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    Published on: September 4, 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. This is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    I'm coming to you today from San Francisco, a city that I've always loved … and not just for all the usual reasons. You know, the streetcars, the romance, the restaurants, the easy access to Napa and Sonoma, the resonances of movies such as Bullitt, The Conversation, and The Maltese Falcon, and, of course, the chilaquiles at Cafe Zoetrope. All the usual stuff.

    But there's another reason. San Francisco happens to be the place where something very important happened in my career trajectory. I want to tell you about it, under the subject line, "The Power of Belief."

    About 25 years ago, I was working as a writer for a magazine that covered the supermarket industry. I was approached by the producers of "Supermarket Insights," which was a division of Maclean Hunter Media, which owned Progressive Grocer, to work for them as a writer, producer and on-camera reporter for a video program that went out monthly on VHS tape to senior executives all over the world. (VHS tapes? Remember those days?)

    Because I'm a very smart guy, I rejected the job offer. I thought print was the way to go, and wasn't convinced that there was much of a future in video.

    Some months later, while we are all attending what I recall was a NAWGA meeting here in San Francisco, they asked me to meet again. They hadn't been able to fill the slot, and I think they came back to me because I had an unusual skill set - no visible scars, I'd studied TV and film in college, I was used to getting up in front of cameras and audiences, and I knew a little something about the industry they were covering.

    We met for breakfast. This time, however, they brought out the big guns - a fellow named Hal Clark, who was the senior vice president of the company then charged with oversight of the video division. The thing about Hal was, having been given this responsibility, he took it very seriously. He had no background in video, so he did an enormous amount of research and became a total believer in video as a communications tool. And when he talked to me about the company's future and my future at that breakfast, he did it with an evangelical fervor that I found hugely persuasive. He believed totally, and made me believe. Totally.

    The funny thing is that if you quizzed Hal Clark and me about 100 different subjects, we'd probably disagree on 98 of them. But in talking to me that morning in San Francisco a quarter century ago, he had on his side the power of belief, and the power of persuasion.

    I said yes to Hal Clark. And when I said yes, I positioned myself so that years later, when the internet beckoned, I believed and was ready to act.

    Maclean Hunter eventually sold the company, and somewhere along the line, the financial types who bought it decided that video had no future, so not only did they close down the division, but they threw out videotapes that in essence were a vivid historical record of some fascinating times for the food industry; they not only had no respect for the future, they had no respect for the past. I ended up working on a website called "IdeaBeat," which had its own problems and ended up being a debacle … but when that all went south, I decided that it was time to strike out on my own. And MorningNewsBeat was born.

    It all happened, I think, because of the power of belief, and really the power of Hal Clark's belief, which had an enormous influence on my life and career.

    And, here's one illuminating postscript. I recently met a fellow who was hired for an entirely different business by - you guessed it - Hal Clark, and he'd had exactly the same experience, persuaded to make a major career move by Hal's total and complete passion for the business at hand.

    So sure, when I come to San Francisco I fall in love with the city all over again for the usual reasons. But there's also a soft spot in my heart for this city because it was here that my career and life took a turn for the better. All because of the power of belief, and the ability to communicate it.

    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: September 4, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    The other day, I raved about the fact that in the Alaska Air terminal at Portland International Airport in Oregon, there is an enormous number of power outlets so that almost no matter where you sit, there is a place to plug in your laptop, tablet or mobile phone. That's an almost radical notion; there still are plenty of airports in this country where finding an electric outlet is like looking for the Lost Ark of the Covenant. (LaGuardia in New York may be the worst offender, though we all have our individual horror stories.)

    This preoccupation with power outlets was what led me to pay attention to the Boston Globe report that the city is partnering with the MIT Media Lab to test what are called "Soofas" - benches in public parks that run on solar power and allow people to charge their mobile devices. (The Soofas also collect data on air quality and noise at those locations.)

    I think this is smart … and considering how connected we all are to our mobile devices, I think that retailers ought to be making such power accessibility a high priority. Not sure about you, but to me, as a customer, I'd find such installations (along with free Wi-Fi) to be a differential advantage.

    It'd be an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 4, 2014

    There is an interesting piece in USA Today about credit card breaches, reporting that "credit card data stolen from retailers such as Target, Sally Beauty Supply, P.F. Chang's, and now perhaps Home Depot, are flooding into underground hacker forums where customers' card numbers, names and addresses can be sold for as little as $1 each."

    On Tuesday, the story says, "a large batch of credit and debit card information that appears to be from Home Depot went on sale on such an underground marketplace, known as a 'carder forum'."

    "Carder forums" are described as being "the Craig's List of the hacker underground," offering not just credit card info for sale, but also "phishing kits, malware, spammer lists … It's a like a shopping mall for cybercrime."

    You can read the entire story here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 4, 2014

    The Los Angeles Times reports on how the state of California may soon be going to war with the European Union over olive oil standards.

    At issue are regulations being considered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which "may soon agree to require testing and certification for purity and quality. New labeling could also be introduced that would bar common terms such as 'light' and 'pure' olive oil."

    The story says that while "the proposed standards would apply only to the largest California olive growers and millers," the very consideration of new labeling standards "drew a rebuke from the European Union and the olive oil importer community, which view the rules as a blueprint for wider trade restrictions."

    The Times goes on: "The U.S. consumed 293,000 metric tons of the fruity oil last year, and virtually all of it was imported from countries such as Spain and Italy.

    "A burgeoning domestic industry is quickly growing, however, almost all in California. Using mechanized farming tools popular outside of Europe, these growers and millers have helped boost American olive oil production tenfold since 2007 to 10,000 metric tons. Industry officials liken the growth to that of the state's wine industry several decades ago.

    "California producers say they can guarantee a higher-quality olive oil than most of their European counterparts — seizing on years of bad publicity for the European olive oil industry, which has been accused of widespread fraud and adulteration.

    "There are currently no federal laws strictly regulating olive oil in the U.S. The U.S. Department of Agriculture issues only voluntary certification for extra virgin olive oil, the highest grade available, low in acidity and free of chemicals or additives."
    KC's View:
    This is not a new debate; olive oil imports have long been criticized for selling products that are not exactly what they say they are. And US olive oil manufacturers have long pushed for more exacting standards that would serve the domestic industry's interests.

    To which I say, good for the US olive oil industry. There never is anything wrong with pushing for greater transparency and more exacting standards, especially in an industry where there has been scientific evidence of adulterated product.

    To say that more precise standards will lad to trade restrictions is to set up a false argument. More precise standards, if they are established and adhered to by both US and importers alike, will only necessarily result in better olive oil that is more accurately and transparently labeled. Making the argument against higher and better standards and labeling will be a losing cause, ultimately, for the importers … and they ought to wake up and embrace the cause.

    This is, by the way, a category in which I go out of my way to buy American. I use a lot of olive oil when I cook, and I like US olive oil - especially the products made by California Olive Ranch (which was an MNB sponsor when it was a start-up). It is an easy category to move to made-in-the-USA products, and that is yet another selling point for US retailers.

    One other point. The current legal situation is that retailers are being held accountable for the products they sell - if a retailer sells something that is not what the label says it is, then the retailer can be sued successfully. This is yet another reason that retailers ought to be leery about selling items where the veracity of the labels are questionable.

    Published on: September 4, 2014

    Staples announced yesterday that as part of its goal of becoming more relevant to its shoppers, it is upgrading its omnimedia strategy, "making it even easier for customers to get all the products and services they need to make more happen with their businesses … With Staples new buy online pick-up in-store feature, customers will be able to select a 'pick up today' option as they view a product on Staples.com. Staples promises to have their order ready for pick up within two hours. Customers can also permanently set their preferred store location, and Staples.com will automatically show the inventory available at the three closest stores. For products not sold in store, customers will still have the ability to ship their order to a store for pick up. Both the buy-online, pick-up in-store and ship to store options are free of charge."

    Staples also said that "as a part of its continued commitment to providing a true omnichannel experience for its customers, Staples is also rolling out new touch screen in-store kiosks throughout its retail locations in the U.S. over the next several months. In addition to upgrading the technology to the existing kiosks, the company will reposition them in store to ensure shoppers have even easier access to the over one million products now available on Staples.com, with fast and free delivery when ordered through a kiosk."
    KC's View:
    Remember, this is a company that is in the process of closing hundreds of stores as it tries to differentiate itself from traditional bricks-and-mortar competitors, and position itself as a viable alternative to online retailers like Amazon. Essentially, Staples has to keep itself from becoming Blockbuster, Circuit City and Borders … which is a lot easier said than done.

    Still, I give the company credit for addressing the problem in a way that seems to be both deliberate and aggressive. Nobody seems to be overly romantic at Staples headquarters about traditional ways of doing business … they seem much more focused on doing what needs to be done to survive.

    Published on: September 4, 2014

    The San Francisco Business Times reports that Target plans to bring its TargetExpress format to San Francisco and Berkeley, California, with stores scheduled to open in March 2015.

    The story says that the San Francisco store will be in the city's Financial District, and "will feature a large grab-and-go area with sandwiches, salads, breakfast items like yogurt and mid-day snacks in an effort to serve its nearby office workers and commuters … The store will also include a Starbucks and select items from Target's 'Made to Matter' collection, which features products from Bay Area companies such as Annie’s, Yes To and Method.

    "The Berkeley store will have a large selection of grocery items, including produce, dairy, frozen, snacks and beverages aimed at serving students, commuters and residents of Berkeley, the statement said. Both new TargetExpress stores will be stocked with items from the home, beauty and electronics departments, including an assortment of Target’s owned brands. The stores will also include Target’s popular pick-up-in-store service and a pharmacy."

    Target currently has one TargetExpress store open in Minneapolis, with another scheduled to be opened in St. Paul next year. The story says that there is another San francisco location planned for 2015, but the location has not yet been identified.
    KC's View:
    This is only a personal preference, but I hope that the Express stores adequately reflect the specific locations in which they are opened; the Berkeley unit should not be identical to the Minneapolis store, for example. That's been my chief criticism of the City Target format that has been opened in a number of locations - they're nice enough, but they are way too vanilla for my tastes. But, as I say, this is just a personal preference.

    Published on: September 4, 2014

    • The Denver Post reports this morning that personal shopping service Instacart has added Whole Foods to its Denver roster of stores, which to this point has included Costco, King Soopers and Safeway. Instacart has said that it hopes to "add Marczyk Fine Foods, Sprouts and Tony's Market to its Denver portfolio."

    The Post reports: "For customers who spend $35 or more on groceries, the cost for the service is $5.99 for one-hour delivery or $3.99 for two-hour service. For those spending less than $35, the fees rise to $9.99 and $7.99. Tips are accepted."

    Instacart says it will not be marking up Whole Foods prices in Denver, a shift in the policy it has employed at other retailers.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 4, 2014

    • Tops Friendly Markets, which operates in upstate New York, northern Pennsylvania and western Vermont, announced yesterday that it is introducing “Tops’ Price Lock Guarantee” on hundreds of regularly purchased items sold at stores beginning September 7 and running through November 1.   The company said that the move is "part of a comprehensive value package aimed at helping Tops’ shoppers stretch their dollars even further on every day items while continuing to save on popular weekly promotions," and is one of the first major initiatives launched since the company returned to local ownership.


    • The St. Cloud Times reports that "Coborn's has announced it will build a new Cash Wise Foods store in the Oak Ridge development of West Fargo, North Dakota. The location will include a grocery store, liquor store and convenience store with a car wash. The connected stores will cover about 65,000 square feet." The store is slated to be opened by April 2015.

    According to the story, "Cash Wise Foods stores have been in Fargo, Moorhead and Bismarck for 25 years. In the past two years, Coborn's embarked on an expansion into western North Dakota. It now has stores in Williston, Stanley, Tioga, Watford City and Minot and is expected to open a store in Dickinson within the next year."


    • The Detroit Free Press reports that "Meijer is planning to hire more than 4,800 people throughout Michigan, and thousands more in the Midwest to fill positions in new stores and to handle the usual uptick in sales heading into the fall and holidays … Overall, the family-owned retailer said it expects to hire more than 10,000 people, including 1,800 jobs in Indiana, 1,700 in Ohio, 1,500 in Illinois and 1,000 in Kentucky."

    Meijer currently operates 213 stores.


    Reuters reports that "Costco Wholesale Corp will pay a $335,000 fine and spend about $2 million over three years to fix refrigerant leaks and make other improvements at 274 stores to settle allegations that the warehouse club operator violated the federal Clean Air Act.

    "The U.S. Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday said Costco failed from 2004 to 2007 to promptly repair leaks from its refrigeration equipment of the refrigerant R-22, an ozone-depleting greenhouse gas with roughly 1,800 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide. Costco also failed to keep adequate records of its servicing of refrigeration equipment to prevent leaks, the agencies said."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 4, 2014

    • Amazon said yesterday that Thomas J. Szkutak, its senior VP/CFO since 2002, will retire from the company in June 2015. He will be succeeded Brian T. Olsavsky, currently Amazon's Vice President of Finance.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 4, 2014

    …will return.
    KC's View: