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    Published on: January 17, 2017

    by Michael Sansolo

    Every so often the universe reminds me that my point of view isn’t the only one out there. It happened twice in the past week. Well, at least, twice that I noticed.

    Through various circumstances, I found myself in two separate conversations with Californians. Each time, as is my habit, I raised my favorite topic with West Coasters: my yearning for In-n-Out burgers.

    It’s silly, I know, but we all have our own thing and those double-double cheeseburgers are high on my list. It’s to the point that I know the exact location of the closest In-n-Out to many West Coast airports.

    So imagine my shock when one of the Californians claimed zero knowledge of the regional chain. And the second dismissed the burgers as mediocre. When I asked him what food he craves when he comes east, he cited Potbelly Sandwich Works.

    Now, here’s the thing: I like Potbelly and consider the stores quirky, fun and a good value. But the stores are located all around the area where I live and therefore they just aren’t all that special. I have to imagine that he’s just as befuddled about my passion for In-n-Out.

    It could be dismissed as just always seeing the grass as greener on the other side, but more importantly, I think it reminds us that our opinions are not always universally accepted.

    For countless reasons - and having nothing to do with politics - that’s more important than ever. Think for a second about the discussions we constantly have here at MNB regarding e-commerce in general and Amazon in particular. It seems that every day that the e-mails Kevin posts demonstrate that range of opinions.

    We have readers who see e-commerce in general as the great gathering storm and others who find ways to dismiss or certainly downplay its significance. Likewise we have a similar range of opinions specifically about Amazon and its prospects for future domination.

    The truth is none of us really know the future. We can only speculate and forecast based on what we already know and believe.

    That brings us back to a point we make here frequently: it is more important than ever to seek out those with different experiences and points of view. Doing so keeps us fresh, keeps us challenged and, just maybe, keeps us relevant.

    Consider what Muhtar Kent, the soon-to-be outgoing CEO of Coca-Cola told Fortune magazine in a recent interview:

    “The best leaders keep learning. They learn from their mistakes and their successes - not only when they’re young, but throughout their careers,” Kent said. “Listening to others has been absolutely essential to this process. No matter how far you go as a leader, you have to keep seeking advice and good counsel.”

    (By the way, MNB has more on the Muhtar Kent piece in Fortune below...)

    It’s never an easy process, but it sure matters because that counsel might help you see challenges and opportunities that would otherwise be invisible.

    It matters even when those you are listening to completely disagree with you on In-n-Out cheeseburgers. Or maybe it especially matters when you completely disagree with them.

    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: January 17, 2017

    by Kevin Coupe

    "I'd rather be lucky than good," Lefty Gomez, the Hall of Fame baseball pitcher for the New York Yankees and Washington Senators, once said. (It is, in fact, one of my favorite quotes, because it sort of defines my life and career.)

    Luck is a good thing. So is timing. Of course, as I've often said here on MNB, one has to be prepared to take advantage of both when they occur. We can't let the moment pass.

    Such an example come from the Seattle Times, where there's a story about a bus startup company called Skedaddle, which, the story says, was created "to allow people to create bus routes to wherever they please," with a mission of letting users “ride to amazing destinations with inspiring people.” The average fare runs to around $50, and Skedaddle works with high-end bus companies around the country to book the routes and passengers.

    Over the past two months, Skedaddle - described as "a tiny company" - has suddenly gotten very busy. Lots of bookings, often from places where they'd never done business before. And interestingly enough, no matter where the bookings were being made, they all seemed to be going to Washington, DC. And the majority of the bookings were being made by women.

    Talk about timing. The wave that Skedaddle is riding has been created by the Women’s March on Washington, which is scheduled to take place on Saturday, the day after the Trump inauguration festivities. (Skedaddle cannot be the only bus company getting a Trump bump; the reports have been that about 400 bus permits have been requested for Friday's inauguration, while some 1,200 bus permits have been requested for Saturday.)

    The challenge for Skedaddle will be to see if it can build on this flurry of activity and turn it into a sustainable business model. The Times writes that "the Women’s March on Washington is just the sort of grass-roots, viral event that Skedaddle was built for," and there is a social media aspect to the company's marketing that could serve it well in what could be a rancorous political climate.

    Timing is good. Luck is good. Turning those two elements into a long-term and successful business takes real, persistent and consistent work. The list of companies that have managed to accomplish this is, unfortunately, a lot shorter than the list of businesses that have been unable to and have gone out of business.

    Watching Skedaddle's progress will be an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 17, 2017

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that Walmart has announced plans "to create about 10,000 U.S. jobs this year, a sign that even the country’s largest private employer feels the need to tout American job growth ahead of President-elect Donald Trump ’s inauguration."

    According to the story, "The jobs will come from previously planned store openings, store expansions and new e-commerce services, the company said Tuesday. The retailer said 24,000 additional construction jobs will be supported by those efforts."

    The story also notes that "Wal-Mart is expected to announce a round of grants to six universities working on textile innovations aimed at bringing back U.S. manufacturing in that sector. It has made similar grants in previous years, without mentioning U.S. job counts.

    "The company is expected to reiterate its 2013 pledge to buy an additional $250 billion in American-made, grown, assembled and sourced products through 2023. It also plans to build 200 training academies by this summer to teach retail management skills to more than 200,000 store employees."

    It was just yesterday that stories were noting how Walmart was juggling its leadership roles, on top of the 1,000 corporate job cuts it is making at headquarters.
    KC's View:
    Bloomberg noted in its coverage this morning that these were jobs that were going to be created by Walmart anyway ... but that such press releases and moves are going to get amplified a lot as companies try to avoid being swept up in current politics and Twitter storms.

    That said, there clearly is a wave taking place right now, and if more people get jobs, that's a good thing. It has been starting at Trump Tower, and starting Friday, it'll be emanating from the White House.

    Published on: January 17, 2017

    Market research company Euromonitor International is out with its prediction of top consumer trends for 2017, concluding that authenticity and healthy living are right at the top of the list.

    The report says that "authenticity is a standout consumer value in 2017, heralded by everyone from changemakers and celebrities to supermarkets and chefs. In the conscious debate about what actually counts as authentic, companies make efforts to ensure authenticity is part of this reach for the real. Examples vary from Airbnb’s Guidebooks feature, which lets owners share local information, to food apps helping consumers know more about what they’re buying, and tour operators who promote their unplugged vacations to help consumers get away from 'synthetic' digital life."

    At the same time, "Healthy living is becoming a status symbol, as more consumers opt to flaunt their passion for wellness through paying for boutique fitness sessions, 'athleisure' clothing, food with health-giving properties and upscale health and wellness holidays.

    “The consumer interest in staying well sees them combining wellbeing activities with cathartic physical activity. This is reflected in a thriving menu of more esoteric, boutique fitness workout choices in urban hubs and spas,” continues Kasriel-Alexander. “Furthermore consumers are aware that eating habits directly influence quality of life. This is fueling unprecedented demand for healthier eating options with fitness-promoting attributes sought in supplements, beauty products and even pet food by consumers willing to pay for them.”

    Euromonitor International’s Consumer Trends Editor, Daphne Kasriel-Alexander puts it this way: "The consumer interest in staying well sees them combining wellbeing activities with cathartic physical activity. This is reflected in a thriving menu of more esoteric, boutique fitness workout choices in urban hubs and spas. Furthermore consumers are aware that eating habits directly influence quality of life. This is fueling unprecedented demand for healthier eating options with fitness-promoting attributes sought in supplements, beauty products and even pet food by consumers willing to pay for them.”
    KC's View:
    I don't mean to sound cynical here...

    I have a few thoughts. First, it seems to me that I've been reading about authenticity and health being top of mind for consumers for a long time. So while I'm not arguing with the conclusion, I'm not sure I'm buying the idea that this is any sort of shift.

    Second, it has generally been my experience that a lot more people and businesses talk about being authentic than actually are. They embrace being authentic as being a strategy only because it sounds good. If a highly paid consultant could make the case that inauthenticity would work, they'd claim that quality instead. (I even hate it when people talk about embracing their "authentic selves." It just sounds so, well, phony ... like it comes from a self-help book or a Tony Robbins lecture.) If you have to think about how to define or embrace authenticity, you're probably not.

    Finally, it sounds to me like some of the healthy options cited in the report are of the stripe that only be afforded by really wealthy folks. It also sounds like the trends being described are the kinds that require the wearing of spandex, especially in January/February gym sessions that fade away along with new year resolutions. Which also sounds sort of inauthentic.

    But maybe I'm just cynical...

    Published on: January 17, 2017

    Interesting piece in the Tampa Bay Times about limited-assortment, no-frills Save-A-Lot, which has managed to carve out a successful niche there despite a plethora of competitors.

    The story notes that "Save-A-Lot has operated supermarkets in Florida since the '80s, managing mostly to fly under the radar. But in recent years, the Missouri-based discount grocery chain known for its discount prices and private labels on staple items from milk to spaghetti, has moved into Florida in a big way. Save-A-Lot made a push to double its number of stores in the southeast in 2009, and within three years opened 100 stores, including dozens more in Florida and a second distribution center. Florida is now Save-A-Lot's largest market with more than 150 stores."

    The story goes on: "The company's business strategy has stayed the same even with its rapid growth. Save-A-Lot has opened more urban stores, including several in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, but they still serve areas that are often considered 'food deserts,' or densely populated communities where it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food ... Many of the shoppers who buy from the Save-A-Lot store on Gulfport Boulevard in southern Pinellas County walk or ride bikes from their homes nearby. The store is located in a mostly empty shopping center with a Family Dollar store next door and a handful of other independent stores. However, the Save-A-Lot store stays busy nearly all hours of the day. In a marked contrast to the atmosphere of a typical suburban supermarkets, an armed security guard stands at the front of the store."

    But the Times also notes that things could get tougher for Save-A-Lot, as Aldi expands in Florida and Lidl makes plans for its US invasion.
    KC's View:
    It was just three months ago that Supervalu sold Save-A-Lot to Canadian private equity group Onex Corp. for $1.365 billion ... and not long before that, Save-A-Lot got new leadership, starting with new CEO Eric Claus.

    I'm absolutely sure that job one at Save-A-Lot these days is getting a lot more effective in achieving and communicating its core value message while simultaneously driving efficiencies wherever possible. That can be complicated because much of the chain is franchised, but leadership knows that the competition only is going to get tougher, and that the window for success only will get tighter.

    I am very interested to see how this all plays out for Save-A-Lot.

    Published on: January 17, 2017

    In Washington State, KING-TV News reports that health officials in Seattle and King County are about to begin requiring area restaurants to post their letter rankings in their front windows, easily viewable by patrons.

    But in addition to the letter grades, the health departments will use emojis to describe whether the restaurants need improvement, or are okay, good or excellent.
    KC's View:
    It is like a whole new language that people are speaking, and if you're not familiar with and literate in the language of emojis, it is time to get with it.

    Published on: January 17, 2017

    In his column above, Michael Sansolo briefly referenced a piece in Fortune by Muhtar Kent, the retiring CEO of Coca-Cola. There are some comments he makes in the story about leadership that deserve more attention, and so here they are:

    Re: starting points... "Over nearly 40 years in business, I’ve often said that doing an excellent job is only the starting point - the foundation. It’s about creating the conditions to sustainably repeat success. And, in this case, success is connected to making a promise into the future without a pre-determined outcome - and then taking action to deliver on that promise."

    Re: brand promises... "At its heart, Coca-Cola is a brand business, and our brands are nothing more than promises. If a good brand is a promise, then a great brand is a promise kept. Keeping our promises means never falling into the traps of complacency and arrogance while always being open to change and improvement ... In the last few years, we’ve taken a step back to look at our business and examine how we can become faster, more entrepreneurial, and more efficient."

    Re: building for the future... "It has also been important for me to maintain a long-term perspective on creating value for stakeholders, something many might think would come naturally in a business with 130 years of history. But nothing is automatic. When I spoke during our shareowners meeting last year, I explained that we’re building this business not only for the next quarter, but also for the next quarter of a century. To me, making such a statement really comes down to doing what’s right and necessary now so that our future prospects are not harmed, but enhanced."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 17, 2017

    USA Today reports that "Chinese online shopping giant Alibaba announced Monday that it has formed a coalition that will leverage the power of big data to crack down on purveyors of fake goods, whose value in 2015 exceeded $1.7 trillion, according to the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition ... The mission of the Alibaba Big Data Anti-Counterfeiting Alliance, whose 20 members include luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Swarovski, is to pool information, data and expertise in intellectual property authentication with the ultimate goal of 'helping block, screen and take down infringing listings,' according to a statement from Alibaba."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 17, 2017

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

    • The Oregonian has a story about how the record snowfall in Portland has created some problems for food retailers, where "the snow made it hard to keep shelves full as shoppers stocked up on essentials and deliveries got cancelled. In the days following Tuesday night's storm, residents reported finding markets out of such essentials as produce, milk, bread and meat."

    In some cases, stores closed early so that employees could get home safely in the storm; in others, power outages caused stores to close until electricity could be restored.

    All seems to be back to normal now ... unless, of course, there is another major storm, for which Portland seems largely unprepared.

    Mrs. Content Guy has been reading the weather reports about Portland and saying to me, "We're moving where?"
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 17, 2017

    Eugene A. Cernan, who was the last man to walk on the moon in 1972 and the second man ever to take a "space walk," in 1966, passed away yesterday at age 82, having suffered from what the family called "ongoing health issues." In all, the Associated Press reports, "Cernan logged 566 hours and 15 minutes in space, more than 73 hours of them on the moon's surface."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 17, 2017

    We had a story recently about how PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi is trying to even the playing field among men and women in business, and a followup email in which one one MNB reader wrote:

    PepsiCo CEO is on fleek….Preach, sister, preach!  Double standards, micro aggressions, all the b.s. that comes with higher positions.  You know what, nine times out of ten, I’d hire a working mom over anybody else, and plan to continue doing so.  We are dedicated, get sh*t done, and balance more projects than any man I’ve worked with---C-suite included.  We aren’t allowed to be subject to a debilitating man cold—we just get up, keep going and get after it.  Glad I’m not alone in my sentiments.  Sometimes it feels like it—because, well, there aren’t a whole lot of women near the top when I look around.

    This prompted another email from an MNB reader:

    The comment made by a reader in response to the story about PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi trying to even the playing field struck a chord, especially in light of all the things we are currently seeing in our society in general. It seems that more and more, we are trying to drive a wedge between people based on the many attributes that make us who we are: gender, sexual preference, religion, political ideology, etc.

    I am getting sick of it. Is there room for improvement? Of course there is. But lumping people into a tidy strata group based on our own limited or skewed perceptions hardly leads to meaningful dialogue.

    Early in my career I was very aggressive, spent many hours on the job, doing everything I could to climb the corporate ladder. Upon the birth of our first son, my wife, blessed with a college degree and successful career up to that point, decided to be a stay at home mom. It turned out to be a very wise choice, as our son was soon diagnosed with myriad health issues. Far too many times over the next 16 years, our son lay in a hospital bed, literally fighting for his life. My wife was able to spend much of those times with him. Me? I was at work, struggling to stay focused on the job I needed to have to provide the needed insurance benefits to provide the care my son had to have. Time off to help my son or my wife? Ummm, no, there was no such thing available. My choice was to either suck it up and take care of business, or risk my job.

    I, a man, just got up, kept going, and got after it. It led to a lot of long hours, sleepless nights, long drives between home, hospital and work, and more stress than I thought possible to bear. I am thankful I had a job that provided health insurance, and a salary that allowed my wife to make the choice she did to give up a lucrative profession; and those facts made me much more empathetic for those who did not have those luxuries.

    And the day my son passed away in the hospital? I spent the morning at work, attending a "mandatory meeting", then rushed to the hospital to spend a couple of hours with him before he passed. I then got a week to mourn.

    So to hear that one segment of our society has more ability or willingness to "just get up, keep going, and get after it" is beyond reprehensible. We all have obstacles, challenges, barriers, and situations that we must deal with on a daily basis. Painting with too broad a brush just hides the fact that basically we are all in this together. Let's celebrate the strides we have made as a society, while also recognizing that there are still plenty of opportunities to elevate all people, regardless of their respective categorizations. I am just tired of this destructiveness that seems to be engulfing our world.

    I get your point, and I cannot even imagine your pain.

    I certainly don't think that the MNB reader to whom you are referring would ever try to minimize your experience, or suggest that you had it easier because you are a guy.

    But as much as it is nice to suggest that everybody should just be treated the same, I do think we live in a world where that is not the way things are. Some people, I think, would argue that they have less to celebrate than others.

    Got the following email from MNB reader Craig Espelien, who wanted to weigh in on two things I wrote yesterday.

    I was going to let the “Biggest Show on Earth” miss slide (it is actually, from my online research, “The Greatest Show on Earth” for Ringling Bros.) but when you missed the Jimmy Malone quote (it is actually “Here Endeth the Lesson," not "This Endeth The Lesson") I just could not let it go.
    Corrections Department will have to put in some overtime.

    Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. 
    KC's View: