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    Published on: March 15, 2016

    by Michael Sansolo

    Nancy Reagan was known and remembered for many things, but likely few would have called her a business forecaster. However, according to presidential historian Michael Beschloss, that might be a great way to remember the recently deceased former First Lady.

    Writing in the New York Times business section this past weekend, Beschloss offered a very different take on Nancy Reagan, focusing on and crediting her for career counseling skills that helped her husband resurrect his acting career before moving into politics and all the way to the presidency.

    Ronald and Nancy Reagan married in 1952, a tumultuous time in the entertainment industry. Ronald Reagan’s star had long been fading, leading the actor who once starred in powerful movies like “King’s Row” to take on far lesser roles such as “Bedtime for Bonzo.” More significantly, television was a fast-rising medium and actors needed to know enough to choose new directions for their careers.

    With Nancy’s support and guidance, Ronald Reagan started choosing correctly, saying yes to new opportunities, Beschloss said. He became the host of "General Electric Theater" on television, which proved to be both a financial and career windfall. In a few short years, the show became one of the most watched on television.

    That meant a vastly larger presence for Reagan, which certainly helped as he moved on to become governor of California and then President.

    As a contrast, Beschloss sites the slow career crumble of William Holden, best man at the Reagans’ wedding and an enormous star in movies such as Stalag 17 and The Bridge on the River Kwai. Holden never jumped to television and although he continued to garner some major movie roles, his star faded through the years.

    Ironically, Beschloss reminds us that Holden’s last great role was in Network as a TV news executive grappling with the changes buffeting the television industry. In many ways, that role echoed Holden’s own career challenges. In the end, Reagan chose a path that served him much better.

    There’s something in the stories of both Reagan and Holden that likely will ring true for many businesspeople. Making changes - whether radical or evolutionary - always requires a great deal of risk taking. There is rarely a clear choice where the path we choose will guarantee success.

    It seems that virtually everyday in MorningNewsBeat we have a story about the current state of choice and change in the industry, especially as companies consider how best to address electronic commerce. Whether it’s the newest announcement from Instacart or MyWebGrocer or new directions from Macys, Sports Authority, et. al., the reality is that hard choices need to get made.

    Right now it seems that no one really knows what direction to take or how to best get there and it may take years until we know the real winners and losers. In the meantime it’s all about taking chances and making both changes.

    While I might wish to know exactly which direction to suggest, the truth is no one really knows anything beyond this: decisions must be made. It was that way in 1952 just as it is today (and has been so many times in all the years in between).

    As Yogi Berra reminded us, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

    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: March 15, 2016

    by Kevin Coupe

    A couple of tech startups in the news this week that grabbed my attention, targeted as they are two important human needs...

    Geek Wire has a story about two Amazon employees,
    Becca Goldman and Mahvish Gazipura, who have "launched DateADev, a new consultation company that aims to advise tech workers who have struggled to find a romantic relationship ... The idea is help men and women in the tech industry optimize their online profiles on apps like Tinder and OKCupid to 'highlight their best self' via photos and profile descriptions. Clients can pay $99 for a 1-hour consultation meeting during which DateADev will review their online 'brands' and suggest improvements.

    "Beyond the 1-hour consultations, DateADev also offers monthly memberships that range from $259 to $759 and provide 24/7 access to dating coaches."

    The story notes that the two business partners don't consider themselves to be dating experts, but rather describe themselves as "just two regular girls that have experience helping a lot of friends and think we can give brutally honest advice that will help people." Goldman, for example, says she’s "gone on more than 500 dates in the past three years."

    • Meanwhile ... USA Today reports on Nom, a new application created by one of the founders of YouTube, designed to allow "professional and amateur chefs to share their recipes with the online community ... The company’s founders say the idea to start Nom came from long lunches and heated food debates at the Google Ventures dining hall, where some of the company’s top chefs try out new recipes. While cooking shows and cooking videos have a long history on television and online, the idea of being able to watch such a show live struck the pair as worth pursuing."

    Chen has some money to play with in launching the new venture - he sold YouTube to Google for $1.65 billion in 2006.

    Technology may be what is enabling these two startups, but they are addressing two human issues - hungry hearts and hungry stomachs - that have been around forever. Considering their pedigrees, it'll be interesting to see how they evolve.

    They have the potential to be Eye-Openers.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 15, 2016

    Forbes has a piece about its recent CIO Summit in which it looks at "the next generation of data collection."

    Target CIO Mike McNamara put it this way: “You have to overlay bits and bytes with experience. There’s a ton you can tell about customers from data, but what doesn’t flow through the bits and bytes is intent or emotion, how the customer really feels about the brand. The best thing about big data is we can look at more than just transactions."

    "It’s everything getting connected,” said Roger Gurnani, Verizon’s Executive Vice President & Chief Information and Technology Architect. “Now even a lot of industries that deal with physical goods are picking up on this new way. The data analytics space used to be about gathering tons of data then a human analyzing what happened and predict what might happen next. But we’re now moving into where entire value chain is programmable, software driven. With deep learning and algorithms, stuff is getting automated, happening instantaneously.”
    KC's View:
    The way Gurnani describes the use of data sounds suspiciously like what Amazon has been doing for years ... which somehow isn't surprising.

    The thing is, collecting data is one thing ... but the important thing is understanding it and applying it in a way that allows the business to tell a compelling story to shoppers.

    Published on: March 15, 2016

    Shareholders of both Ahold and Delhaize voted yesterday to approve the $10.9 billion deal in which Ahold will by Delhaize, making the newly merged company one of the biggest in the US.

    The deal is not yet finalized; it still has to be approved by US and Belgian antitrust regulators. But most experts don't foresee a problem, and expect that the deal finally will be done later this year.

    While it is possible that a few stores will have to be sold off to satisfy regulators, the two companies have said that they complement each other nicely and that they expect more than $4 billion in savings once synergies are realized.
    KC's View:
    I think they've been clear enough about the savings and efficiencies. What I want to know is how the combination is going to make their stores better - more effective, more relevant, and more differentiated. Haven't really heard that yet.

    Published on: March 15, 2016

    Reuters reports that the boards of directors at The Fresh Market has accepted a $1.36 billion offer by Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm, which beat out Kroger, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, and TPG Capital, all of which were said to be interested in the chain, which has 183 stores in 27 states.

    Investor's Business Daily writes that "the deal is seen closing in the second quarter of 2016, pending certain conditions. The terms of the agreement allow the Fresh Market to actively seek out alternative proposals until April 1."

    The Reuters story says that company chairman/founder Ray Berry, who with his son owns close to 10 percent of the company, recused himself from the vote; there were reports that Berry wanted to take the company private.

    The deal, once completed, is expected to give Fresh Market "the financial muscle and operational maturity to grow into a larger entity," the story says.
    KC's View:
    Larger, perhaps, but also more differentiated ... I hope. Because to my mind, there is a lot of potential there that is unrealized ... it seems to me that while the company does decent business because it often can be the nicest store in certain markets, it does not have the kind of image and value proposition that would compel customers to pass other, similar stores to go there. And to me, that's the way to measure whether a retailer really is getting it done.

    Published on: March 15, 2016

    In Southern California, the Daily Breeze reports on a newly renovated Goodwill Store that it describes as being a kind of "second-hand version of an Urban Outfitters meets Anthropologie," redesigned after decades so that it will "attract trend-driven spenders and make the most of donations from affluent beach city households."

    They've even renovated the name, calling it "Edgar & James: A Curated Collection by Goodwill," after Goodwill’s founder, Edgar James Helms. The store "will offer hand-selected men’s, women’s and children’s apparel, shoes, accessories and home goods in a transformed space with exposed brick walls, hardwood floors, industrial fixtures and even a sliding barn door."

    COO Julie Dover describes the store as “a beautiful combination of industrial farmhouse and urban chic."
    KC's View:
    Wow. Even Goodwill.

    Best I can tell, the new store doesn't yet have a dedicated website. Yet. But that'll probably be the next step.

    Published on: March 15, 2016

    The Wall Street Journal reports that PepsiCo-owned Gatorade "is developing a microchip-fitted 'smart cap' bottle and sweat patch that communicate digitally and provide athletes and fitness buffs constant updates on how much they should drink ... Gatorade’s big push is in response to the explosive growth of wearable digital gadgets like Fitbit for consumers obsessively eager to monitor their footsteps and heart beats."

    The company also "is trying to tempt consumers to use its products around the clock - not just around the track or on the basketball court." It is "stepping up its product offerings for before and after games and workouts with more protein chews, bars, powders, shakes and even a 'night yogurt' to help those who work out rebuild muscles while sleeping."
    KC's View:
    The desire to know everything one can about how many stairs and miles one has traveled in a given day and how hydrated one is or isn't is all tied into the same compulsion to know everything one can about what is in the foods we eat. Which is why total transparency is going to be required of the businesses that want to be relevant to shoppers.

    Published on: March 15, 2016

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

    • Another tradition is biting the dust, thanks to the continuing march of technology...

    The New York Times reports that "starting on March 27, the way prescriptions are written in New York State will change. Gone will be doctors’ prescription pads and famously bad handwriting. In their place: pointing and clicking, as prescriptions are created electronically and zapped straight to pharmacies in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

    "New York is the first state to require that all prescriptions be created electronically and to back up that mandate with penalties, including fines and imprisonment, for physicians who fail to comply. Minnesota has a law requiring electronic prescribing but does not penalize doctors who cling to pen and paper."

    • The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) is out with its monthly consumer survey, concluding that "fully half of all Americans (50%) say they are optimistic about the economy, a strong six-point jump over the past month and the highest percentage since November 2015. Two in three consumers (67%) ages 18-34 say that they are optimistic about the economy, a huge 15-point increase from a month ago. Fuel consumers in the Northeast (56% optimistic) and Midwest (54%) are more upbeat about the economy’s prospects than fuel consumers in the South (47%) and West (47%)."

    The reason for the improved attitudes? "The sustained period of lower gas prices appears to finally be driving economic optimism higher. More than four in five consumers (83%) ages 18-34 say that gas prices affect their optimism."

    They're about to learn about inevitable disappointment, since gas prices appear to be going up. Such is life.

    • The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reports that Target "took a breather from remodeling stores last year," working on "just nine of its stores in 2015, down from 39 remodels the year before and nearly 400 in 2011."

    The reason: "CEO Brian Cornell’s team is testing new initiatives in 25 Southern California stores. 'That will help inform us on our next prototype and how we role that out to our 1,793 stores,' said Target spokeswoman Kristy Welker."

    Those new initiatives include "decor vignettes, more stylish grocery departments and fancy dressing rooms."
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 15, 2016

    • The National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) has announced the promotion of Vishal Bhatia, director of information services, to the position of vice president, information services/information services security officer. Bhatia has been with NACDS for 15 years.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 15, 2016

    Got the following email from an MNB reader who wanted to respond to some of the cuts taking place at Nordstrom:

    I love Nordstrom but I’m a dinosaur that still likes bricks and mortar shopping. So, I was ecstatic that they were building a brand new store just a few miles from my home. (I usually buy online or shop at the ‘mothership’ when I’m in Seattle).

    The new store opened and it’s gorgeous. But it’s small, with limited selection - like a boutique-sized department store if you will. Now, I’m one of those lucky women who straddle the fence between ‘straight’ sizes and plus. Nordstrom, for me, has been a godsend in that I could always find clothes that fit and great sales help. But my hometown store has a plus department so small I almost missed it - tucked in a corner like a red-headed stepchild. And when I did wander in, no one approached me to ask if I needed help. In all fairness, I had a great experience in the cosmetic area.

    That said, if you’re going to run a bricks and mortar store, you better figure out what niche you can occupy and better be spot on with service. I haven’t been back in fact. And this is coming from someone who got a Nordstrom credit card in anticipation of their opening. 

    In all honesty, I’m wondering why they opened a brand new, from the ground up, store AND outlet in our community when they’re struggling? I get that new stores are where growth is often found, but if you’re going to do it, you better do it right.

    In all fairness, I have to imagine they start planning out new stores years in advance of them being opened ... but that doesn't charge the fact that at least in your case, they did not delivery on their essential value proposition. It is probably a pretty good bet that even if they often do better, you're not the only one who was let down.

    Regarding Haggen's sale of its core stores back to Albertsons, and how it seems like all the decisions made by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to assure healthy competition have gone for naught, MNB reader Bruce Wesbury wrote:

    A perfect example of why government needs to stay out of the way. They have a habit of screwing things up.

    I think it is a perfect example of how government can screw things up if its definitions are not up to date and it is not making decisions consistent with modern, common-sense reality.

    But I'd disagree with any suggestion that the government has no business making sure that customers are protected. It doesn't do a very good job of it all the time, but that doesn't mean we don't need it.

    Finally, responding to yesterday's stories about Instacart's problems,and how I think this is a shaky house of cards, MNB user Joe Axford wrote:

    I've been following this story, KC, and agree with you 100% ... I can't believe WF is investing so heavily in them.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 15, 2016

    KC's View: