business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: November 1, 2016

    by Michael Sansolo

    In any business setting, small things matter so much. While it may not impact the cost or total experience, we like to be greeted courteously at a restaurant or doctor’s office, just as we like professional contacts to look professional.

    It’s especially nice when staffers do the little bit extra, such as complimenting us on a purchase. In a quiet way it confirms our choices.

    So let me tell you about Damoni and the short, simple interaction we had.

    Damoni is an usher at a Broadway theater in New York. Let’s accept the reality that being an usher is not a high paying, high profile job. Ushers simply direct people to their seats. They have no connection to the cast, the music or any other part of the show.

    Most importantly, no one is walking into or out of a show because of the usher. But, in a short and simple interaction, Damoni showed me he cares and feels a part of a winning team.

    It happened last week. Thanks to an incredible bit of luck and timing, my wife and I ended up sitting in the seventh row for “Hamilton,” the phenomenal Broadway show for which people drop thousand of dollars and wait endless months to see. We did neither and still scored tickets.

    Let’s get this out of the way: the show is better than the hype. It is a staggering achievement in virtually every way.

    I could talk about the genius of the show’s creator, Lin-Manual Miranda, who read a book about Alexander Hamilton and was moved to write the musical. But that's almost too much for one column. Instead, let's focus on one recurring theme, expressed by George Washington at one point when he says that one can no more control how one is remembered by posterity than one can control when one is born or dies. it is always someone else who tells your story.

    "Hamilton" proves the point.

    By telling the story from Hamilton's perspective, we learn that Lafayette’s role in the American Revolution was very large, while Jefferson's may have been smaller (and more petty) than often portrayed. Washington becomes a fully formed person with stunning strengths and foresight that makes the American experiment take flight. And Aaron Burr, who eventually shoots and kills Hamilton, was incredibly complex, yet lacking in conviction and morals.

    If Miranda had told the story from Burr's perspective, it would've been a very different musical.

    Obviously businesses aren’t working on as grand a scale as the Broadway musical or about as grand a story as the American revolution. But still, every business has a story that it wants to tell, about a specific value equation or point of differentiation it offers. Yet, in the end, you don’t control how the story is told.

    Your story is told when a disgruntled shopper writes a social media review, just as it is told in the way your staffers execute. You may promise to be the friendliest store in town, but it’s the smiles or lack thereof that shoppers see. So you have a story, but you don’t get to tell it. That ultimately falls to others.

    And that’s where my interaction with Damoni the usher comes in. During the intermission at "Hamilton" I found myself standing near Damoni, who looked at me and made a simple comment: “Pretty awesome, isn’t it.”

    He didn’t have to say a thing. Most ushers wouldn't, and don't. But he did, confirming the experience I was having. I asked him what it’s like to see the show repeatedly as an usher. Damoni told me he loves it every single time. It’s possible he has been coached to talk this way, just as waiters always tell you that you ordered their favorite dish. But it also is possible he’s just a great associate.

    Be honest: Wouldn’t you be overjoyed to have random employees provide that kind of moment to customers. Of course, you can’t guarantee it will happen, but you can emphasize to staffers the importance of those small gestures. Those efforts won’t stop angry Yelp reviewers, but they will help tell the story the way you want it told.

    Remember, small things always matter. Even when telling a grand story.

    You only get so many shots. You can't afford to throw any of them away.

    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: November 1, 2016

    by Kevin Coupe

    CNBC reports that PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi believes that we'll soon be snacking on insects ... though probably not anytime soon. Maybe 2026.

    "Bug-related stuff is big," she said at a recent New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) event.

    "[Experts] said the hottest thing is eating crickets," Nooyi said. "I am not talking about the game cricket, I am talking about crickets! In chips. And I am a vegetarian, I am not eating any cricket chips. But they said if you want a high protein source, there is a series of products being launched with crickets."

    The story notes that Nooyi has some credibility in the food trend prognostication racket - " a decade ago, Nooyi was correct in forecasting a mass migration toward healthier foods."

    This was particularly interesting to me since I was watching a documentary over the weekend (that I'll review on Friday in "OffBeat") in which the consumption of insects came up, and the comment was that if we want to survive as a species, we're going to have to get used to the idea.

    Now, I'm not sure I'd go that far ... but I'm intrigued. And if one of these days someone offers me fried grasshoppers, I promise to partake.

    I'm pretty sure it'll be an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 1, 2016

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that "shoppers in their 20s and 30s are visiting supermarkets less frequently than their parents, government records and survey data show. They are spreading purchases across new options, including online grocery services such as AmazonFresh, beefed-up convenience stores and stronger food offerings from omnibus retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp."

    The story goes on to say that "consumers between 25 and 34 years of age last year spent an average of $3,539 on groceries, about $1,000 less in inflation-adjusted dollars than people that age spent in 1990, federal data shows ... The shift away from big grocery bills wasn’t as obvious before the financial crisis saddled millennials with student debt and weak job prospects, and placed a lasting drag on consumer spending."

    It isn;t just grocery shopping habits that are changing, the Journal writes: "The more than 75 million Americans born in the 1980s and 1990s are also delaying marriage and childbearing, milestones that traditionally lead people to start making big trips to the grocery store."
    KC's View:
    The story makes clear that many supermarkets are doing everything they can to cope with the shifting consumer habits, from developing their own online services and applications to contemplating consolidating with other retailers, to forming alliances with the likes of Instacart and Shipt as they try to find some sort of response to their troubles.

    Of course, there will be companies that will resist the notion that they have to embrace any sort of fundamental change or internal disruption, and will say instead that all they have to do is get back to basics and things will take care of themselves.

    There is a word to describe such retailers. History.

    It is not like once these people get to a certain age, they're going to revert to the shopping habits and preferences of their parents; these are deeply ingrained attitudinal and demographic shifts, and they're only going to get more pronounced. Besides, I'm not even sure that their parents want to revert to old behaviors.

    I certainly don't.

    Published on: November 1, 2016

    The New York Times has a story about a new ad campaign being launched by IKEA that it says "eschews the aspirational gloss of master suites and two-story foyers in favor of embracing Americans — and their furniture needs — where they are today." And, the story says, showing them in real-life situations that resonate with consumers.

    The slogan - “No matter who you are, what you do, or how much you make, you can still make the dream yours" - is described as "an inclusive message that, in this fraught political climate, could be a campaign slogan just as easily as a pitch for floor lamps and futons."

    But here's the really interesting part that transcends the furniture business...

    The story says that IKEA decided to embrace the new approach after commissioning a study from the Economist Intelligence Unit "to find out about Americans’ aspirations and concerns in terms of the economy, education and financial benchmarks like homeownership.

    "In the study, 'Discovering the New American Dream,' researchers found bright spots as well as concerns. Most of the respondents agreed with the statement 'People can come from any walk of life and make it in America,' but even more of the 2,050 Americans questioned said money was a barrier to achieving what they considered to be the American dream, and about half said it would be harder for future generations to become homeowners and earn a good living."

    KC's View:
    Which translates into a marketing approach that, perhaps, more retailers can and should adopt. it isn't just a question of offering product, but going farther by helping people see how they can improve their actual circumstances in tangible and affordable ways. Recognition can be a powerful tool. It says that we're all in this together ... that we don't just want to sell you stuff, but want to help.

    Published on: November 1, 2016

    Variety reports that chef Anthony Bourdain, best known these days for his “Parts Unknown" documentary series on CNN, plans to produce a new movie on the subject of global food waste.
    The movie, according to the story, "will aim to shed light on the grim numbers that show how much food is thrown away every year. Statistics indicate that approximately 1.3 billion tons, or one-third of all man-made food, perishes instead of being used to feed the hungry. In the United States, families trash about fourth of the food they buy, at a cost of $1,365 to $2,275 a year, according to research from the Rockefeller Foundation," which will co-produce the movie.

    The Rockefeller Foundation "has made eradicating food waste one of its primary missions — last year, it launched a $130 million, seven-year initiative to deal with the issue," Variety writes.

    The working title of the movie: Wasted! The Story of Food Waste. It is said to already be in production, and expected to be on the film festival circuit next year.
    KC's View:
    It sounds like there will be some considerable juice behind this documentary, and Bourdain is very good at making information digestible. Look for this to be a high-profile property about a subject that should be top-of-mind.

    Published on: November 1, 2016

    Bloomberg reports that global demand for coffee is helping to tighten supplies, driven at least in part by Americans who " are becoming java junkies at an earlier age," and "young adults (who) are increasing their daily consumption at a fast enough pace to make up for declines by older folks."

    The story says that "demand in the U.S., the world’s top user, is set for an all-time high, and the trend among younger drinkers is also playing out in other big consumers including Brazil and even tea-loving China." The bad news is that tightening is made worse because "consumption is climbing as drought crimps supplies from Brazil, the world’s biggest producer and exporter."

    Two interesting notes from the story:

    • "Millennials -- a cohort of young people now aged about 19 to 34 -- account for about 44 percent of U.S. coffee demand, according to Chicago-based researcher Datassential. In the eight years through 2016, daily consumption among 18- to 24-years-olds rose to 48 percent from 34 percent, while it climbed to 60 percent from 51 percent among those aged 25 to 39, according to the National Coffee Association.

    • "The coffee craze is also starting earlier in life. Younger millennials, born after 1995, started drinking coffee at about 14.7 years old, while older millenials, born closer to 1982, began at 17.1 years, data from the association show."
    KC's View:
    It seems inevitable that the result of this confluence will be higher prices, which may only be compensated for by deflation.

    Next thing you know, there will be coffee-infused baby formula, with Starbucks deciding to get into that business so they can develop people's palates at the earliest possible age.

    I have to admit that I'm finding it a little hard to swallow that whole "declines by older folks" stuff. Every once in a while I try to cut back a little bit, or try decaf ... but the loss of the pure pleasure of black coffee never seems worth the trouble. And then I generally manage to find an article saying that coffee is good for brain function and will help me live longer, and I pour another cup.

    Published on: November 1, 2016

    There's a really interesting story in Philadelphia magazine about a person's search for a new supermarket after having moved to the City of Brotherly love.

    It isn't such an easy task, since the Philadelphia area currently has a plethora of choices. "This multitude of riches can’t be found everywhere in the city; there are still neighborhoods that lack any grocery stores. In the suburbs, of course, shoppers have always had a host of supermarkets to choose from — not to mention that mecca of markets, Wegmans.

    "But the spate of new grocers in Greater Center City is remarkable. We have choices now — choices that run deeper than mere convenience or more types of peanut butter to choose from. They offer more ways to connect to something, to define yourself and find your place in the world. Even if that place happens to be the cheese aisle."

    It is a fascinating and instructive story, posing some existential questions about shopping and eating and selling food, and you can read it here.
    KC's View:
    I love the idea that this all takes place in Philadelphia. After all, The Philadelphia Story is a classic 1940 screwball comedy in which Katharine Hepburn finds herself having to choose from three suitors - played by Cary Grant, James Stewart, and John Howard. Which may have been a little harder than having to choose among supermarkets.

    Published on: November 1, 2016

    • A survey conducted by Google Consumer Insights on behalf of says that "more than half of consumers plan on shopping primarily at Amazon (57.4%) this holiday shopping season versus Walmart (32.3%)."

    The survey goes on to say that "Amazon (43.7%) stands as the leading destination for beginning a purchase journey over Google (39.6%), Walmart (6.6%), Yahoo (4.1%), and Bing (3.8%)." And, "42.8% of those surveyed are members of Amazon Prime versus only 4% who said they were members of Walmart's ShippingPass."

    And: "Walmart shoppers will spend an average of around $2 more ($517.57) than Amazon shoppers ($515.65) this holiday shopping season ... 18.4% of Walmart shoppers say they shop at Walmart because they prefer in-store shopping."
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 1, 2016

    • The National Retail Federation (NRF) is out with a study suggesting that "with the election falling in the middle of holiday shopping, as of mid-October many U.S. consumers say they will have a more conservative holiday spending budget this year ... consumers plan to spend an average of $935.58 during the holiday shopping season."

    • The Associated Press reports that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) "has approved commercial planting of two types of potatoes that are genetically engineered to resist the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine ... The company says the potatoes will also have reduced bruising and black spots, enhanced storage capacity, and a reduced amount of a chemical created when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures that's a potential carcinogen."

    The potatoes are called the Ranger Russet and Atlantic varieties, and are produced by JR Simplot.

    According to the story, this approval does not mean Americans will soon be eating the GM potatoes. "The potatoes next must clear a voluntary review process through the Food and Drug Administration as well as get the OK from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The company says it expects those approvals in January with the potatoes entering the market next spring."

    • The South Bend Tribune reports that Martin's Super Markets has opened its first convenience store - a foodservice-oriented unit that "offers a range of ready-to-eat hot and cold items, fresh sandwiches, wraps and salads" - in South Bend, Indiana.

    The store is said to be part of an ongoing project to build a new full-service store to replace a current store on Western Avenue there.

    According to the story, "This is the second store the local grocery chain has opened that differs from its traditional full-service stores. Martin's opened a 26,000-square-foot store in Goshen in May 2015, a location about half the size of the company's usual stores and one that has a more neighborhood grocer feel to it. Opening the new formats are part of Martin's exploring new ways to serve customers."
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 1, 2016

    • D-I-Y retailer Lowe's Companies said yesterday that Michael P. McDermott, the company's chief merchandising officer, is being promoted to the job of chief customer officer, where he will be "responsible for creating experiences that best serve customers and differentiate Lowe's in an omni-channel environment, including leading customer insights, customer experience design, marketing and strategy."
    KC's View:
    Is there a more important role in a retail business than that of chief customer officer? And is there an excuse for being a retailer and not having such a person? Just asking...

    Published on: November 1, 2016

    On the subject of online shopping, one MNB user wrote:

    A recent purchase I made online taught me a bit about how some retailers are already adopting, in some ways, the model that Walmart is by leveraging their brick and mortar locations for an efficient supply chain. 

    This may be something a lot of retailers have already been doing for some time, but it was news to me at least.  Recently I went online to find a new Minnesota Vikings hat and found that the major sites ( and Amazon) didn’t have the one I wanted in stock. did and I went ahead and ordered it.  The hat arrived just a few days later and I noticed on the receipt and the shipping label that my hat was not shipped from a DC or drop-shipped from the manufacturer; it was shipped directly from a mall location in Dubuque, Iowa.

    I was impressed how the company is leveraging the inventory at its mall locations, which are probably under a lot of pressure from general traffic declines, to deliver product to consumers who shop online.  Again, not sure if this is old news but was an “eye-opener” for me.

    Regarding Kroger's ClickList service, MNB reader Tom Murphy wrote:

    It might be lost on your readers how long Kroger has been working on this.  It was not some strategy they dreamed up last year and launched this year.  In fact, Kroger got its biggest surge in the execution of this from its acquisition of Harris Teeter.  HT launched this program in trial form in Charlotte, NC in mid-2013.  I actually visited their launch store which was truly a pilot.  Their business and IT teams had partnered over at least a year prior to that to fine-tune business operations, processes and technology.  An both were built on the data and business model associated with their loyal programs…again, something that doesn’t happen overnight.

    So, if you are a grocer who is just beginning to think about this…y’all better get on it because a lot of business can walk out of your doors the next 4 years while you prepare to engage.  By the way, in most cases, it is your most loyal and highest value customers who are seeking this service…a nice chuck of sales, but an even bigger chunk of margin!

    regarding Kroger’s ClickList, MNB reader Doug Coop wrote:

    Yes, you may have spent an hour in the store and maybe less on line but how much can we take sitting in front of the computer anymore. Walking around a store and actually seeing human beings and interacting with people, not to mention the exercise factor, I don’t know if I can
    take being a computer vegetable anymore.

    I don’t think I like the distance the electronic age has created in taking us away from social interaction, seems more & more unhealthy every day.

    Just because one does a percentage of one's shopping online doesn't mean that one is forgoing social interaction. I like to think that I spend the time I don't have to go the store by cooking or jogging or hanging with my family or going out with friends or ... whatever.

    We had a story yesterday about verbal search technology being tested by Google, which led to this email from MNB reader Brian Blank:

    In your commentary on the verbal search technology being tested by Google you ask, “Who wouldn’t want this as an option?”  Well, I can’t possibly be the only person who finds it nearly impossible to make myself understood to these devices—Siri, my car, etc…oddly though, there are 2 devices that actually do respond and respond well:  my Apple TV and my Amazon Fire TV.  This isn’t to say that I think it’s a bad idea to offer it as an option, but it’s nothing I’m clamoring for.  (OK, mayyyyybe if they made the response sound like Majel Barrett I’d make a bigger effort….)

    From MNB reader Mike Moon:

    In the KC's View section of the Craft Beer Boom Slowing story, you wrote "...but I've no reason to think that the really good ones won't survive."

    Survival in these markets may not who's the tastiest, but who has the most money. I met a man in a bar a couple of years ago, whose family owned a beer distributorship in Kansas. He managed the western half of the state, and his brother, the eastern half. I was asking about the growth of craft beers and how they were managing it, and how they chose which beers to warehouse and try to sell in an already crowded beer case. One thing he said was that there was no end to really good beers, but his company had to ultimately choose the ones who had the best chance at survival in the market. This meant marketing dollars, promotional monies, good facilities and production levels. if the brewer didn't have sufficient levels of any of these to support the product, it would wither and die. While I think many of us craft beer fans would bemoan the fact that a large brewer might buy up a little one, it may be the only way that the small one would survive in the market.

    Regarding the New York Times piece about broken promises by the GMO business, MNB reader Dennis Sirianni wrote:

    In another game of “3 cups and a ball", the concerned public once again has lost the ball (as I do often).  This initiative is not about reducing chemicals, nor is it about something more notorious.  It's about money!  Non-GMO seed is not eligible for crop insurance.  Farmers are (as a group) very risk averse.  The idea of have resistant crops, that are insured, and (as far as we can tell) safe, is a formula for success.

    Now, the larger issue to the consuming public is, are they safe?  To arrive at that answer, we must speak with our $$’s.  Once we indicate that we will pay more for crops from unaltered seeds, and do so at a rate that eliminates the risk of crop devastation, well, then the problem will solve itself.  My concern is that we chased the rabbit (low cost grains), too far down the rabbit hole.

    KC's View:

    Published on: November 1, 2016

    In Monday Night Football action, the Chicago Bears defeated the Minnesota Vikings 20-10.
    KC's View: