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    Published on: April 17, 2015

    by Kevin Coupe

    The force is with us. And we are home.

    Those were the two big messages yesterday when the new trailer for Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens was posted online.

    The trailer has pretty much everything that Star Wars fans could ask for. A sand-swept planet. Space battles. Droids. Apparent bad guys. Space battles. A voice over from Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). And a brief, iconic appearance by Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca.

    Totally cool. And this trailer for what will be the seventh movie in the series awakened in Star Wars fans all over the world an energy and enthusiasm that was palpable.

    Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens is scheduled to be released on December 18. It can't come soon enough.

    This may have nothing to do with business (other than the certainty that every retailer on the planet likely will be selling licensed Star Wars goods later this year). But I don't care.

    Where I come from, this is an Eye-Opener. Enjoy the trailer.

    P.S. As of this morning, the trailer has been viewed on YouTube almost 19 million times ... enough activity that it managed to increase producer Disney's stock value by $2 billion.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 17, 2015

    We like to talk a lot here on MNB about the power of disruption ... and so it was highly satisfying yesterday when an MNB reader passed along this article from The Verge about how Tesla plans to be "producing a stationary battery for powering the home in the next few months."

    The story suggests that Tesla founder Elon Musk looks "less like a carmaker and more like the architect of a vertically integrated energy company," with enormous disruptive potential as a threat to mainstream utility companies.

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

    Published on: April 17, 2015

    Bloomberg reports that "sales at restaurants and bars overtook spending at grocery stores in March for the first time ever, according to Commerce Department data released Tuesday that dates to 1992."

    The story suggests that the sales figures offer "some insight into the evolution of American eating habits, hinting at a generational shift that already has restaurants thinking about how to cater to those growing ranks of millennials." Essentially, it comes down to this - that millennials are more willing to spend money eating out, while aging Baby Boomers "have been expressing less of a willingness to spend on dining out, while funneling more cash toward those grocery trips."
    KC's View:
    But wait a minute.

    It was just about a week ago that Bloomberg reported on new research from Forrester saying that "retailers should stop wasting so much time trying to win over millennials because they’re often broke. Instead, they should target older shoppers with more money to spend."

    So does that mean while millennials prefer eating out, they won't have much money to spend doing so? I gather they'll be largely trying to pay off crushing college debt. Also, the founder of Burger King said yesterday that if fast food chains like his are forced to raise wages, fast food burgers could cost as much as $10 ... which will only put more pressure on millennials' wallets.

    To me, the larger lesson is that it probably makes sense not to over-characterize generations ... there's a lot of room for variations within every demographic set.

    Published on: April 17, 2015

    The Washington Post reports that Walgreens, in addition to closing 200 stores in the US as previously announced, has frozen "salaries of its senior leadership, though it continued to hand out merit increases to rank-and-file employees."

    According to the story, "The freeze, said Walgreens spokesman Michael Polzin, applied to the top 200 or so U.S. executives ... The intention was to demonstrate that 'if we're going to implement a program where we're not going to give raises, it should start with the leadership, instead of saying we're going to do pay freezes more widely,' Polzin said."

    The moves have been made since the merger with UK chain Boots that created a new company called Walgreens Boots Alliance.
    KC's View:
    I think it sends a powerful message when these kinds of moves start at the top, and have less impact on the people working on the front lines. Sure, people will lose jobs because of the store closures ... but the way Walgreens is doing it certainly seems better than when companies lay off thousands and then reward c-suite personnel with raises and retention bonuses.

    Published on: April 17, 2015

    The Cincinnati Business Courier reports that "the battle to prevent customers from being able to carry guns into Kroger stores is heating up again, thanks to another ad campaign from groups backed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg.

    "The groups – Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America – launched an online video ad campaign this week called Not Allowed."

    The video criticizes Kroger for banning some things from stores - skateboards, water guns and pets - but still "allowing customers to carry guns out in the open in states that have open-carry gun laws ... The campaign heightens efforts the groups started last year to get Kroger to ban the open carry of guns in any of its stores. The groups have been successful with some other retailers. So far, Kroger is sticking with its policy to follow local and state laws in its 2,625 stores in 34 states and the District of Columbia."

    Kroger tells the Courier that “Everytown for Gun Safety is a national political organization that is attempting to use retailers to further their agenda. Representatives of Kroger have met with Everytown, both with their organizers here in Cincinnati and through a serious phone conversation with the executive vice president of Everytown for Gun Safety. We listened and considered their point of view. We understand their objectives and we have explained our policy position.

    “Kroger’s policy has been and continues to be to follow state and local laws and to ask customers to be respectful of others while shopping in our store. We believe the controversial gun issue is best resolved by lawmakers, not retailers.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 17, 2015

    CNN reports that Walmart unexpectedly closed five stores this week - two in Texas, and one each in California, Florida and Oklahoma - citing consistent plumbing problems that required extended repairs.

    The stores could be closed as long as six months.

    There is some speculation that Walmart has closed only stores where there seemed to be higher levels of union organizing activity ... but CNN writes that "a Walmart spokesman said the decision to close the store has nothing to do with anything but the plumbing."
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 17, 2015

    Reuters reports that "German labor union Verdi is prepared for a long fight with U.S. online retailer Inc for better pay and conditions and expects more strikes this Christmas.

    "Verdi has organized frequent strikes at Amazon since May 2013 as it seeks to force the retailer to raise pay for warehouse workers in accordance with collective bargaining agreements across Germany's mail order and retail industry ... Amazon has repeatedly rejected the union's demands, saying it regards warehouse staff as logistics workers and that they receive above-average pay by the standards of that industry."
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 17, 2015

    • The Associated Press writes that " the higher price of organic foods and other products doesn't seem to be deterring consumers: Sales jumped 11 percent last year, an industry report says." The Organic Trade Association estimates "that organics now make up almost 5 percent of total food sales in the United States, with sales for all organic products totaling more than $39 billion last year ... According to the Agriculture Department, the number of U.S. organic operations has more than tripled since then; the number grew 5 percent just last year."
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 17, 2015

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 17, 2015

    This week, I am happy to tell you about two excellent pieces of entertainment. It is a mark of how things have changed in the entertainment world that neither were in the theaters ... I watched them both at home, and was completely happy.

    The first was the series finale of "Justified," a program about which I've often written here. For six seasons, this adaptation and expansion of an Elmore Leonard novel has been nothing short of glorious - western archetypes placed in Harlan County, Kentucky, and featuring a rock solid leading performance by Timothy Olyphant as US Marshall Raylan Givens coming up against an extraordinarily colorful group of bad guys, chief among them bank robber/drug dealer Boyd Crowder, played by Walton Goggins with smooth and knowing malevolence.

    The thing about "Justified" is that it managed to be that rare thing - a TV version that was loyal to the original in terms of both tone and content, even managing to amplify on themes and characterizations in ways that are completely satisfying.

    There was Givens in his cowboy hat, all cool and confident, understanding the difference between the law and justice and aware of the fact that he had only barely escaped his Harlan County roots only to be plunged back into the morass after a questionable gunfight against a Miami criminal. (He maintains the shooting was justified ... hence the series title.) And then there were all the assorted criminals, all of them products of the circumstances in which they were raised, marked by a sense of inevitability. Some were looking to leave Harlan County, and others wanted to own it.

    If you've never seen "Justified," I strongly urge you to start from the beginning and watch the entire series. The finale was pretty much everything I could have asked for, especially because it managed in most cases to avoid cliche and take the audience in some unexpected directions. (There was one moment that wasn't so much cliche as inevitable ... and it was perfect.)

    I'm going to miss "Justified" enormously. The good news is that there are a bunch of Elmore Leonard novels featuring Givens that I can go back to. Leonard was one of the greatest American novelists of any genre, and his work remains a national treasure to which we can return again and again.

    The other entertainment was something new - and for me, totally unexpected.

    "Daredevil" is a 13-part series based on a Marvel comic book character with whom, to be honest, I'm not that familiar. I knew the bare bones - blind lawyer has heightened other senses that allow him to fight crime in New York City. I knew it had been the basis for a lousy Ben Affleck movie a few years ago. And I mostly was intrigued because the 13 episodes were being released on Netflix, following the "House of Cards" strategy that worked so well. In this case, I was more intrigued by the delivery system than the content, and decided to watch the first episode just to get a sense of it.

    Well, 13 episodes later, I can tell you that "Daredevil" is fabulous and in some ways highly original entertainment. At the end of each episode I couldn't wait to see the next one, and it took real effort to turn off the TV.

    In many ways, "Daredevil" has the look and feel of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy - gritty and dark and without much hope. But placed in a grimy and devastated Hell's Kitchen in New York - at a time just following the devastating events showed in The Avengers - it actually has even greater resonance. It doesn't just seem familiar, but likely, as it portrays what essentially is a struggle for the heart and soul of the city.

    Fighting that battle are two men. Charlie Cox plays blind lawyer Matt Murdock, who dons the mask of Daredevil at night ... and finds himself struggling with issues of good and evil, wanting to do the right thing but increasingly feeling that it is only through acts of violence that the bad guys can be defeated. On the other side is Wilson Fisk, a crime lord who wants to rebuild the city in his own image, and who wants to be seen as a good guy and savior even as he gives in to his baser and most violent impulses. The two men are linked not just by their desire to save their city - albeit in different ways - but also by a kind of emotional insecurity about the methods and motivations.

    "Daredevil" is a remarkable piece of television. It makes other TV superhero series like "Gotham" and "Smallville," which are not without their charms, look like "Sesame Street." I think it is going to be an enormous hit for Netflix and Marvel, and I can't wait for season two.

    I have two wines to recommend to you this week...

    • 2012 Airfield Estates Runway Cabernet Sauvignon, from Washington's Yakima Valley, which is deep and rich and just yummy.

    • 2014 Bonny Doon Albarino, from California, which is light with just a bit of spice, and a nice version of a wine that more often comes from Spain.

    That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    KC's View: