Published on: April 22, 2015
I've been traveling this week, which has made keeping up with the email a little more problematic. Let's see if we can catch up a bit this morning...
Regarding the Blue Bell Ice Cream recall, MNB user Rich Heiland wrote:Having lived for 11 years in Vermont, and now back in Texas, I can tell you Blue Bell is to Texas what Ben & Jerry's always has been to New England. It's an institution and I can tell you folks down here are in a semi-state of shock.
I agree with you that early on Blue Bell was not as forthcoming as it might have been, but maybe that is understandable. It thought it had a problem in Broken Arrow, OK. With the total recall it's obvious that the infection might be in all the plants. That means the most critical next step for Blue Bell, and even other such food producers, is to determine how an infection reached all of the plants at the same time. No doubt they already are looking at the supply chain with microscopes.
I hope they bring the customers and general public into the lab with them and are totally transparent every step of the way. Ice cream is ice cream. Trust is special.
I agree with you, but I don't have a lot of faith.
And my gut is telling me that when all this is said and done, people are going to lose their jobs, the company's reputation and sales are going to be diminished, and we're going to find out that this wasn't just a mistake, but a systemic problem that could have been addressed a lot earlier but wasn't. I hope I'm wrong.
I don't think this is going to reach Peanut Butter Corp. of America proportions, but ... there seems to be a faint whiff of that in the air. We'll see.
Regarding Walmart and the issue of whether products said to be made in the USA actually are, MNB reader Ted File wrote:I recall that Sam the man said, "When I say it is made in the USA, it sure as heck will be. If not, you don't sell to me."
Boy, he was the guy. I recall the time when he and I had a meeting with sitting on an old box, and me, too.
The sad reality is there aren't many people left who remember those days.
On the subject of Walmart's seeming preference for a click-and-collect model, MNB reader Dan Graham wrote:I think the Wal Mart team may be ignoring the rather obvious fact that many (if not most) consumers who order online do not want to go to a store, even if it's only for pickup. Of course I can understand their dedication to trying to get people to come to their stores for any reason - it's hard to dedicate an organization to a alternative that could eventually destroy your core business.
We had a story in which a Walmart executive talked about the company's e-strategy but was "light on the details." One MNB reader responded:He was “light on the details” kinda like his stores being “light on inventory”, I am continually amazed at the poor inventory positions at Wal-Mart. If he really believes that his 4500 stores are a “competitive advantage” he should fill them up, train workers to care about the consumer and put a few more checkers on duty to reduce the wait times.
A similar point from MNB reader Dan Jones:Walmart will be at an advantage for on-line orders only if they can keep product in stock. Think about the thousands of simple decisions we make in-store. For example, if ketchup is on the my list, I may choose to order a 20 oz. Heinz squeeze bottle. If this item is out at the local store, what is my preferred next option? 1) Buy the Heinz 14oz Squeeze? 2) Buy the Store Brand 20 oz? 3) Buy a Heinz non-squeeze 20oz? 4) Wait until the next order? Does Walmart invest in a team of people to call me and ask? This costs the customer time and Walmart money.
It is much easier for Amazon to keep stock with one large regional warehouse instead of Walmart trying to get 100 local stores correct. Unless Walmart can improve the in-store fundamentals, they will spend a lot more money on customer service than Amazon will spend on shipping.
This response to last week's FaceTime about the mystical level playing field:In my experience, there is almost never a level playing field – however the slant to the field or the advantage is not always created by or given to the largest player…..Back in the 70’s, California struck down the fair trade law on alcohol beverages. Until that time, selling alcohol was fairly simple…. Generate funding, obtain a license, buy the alcohol, open the state pricing guide, find your item, and set your retails at or above the posted retail – sell enough product and you make a profit and continue on…. With the removal of fair trade, the only guide line was that retailers had to sell at least 6% above cost (and depending on bracket/discounts/distributor – cost was a moving target).
Fresh out of high school, I was fortunate to be cutting my teeth in business at that time because it was FUN (both challenging and educational – as a college freshman I was able to learn that you NEVER know as much as you think you do - and that most seemingly impenetrable obstacles provide an opportunity to get through). We could have closed the doors and moved on, but my mentor (boss and then business partner) had other ideas….
As I mentioned, there was going to be a challenge on cost – so a group of liquor store owners banded together to form a buying group and shared a warehouse rental so that we could generate the same quantity discounts that the larger competitors would.
There was going to be a challenge on the size of the store – Safeway decided to immediately enter the segments and turned some of their stores into “Liquor Barn” with a very similar footprint to their standard store - -so we worked on our customer service. We were a “neighborhood” store and had a great location so we tried to personalize each interaction. Each customer was Tom or Sally or Mr, Miss or Mrs Johnson and each request for an item we didn’t created an opportunity for us to satisfy a specific need.
There was also a margin opportunity – fair trade “guaranteed” a 25%+ margin – The Liquor Barn type competitor began blending out closer to 10%----so we worked on becoming more relevant to our customers- blend our margins to be close on the key items and add items that would help maintain traffic. Sometimes, instead of wine or beer ends, we negotiated great costs and built paper ends (single paper towels or 4 pack toilet paper-fortunately customers weren’t buying 50 packs back then)...
Obviously, there were more opportunities, but bottom line is that by changing with the needs of our customers, we kept that store for another 15 years before we sold it and each year allowed us to grow sales and profit, Liquor Barn closed their doors and our old store is still in existence today…..
Each change provides us with opportunities – opportunities to change and possibly morph into something we had never imagined or sadly opportunities to fail… I believe that many times the choice is ours…
MNB reader Michael A. Stephan had some thoughts about the same commentary:I agree with your support of the Wine Shop Owner that argues he should have the same opportunity to sell cheese as the Cheese Shop Owner has to sell wine.
I also agree with his argument not to extend hours. Although you framed his case as "small guy can't keep up with big guy", I see it more as limiting certain commerce to certain days. Is it really necessary to have wine shops open at all hours of the day? No. I little planning and there is no problem. The problem only surfaces when someone has an unplanned need or last minute desire.
Here in MN, car dealerships aren't open on Sundays. From a consumer stand point, that seems ridiculous. Sunday seems like a good time to shop for a car. But, a better use for a Sunday is to be with family (or friends).
Unless you happen to be someone who works six days a week, and Sunday happens to be the only day you can shop for a car, or buy beer and wine, or even shop for groceries. I remember a time when, where I grew up, supermarkets were not allowed to be open on Sundays.
Saying you want to be closed on Sunday so you and your employees can spend time with family and friends is a perfectly legitimate values judgement ... but it also strikes me as a great example of government overreach to say that this values judgement ought to be codified into law.
MNB reader Pete Grimlund weighed in on the continuing discussion of Amazon's drone program:The use of drones to speed up delivery service may be just over the proverbial horizon but it is the last mile, or in this case the last 10 feet that poses a challenge. We just moved into a condominium where there is no concierge to take delivery of packages. If you take the delivery person out of the equation who has access to the secured foyer, how is that going to improve customer service?
I can envision coming home after being notified of a drone delivery, only to find a soggy box sitting out in the drizzle or worse, nothing at all because some passing individual spotted an opportunity to pick up a little early Christmas gift. Sarcasm aside, it is believed the sweet spot for drones will need to be in the lower density suburban or even near rural areas where their use reduces logistics costs. Of course one will need to worry about the occasional wiseacre who looks at drones as a new form of shooting sport. But that goes with the geography.
All good points.
My only point is this. Just because you or I cannot imagine this happening or making sense does not mean that it won't happen and that it won't make sense.
I'm just trying to avoid epistemic closure on the issue.
On another subject, one MNB user wrote:I don’t enjoy using mobile loyalty programs while I am shopping because they make me do something else, other than shopping, when I am trying to shop. I have to balance my device and enter information while pushing a cart and trying to select products from the stores’ shelves. It is a cumbersome process. Then, I still have to remember to present my phone at checkout.
This process has to be made more seamless.
Regarding the ongoing debate about whether Kroger should sell guns, MNB reader Robin Forgey wrote:In my town, the local Kroger store, Fred Meyers, sells guns. How could they ban their customers from carrying them when they sell them?
From another reader:I agree with Kroger – they are in the retail industry, not politics and if consumers don’t want to shop at Kroger because they are abiding by the law, I’m sure Kroger will do just fine without their business.
And from MNB reader Dave Wiles:Kroger is correct on this. Let each state set the laws.
I have never took a hand gun into a food or drug store in Arizona or California. I have never seen anyone else bring in a gun.
It would not effect me if they did unless they wanted to rob the store. It is not the gun, it is the person who holds the gun.
Making laws that will keep weapons from honest people will only let the bad guys win.
I really don't understand those who believe that passing a law to take guns away will keep those who break the law to follow it.
And finally, this email from MNB reader Dean Balsamo:Amazon. Last week’s experiences I had with both Amazon and Staples illustrate why Amazon has become my destination of choice for so many things.
I recently upgraded my photo printer to Canon Pro 100 to replace the other Canon photo printer I use for work. I used to get all my toner from Office Depot but than about a year ago they made a drastic reduction in their toner offering and instead of being able to buy black by itself…the most commonly used ink…they got rid of the single offering and in order to get black at all from the brick and mortar Office Depot…I now had to buy a whole multi pack with different colors and one black cartridge.
So then I started going to Amazon and ordering five blacks at once because I needed that ratio. So Office Depot lost 90% of my toner business and the bulk of the $200 plus business I was giving them ever six weeks or so because they made this decision.
Recently I upgraded to a Canon Pro 100 which uses different toner. It’s a more sophisticated printer but I still expected Office Depot to have some of the toner. No. They don’t even list it online.
Then I had a challenge as I was running out of black and didn’t have any back up left which caused to me freak out some as I do quite a bit of printing on daily basis for letters and other items I use for work.
So I go Amazon and of course everything was there and I opted for next delivery and there it was by noon the next day.
In addition I thought well I wonder if Staples carries this in their store-since I never go there I wasn’t familiar with their offerings.
No, they don’t carry it in the store but I could order online and have it sent to the store. Okay, I thought I'd give it a try. So I order and it wasn’t even close to the ease of the Amazon experience. The web site was more complicated to get around. It listed “my store” as a store 500 miles away. So I had to correct that.
I found the toner. Ordered and the site told it would be at the store two days later for pickup.
I was given no tracking number, no notification outside of the immediate transaction telling me it’ll be there.
Two days later the UPS man brings a package that he had for me to the door of my home and also expressed some puzzlement because he said he thought he had another one for me but didn’t find it on the truck.
So I thought somehow that since I get deliveries every week from UPS that somehow my name must have triggered something on the UPS site and confused it with my Staples delivery. I was expecting a call or an email from Staples to tell me my scheduled delivery had arrived. But nothing.
The next day…my wife called the Staples store and no one could tell her anything about the order. They said they’ll ask the manager who then got on the line and told her that he’d call when he found anything.
Meanwhile I never did get any kind of email with tracking info or notification about its arrival.
Later on that day, a day later after they said it was going to be there, the manager calls and says the toner just arrived.
I had to go out of town the next day and my wife was busy…five days later I still haven’t picked up the toner and of course I can’t forget to bring copy of my invoice with me etc.
If they at least communicated I might be prone to give Staples another chance. But since I can buy things like paper and pens at Office Depot there’ s reason for me to go to Staples so rather than a new customer =, Staples has nothing.
It may be too late for them to get up to speed. Amazon’s won my business once again as it has over and over again for the last 10 years.
I want the brick and mortar stores to thrive too. Does Amazon have to do those too to show retailers how to do business?
We'll have more emails tomorrow, I hope, as I continue to wade through the in box...