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    Published on: August 22, 2014

    As is my custom at this time of year, I'm going to be taking off the last days of summer … MNB will be on hiatus (except for the archives, of course, which always are open) through what we here in the US celebrate as Labor Day.

    I'll be back on Tuesday, September 2 with all new stories and commentaries …

    Below, in case you missed them, are some recent commentaries….


    KC's View:

    Published on: August 22, 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, once again coming to you from the classroom where I've spent some time this summer, enjoying my adjunctivity at Portland State University's Center for Retail Leadership.

    While out here in the Pacific Northwest, I've had a chance to do some traveling. And go figure, while on the road I ran right into a retailing and business metaphor.

    Readers of MNB know that I tend to climb on my soapbox when it comes to the actions by the French government to protect independent booksellers through legislation, rather than forcing them to actually compete with online retailers such as Amazon. And you know that when taxicab drivers decided to battle with Uber, the car sharing service, by protesting and blocking city streets rather than actually competing more effectively, I thought it was, to say the least, shortsighted.

    But let's not delude ourselves that such reactions are in any way a reflection of modern sensibilities.

    One of the places I went during my trip was a place called Whidbey Island, in Washington State, just north of Seattle. On Whidbey Island, there is a town called Coupeville … which was founded by a sea captain named Thomas Coupe. Well, as it happens, my grandfather's name was Thomas and my middle name is Thomas … though neither of us had anything to do with the founding of Coupeville. Still, it is fun to visit and learn a little history.

    Whidbey Island is separated from the mainland by a treacherous waterway that is called Deception Pass, and during the early part of the 20th century, the only way to cross Deception Pass was on a dilapidated ferry called the Acorn, run by a woman named Berte Olson. The Acorn didn't offer great service … there was no regular schedule, the boat didn't run if the weather was lousy, and you pretty much couldn't depend on it. You were at the mercy of whatever Berte Olson's whims happened to be.

    Still, when plans began to be drawn up that would build a bridge across Deception Pass, making it far easier for people to go back and forth, Berte Olson's first impulse was to - you guessed it! - lobby the governor to make sure the state would not fund the bridge and ruin her livelihood. And she was successful for a time, blocking inevitable and appropriate progress.

    To me, that's precisely the wrong response. When competition looms, you have to get better … not look for ways to block the competition from doing business. It's delusional to think you can stop progress … and in the end, the only one you are deceiving is yourself.

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

    KC's View:

    Published on: August 22, 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 coming to you this week from one of my favorite places - the classroom at Portland State University in Oregon, where I've been team teaching a class on Wednesday evenings with Tom Gillpatrick, who heads up the PSU business school's Center for Retail Leadership.

    The class has been focused on CPG and retail marketing, and one of the wonderful things about it has been the participation of so many industry folks who have joined us - not just this year, but every year, coming from as far as Vermont, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to share their knowledge and insights with the class. (If you want to join us next summer, let me know … we'd love to have you.)

    This year, something really special happened a couple of weeks ago. We had two executives join us that night - Lisa Sedlar, the former CEO of New Seasons Market who has launched her own venture, Green Zebra Grocery, and Lauren Johnson, COO of Newport Avenue Market out in Bend, Oregon. They were both terrific, sharing with us war stories about leadership and management.

    Now, among the students in the class is a fellow named Roland Fornataro who had told us of his personal dilemma - he was trying to choose between going to law school and working in a new startup he was part of that makes beef jerky from wine and beer. I'd told him that if he wanted to bring in samples, we'd all be happy to help with his choice.

    Now, the evening that Lisa and Lauren joined us happened to be the night that Roland was bringing samples. Just before class started, we had a brainstorm. I cleared it with Lauren and Lisa and then went to Roland and told him that at some point in the evening, I was going to offer him the opportunity to make a sales pitch for his new product to the executives … and that they were prepared to listen and evaluate his product, which isn't yet in stores. "Just don't screw it up," I told him.

    Talk about pressure. Well, when I turned it over to Roland, he made his pitch, and Lisa and Lauren were magnificent … they were tough but fair, receptive to his pitch but asking him a wide variety of questions about price, promotional support, margin, sustainability, ingredients, transparency, labeling, UPC codes, the whole nine yards. For about a half-hour, all I had to do was hand out beef jerky to the class … and it helped that both Lisa and Lauren said it was some of the best jerky they'd ever eaten. Roland, I have to say, hit it out of the park … he had answers for almost every question they asked, was professional about taking guidance and criticism, and when the evening was over, both Lisa and Lauren had agreed to carry a couple of SKUs of his product.

    When I thought about it later, it occurred to me that there was a lot of learning going on, but very little "teaching." Probably better that way, and I know from reading essays subsequently written by the members of the class, they got a unique view and understanding of the supplier-retailer relationship.

    To me, it speaks to the power of the classroom. This is a wonderful place where lots of interesting things can happen … because we all walk in the door with a completely different mindset. We all learn. If you're ever given the opportunity to spend time in a classroom with a bunch of students, grab it. I can promise you that it'll change you for the better. It has me.

    I'm thrilled to be here, and I'm jazzed that so many of my industry friends keep showing up to help. I'm grateful that Tom Gillpatrick keeps inviting me back, probably figuring that if I keep doing it often enough, eventually I'll get it right.

    Plus, I'll let you in on a little secret: It's enormous fun.

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

    KC's View:

    Published on: August 22, 2014

    Since summer is for all practical purposes almost over, and this is the last MNB until after Labor Day, I thought I'd take a moment to tell you about some of the things that stick in memory from my time in the Pacific Northwest. There are some pictures at left, and in order …

    …I loved the idea that my very first day, as I was taking the light rail in from the airport, there were two guys collecting signatures on petitions. The fellow working from the back of the train was working to legalize marijuana, while the guy working from the front was looking to mandate the labeling of GMOs. They did their jobs, met in the middle, discussed what they were up to, and then continued on. Democracy at work, Portland style.

    …When I got off the train, one of the first things I saw was the new Apple Store, which is glass on three sides and takes up most of a city block. It is a thing of beauty, just six blocks or so from our apartment, and as I mentioned here a few weeks ago, always busy.

    …One other thing about Portland International Airport. Y'know how we all spend so much time looking for electric outlets to plug in our laptops, cellphones and tablets? Well, they've got it figured out in the Alaska Air terminal, with a set of plugs in between every seat.

    …Two of the things I could always count on at the PSU Farmers Market, held every Saturday, was that there would be a big line at the breakfast burrito stand, and that it would be worth the wait. Just wonderful. Mrs. Content Guy got addicted not just to the fresh produce, but to the flowers.

    …Willamette Valley Vineyards has opened a new tasting room and event center, offering not just their wines but a terrific new menu and a spectacular view of the vineyards. It remains a go-to destination whenever we're in the area (and when you go, make sure you ask for Wende … tell her Kevin sent you).

    …Another terrific little winery that we love to visit is Carlton Cellars, in Carlton, Oregon….the pinot noirs are terrific, and you should make sure you stop next door at the Horse Radish for the best BLT you'll ever eat. Trust me.

    …The Safeway Portland Waterfront Blues Festival has become a must-see event for us each summer, exposing us to music and artists with which we are completely unfamiliar, but who often manage to reach deep into our souls with their music and lyrics. It is a fabulous use of the city's riverfront, and people are about as nice and civilized as you can imagine.

    …I've written about it before, but it deserves a repeat mention - the Foot Bar, in the Pearl District, where they use massage to make your feet about as fantastic as they've ever felt. Trust me. I took Mrs. Content Guy and our daughter there once, and now it has become a regular event.

    …The olive oil ice cream at the Salt & Straw. Incomparable.

    …Each year we try to hike someplace new, and this summer we did Silver Falls State Park, which takes you past ten different waterfalls. It is one of the most popular hiking spots in the state, apparently, but it was completely peaceful and a lovely way to spend the day.

    …Most mornings started with a four-mile jog along the Willamette River…

    …And then moved to Stumptown Coffee, where I'd go through email, read students' papers, or just kick back and read a book. I am a person of routine, and this is a great way to start the day.

    …One of my favorite new restaurant discoveries was Grassa, where they served a spectacular black squid ink pasta with Oregon albacore tuna, golden tomatoes and Calabrian chili.

    …Always great fun is the Oregon Brewers Festival. This year my favorite beer may have been the one with the name that I'd be happy to have on my tombstone: "Witty Moron." (I've been called worse.)

    …It was new to me, but the Portland Outdoor Store has, in fact, been around since 1914. The outside of the building may look decrepit, but inside it is bustling, featuring western wear (hats,. boots, etc…) and carrying brands that include Filson, Woolrich, Stetson, Barbour and Levi. A friend of mine who knows that industry tells me that it is one of the best in the category, passed down through generations and absolutely relevant to its customer base.

    …And finally, there is Nel Centro, the restaurant and bar just across the street from our apartment. It is the place where Mrs. Content Guy and I would go to enjoy each other's company and some excellent wine, and on a cool night they'll light the fire pits and the evening will turn to magic.

    KC's View:

    Published on: August 22, 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, coming to you this morning from the beautiful Napa Valley. (Life is good.)

    I've been spending a lot of time driving the last few weeks, which always gives me time to think. What I've been thinking about lately is the whole "how to compete with Amazon and win" thing. I think I've come up with a metaphor that may work…and I found it, go figure, right on my dashboard.

    Think of your GPS system. Most of us find that the GPS is an invaluable part of our car - it uses data and algorithms to determine the fastest way to get from point A to point B, navigate around traffic, find a nearby gas station, Starbucks or whatever. They work, and they are efficient. Now, think of Amazon as the GPS of retailing.

    To compete with Amazon, I think, you have to be the opposite of that. You have to be the guy with the map, who puts his arm around the shoulder of the traveler and says, 'Here's how to get from there from here. But if you go this way, about an hour out there's a really good place to stop for coffee and doughnuts. Then, here's a really good place for lunch - make sure you try the apple pit for dessert. Here are all the places you need to stop on the way, because the views are spectacular. And when you get there, I have a terrific place for you to have dinner, and they have a wonderful beer and wine list. Now, it may take you a little longer to get there, but I can guarantee you the trip will be more rewarding and more fun." (I recognize that my "points of interest" reflect my personal preoccupations, but you get the idea…)

    Now, sometimes people will want to get from point A to point B in the fastest possible time. They'll opt for efficiency, and there's nothing you can do about that. But if you make yourself the guy with the map, offering advice and suggestions and ideas - being a resource of information, not just a source of product - you create for yourself a differential advantage that can and, I believe, will work.

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

    KC's View: