, 2014

    • Unified Grocers said yesterday that it is promoting Terry Bodwin, vice president, Employee and Labor Relations, to be vice president and chief human resources officer.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 15, 2014

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 15, 2014

    Yesterday's column about the death of my younger sister, Debbie Coupe Rios, brought an outpouring of email and condolences … hundreds of emails from the MNB community offering prayers, positive thinking, stories of shared grieving, and friendship.

    I am moved. I am sharing your emails with my family. And I thank you.

    I hope you'll understand if I cannot respond to each email individually … at least not right now.

    But I would like to pass along the sentiments of one MNB reader, who chose to quote the words of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss…

    Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened!!!

    Which, I'd like to think, we're doing.
    KC's View: