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    Published on: October 1, 2015

    This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either ... they are similar, but not exactly the same. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

    Hi, Kevin Coupe here, and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    So it was just a couple of weeks ago that I parked my car and went into a restaurant to meet Mrs. Content Guy ... we have a standard Friday night date where we go there, have a couple of glasses of wine and share an amazing seafood pizza.

    But while I was inside, a guy in a brand new Range Rover came along and tried to parallel park right in front of me ... and his car smacked the crap out of my front end. (That's the way witnesses described it ... I didn't actually see it. And they used a different word than "crap.")

    Now, it ends up that the accident did well over a thousand bucks worth of damage ... but to me, the educational part came in the discussion with the Range Rover guy.

    You see, the reason he backed into my car - despite the fact that he had one of those cameras that are supposed to prevent that from happening - is that he also had one of those systems that parks the car for him. The way he described it to me, he just hit the button and took his hands off the wheel.

    And boom.

    Now, if this happened the way he described it, it's possible that Range Rover should be paying for my damage rather than his insurance company. But that's his issue.

    To me, while I hate the idea that he smacked the crap out of my Mustang, it also provides a good business metaphor. Because I can find a business lesson pretty much anywhere.

    Y'see, one of the things that has happened in business is that most companies live by algorithms, statistics, charts, spreadsheets and graphs.

    But I think it is important that companies retain a personal feel for how to do things ... an understanding of customers that can't come just from statistical analyses. High tech is important, but so is high touch. The right tools are critical, but so is instinct.

    And, I think that's even more important for companies that are endeavoring to compete with algorithm-driven retailers like Amazon. If you can't beat 'em, in this case, you need to come at the challenge of enticing customers from a completely different direction.

    The short message? There are a lot of great tools out there. But I'm not sure it ever makes sense to take your hands off the wheel. Even if the tools exist that allow you to outsource various functions, it's important to know how to drive and how to park.

    That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: October 1, 2015

    by Kevin Coupe

    MLB.com has the story of Justine Siegel, who has become the first woman to be hired by a major league team - the Oakland A's - to be a coach.

    According to the story, "he A's announced on Tuesday that Siegal, who a few years ago became the first woman to throw batting practice for a Major League team, will serve as a guest instructor for the club's 2015 instructional league. Siegal will work with players Oct. 4-17 at the Lew Wolff Training Complex in Mesa, Ariz."

    The story goes on to say that "the A's are the first Major League team to hire a female coach. In 2009, Siegal also became the first woman to be hired as a coach at any professional level, when she served as first-base coach for the Brockton Rox, an independent baseball team. She also served as an assistant coach for the baseball team at Springfield College from 2008-10."

    And MLB.com goes on to note that "according to the San Francisco Chronicle, there is a chance the instructional league stint could lead to a full-time coaching job within the organization. The A's, according to the Chronicle report, don't have their Minor League coaching assignments set and do not yet know about possible job openings."

    It may seem like a small thing in a highly specialized niche. But the fact is that baseball teams looking for differential advantages - just like any other business - do well to go beyond the usual suspects when seeking people who can make a difference in the organization. And it probably isn't a coincidence that the A's - the team featured in "Moneyball" the book and Moneyball the movie - is the team looking outside the traditional boundaries for coaches with fresh insights and differing experiences.

    (By the way, I've always felt this way. I am the oldest of seven children. By far, the best ballplayer in the family and the one with the greatest baseball knowledge was my sister Amy ... and she probably still is.)

    It is, in fact, an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 1, 2015

    Reuters reports this morning that Walmart "is planning to lay off hundreds of people at its headquarters in Arkansas as part of the retail giant's efforts to pare costs, people familiar with the matter said.

    "Fewer than 500 employees are expected to lose their jobs and an announcement could be made as early as this Friday ... The cuts will make up a small portion of the more than 18,000 people employed at the Bentonville, Arkansas office but fit in with a streamlining effort that has been flagged by Chief Executive Doug McMillon in recent months."
    KC's View:
    The reports of these layoffs started emerging about a week ago, and seem keyed to CEO Doug McMillon's focus on stores, illustrated when he commented that "there are no cash registers in the home office."

    The question is whether these are all the layoffs, or just the beginning of a protracted campaign meant to generate more profits.

    Published on: October 1, 2015

    Tech Crunch reports that Amazon, having decided not to pursue an acquisition of delivery service Postmates, instead has "built a service that will go head to head in competing with it. The e-commerce giant today took the wraps off Flex, a new on-demand delivery service that relies not on traditional couriers, but ordinary people to bring the packages to you.

    "The online retailer is offering workers the ability to make between $18 and $25 per hour by delivering packages for Amazon using their own vehicle and a smartphone app that helps them route their deliveries."

    The service is live in Seattle, with a focus on speedy delivery of orders placed with Amazon's Prime Now service, though the company says "that in the future, other types of packages may be delivered, as well."

    The Wall Street Journal writes that the service is "the latest move by Amazon in its perpetual drive to lower shipping costs and pare delivery times as it seeks to become the central commercial hub for all shoppers. As part of those efforts, Amazon is building out its own last-mile network and has turned to a widening variety of couriers and delivery workers. to shuttle goods to their destinations - not to mention its goal of delivery by drone."
    KC's View:
    I'm trying really hard here not to be the old grump who is opposed to progress and can't see the advantages in new economic models ... but I have to admit to reservations about this approach.

    I've heard stories from the test about somewhat unsavory types making deliveries; I do think that Amazon has to be careful about managing these delivery folks, because it just creates all sorts of potential problems in terms of safety and security.

    Amazon has been bringing in-house some of its delivery functions, which has allowed it to control costs ... but this kind of outsourcing is something else again.

    I am open-minded, but uncomfortable.

    Published on: October 1, 2015

    The Tampa Bay Business Journal says that as Walmart expands its click-and-collect service and Kroger expands its online shopping offering, Publix CEO Todd Jones says that the possibility that his company could try it again is not off the table.

    "We’re always looking because we’re watching the customer," Jones says. "So if the customer is telling us they’re looking at more convenience, we need to figure out and define what that means at Publix to serve that customer. If that means delivery we’ll continue to look at that and see if it needs to be spooled up bigger than what we’re doing today. We’re never not looking."
    KC's View:
    I'm a big admirer of Publix, but I've never understood why Publix didn't work this segment harder at the various times when it has tested various approaches. The rationale was always that there wasn't enough business yet, but sometimes one has to lay the foundation early so you have the ability to move faster down the road.

    Then again ... Publix would probably argue that its folks know their business better than I do. But I still think that backing off e-commerce in the past could cost Publix in the future.

    Published on: October 1, 2015

    The Associated Press reports that the CEOs of 10 major CPG companies "are calling on world leaders to push for a meaningful agreement at the United Nation's conference on climate change later this year in Paris," saying that they "will 're-energize' their own efforts to make their supply chains more sustainable as well."

    The companies involved in the effort, coordinated by the environmental nonprofit Ceres, are General Mills, Mars Inc., Unilever, Dannon, Ben & Jerry's, Kellogg, Nestle USA, New Belgium Brewing, Stonyfield Farms and Clif Bar.
    KC's View:
    Interesting ... especially since I gather that the CEO of the Trump organization would not be inclined to sign such a letter, since he's described climate change as a "hoax."

    That said, there does seem to be some political movement on this issue. The New York Times reported the other day that "a majority of Republicans — including 54 percent of self-described conservative Republicans — believe the world’s climate is changing and that mankind plays some role in the change, according to a new survey conducted by three prominent Republican pollsters.

    "The results echo a number of other recent surveys concluding that despite the talk of many of the party’s candidates, a significant number of Republicans and independent voters are inclined to support candidates who would back some form of climate action. It may also point to a problem facing Republicans seeking their party’s presidential nomination: The activists who crowd town hall meetings and Republican presidential caucuses and primaries might not reflect the broader attitude of even the Republican electorate."

    Nice to see - and probably not much of a surprise - that these CEOs are more connected to real grass roots concerns and attitudes than the politicians, who seem more connected to a not-so-silent minority.

    Published on: October 1, 2015

    Reuters reports that Tesco says it is done with selling off overseas businesses. Following the sale of its South Korea business for $6.1 billion (US), "Tesco's largest overseas asset, Britain's biggest retailer retains businesses in Thailand and Malaysia, central Europe and Ireland."

    Chairman John Allan told investors this week that the comp[any is comfortable with its current geographic mix, though, he noted, "I can envisage circumstances under which that might change."

    One exception to the conclusion - its customer data business Dunnhumby, which is on the market but has not yet been sold ... with rumors rampant that Tesco is going to change its mind and keep it. Allan said no decision has been reached yet.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 1, 2015

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

    • The Washington Post reports that today is the day that major credit card companies set as the deadline by which merchants should have updated credit card terminals that are more secure: "The technology uses cards with chips embedded in them, and is supposed to cut down dramatically on incidents of thieves stealing card information and making fake copies."

    The story notes that businesses have been adopting the new terminals slowly, and that while consumers won;t necessarily notice the change, retailers that have not installed the new terminals "could be on the hook for any losses caused by credit card fraud. (As opposed to banks being liable, as is the case now.)"


    • The Bergen Record reports that the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. "will begin one of the most important sales of its 156-year history Thursday, when the Montvale-based supermarket chain starts the auction process for another 128 stores it is hoping to sell as part of its bankruptcy process."

    The story goes on to say that "A&P has already received bankruptcy court approval to sell 95 stores — including 11 in North Jersey — to the Acme and Stop & Shop chains for approximately $370 million ... Wakefern Food Corp., the cooperative behind the ShopRite stores, has bid $40 million for 12 stores in New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. Key Food initially submitted a bid for 17 stores, but that deal has not been finalized. "Food Bazaar, a Queens, N.Y.-based chain of 18 stores with an emphasis on selling foods native to Latin America, has placed bids for four stores."


    • The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Michael Jordan's lawyers are in settlement talks with Jewel-Osco, as the retailers looks to avoid a fate similar to that suffered by Dominick's.

    Jordan sued the two retailers after they both ran ads in a special commemorative issue of Sports Illustrated that he said violated his rights because they implied a commercial endorsement that normally would cost them millions. Dominick's lost its case, and Jordan was awarded $8.9 million in damages; Jewel-Osco clearly is hoping to get away for less money.

    Good luck with that. Jordan is not known for letting up the pressure on opponents.


    • The Associated Press reports that "Whole Foods will stop selling products made using a prison labor program after a protest at one of its stores in Texas." While the company said that it saw the program as a way of helping prisoners eventually become "contributing members of society," it will end the program "because some customers were uncomfortable with it."

    The discomfort apparently stems from the fact that some people think the prisoners are being exploited, doing work for virtually no money, which helps Whole Foods pad its profit line.


    The New York Times reports that Chick-fil-A, the privately held and highly successful fast food chain that also became somewhat controversial a few years ago when its CEO declared an opposition to same-sex marriage, is scheduled to open its first full-service franchise in the liberal bastion of New York City.

    The company says it believes this store could be its busiest, and is already looking to the opening as a second store as a kind of relief valve that will take some sales away from the first unit.

    It only has been a couple of years since the Chick-fil-A controversy, but I think it has become close to a nothing issue. The country has moved largely in the direction of acceptance and tolerance, the law has been settled by the Supreme Court, many franchisees did not share the CEO's stated concerns, and Chick-fil-A has backed off its financial support of organizations actively opposing same-sex marriage. I used to think that in 20 years, kids would ask what all the fuss was about. I'm now thinking it could be more like 20 months ... this issue is largely settled. Done. Over. Let's move on.


    • The Seattle Times reports that Costco announced that it will open its first store in France, in the Paris suburb of Villebon-sur-Yvette, next year, probably sometime during the summer.

    The opening, the Times writes, "comes amid a big ramp-up in the company’s international operations, which show lots of promise — even if in the latest quarter, translating profit earned in weak foreign currencies into a stronger U.S. dollar took a toll. In its fiscal 2016 year, which started in September, Costco plans to have 32 more warehouses in its portfolio, 10 to 12 of which will be abroad."
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 1, 2015

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 1, 2015

    The National League playoff picture has been pretty much finalized, as the St. Louis Cardinals clinched the NL Central divisional championship and the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the NL west divisional championship. The Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates have clinched wild card playoff berths, which means...

    The Pirates and Cubs will play a one-game playoff game, and the winner of that game will play the Cardinals in the divisional series, while the Dodgers and Mets will play in the other divisional series.

    In the American League, the Toronto Blue Jays have clinched the AL East championship, while the Kansas City Royals have clinched the AL Central ... though the AL West and the wild card games still are to be determined with just five days left in the regular season.
    KC's View:
    Let's go, Mets!