retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from MNB reader Russell Zwanka regarding yesterday's Innovation Conversation:

Tom Furphy is "spot on" in regards to higher education.  Students need to either find the passion for something they will be pursuing the rest of their lives, or have a student, professor, or classroom experience that awakens that passion.  Not trying to channel Dead Poet's Society, but it does happen sometimes when you can connect with a student and show how passion, energy, and emotion can be combined with a solid skill level that will put you above the rest!

In addition to entrepreneurship, I would add that any kind of specialization is better than a general degree.  In our food industry, the basic knowledge set that allows you to walk in the door and know at least some building blocks of both the front and the back of the operation, is almost immeasurably positive to an employer.  The universities that work to provide that food knowledge base are helping the entire industry train the next generation!  At the NGA Convention this coming week, there almost 80 students from over 15 universities (including SUNY New Paltz) attending, competing in a case competition, helping with the 5K run, and trying to get to know this business.  I would encourage all attendees to look for the students and talk to them about the industry.  It could pay back in spades.

No argument here. I just spent some time at Portland State University this week, and the chance to hang out with smart young people is never to be missed. I'm already impatient to start the summer class that Tom Gillpatrick and I team-teach ... June can't come soon enough.

Regarding Macy's travails, one MNB reader wrote:

I am actually surprised sales were only down 4%. Used to spend thousands annually at Macy's, most of my Christmas shopping, clothes, baby clothes, gifts, small appliances.   It was my go-to place.  Now it is an occasional visit and invariably disappointing. The quality has gone down so much that I move on and try to find what I need elsewhere.  Except perhaps in the kitchen which is still decent but not great.  Used to be you could go there for the cut above.  Service is the mausoleum. Sometimes one person for an entire huge dept.  And they no longer know the merchandise to pick their brain. Might as well go online.  You actually get more info there.  This year was our first year we did not step foot into a Macy's all season.  In fairness part of that is contending with crowds and the prospect of their cashier lines was the game changer.  I hate to see that happen to a former lovely brick and mortar but they did  this to themselves.

Betcha the lines weren't as bad as you thought they would be.

The other day I used the occasion of a couple of lists that rated Apple highly in a number of areas to question whether public opinion might change as a result of the company's battle with the federal government over privacy issues. Which prompted one MNB reader to write:

I am an avid reader of and coincide with your points of view almost 95% of the time.  The rare occasions when I have a different approach to a topic you debate on, it is not worthy of mention; however, this time I want to let you know that your comments about the subject ... were completely off and it switches the attention to a national security issue instead of the main point about admired and reputed companies.

I would have appreciated much more to know what is your opinion about retailers/wholesalers no mentioned in the list, like Albertsons, C&S, Supervalu, AWG, Aldi, Unified Grocers, etc. and the perceived differences between the companies in the list and the ones out of it.  Or any specific aspect that have pushed some of these companies to be leading the pack.

You force me to divulge two dirty little secrets.

One isn't even mine. I don't really put a lot of faith in these kinds of lists. They're sort of interesting, but they tend to be rather arbitrary and don't always offer anything other than a subjective view of the companies involved and the criteria established.

Now, I have no problem with that ... I'm rather arbitrary and subjective in my choice of stories and commentary. But I try not to suggest that anything here is definitive ...and so I don't overreact to companies not making this list or that.

One other thing about lists. Don't trust them ... because the people putting them together usually have some sort of ulterior motive. That's why trade magazines create lists and give awards ... usually it is the only way to get certain people to open up to them.

As for my decision to reference the privacy and national security debate ... well, my other dirty little secret is that sometimes I choose stories not because I want to comment on them directly, but because they give me an avenue to raise other questions or make other observations. Sometimes it is gratuitous, and sometimes not. Generally, it is just me being me.

And, responding to yesterday's Eye-Opener, MNB reader Terry Pyles wrote:

There's a great old quote which is credited to everyone from Albert Einstein, Henry Ford and Mark Twain to Tony Robbins.  It goes "If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got".  It's kind of an offshoot to the definition of insanity, which is also credited to Einstein.

Regardless of its origin, the message is valid.  And I suggest there are many other baseball teams, as well as businesses, who should pay attention.

KC's View: