retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from MNB fave Glen Terbeek, responding to yesterday's references to Feargal Quinn and Doug McMillon's saying that there are no cash registers at headquarters:

I have always wondered why retailers' merchants (category managers, or what ever) are located together in a head office, often connected to the DC, rather than spread across the chain in the stores, closer to the shoppers and the marketplace.  What is more important, buying and logistics or selling?

Can you imagine the merchants being able to walk past their sections daily to see what is happening?  Or can you see part of each vendor meeting being held on the store floor in front of the category being managed looking at the planogram, shopper reaction, etc?

Of course big chains should have merchants for each market definition for the category ( I e, there might be 5 or 6 market definitions for a category across the chain based on the stores' markets defined by shoppers and competitors) 

This is now very possible with today’s technology available.  The "demand chain" can and should be more decentralized closer to the action, while the "supply chain"  should continue to be managed centralized.  Why not break a larger chain down into market modules similar in size of Superquinn responsible for maximizing the market performance of each store?  As Feargal says,  "the stores are where the action is”.  The market modules would then drive the supply chain, not the other way around.

You'd think that companies would adopt 21st century approaches to dealing with such problems. But old habits die hard.

Regarding the cultural and ethical problems that suddenly have been made clear at Volkswagen, one MNB user wrote:

Our son is at about the same point in college as your daughter…….he is pursuing a Bachelor of Business degree in Supply Chain Management and is working as an intern at a Bosch auto parts distribution center.   Given all of its different international businesses, Bosch claims to be the largest supplier of auto parts in the world.

He called me from his office yesterday to tell me that his superiors have wasted no time in throwing their fellow German company under the bus. Bosch released a statement explaining that while the sensor and the software used in the “clean diesel” cars was theirs, Volkswagen made the alterations that allowed it to cheat on the emissions tests.

Sounds like this could get even uglier.

And MNB reader Jim Mahern wrote:

Your last few reports on the recent ethical problems in business decisions lead me to share some wise observations I have learned over the years from others.

"The person with insight enough to admit personal limitations, comes nearest to perfection" (Goethe).

" Always take your job seriously - never yourself". (Gen. Fox Conner - aide to Dwight Eisenhower).

" Live so that when your kids think of fairness and integrity, they think of you". (Source unknown).

Responding to our piece about the documentary produced about Food Lion founder Ralph Ketner, designed to be used in North Carolina schools, one MNB user wrote:

Regardless of what medium is used to present the lessons from Food Lion’s Ralph Ketner to North Carolina’s high school students, I truly hope the teachers of those classes are permitted to use the videos as part of their curriculum.   They may not have that option.

I spent two hours last night in a meeting for our school district regarding the future direction of its educational process for our students.   It appears that so much of what teachers can or cannot do in the classroom is dictated to them because they are required to teach to a test…..and the results of that test is now the sole measure of the success of a teacher’s work with their students.   There no longer seems to be room for individual thought or personal opinion in leading a classroom because teachers are obligated to follow whatever standards are required for No Child Left Behind.

I’ll bet Mrs. Content Guy can attest to this.

You probably don't want to get her started. Trust me on this. (Though she'd also argue that this is not a black-and-white issue.)

On another subject, one MNB user writes:

I did find the admissions from Starbucks that it had fallen short of its goals to improve conditions for its workers and that it still has work to do to be a refreshing (and somewhat rare) example of transparency.  In these days when corporate and political spokespeople stand in front of naked emperors and describe their wardrobe in great detail an open admission of failure and the need to do better stands out.  While it is actual results, delivering on promises, that will ultimately win employee loyalty, at least the admission that work is ongoing brings credibility.

Yesterday's FaceTime talked about the fact that the digital apocalypse is not taking place on schedule, and that the growth of e-books has leveled off as people seem to continue appreciating physical hardcovers and paperbacks; at the same time, libraries are having to think about their role in communities, because a digital evolution is taking place.

MNB user Daniel Hogan wrote:

You love the smell of disruption, and I love the smell of musty old books. Until the technology becomes available to recreate that, I’ll stick with physical books. I’m a Millennial in his mid-20s, and completely agree with your sentiments on purchasing based on the author. I am also part of the so called “Vinyl Revival” in the music industry; vinyl sales have increased every year since 2006, and are still growing at a TREMENDOUS rate. I now own 250+ records (95% of those being less than 10 years old) by small nationally touring bands that will never make it to the radio. Why do I buy records? Because I want to support the musician creating art. Why do I buy books? Because I want to support the author creating art. But do I still download e-books and use Spotify daily? Absolutely. I personally believe (and to some extent, hope) that we’ll hit a ceiling & start reverting back to using less technology. New doesn’t necessarily mean better; nostalgia is more important to me than convenience.

From another reader:

My wife is a children’s librarian at a local, public library.  Her degree is a Masters of Information Sciences, which trains her to create and access information more than it does find books.  Her library is much more of a community center than it is a traditional library.

She obtained special training and certification in a program called Library Family Place.   Although literacy based, the program provides parental training and services to help young parents in raising their children.  The program provides guest speakers and programs that address health and development.  Family place also gives local parents the opportunity to network with other new parents.
This is merely one example of the broad-based, community services provided by this library.  The library is more a community center that offers books and resources.  This is necessary because the taxpayers pay for the library system.  They need to justify the cost. 
And, by the way, my wife loves her job.

And from MNB reader LuRene Dille:

The D-Apocalypse may have happened as scheduled if the cost of e-books had remained low.  It seems silly to pay full price for an e-book when there are no printing costs.

MNB reader Paul Schlossberg wrote:

I've come to love digital books instead of lugging bulky tomes, especially when traveling.

There are, however, value and access challenges.

You're spot on about living in the exurbs. Our local library has very few digital book licenses (compared to big city and suburban libraries).

The pricing for digital books, for me, is not reasonable. Maybe book sellers like it, but I don't. Are they seeking to get the same "penny profit" they make in traditional book sales? The direct costs of digital books, e-books, is much less when you remove the printing, binding, packaging, physical distribution costs of shipping, warehousing, handling in stores, etc.

Looks like there is room for someone to do some channel disruption, call it disintermediation for books.

Here's what I think all these opinions add up to...

People continue to read ... and they read what they want to read, how they want to read, where they want to read, at a price that seems appropriate to them.

But what's most important is that they're reading. Books are not defined by their physicality - a thing is not more a book because it is between musty or non-musty covers, or less a book because I read it on a Kindle. Books are ideas. Words. Sentences. Paragraphs. Strung together, they can be magic ... however or wherever one reads them.

There is a lovely scene in Tom Stoppard's play "The Real Thing" in which the lead character, a writer, talks about the importance of words and language ... it is one of my favorite speeches from modern theater:

“Words... They're innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they're no good any more... I don't think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you're dead.”

By the way, about words...

Yesterday I reintroduced a phrase I've used a lot here on MNB over the years:

"Compete" is a verb.

Prompting one MNB reader to write:

You keep saying that.  What else could "compete" possibly be?

Exactly. It is a verb, an action word. To compete, one must act. One cannot be complacent. One cannot accept the status quo.

If you are going to compete, you must do things.

You're right. The notion is self-evident. But not every competitor acts to the degree that is necessary in today's competitive environment.

So I'm going to keep saying it.

"Compete" is a verb.
KC's View: