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    Published on: June 17, 2015

    by Michael Sansolo

    Competition is never pleasant. Sure, it makes us better, stronger and more ready for the future, but let’s be honest: most of us really like the status quo or change in nice, slow, digestible steps.

    Dream on!

    The reality is that competition is a fierce force, upsetting the status quo. It’s not always fair, it’s rarely pretty and overall, it’s a pain in the neck. But there’s only one way to win and that’s by fighting back.

    Or as we like to quote from The Untouchables: "If they pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way.”

    In other words, whining doesn’t work.

    I got an interesting reminder of this from a cab driver named Aziz, who I found by chance in Chicago last week. Nearly from the moment I got into his cab, Aziz launched into his criticism and put downs of Uber. That’s no surprise. I think cabbies like traffic and speed cameras better than the internet-enabled ride service.

    But this time there was a difference. In many ways, Aziz is the best cab driver I’ve had in a long time. Many times cab rides in cities like Chicago are an assault on the senses. The smells, the dirty seats, the heightened fear of reckless drivers and, of course, the opportunity to listen to the driver conduct a loud and lengthy phone call (and always in another language).

    Aziz did none of those things. His cab was clean and despite his Uber speech, he was incredibly pleasant. In fact if every cab looked like his, I doubt Uber would be growing quite so fast.

    As we talked, Aziz gave me numerous insights. In his calm way, he explained all the many steps a Chicago cab driver needs to pass in order to drive a medallion vehicle and honestly, all are important to me. (Things like, you know, safety.) And he explained that the company he drives for has strict guidelines on cleanliness and driver behavior.

    Clearly Aziz and his team need to see The Untouchables to learn something about fighting back. Because while everything Aziz said was important, I would have known none of it without our conversation. Inside the cab there was no statement of principles explaining all those qualities Aziz was touting. And I had to look around hard to merely find the name of the cab company.

    In other words, the Aziz and his cab have a good brand, but the brand was completely lost. Plus, the cab company should be working double time to address Uber’s strengths, by figuring out how to use apps, text and any other communication to make sure riders have no barrier to finding its cabs.

    Which takes us back to bringing knives to gunfights. The challenges facing every type of business is growing nearly daily. Think of the coverage we’ve had here on MNB recently about coming growth of Aldi, Lidl, e-commerce and even now a CVS-fueled Target. And that’s just this week.

    The reality is your status quo is changing right here, right now and you’ve got to gear up. You have to be more current, more flexible, more creative and more valuable than ever. And even that might not be enough.

    Learn from Aziz. Do what you do best, make sure you are clearly articulating what that is and make sure your consumers get the message clearly. Don’t assume they know because the odds are they don’t.

    Remember, it’s a gunfight.

    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: June 17, 2015

    by Kevin Coupe

    On the culinary front, my driving trip cross-country already is paying dividends. On Tuesday, I was treated to a wonderful lunch at a fast-food places called Fusian ... and the best way to describe this little jewel is to say that it is like Chipotle, except with sushi and chopsticks.

    Founded by three Ohio natives about five years ago, Fusian has developed into an eight-store business with units in Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton. I visited one of the Dayton stores, in a shopping area adjacent to the University, and from the moment walks in, the vibe is friendly and totally accessible. One can build one's own sushi roll from the wide range of ingredients listed on a couple of big menu boards; in my case, it being my first time there, I sort of started with salmon and let the people behind the counter build it for me ... and it was delicious. There are some fountain iced teas and lemonades available, as well as beer ... and if you want a more traditional soft drink, those are available, too.

    But what occurred to me while enjoying my Fusian meal is the fact that it once again proves that the fast food experience does not have to reek of artificiality. From the simple design elements to the use of local foods, from the ways in which it looks to connect to the community to its out-front approach to sustainability issues, Fusian is nothing if not authentic.

    And the thins is, it is a lot more ... because it also is delicious. If I had one near me, I'd be such a regular that I'd probably be annoying.

    Pictures are below. Fusian's website can be accessed here.

    I suspect that this is a concept that's going to have legs, and that these guys are either going to roll out on their own, or sell to someone who can do it for them. I wouldn't even be surprised to see it - or something like it - pop up in supermarkets who want to ramp up the sushi experience a little bit.

    Fusian is a winner.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 17, 2015

    The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday issued final rules requiring that the American food industry phase out within three years the use of partially hydrogenated oils, which are the main source of trans fats.

    CNN reports that "eating a diet rich in trans fat is linked to higher body weight, heart disease and memory loss. It has been shown to raise the 'bad,' or LDL, cholesterol in the blood, which can lead to cardiovascular disease -- the leading cause of death in the United States."

    The Politico story about the ruling says that "FDA’s decision rescinds the 'generally recognized as safe' or GRAS status for partially hydrogenated oils. The status does not require FDA’s approval but is supposed to be grounded in scientific consensus. The oils have been considered generally recognized as safe since the late 50s when they started to come into vogue as an alternative to saturated fats.

    "The FDA, in November 2013, dropped something of a regulatory bomb on trans fat by issuing a tentative decision that partially hydrogenated oils are not GRAS — a move that blindsided many in the industry. FDA’s final ruling gives the food industry until June 2018 to stop using partially hydrogenated oils and shift to only very limited uses that are proven to be safe."

    CNN notes that "companies can petition the FDA for a special permit to use it, but no PHOs can be added to human food unless otherwise approved by the FDA."
    KC's View:
    One of the interesting things about the Politico story is that it makes clear that the ruling actually doesn't affect many food industry companies that already have removed trans fats from their products, though they "are still used in a wide variety of products from microwave popcorn to cake frosting."

    No, the ruling is seen to a great extent as a boon to class-action attorneys described as "eager to use the ruling — before it takes effect— to file lawsuits against deep-pocketed food companies that have continued to use trans fat, even as the rest of the industry has masterfully reduced its use of trans fat by some 85 percent."

    Indeed, there are litigious sorts out there describing the ruling as one that would “really open up the floodgates on strict liability claims." And food company attorneys are said to scrutinizing the FDA ruling to see if there is anything in there that would give them some sort of shield against litigation.

    The rules have been issued now. They take effect in three years. While this may be too late for many people and their lawyers, that seems to me to be enough to make litigation problematic ... but it probably won't. Count on all the lawyers to make a ton of money.

    Published on: June 17, 2015

    Smart & Final announced this week that it is partnering with Instacart, the grocery-delivery-and-personal-shopping service, to allow customers in Los Angeles and San Francisco to order products online.

    According to the story, customers can "choose from virtually any items carried at their local Smart & Final store and have them delivered in as little as one hour. Prices on Instacart will match Smart & Final's everyday low in-store prices, excluding special offers ... New customers can sign-up at, and get free delivery on their first order. Future orders cost just $3.99 for two-hour delivery or $5.99 for one-hour delivery. Customers can also purchase a $99 annual Instacart Express membership and receive free delivery on any order over $35."

    Instacart was launched in San Francisco in 2012, and currently has operations in 16 different markets, saying that it "connects its customers with personal shoppers who shop for and deliver grocery orders in as little as an hour."
    KC's View:
    I continue to believe that the numbers don't add up, that Instacart is doing its best to pump up its customer numbers so that when someone comes along to buy it, the check has more zeros. And I worry for the retailers that engage with Instacart that they are outsourcing an important part of the fulfillment experience, which could create problems for them down the road.

    Instacart is the bright, new, shiny object that has captured the imaginations of a lot of people. But it may not be the panacea that these folks hope it will be.

    Published on: June 17, 2015

    Advertising Age reports that Men's Health magazine "is teaming up with Chef'd, a startup in the emerging meal-delivery kit market, to bring Men's Health branded meals directly to consumers' homes ... Here's how it works: Consumers visit the Chef'd website to select from five meals such as fish tacos or steak au poivre created by Men's Health food and nutrition editor Paul Kita, author of the "Guy Gourmet" cookbook and blog. Chef'd then delivers the ingredients in an ice-packed box within one to two days. The meals cost $30 to feed two people and $50 to feed four people."

    The story goes on to say that "Meal-delivery kits are a growing business. In the last several years, a handful of startups have carved out a niche delivering the exact ingredients needed to make a recipe. Among the largest in this space is Blue Apron, which last week closed a $135 million funding round. The company says that values it at about $2 billion ... Chef'd, which has raised $5.3 million in funding, has sought to partner with celebrity chefs and media companies including Vegetarian Times to create menus. The partnership with Men's Health is its largest media partnership so far."
    KC's View:
    All I have to say is that if the Men's Health meals can give me abs like those guys on its covers, they can sign me up right now.

    Sadly, I suspect this will not be the value proposition...even though some sort of connection likely will be implied.

    Published on: June 17, 2015

    Reuters reports that Disney has created a "carefully vetted group of roughly 1,300 Disney Social Media Moms. The group of mothers - and a few fathers - are part of a Disney effort to incorporate the enthusiasm and influence of parents into its marketing efforts."

    According to the story, "Disney moms are not paid, but they receive perks from the company for their efforts, including - for some - deeply discounted, four-day family trips to Walt Disney World for the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, an event that is part vacation and part educational conference.

    "Disney does not tell the mothers what to write or tweet about, and it doesn't require them to post. Still, this year’s social media moms event in May generated 28,500 tweets, 4,900 Instagram photos and 88 blog posts full of ride reviews and videos of kids meeting Disney characters. And the moms' postings are overwhelmingly positive.

    "The theory is that mothers with a large online presence have the ability to influence travel and entertainment planning of other mothers."
    KC's View:
    This struck me as interesting considering the story we had the other day about how expensive the Disney theme parks have gotten, to the point that the numbers make them inaccessible to many people who have to live on a budget. Disney's really smart about this stuff, and these kinds of social media programs are textbook in nature. But I still think the company - and many of its theme park brethren - is flirting with diminishing brand equity by making its facilities only for the financially well-off.

    Published on: June 17, 2015

    Fast Company has a comprehensive piece about the thought processes behind the decision by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to get the company involved in starting what he hoped would be a "national dialogue about race," including encouraging of baristas to engage patrons in that conversation - efforts that created an online backlash and a lot of criticism of Schultz's motives, strategies and tactics.

    The story makes clear that this was less impulsive than might have seemed at the time ... and that Schultz was motivated by real concerns about what appears to be racial inequality in the US.

    These days, the story says, Schultz remains largely unapologetic: "We made a tactical mistake. So what?" he says. "We’re moving forward."

    You can read the entire story here.
    KC's View:
    Do I think Schultz has delusions of grandeur? Sure. But I think it is fair to suggest that he's earned the privilege to some degree. And, it is refreshing to see a CEO who is willing to go out on a limb to talk about social issues that need to be discussed. It may not have been the right time and place, but silence, I think I would argue, might've been a more egregious sin.

    Published on: June 17, 2015

    They never accused Tom Brady and Bill Belichick of this...

    Bloomberg reports that "St. Louis Cardinals officials are being investigated by federal law enforcement authorities for hacking the Houston Astros’ front-office computers, according to a U.S. law enforcement official."

    These seems to be evidence that Cardinals personnel hacked into the Astros' computer network, "which housed internal discussions about trades, statistics and scouting reports" that had been posted by Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow, who used to work for the Cardinals.

    While the hacking became public a year ago, the degree to which the Cardinals may be involved is only now becoming public. The Cardinals and the Astros, as well as Major League Baseball, are said to be cooperating with the FBI.
    KC's View:
    Say it ain't so...

    I sure hope that if this is true, it is fault of a rogue employee, as opposed to being systemic. In fact, I think that's probably a pretty good bet.

    In fact, I can tell you right now who did it.

    A locker room attendant.

    Take it to the bank.

    Published on: June 17, 2015

    Advertising Age reports that a new study from InfoScout, "which has a nationwide panel of more than 175,000 shoppers," suggests that "Walmart indexes higher with those under age 24 than Target, Costco, Kroger, Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. It's also rated higher than all those except Target with shoppers aged 25 to 34."

    CMO Stephen Quinn tells Ad Age that this "kind of shocks a lot of people, including inside the company," but, he notes, "As millennials become time-crunched with relationships and kids coming along, it's opening up a strong need for them to have a one-stop shop."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 17, 2015

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

    Seeking Alpha reports that Amazon is said to be developing a mobile application "to crowdsource the delivery of packages to non-employees for a fee.

    "Details on timing and how the packages would be stored with retailers haven't been worked out yet by the company."

    I hate the idea of Amazon doing this. It seems like a bad combination of Uber and Instacart ... and exactly who do we blame if there is something flawed in the delivery process.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 17, 2015

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 17, 2015

    The Golden State Warriors won game six of the National Basketball League finals, defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers 105-97, and with it took home the league championship for the first time since 1975.
    KC's View:
    The series - and especially the last game - demonstrated vividly why basketball is a team game. LeBron James simply couldn't sink enough shots by himself to make up for the fact that the entire Warrior team seemed a lot more accurate, especially when it came to three-point shots.

    It was, however, an extremely exciting game ... and I can say that with some authority because I was lucky enough to be there.