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    Published on: June 7, 2016

    by Michael Sansolo

    Possibly the most challenging part of customer relationships surround the unique value equation that each person brings to every experience. Simply put, there is no easy way to understand what delights every individual. But it is absolutely necessary to remember that the same things do not delight everybody.

    Last week, in "FaceTime with the Content Guy," Kevin talked passionately about how much he valued a single employee at a local dry cleaner and how much difference that one staffer made. All I could think was: really?

    Let me be clear, I passionately believe a single employee can make that kind of difference, which is why I believe every individual associate can make a profound difference in any customer relationship. Small moments and seemingly small connections can make or break the relationship.

    But not always, which is why there is never one single answer to every customer need. Sometimes we want that type of relationship and someone, well, we don’t.

    Where I live a small chain of dry cleaning outlets has changed the market and as far as I can tell it has nothing to do with any employee or location. Rather, we use Zips Dry Cleaners because the service is good and quick. Oh yes, and it costs far less than all competitors.

    Zips' formula is simple: essentially one price - $2.29 - for most everything, which includes no pricing difference between men’s and women’s garments. The customer pays up front, cash is heavily preferred and that’s pretty much it. The transaction is fast, impersonal and the garments come back the way you want them.

    So unlike Kevin, I don’t know anyone’s name or have a relationship at the dry cleaners. And unlike Kevin’s dry cleaner, which is closing, Zips keeps adding locations.

    The bottom line is what delights Kevin simply doesn’t matter to me. That is a great reminder on the challenges of understanding the complexity of our shoppers.

    As readers of MNB know well there is much that unites the two of us, especially our love of movies as a metaphor for almost any problem you can present. But actually it goes further than that. Though we didn’t know each other, we grew up less than two miles apart and our career paths crossed a stunning number of times.

    We’re about the same age (Kevin is a little older, as I like to remind him) and in many ways live very similar lives. But knowing all that tells you very little about who we are. In fact, our differences are both simple and profound.

    When we travel together, Kevin loves to bring his shirts pressed, folded and wrapped, while I arrive in hotels, pull out the ironing board and go to work. He also always needs to be within pouring distance of a Starbuck’s and I don’t drink coffee. Kevin loves driving his Mustang convertible, which is a tad peppier than my Prius.

    Believe me, I could go on. The point is that while a demographic survey might make the two of us look the same, in countless ways we are incredibly different. And we are just two consumers - you’ve got thousands more.

    Each shopper is unique and each brings a specific value equation. Businesses today need find a way to appeal to many of us at the same time.

    Fail to do that and you could get taken to the cleaners.

    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 7, 2016

    by Kevin Coupe

    We've had some discussion here on MNB recently about the use of robots ... in part spurred by a recent BBC report about how Foxconn Technology Group - which supplies components to companies like Apple and Samsung - recently replaced 60,000 factory workers in China - with robots. And according to the story, this is just the beginning of an evolution that is occurring because "China is investing heavily in a robot workforce." (I found this inevitable but distressing, at least in part because it worries me that while the major political parties in the US are discussing how to save the coal industry, the Chinese are investing in robotics.)

    Now, the Washington Post reports on how a Australian professor is developing a robot that can perform the tasks of a classically low-tech job - the cowboy.

    According to the story, "Salah Sukkarieh, a robotics professor at the University of Sydney, sees robots as necessary given how cattlemen are aging. The average age of a farmer in Australia is 52, according to the Australian Farm Institute.

    "Sukkarieh is building a four-wheeled robot that will run on solar and electric power. It will roam pastures alongside livestock and monitor the animals using cameras, thermal sensors and infrared. A computer system will analyze video footage to determine whether a cow is limping. Radio tags on the animals will measure temperature changes. The quality of pasture will be tracked by monitoring the shape, color and texture of grass. That way, cattlemen will know whether they need to move their herd to another field for nutrition purposes. He plans to run trials later this year and is aiming for the final product to cost about as much as an ATV.
    Machines have largely taken over planting, watering and harvesting crops such as corn and wheat, but the monitoring of cattle has gone through fewer changes."

    Until now.

    Indeed, the Post notes that "Michael Kelsey, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, said a roving robot that stays with livestock 24-7 could be extremely useful given rising concerns about cattle thieves. Cattle tend to be located in remote locations and their value has risen, making them appealing targets."

    It may end up being an Eye-Opener. It certainly sounds like it is time for an update of The Electric Horseman, the terrific Sydney Pollack movie from 1979 that starred Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, and Willie Nelson.

    Cowboys ain't easy to love and they're harder to hold.
    They'd rather give you a song than diamonds or gold.
    Lonestar belt buckles and old faded Levis,
    And each night begins a new day.
    If you don't understand him, an' he don't die young,
    He'll prob'ly just ride away...

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 7, 2016

    Amazon announced this morning that its Prime members in Atlanta and Miami now will be able to order free one-hour delivery of food from local restaurants in those cities.

    "Using the Prime Now mobile app or by visiting the new Prime Now website," Amazon says, customers "can view participating restaurants, browse menus, place orders, track the status of their delivery, and watch as their delivery driver travels from the restaurant to the delivery address in real time."

    Other cities with Amazon Restaurants service include New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Diego, Dallas, and Portland, Oregon.
    KC's View:
    One has to see this as part of the broader efforts by Amazon to establish an ecosystem ... the first, best, most natural choice for pretty much everything. It doesn't mean one will always choose Amazon, or that it'll even be the best choice ... but it always wants to be part of the conversation.

    Isn't that what every retailer wants?

    Published on: June 7, 2016

    The Boston Globe reports that America's Food Basket, a grocery store in Mattapan, Massachusetts, has had to stop providing to its customers a unique and differentiated service - the willingness to butcher just-killed animals.

    “Some customers don’t have access to getting their meat cut up when it comes to things like a full turkey or fish,” says owner Austin Morda. “But as of Saturday, that has stopped.”

    According to the story, the grocer came under pressure when a video emerged of a customer taking a dead goat out of his truck, putting it into a shopping cart, and wheeling it into the store, where he asked for it to be butchered for a private party.

    That video came to the attention of local government officials, who say that the store is not zoned for the butchering of animals. While they have called for a hearing, they also say that Morda is unlikely to be fined as long as the service has been stopped.
    KC's View:
    I kind of feel bad for this retailer ... but on the other hand, I can only imagine the looks on the faces of other customers in the store as the dead goat got wheeled by them. It probably would make me think twice about ever using one of those shopping carts again.

    On the other hand ... it certainly suggests a possible niche business opportunity in certain markets. Though maybe customers with dead animals should use the back door...

    Published on: June 7, 2016

    The New York Post reports that D'Agostino's, the longtime independent, family-owned urban retailer, "has been quietly shopping its remaining nine Manhattan stores."

    In business for more than eight decades, D'Agostino's has been gradually getting smaller in recent years. At its peak it had 26 units, but was half that size a year ago. Now down to nine, the retailer is "getting squeezed by Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, FreshDirect and other rivals, as well as leases that were too expensive to renew."

    One of the companies aid to be interested is Key Food, which the Post describes as "a cooperative that bought the Food Emporium brand and some of its stores in the A&P bankruptcy last year, according to sources. Key Food owns four Food Emporiums and would like to expand the portfolio in Manhattan, where the brand is better known than Key Food and is seen as a more upscale chain."

    However, Robert James, D’Agostino’s president/COO, says that the company has "had no formal discussions recently and are not in discussions with anyone regarding a potential sale."
    KC's View:
    This is a sad story, but hardly a surprise. I haven't been in every one of the remaining D'Agostino's stores, but the ones I have been into hardly seem any different than they were decades ago. It is like they are caught in some sort of stasis, while the rest of the retailing world - and customers - have changed in ways large and small.

    I suspect this company will end of being a case study in how not to compete in a fast-changing world.

    Dead company walking. Barely.

    Published on: June 7, 2016

    Engadget has a story about how Target is "opening a 'connected living experience' in a suburban Minneapolis store," taking the concept beyond the test concept that it was using in a San Francisco store.

    According to the story, "The Minneapolis setup won't be as elaborate as Open House in San Francisco with its touchscreen tables. Instead it will have large displays above the products that explain how a gadget interacts with other devices. Target will also make sure the staff is up to speed ... The Ridgedale store will be the first in what could be a major change to how the retail chain sells electronics. Like Google, Apple and Amazon, Target sees the connected home as one the next big things in tech. But the company has found that its shoppers are confused not only about how these devices work together, but where they're actually kept in the store. Would a smart thermostat be in the electronics or home section?

    "Putting all the devices together in one spot and creating scenarios that emphasize how a smart light and a connected garage work together not only highlights what's possible, it helps sell stuff."

    Target is said to be planning connected living experience' for stores in Cupertino, California, and Tribeca in New York City.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 7, 2016

    Published reports say that Daren Metropoulos, principal at private equity firm Metropoulos & Co., which owns and manufactures Twinkies, has bought the fabled (and in many quarters, infamous and disreputable) Playboy Mansion from Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.

    Twinkies, of course, are the classic American snack that consist of lightweight golden sponge cake implanted with a creamy filling.

    The stories say that while the house had been listed for $200 million, the actual purchase price was not announced.

    In buying the house, Metropoulos is adding to his already considerable real estate holdings. He already owns the house next door in Holmby Hills, a Los Angeles neighborhood near Beverly Hills, which he bought in 2009 for $18 million.

    The 20,000 square foot Playboy Mansion is said to have 12 bedrooms, a grotto and a zoo license.

    There is a kicker to the deal. Hefner, 90, is permitted under the sale to live there until his death.
    KC's View:
    We're going for the joke crowdsourcing approach here. Provide your own Twinkie jokes.

    Published on: June 7, 2016

    • Minnesota-based retailer Coborn's said yesterday that it has hired Jim Shaw, most recently CFO and internal audit director at Minneapolis-based Donaldson Co., to be its new CFO. He replaces Tom Velin, who resigned several months ago.

    • The Puget Sound Business Journal reports on the decision by Seattle-based Metropolitan Markets CEO Terry Halvorsen to step down as co-CEO of the company, while retaining the role of chairman.

    The story notes that his fellow co-CEO, Todd Korman, now will be the sole CEO of the company.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 7, 2016

    Got the following email from MNB reader Jeremy Couture yesterday, responding to our story about Tony Kornheiser moving his radio program from traditional radio to a podcast, which I used as a metaphor for broader competitive shifts:

    I also count myself as a “Little” and a big Tony Kornheiser fan.  I’ve listened to him for years, myself, and have kept up with him even though I live in St. Louis.  I catch the one hour podcast version of his show most days on my commute home.  As a result, I have a working knowledge of DC sports and weather, which doesn’t come up too often in conversation in my local area.

    From what I’ve read on his announcement, what drove his move off of radio was that his show was never a huge ratings draw, and it is somewhat costly to produce.  I remember years ago when ESPN pulled TK off of the national show, handing over the time to Colin Cowherd, whom I find odious (another subject for another day), Mr. Tony cited ratings as the issue.  TK’s loyal, but far flung and fragmented fan base would seem to align perfectly with podcasts versus terrestrial radio, which needs localized scale based on their current model.

    The retailing analogy is an interesting one.  Like a local radio station, how does a bigger bricks and mortar retailer capture smaller, fragmented consumer bases (who may be very loyal) that don’t fit into a model that is built on scale and efficiency?  Many people smarter than me are predicting the death of radio for their inability to adapt to this new reality.  As you’ve been preaching, retailers must adapt or face similar consequences.

    It seems to me that one of the things that companies have to do is redefine what success means ... it is still important, of course, to turn a profit ... but maybe how one gets there has to be recalculated to some degree.

    Responding to the same story, MNB reader Shelley des Islets wrote:

    In your Monday MNB Eye Opener, you closed with:

    "And one final note ... if you're out on your bike tonight, do wear white."

    I appreciate the message; my partner and I wear dayglo yellow-green vests with reflective tape when night cycling (and day cycling in traffic), and I have had a few moments as a driver where I was startled by a cyclist at night with no lights and dark clothes, and thankfully we had no incident.

    But the placement in your piece caused me to wonder if you've had a recent experience that shook you up--and wish you all best.  Safety at night becomes even more critical as I age and understand why 'old people' complain about night driving and not seeing things, for they are eluding me, too, now. 

    Anyway, thinking of you.

    That's just incredibly kind ... but you misunderstood. (I suspect lots of other folks did, too.)

    "if you're out on your bike tonight, do wear white," is how Mr. Tony closes his show each day ... it is a slight paraphrasing of a line from a Rolling Stones song.

    It is sort of like Edward R. Murrow saying, "Good night and good luck." Or Jimmy Durante saying, "Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are." (Man, I'm really dating myself here.) Or Ron Burgundy saying, "Stay classy, San Diego."

    Or even me, on a far smaller scale, signing off each Friday with "Slàinte!"

    But I really appreciate your concern.
    KC's View: