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    Published on: February 24, 2015

    by Michael Sansolo

    Usually we praise people for what they know and how they act. Today we have to salute Ron Cook of Niemann Foods for what he didn’t know and how he still managed to do all the right things.

    Sounds weird doesn’t it? Yet it’s a great lesson in the importance of being open, trusting your team and, to paraphrase Star Trek, going where you have never gone before.

    Two weeks ago, Cook and Niemann won the Best in Show award for marketing at the National Grocers Association’s Creative Choice awards in Las Vegas. As the moderator of that session, I had more than a little insight into what went on.

    The promotion itself was both really simple and really clever. To build store traffic, sales and focus on social media and frequent shopper efforts, Niemann offered customers the chance to win two tickets to a concert by the pop group One Direction. The more a shopper bought, the more chances they had to win, especially when buying products from Mondelez, Niemann’s partner in the promotion.

    The results were terrific. Among other things, sales of Oreos tripled and consumer use of Niemann’s social media sites doubled.

    But that’s only a piece of the story.

    When I quickly interviewed Cook on stage about the promotion, I stumbled into a completely unexpected nugget. In jest, I asked Cook to name his favorite member of One Direction. Personally, I only know of Harry Styles (the “cute” one).

    Cook admitted he didn’t have a clue. He didn’t know any of the five band members and didn’t even know their ubiquitous mega-hit: “What Makes You Beautiful.” (We even played the song for him. He still didn’t know.)

    That begged the follow up question of how he authorized such a large promotion without knowing anything about the focal point of the entire effort.

    Cook explained it all came from a discussion with his team who assured him of the band’s popularity and the power the ticket promotion would have. With that input, Cook signed on.

    For me, that is the real reason he deserved to win that Best in Show award - because his lesson is one that managers and executives everywhere need to consider. In our multi-generational, multi-racial and multi-ethnic society, none of us can be on top of every trend. No one of us can know every holiday, every hot boy band or every single current eating trend.

    We need input from lots of sources and we need the courage that Cook showed to listen to suggestions about possible opportunities we could never have seen ourselves.

    Two of the chapters in my new book, "Business Rules," focus on the importance of being open and listening. One chapter explains how a famous songwriter got the inspiration from something his daughter said in the car one day; while another details how a famous pilot reached out to his cockpit team for input just seconds before landing a stricken airplane. The song became a hit and while the crash landing wasn’t averted, no one perished in the accident.

    When we listen and when we are open to the new and different, great things can happen. If nothing else, we learn something we never knew.

    Ron Cook showed us how those very skills can be the one direction to success.

    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 on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 24, 2015

    by Kevin Coupe

    If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    Unless, of course, you happen to be Apple.

    9to5Mac is reporting that "Apple will soon make a significant change to retail store Genius Bar appointments to improve the customer experience, according to several sources briefed on the upcoming shift. During the week of March 9th, Apple’s United States stores will launch a new initiative called 'Concierge' that replaces traditional walk-in Genius Bar appointments."

    According to the story, "This Concierge program, spearheaded by Retail Senior Vice President Angela Ahrendts, moves away from the classic appointment model. Instead, a customer describes the issue to an Apple Store employee, who inputs the issue into an updated iPad application. Using a special algorithm, the application provides the customer a wait time based on issue priorities. For example, a customer seeking an iPhone screen replacement will automatically be placed higher in the queue than a customer seeking help with a minor iCloud issue. The customer then provides a phone number, which Apple uses to send three text messages with wait time updates."

    The story goes on to say that "multiple Apple employees have called the Concierge program one of the most significant changes to Apple Store operations in several years, as it allows customers to request support on the spot, shop elsewhere inside of the mall, and then return when the store is ready to service them. This will likely reduce crowding in the Apple Store and possibly fatigue from waiting customers. Apple Stores will operate essentially like restaurants that provide diners with pagers and wait times instead of holding empty tables while people are waiting. However, with the SMS-based system, realtime feedback and interactivity will be provided without the need for additional hardware."

    The new program is said to not affect people who book Genius Bar appointments online before going to the store.

    I think this is an Eye-Opener. Let's face it - the Apple Store is generally considered to be state of the art when it comes to a retail experience, and the Genius Bar is one of the best ideas any retailer ever has had. Apple could hardly be blamed for leaving things alone ... but that's not the way you maintain leadership and encourage innovation.

    I'm reminded of the line from the Amazon commercial: "Normal just begs to be messed with."

    And, of course, the line from the Apple commercial: "Think different."

    As usual, Apple's approach to business and retail is an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 24, 2015

    Forbes has a column that looks to break down the attributes that differentiate Trader Joe's. An excerpt:

    "Some of the reasons why are obvious and contribute to TJ’s rising-star status among grocery chains, including a respectable selection of sensibly priced offerings and an emphasis on freshness. The stores are also designed to evoke a different sort of feeling from customers. They’re smaller than typical grocery stores, purposefully staying on the medium to small side at every location, which helps keep things cozy.

    "And instead of swallowing customers in a sea of color conformity, TJ’s hits you with a splash of color and texture-everything.  There’s cedar, there’s brick, there’s bamboo. The colors are vibrant. The scripting on store signs is interesting to read, even if it’s just pointing you to a display of dark chocolate ginger cookies. The setting is comfortably stimulating.

    "All of that feeds into an overall uplifting effect, but what really makes shopping at TJ’s a boost for the brain are those who work there.  Trader Joe’s employees are different, and the difference they bring to their work changes the psychological experience of the store’s customers. There are emotional contagions in the air at TJ’s and its customers catch an infectious psychosocial buzz."
    KC's View:
    The column concludes that one of the important factors in creating these emotional contagions is hiring people who care, and then creating a community of employees who view themselves as working on pieces of an interlocking puzzle, rather than on individual, disconnected tasks.

    This strikes me as an enormously important observation, and the kind of thing that can, in fact, create a differentiated culture ... and a differentiated retail culture can be the kind of thing that compels a consumer to choose one store over another.

    From my own experience, I can tell you that pretty much every time I've lined up to check out at my local Trader Joe's, the checkout person has asked me if I found everything I was looking for ... a simple question, an expression of interest, and yet one that gets asked rarely in other food stores in which I have shopped.

    Published on: February 24, 2015

    MarketWatch reports that Target has cut its minimum for free shipping for online orders in half, from $50 to $25, and move that undercuts both Amazon and Walmart.

    According to the story, "After taking back its website operation from Amazon in fall 2011, and having endured such episodes as a website crash during its Missoni for Target launch, Target has upped its online game and is, in the company’s words, 'taking bold steps to be an e-commerce leader'."

    The story says that the move reflects Target's desire to connect with younger generation shoppers, and that the company has been emboldened by a 2014 holiday shopping season during which it had a 58 percent conversion rate on its website, up from 31 percent a year earlier - still lower than the conversion rate at Amazon and Walmart, but showing a higher growth rate than either of those two sites.
    KC's View:
    What's the over-under on when Target begins offering free shipping? Because down the road, that's going to be the cost of doing business.

    I also think that one of the things that Target ought to do is what Amazon has done, which is provide preferential shipping rates to best customers, or customers who are willing to pay for it (Prime). That's a great way to differentiate between your customers and target the best ones.

    Published on: February 24, 2015

    Delhaize-owned Food Lion has announced that it has opened a food pantry designed "to address student hunger issues" on the campus of Livingstone College in North Carolina, the fourth such college campus pantry that it has opened. There are more than 100 campus food pantries operating around the country.

    Meg Ham, president of Food Lion, says in a prepared statement, "Food Lion is committed to working with local partners to help end hunger in our communities, and recent data from Feeding America suggests that nearly ten percent of food bank clients are college students.  By providing this support, we are able to help students bridge the hunger gap while in school."

    "Students who don't live on campus have additional financial obligations to handle, and we're certain the food pantry will help ease challenges that may be associated with that," says Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, Sr. "It's no secret that a student with a healthy body and mind is more likely to perform better in the classroom than one who is deficient. We're grateful for any partnership that will help our students achieve success here at Livingstone."

    According to the announcement, "Food Lion Feeds donated more than 5,000 meals to stock the shelves at the pantry before opening its doors to students today and had local store associates help prepare the pantry for the grand opening. The pantry is expected to serve approximately 225 students each week."
    KC's View:
    To be honest, I'm really surprised by this ... I had no idea that on-campus hunger was such a problem. (I remember late night munchies and driving out to Tommy's to get double chili cheeseburgers, but I think that is a different thing.) I'm fascinated by this - especially the "nearly ten percent of food bank clients are college students" number - and I spend enough time on college campuses that I think I'm going to start asking more questions about it.

    Published on: February 24, 2015

    The Wall Street Journal has a piece by Jeffrey Shaffer, who has spent time in radio, television news and print journalism, and who now works at a NewSeasons Market in Oregon.

    "I recently took a job that is often ridiculed as menial and mindless," he writes. "But I have found it to be interesting and rewarding: I work in a grocery store.

    "Hollywood hasn’t been kind to this line of work. Anyone who has seen the 1994 movie The Shawshank Redemption knows what happened to inmate Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore). After decades of incarceration he was finally paroled but couldn’t adjust to life outside prison walls. One major source of disillusionment was his job at a local market filling grocery bags, and before long he gave up and hanged himself."

    Shaffer goes on to say, "This is an interesting time to be in the grocery business, when millions of Americans are becoming seriously interested in food production, nutrition, diet regimens and cooking styles.

    "My fellow employees and I are all active participants in the collective conversation."

    You can read the entire column here.
    KC's View:
    I hope I get the chance to meet Shaffer next summer when I do my summer adjunctivity at Portland State University; in fact, I may ask him to come in and talk to my class.

    Because while I've never actually worked in a grocery store (I've worked in other kinds of retail), one of the reasons I've enjoyed writing about the business for the past 30 years or so (30 years!?!), is exactly what he talks about - the collective conversation that transcends just shopping, but extends to so many other things.

    Published on: February 24, 2015

    TheDrum in the UK reports that Sean McCurley, a Tesco senior buying executive who was suspended by the company in the initial days of its internal investigation into accounting irregularities, and then returned to his job after being cleared of any misdeeds, now has left the company.

    The story says the reason for McCurley's permanent departure are "unclear," and Tesco is not commenting on the move.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 24, 2015

    • Unified Grocers announced that it has reached an agreement with Sacramento-based grocery chain Raley's "to take over its General Merchandise/Health, Beauty andWellness operations. The agreement includes leasing the Raley's warehouse in Stockton. Unified will become Raley's third-party provider for GM and HBW products.

    "Under the terms of the agreement, Unified has hired all the employees who work in the facility."

    • The Orlando Sentinel reports that mainstream grocers in Central Florida such as Publix and Winn-Dixie are engaged in remodels "to showcase fresh produce, prepared meals and cooking stations — all to battle the likes of specialty grocers Whole Foods and The Fresh Market as shoppers demand more from their neighborhood stores." And, at the same time, specialty grocers have been busy in Central Florida, "mostly adding stores. Whole Foods began construction on a new store in Altamonte Springs, its third in Central Florida, although the company has not given a completion date."

    • The Detroit Free Press reports that Grand Rapids-based Meijer "is trying to dress up its apparel — and aims to sell more clothing and shoes to its shoppers. The company's desire to sell more clothing is driven by (the) belief that there is unrealized potential in it, especially as fashion styles become more casual and shoppers, more cost-conscious. It also in the longer term is a strategy to help it compete."

    "We are serious about having trend-right fashion at a great price," says Lynn Hempe, Meijer's group vice president of softlines. "Over the years, we've done a lot to update the product and to move the styles and assortment forward into more of a fashion cycle."
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 24, 2015

    • Walmart announced that Rafael Matute, CFO of its Mexican unit for the past 17 years, plans to retire in July, to be replaced by Wal-Mart Latin America CFO Pedro Farah.

    Matute is the second senior Walmex executive to leave the company in recent months; Walmex Chairman Enrique Ostalé replaced Scot Rank as CEO of the company last month.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 24, 2015

    Got the following email from an MNB reader about the FDA's decision to allow the sale of at-home DNA testing kits designed to allow people to determine which diseases they may be predisposed to get:

    I’m not convinced that this is a ‘change for the better’.  It will be a nice boon for the pharmaceutical companies that will make the test kit and then for any that produce anti-anxiety pills which the uneducated consumer will need in the wake of using the DNA test.

    Guess I need to buy some Pharmaceutical stocks…and then emphasize for my family as to why we simply don’t need this type of ‘fortune tellers’ snake oil.  (Matthew 6:26)

    I checked Matthew 6:26, and don't think it was about fortune tellers' snake oil ... best I can tell, it says, Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

    I might've gone with the more appropriate Matthew 6:25 ... Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?

    Or Matthew 6:27 ... Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

    Then again, I'm anything but a Biblical scholar, so who am I to say?

    The thing is, I'm not sure it is fair to describe all at-home DNA testing as snake oil. Will the companies that create these tests do well for themselves? Probably. But that's hardly a reason to denigrate the whole concept. Seems to me that if we can make DNA testing more accessible and then use the results to help people live longer, happier, healthier lives, that's hardly a bad thing.

    Does this transcend to worrying too much about food or drink or clothes? Not to me ... I'm totally okay with this, at least conceptually.

    Regarding the apparent terrorist threats against shopping centers in the US and Europe, one MNB user wrote:

    As one who lives in the shadow of the Mall of America, thought I’d weigh in on this weekend.

    While I try to stay away from the MOA on the weekends (SO many people!), I know of three families who went yesterday to escape the “arctic air” we are experiencing in Minnesota.  It’s a fantastic place to ride the amusement park rides, window shop and see a movie.
    People need to stay alert, but shouldn’t stop living their lives.


    By the way, there was one MNB user who took issue with something I wrote yesterday:

    One hesitates to comment too much on a story like this, lest anyone be given an idea. But these kinds of stories, about the vulnerabilities of commercial properties in America, are going to grow in frequency, I think ... and this won't be the first warning we're going to see along these lines. I've always felt that if you want to terrorize America, it would be a lot more effective to hit a major shopping center than a national monument.

    The suggestion was that I didn't hesitate enough.

    Maybe. But the thing is, I think these stories are out there enough that it is not exactly planting original ideas to say that we need to adjust our thinking about the things that threaten us. I'm a little uncomfortable about writing it - some would say not uncomfortable enough, I suppose - but I'm also not sure what is gained by not stating what I think ought to be obvious.

    Finally, I also got an email from an MNB reader who appreciated a recommendation I made last week:

    My spouse and I have also gotten hooked on Bosch (on Amazon Prime).  It’s a gloomy but great bit of television.  Long live the Fire Stick!

    Don't just tell me. Go on Amazon and tell them .. so we can get more episodes produced.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 24, 2015

    Ever have one of those mornings when everything goes wrong?

    I had one of those mornings today. Laptop problems. Email problems. Internet problems. It was like a perfect storm.

    So apologies for your getting the MNB Wake Up Call late this morning. It was like every time I thought I'd figured out a solution, I hit another brick wall....or, considering the weather outside, a sheet of ice and a snowbank.

    Hopefully, all will go smoother tomorrow...and I appreciate, as always, your patience.
    KC's View: