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    Published on: July 28, 2016

    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.

    I'm reporting in this morning from the Francis Ford Coppola vineyards in Sonoma, California, where I was thinking about an encounter I had recently at another vineyard - the wonderful Willamette Valley Vineyards, just south of Portland, Oregon.

    We were there with friends getting a tour from Wende Bennette (who I've rhapsodized about here from time to time, most extensively here). Another couple joined us at the last minute, and I ended up making the acquaintance of Tony Fross,who is with Capgemini Consulting and does a lot of work in the supermarket industry.

    As we took the tour, Tony asked Wende a lot of questions, and he always seemed to precede them by saying, "I have a fact-finding question..." After this happened a half-dozen times or so I'd finally had enough, and so I said, "What the hell is it with the fact-finding questions? What other kind are there?"

    Well, Tony Fross had an answer. Actually, he said, there are three kinds of questions. There are fact-finding questions, which are simply designed to elicit information. Then, there are the kinds of questions that are meant to challenge the veracity of the person doing the talking. And finally, there are the questions that are meant to bolster the credibility of the person doing the asking.

    Well, I thought that was pretty interesting, especially because to a large degree, I'm in the business of asking questions. And Tony made the point - and I agree with him on this - that this is not to say one kind of question is better than another. They all are legitimate, and they all have their place.

    But ... it is critically important that when we ask questions, we know why we're asking them and what kinds of questions they are.

    That's a really good point. I thought about it a lot as I was sampling the Pinots ... which are, by the way, spectacular. I have no questions about that.

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

    KC's View:

    Published on: July 28, 2016

    by Kevin Coupe

    Fast Company has a piece about how a new Marriott in Charlotte, North Carolina, is a working laboratory for new concepts that the company is testing for possible inclusion in future properties and concepts. The focus is on creating consistent and yet differentiated amenities ... which sounds like a contradiction in terms.

    And so, Marriott seems to be testing localized offerings that might not be specifically replicated elsewhere, but could form a kind of customizable blueprint for other hotels.

    "Throughout the Charlotte property, there are local touches," Fast Company writes. "For instance, rather than a generic restaurant and cafe, local chefs and entrepreneurs have set up permanent restaurants in the hotel, bringing with them their own tastes, cuisine, and aesthetics. Marriott has also invited a local business person to set up a wine bar and shop. If guests try a particular wine and enjoy it, they can purchase it on the spot. And instead of the standard Starbucks, an independent cafe from the area is now situated in the lobby.

    "Marriott also found that guests are interested in mingling in open spaces. Millennials, in particular, see activities like going to the gym or a coffee shop as an opportunity to meet new people and start conversations. So in Charlotte, in place of a sterile gym, guests can sign up for boutique studio classes taught by local instructors, similar to those popular in big cities. At other times, they can pick from a range of fitness videos from celebrity trainers that will be streamed onto a big screen ... The Charlotte hotel will also have plenty of big lofty spaces, like lobbies with comfy chairs and casual coffee nooks scattered around the lobby, where people can do work or relax among fellow visitors. These spots are especially designed for frequent travelers - like consultants who might be at the hotel for an entire week - and are looking for opportunities to connect with other people while they're away from home."

    The test seems consistent with something that Marriott has said it has been told by more and more hotel guests - that they want a less cookie-cutter, less vanilla, less beige experience. And I think that this approach - understanding that even if you;re making cookies, it makes sense to not allow it to look like you are using a cookie cutter - is, in fact, an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 28, 2016

    There is a piece in the New York Times worth take a look that focuses on the purchase by Unilever of Dollar Shave Club for $1 billion, and why this means that "every other company should be afraid, very afraid."

    The argument is that "the deal anecdotally shows that no company is safe from the creative destruction brought by technological change. The very nature of a company is fundamentally changing, becoming smaller and leaner with far fewer employees." And, the Times writes, "The state of play creates the potential for mass and creative disruption." Of anybody, by anybody.

    In the current environment, "expect more start-ups in disruptive areas," the Times writes. "Expect more old-line companies to find themselves on their back feet, compensating by paying outsize, sometimes incredulous sums for breakthrough competitors. And expect more enormous investment in all things new as the old companies without unique assets struggle to compete."

    You can read the entire story here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 28, 2016

    USA Today reports that a new study from CreditCards.com suggests that the "number of fees tacked onto credit cards is shrinking ... The 100 cards reviewed for the study had a total of 593 fees, compared with the 613 fees that customers potentially faced last year."

    In addition, fewer cards (61 compared to 77 a year ago) are charging foreign transaction fees for purchases made outside the US. And "since last year, 19 cards have stopped charging customers for a paper copy of a past statement, making that the fastest disappearing fee."
    KC's View:
    Let's not shed a tear for credit card companies, which are generally pretty good at charging usurious rates and exploiting consumer weaknesses. The story makes clear that lowering fees is "a way card issuers are fighting to keep and gain customers in an increasingly competitive marketplace." Not to mention respond to unrelentingly lousy press that banks have been getting lately.

    Published on: July 28, 2016

    Interesting story in the New York Times about a Los Angeles restaurant called Everytable, which has two locations - one in South LA and the other in more affluent downtown - and also very different prices on their menus.

    According to the story, "The big price difference represents an unusual experiment to address the persistent issue of limited food choices in poorer neighborhoods around the country. The higher prices at the downtown store are effectively meant to offset smaller profits at the other location, making the lower-priced restaurant more economically viable."

    While the owners resist the notion that one restaurant is subsidizing the other, they concede that patrons at one location "are helping to underwrite sales of the same nutritious meals they are eating in neighborhoods where such food is typically unavailable because no one can afford it." Which is sort of the definition of a subsidy...

    "Many other businesses, including restaurants, charge different prices for the same thing," the Times writes. "A McDonald’s in Midtown Manhattan, for example, is more expensive than one in Dayton, Ohio. But rarely is the price for the same food nearly double the price just a jog away."

    The story goes on to say that "Everytable grew out of Groceryships, a nonprofit that ... provides families in South Los Angeles with fruits, vegetables, seeds, grains and other fresh health foods for six months, during which they attend group sessions where they learn cooking and shopping skills and work on techniques to change eating habits."
    KC's View:
    I'm less interested in this story because of what essentially is a form of zone pricing, which is incredibly common in much of the country, than I am intrigued by the idea that people are looking for ways to provide better, more nutritious food to people who might ordinarily be unable to afford it. That's a worthy effort ... and if it takes finding a way to subsidize it, then that's fine with me. Otherwise, people might think that fast food was their only option. Which it almost never is.

    Published on: July 28, 2016

    MarketWatch reports that Dollar General is buying 41 Walmart Express locations around the country, with plans "to expand its offerings to fresh meat and produce.

    "The company said it expects to relocate 40 of its existing stores into the acquired Walmart Express stores by October 2016, meaning it will enter one new market as part of the purchases. Terms of the deal were not disclosed."

    "Communities served by the newly-relocated stores will enjoy a fresh DG16 layout with additional sales floor square feet, complete with expanded offerings such as fresh meat and produce, all designed to make shopping easier for customers," the company said in a statement.
    KC's View:
    The addition of fresh meat and produce suggests that Dollar General is adjusting its profitability model, but also is getting serious about competing on a broader scale with the likes of Aldi and Save-A-Lot, and eventually with Lidl ... which may be the only move it can make in order to defend its turf.

    Published on: July 28, 2016

    • Shipt, the online grocery delivery service, announced yesterday that it has secured $20.1 million in funding that will be used "to continue to scale its business to new markets, develop additional partnerships with leading grocery retailers and invest in its team. The company plans to add alcohol delivery to its platform later this year.


    GeekWire reports that Amazon is teaming up with Kickstarter "to sell more than 300 crowdfunded products on a dedicated Amazon.com page ... Kickstarter Collection is a new addition to Amazon Launchpad, a portal that allows startups to easily sell and market their products on Amazon," and allows consumers to search by category with easy access to items that have been crowdfunded.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 28, 2016

    The Chicago Tribune reports that Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer is slowly, selectively testing a new breakfast menu at five of his locations, including Grand Central terminal in New York, Union Station in Washington, DC, and a couple of airports.

    The menu reportedly "features Shack’s three breakfast varieties of egg and cheese sandwiches with sausage and bacon options. All three sandwiches consist of cage-free eggs, served with American cheese on a toasted potato bun. The sausage breakfast sandwich is topped with pork sausage and the bacon variety includes all-natural applewood smoked bacon."

    Shake Shack hasn't said whether it might roll out the breakfast menu to its other locations, but the Tribune notes that "it may well prove to be a sound business decision as companies vie for the growing desire for fast and tasty breakfast options."
    KC's View:
    Count me in. My town in Connecticut is scheduled to get a Shake Shack later this year, and it'd be great if they added breakfast to the menu. They make a better burger, so there's no reason to think they won't make a better egg sandwich. Fast food can actually be pretty good when it doesn't aim for the lowest common denominator.

    Published on: July 28, 2016

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

    Business Insider reports that even as Starbucks invests in an Italian bakery company and makes plans for more expensive coffee boutiques around the country, some of its baristas say it is cutting hours, and that "consumers are paying the price" by standing on longer lines and waiting longer for their lattes.

    While Starbucks denies the shift, Buzzfeed did obtain a company memo "asking field leaders to use a new forecasting tool to prevent 'an overspend in labor'."

    If Starbucks indeed is playing games with staffing, believing that it can move budget from labor hours in its regular stores to supporting the shiny new objects that it seems captivated by, then I think management is making a mistake.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 28, 2016

    Readers in the eastern part of the country yesterday may have noticed that there were two versions of "Your Views" posted - a new one and, for some reason, a repeat of the one from Tuesday.

    I'm not sure why it happened. I'm thinking there was a glitch in the system, but it may have been a glitch in the Content Guy. Either way, my apologies... I fixed it as soon as I became aware of it.

    The irony is that the one that was repeated featured an email and story about memory loss and encroaching dementia. I'm aware that this does not look good.

    Thanks, as always, for your patience.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 28, 2016

    ...will return.
    KC's View: