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    Published on: September 11, 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.

    It is a pretty good guess that most of you watching me right now either have kids, or have been kids. (Actually, because MNB does have a pretty good readership on college campuses, a whole bunch of you are kids … or at least you seem like kids to me. Hell, these days there are people in their thirties who seem like kids to me…)

    I know that as a parent, I've sort of gotten used to the idea that I'm going to say or do things that are going to make my kids roll their eyes. it's just inevitable. I also know that, as I moved into my twenties and thirties, I was astounded by how much smarter my parents got. I think a lot of us shared the experience of finding that as we became adults, the experience and knowledge gap between our parents and us got smaller, and we had more in common.

    That may not be the case so much anymore, and I think we have technology to blame for that. There simply are things about technology that our kids "get" that we're never going to. Which means, I guess, that they'll be rolling their eyes at us for longer than previous generations did. I like to joke that I only have so much room on my "hard drive," but the simple fact is that there is so much stuff out there to absorb that no one short of a certified genius could possibly take it all in and process it.

    I got yet another reminder of this recently when I was having some problem with my Twitter account, which appeared to have been hacked. I need to make some changes and clean things up, and I was having trouble. Who ya gonna call? My college-age daughter.

    Ali, who is 20, simply sat down and helped me fix it. She didn't just do it for me, but she patiently went through the process and we did it together. (Because we were both looking at the computer screen, I couldn't even see if she was rolling her eyes.)

    It made me think that it is okay to be dumb about some stuff. (There's even some stuff I know that she doesn't.)

    But what's not okay is not being willing to ask questions, to seek out help from people who know more than we do about certain things. That's not just dumb. That's being willfully ignorant.

    Last week, Kate McMahon wrote about how Hershey inadvertently switched its logo to a symbol that looked, to some people, like the online symbol for a pile of poop. And it was correctly pointed out by an MNB user that this probably never would have happened if they'd actually bothered to talk to anyone under 30.

    That's a great object lesson, for all of us.

    There's no excuse anymore for companies not being vigilant about this stuff. We have to go beyond what Claude Rains in Casablanca referred to as "the usual suspects," and reach out to a broad and diverse constituency when making decisions both big and small.

    Not knowing everything is a fact of life.

    Not asking questions and looking for answers in a wide variety of places is just plain stupid.

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

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 11, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    Today, we remember.

    As I have noted here before, thirteen years after 9-11, it is impossible not to remember not just the tragic events of the day, but also the consequences.

    We lost a neighbor that day, who worked in the World Trade Center. Mrs. Content Guy was actually just a week or so into her first week as an elementary school teacher, and there were several students in her school - and in her class - who lost parents that day. For the weeks that followed, it seemed like every church in town was holding funerals almost every day.

    I've written here before that I find myself every year on this date wondering if there will ever be a 9-11 on which I won't feel obligated to write about the events that took place on that date in 2001.

    I hope so. But I'm dubious.

    But I also think it is critical each year to recall the words of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, when addressing the students at the Harrow School in October 1941:

    “The pessimist sees the problems in every opportunity. Whereas the optimist sees the opportunity in every problem ... Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never - in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 11, 2014

    Speaking to an audience of some 14,000 Target employees at the company's annual fall meeting in Minneapolis, the company's new CEO, Brian Cornell, laud out his priorities for the company, saying that it has to "re-prioritize the categories it built its legacy on, including style, apparel, home and beauty," according to a story in USA Today.

    "Going forward we have to regain our merchandising authority," Cornell said. "We need to be cool again." He said that Target needs to return to its core mission, expressed best by its longtime slogan, "Expect more. Pay less."

    USA Today reports that the company is making moves on several fronts, including embracing mobile technologies that make the company more accessible to shoppers. But most important is working on selection in virtually every category - including grocery - and making sure that it doesn't focus just on price, but differentiating through the offering of exclusive merchandise.

    Keeping focus, the company says, is critical. The Wall Street Journal writes that "the new strategy is a significant about-face for a business that for decades has pushed to build bigger stores offering everything from toilet paper to televisions and camisoles to carrots. While one-stop shopping worked for years, chains like Target and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are finding that scale is a disadvantage in the wake of the recession, as shoppers seek out smaller stores closer to home."
    KC's View:
    One of the things that Target executives say is that they need to get past the point where every story about the company refers to the recent and mammoth data breach in the second paragraph. That's true, and it may take some time.

    The real key, I think, is that Target has to stop playing defense … and has to start playing offense and stay focused on, well, the target.

    Published on: September 11, 2014

    USA Today reports that Starbucks is reconsidering its longtime policy of "no visible tattoos" for its employees, and plans to announce changes in that rule as well as its broader dress code in the next few weeks.

    The story notes that Starbucks says it is taking "a fresh look at how we create a more meaningful and relevant work experience for our partners." The move comes after the company got a petition to this effect signed by 21,000 people, including 12,000 of its employees.

    "Image and cultural nuances matter for Starbucks. Widely regarded as one of the most tech- and Millennial-savvy retailers, it hardly wants to alienate a crucial base of 20-something customers, suppliers and potential employees," the paper writes. "The company has taken relatively liberal stands on all sorts of controversial issues — from gay marriage to gun bans."
    KC's View:
    I'm a fairly regular Starbucks customer, especially when I'm on the road, and I have to be honest here - I didn't even realize that it had such a policy. I knew from when my son worked there that they had a dress code, but I totally missed the tattoo thing.

    I'm not a big tattoo guy, and I've talked here about my discussions with my daughter on this subject. (My latest approach is to say that quite obviously, she can do what she wants … but I've asked her to wait until she has graduated from college and is actually looking for a job before she gets a tattoo; I think it is important that the visibility of a tattoo not be abstract for kids, and there's nothing like looking for a job to make things more consequential.) But I also recognize that the world is changing, and I'm not really bothered by tattoos anymore, and certainly not on the person who is making my latte.

    These are issues that every retailer will have to deal with, and I think standards are going to have to evolve a bit.

    We might as well all get used to it. I had to chuckle last Sunday when I was watching the first "Meet The Press" with new host Chuck Todd, who seemed to be making a clear statement of purpose when he brought on as a new panelist John Stanton of BuzzFeed, who appeared without a jacket, with shirtsleeves rolled up, and with generous and colorful tattoos on his arms. Y'know something? In some ways, he seemed like the most straightforward and blunt guy on the panel.

    Published on: September 11, 2014

    Columnist Neil Irwin has a piece in the New York Times this morning about Apple's new mobile payment system, called Apple Pay, that is designed to replace credit cards.

    The question being considered is whether the problem Apple is trying to solve - having to pull out a credit or debit card to make a purchase - is nearly as onerous as it suggests it is. And Irwin suggests that banks and retailers, which have to bear the costs of data breaches, may end up being a lot more enthusiastic about Apple Pay than consumers.

    It is an interesting piece, and worth reading here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 11, 2014

    The New York Times this morning has a story about declining cereal sales, noting that this has happened "as consumers reach for granola bars, yogurt and drive-through fare in the morning. And the drop-off has accelerated lately, especially among those finicky millennials who tend to graze on healthy options … Cereal consumption peaked in the mid-1990s, according to the NPD Group, a consumer research firm. Still, some 90 percent of American households report buying ready-to-eat cereal, which remains the largest category of breakfast food with some $10 billion in sales last year, according to Euromonitor, down from $13.9 billion in 2000. And the consumer research firm estimates sales will fall further this year to $9.7 billion."

    The problems are varied - some people simply want a breakfast that is more mobile and convenient, some want a breakfast that they see as being more nutritious, and some people just don't eat breakfast and, in fact, don't eat three traditional meals each day.

    The major cereal companies are working to address these issues, by doing things such as making their products more healthy, more environmental (by improving packaging), or even m ore nostalgic. But many analysts seem to feel that the current declines are systemic, represent "death by a thousand cuts," and say that there are so many trends working against the cereal business that they don't know which ones to blame.
    KC's View:
    I'm intrigued by the "which one to blame" observation made by one analyst, because it addresses the problem as one that can be solved by defense, not offense.

    It seems to me that one of the things that cereal manufacturers need to do - and we're already seeing this - is focus on being in the breakfast business, not just the cereal business. Plus, one of the things they need to do is start trying to create and define trends, not blame and defend against existing trends.

    Which I'm sure they're all doing.

    Published on: September 11, 2014

    Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Walmart is turning to "a 1,000-kid focus group in an attempt to forecast the best-selling toys for the holiday season. Children in Dallas between the ages of 18 months and 10 years old played with more than 80 toys for the survey, and parents of the toy testers received a gift card.

    "Walmart compiles the children’s toy ratings into a top-20 list and instructs its buyers to stock up. The items will be given a special place on shelves with a prominent 'Chosen by Kids' label and particular online emphasis. Shoppers 'don’t have to believe Walmart,' says Anne Marie Kehoe, vice president of toys at Walmart U.S. 'They can believe the kids'."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 11, 2014

    ...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Toys R Us has already begun publishing its holiday toy list, hoping that it can prove that "there’s viable room for it to exist and win as a specialty toy retailer, as other specialty chains from Best Buy to Barnes & Noble= also guard their respective foothold against rivals from Wal-Mart to Amazon."

    According to the story, Toys R Us has "significantly increased consumer research, " is reducing the number of promotions it offers, and also will offer curated sections near the front of stores that feature hot items.

    The story says that "stores also have been remodeled to make them brighter and cleaner, while product shipments were added to increase in-stock level. Store managers have been given the authority to resolve issues without going through headquarters and in-house call centers were installed to fix complex customer service issues instead of previously relying on a third party. Checkout times both in-stores and online has been reduced. Clear signs have been placed throughout stores marking where things are and overhead signs amplify its price matching guarantees."

    I'd rather have a colonoscopy than go to a Toys R Us, so they have a long way to go in order to get disenchanted customers to walk back in its doors. Making it harder is the ultimate convenience of shopping online, and the fact that the competition is moving forward as well.


    • The Chicago Tribune reports that "troubled electronics retailer RadioShack Corp , whose shares swung wildly on Wednesday, is being advised by a restructuring attorney at law firm Jones Day as it tries to strike a deal with creditors to close stores while averting bankruptcy, two people close to the matter told Reuters."

    The question that needs to be resolved is whether the company would be better served by a bankruptcy that would allow it to hit the reset button … though it seems to me that the bigger problem is finding a way to make the stores that remain relevant and vibrant to consumers. That won't be easy, and won't happen overnight … but RadioShack cannot afford for it to take very long.


    • Citing $100 million debt and "fierce competition" and "compressed margins," Associated Wholesalers and its White Rose division have filed for bankruptcy, with plans to sell its assets. The company said it it plans to hold an auction with C&S Wholesale Grocers Inc. as the lead "stalking horse" bidder.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 11, 2014

    • CVS Health announced that it has hired Mary Langowski as its new Executive Vice President for Strategy, Policy and Market Development. The company says that Langowski will join CVS Health from international law firm DLA Piper where she serves as the chair of the Health Care Policy and Regulatory Practice and the co-chair of the Food and Beverage Sector.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 11, 2014

    Richard Kiel, the seven-foot-two actor who memorably played the villainous henchman Jaws in two James Bond movies - The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker - and also played a convict-turned-football player in the original The Longest Yard, has passed away of undisclosed causes. He was 74.
    KC's View:
    Want to watch another memorable Kiel performance? Check out an episode of "The Twilight Zone" from 1962 entitled, "To Serve Man," which you can watch on YouTube here.

    Published on: September 11, 2014

    …will return.
    KC's View: