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    Published on: June 13, 2017

    by Michael Sansolo

    Sometimes it feels like the bad news will never stop.

    This weekend, Ascena - owner of Ann Taylor, Loft and assorted other retail formats - announced plans to close a large number of stores. Reports like that have to leave you wondering exactly what stores are going to be left in malls around America and what formats actually will survive.

    After all, stores like Loft or Lane Bryant are arguably niche merchants. Weren’t niche players supposed to survive?

    And then there was the full-page ad in one of my Sunday papers (yes, I still get some paper versions) announcing that Gillette, long the scarcely challenged king of razor blades, is admitting defeat to an extent. Clearly battered by upstart rivals like Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club, Gillette is promising to cut prices while maintaining the quality that always promised the best.

    Of course, that announcement raises the question of how the company will accomplish this. Cutting prices without reducing quality has to mean severe belt tightening or loss of profits, if not both. On top of that, Gillette increasingly advertises it’s new on-demand fulfillment service. That’s got to cost as well, but it may also be simply a new cost of doing business.

    So increasingly it feels like the news can only get worse, and there are no answers to how old world companies can survive in the new competitive climate.

    Then again, maybe we are seeing the answers and just recognizing how hard they all are. In many ways, that’s what happens every time new competition arrives in the marketplace. Good players toughen up, tighten belts and find a way to march on. It’s happened before and though it’s painful to think, it will happen again.

    More than ever, I think we all need to be looking around at the vast experiments out there because with channel lines blurred beyond recognition the likelihood increases that answers may come from other forms of commerce. Or at least new ideas might.

    As I said earlier, I like to read lots of newspapers, probably because (like Kevin) I began my career in the newspaper business. And I’m constantly seeing all types of attempts at continued relevance there.

    For instance, the New York Times website and app are both worth following these days. No matter what you think of the Times political positions in its editorials, you have to admire how the nation’s premier newspaper keeps hunting for ways to connect with today’s readers.

    On a regular basis, on-line stories are accompanied by podcasts with insights from reporters, or even virtual reality experiences. Last week, one Times video allowed me to experience one lap of a motorcycle race in the United Kingdom that is considered one of the most dangerous in sports.

    That’s an eye-opening experience and might get even non-newspaper junkies to give the Times a second look.

    Or consider the Christian Science Monitor, which went completely electronic a few years back. The CSM publishers now openly admit that experiment is becoming unsustainable and the paper’s website now reflects new ways to attract readers and revenue.

    One interesting innovation the Monitor is trying: articles now tell you how many words they contain and how long it takes to read them. I’m not sure that’s a game changing idea, but it might eliminate a hurdle that kept readers from clicking on many stories. If so, the Monitor - like the Times - might demonstrate another way of winning over reluctant readers.

    After all, you’ve got to try something. Or if things are bad enough, anything. Sometimes, when the world may think you are grasping for straws, it ends up that you can grasp a little success.

    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 13, 2017

    by Kevin Coupe

    Anthony Bourdain - chef, author, and host of "Parts Unknown" on CNN - says that he knows what the next big food trend will be in the US ... and he says it is not only "shockingly affordable," but it also goes great with a few beers, "and that's a perfect food."

    Okay. You have my attention.

    Esquire writes that Bourdain's enthusiasm is for Filipino cuisine in general, and one dish - called sisig - in particular.

    "Americans and American palates are just now starting to become seriously interested," Bourdain says. "I think certain Filipino dishes are more likely to take root and take hold more quickly than others. I think sisig is perfectly positioned to win the hearts and minds of the world as a whole. I think that's the one that's going to hook 'em."

    "So what's in sisig exactly?" Esquire asks. "It's a pork dish made with various parts of the pig including the snout, ears and jowl. While that may not sound like a likely dish to win over the American masses, Bourdain makes it sound irresistible. 'It's hot, sizzling, crispy, sticky, delicious bits of pork with many textures'."

    Esquire notes that Bourdain "plans on adding sisig to the menu at Bourdain Market, a street food center in New York that is set to open in 2019. While sisig costs $1 to $2 in the Philippines, Bourdain hopes to price it accordingly ... or under $10 in New York terms."

    It sounds wonderful. And also like the kind of dish that enterprising food retailers with an eye for innovation could turn into a signature offering, as long as they prepare and market it right.

    In other words, an Eye-Opener.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 13, 2017

    Following up on a piece last week about how Amazon's private label strategy has been successful, Mashable goes one step farther, reporting that "Amazon is meanwhile busy pushing into more uncharted—and shakier—ground. Its ambitious new efforts include a host of higher-end fashion lines and premium food labels.

    "Those endeavors bring some fresh challenges. Marketing boring household commodities is one thing; people don't tend to particularly care who makes something like a surge protector or a cutting board as long as it's cheap.
    Clothes and food are a different story."
    KC's View:
    I think one of the most important passages in this story is the observation that while Amazon's rationale for expanding private label is the same as most other retailers - the ability to generate higher margins at lower prices - it has a weapon that most other retailers either do not have or don't exploit to full advantage. That would be data - the ability to know specifically who buys what, and where the pain points and opportunities are.

    That's a huge advantage. Amazon isn't afraid to use it.

    Published on: June 13, 2017

    Vice Media, a millennial-oriented multi-platform company with digital and broadcast interests, now is getting into the meal kit business.

    Vice has "unveiled a new line of delivered meal kits named after the media startup's Munchies food vertical," Fortune reports. "Starting today, customers can go to the Munchies website to order Vice-branded meal kits, similar to services like Blue Apron only with recipes developed by Toronto chef Matty Matheson, the star of the Viceland cable TV network's Dead Set on Life culinary travel show."

    The kits include ingredients and preparation instructions, as well as the ability to go online and watch instructional videos hosted by Matheson.

    The story notes that "unlike subscription-based services like Blue Apron, though, Munchies meal kits are available as one-off purchases, with meals sold for as little as $19 for a two-person meal or up to $46 for a four-person meal. There is also a $10 delivery charge per order, unless the meal exceeds $40, in which case delivery is free.

    "Vice's new service is part of a partnership with meal kit company Chef'd, and customers can find Munchies meal kits for sale on the Chef'd website, alongside meal kits from companies like Weight Watchers and The New York Times. In fact, Vice is essentially following in the Times' footsteps as it becomes only the latest large media company to make the push into meal kit sales."
    KC's View:
    This isn't always a natural fit, except when the media company can draw a direct link between its editorial approach and the philosophy behind the meal kit business. It sounds like that's what Vice is trying to do ... success is not assured, but there's no reason to think that they can't make this work.

    Published on: June 13, 2017

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

    CNet reports that Jet plans to stop selling Kirkland Signature brand products, which have been part of its portfolio since the company got into business.

    The reason is simple - the Kirkland brand is a Costco staple, and Jet is now owned by Walmart.

    And never the twain shall meet.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 13, 2017

    • Ahold Delhaize-owned Stop & Shop announced yesterday that it will partner with Instacart to bring same-day delivery of groceries to Boston customers. Stop & Shop already has Peapod as an arrow in its quiver, but the company said that "with Instacart, we are adding to our pick-up, self-checkout and other options to bring convenience to a new level."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 13, 2017

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

    • The Central Pennsylvania Business Journal reports that when Weis Markets spent $65 million last year "to acquire stores from rival chains last year, including 38 former Food Lion stores and five Mars Super Market locations in greater Baltimore," it was a decision that powered the company to "its strongest year ever in 2016, topping $3 billion in sales for the first time in the chain's history. The new additions appear poised to fuel continued growth, collectively generating more than $120 million in sales for the first quarter of 2017."

    The conclusion: "It takes money to make money."

    Hardly a new sentiment, but I think it is important to note that Weis is taking the steps it needs to take to shore up its competitive position and even seek out new growth opportunities at a time when it could come under real attack from a newly aggressive Aldi and a new entrant, Lidl ... not to mention all the other competition from the likes of Walmart and Amazon.

    CNN reports that McDonald's plans to hire 250,000 part-time employees to work in its fast food restaurants this summer - and, "to get the word out, the company is turning to Snapchat ... Starting Tuesday, the company will roll out a series of 10-second Snapchat ads that show McDonald's workers talking about why they like the gig. Viewers can swipe up to go straight to the company's careers website, where they can apply for jobs at local restaurants."

    USA Today reports that "Children's clothing chain Gymboree has filed for bankruptcy protection, aiming to slash its debts and close hundreds of stores amid crushing pressure on retailers.

    "Gymboree said it plans to remain in business but will close 375 to 450 of its 1,281 stores in filing for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization ... The bankruptcy was widely expected after Gymboree refused to pay some of its bills in recent months, placing the retailer on a collision course with creditors. The retailer said in its filing late Sunday that it hopes to slash $1 billion of its $1.4 billion in debt and to win approval for its plan by Sept. 24."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 13, 2017

    • The Network of Executive Women (NEW) yesterday announced the hiring of a new president/CEO - Sarah Alter, most recently the chief marketing officer for General Growth Properties, as well as a former vice president of Discover Financial Services and vice president for digital sales and marketing at Her goal, NEW said, will be to guide the organization as it as expands its services to "become a more powerful voice for gender equality and workplace transformation in our industry."

    Alter succeeds Joan Toth, a founding member of the organization who stepped down at the end of last year.

    Founded in 2001, the Network of Executive Women, Retail, Consumer Goods and Services, represents more than 100 corporate partners, 10,000 members, 950 companies and 20 regions in the U.S. and Canada.

    Full disclosure: The Network of Executive Women (NEW) is a longtime MNB sponsor.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 13, 2017

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 13, 2017

    It is impossible for me to find the words that would adequately characterize the overwhelming feeling of gratitude that my brothers and sisters and I feel at the outpouring of love and support from friends and family and in many cases, people we've never met who were touched by our Dad's life. Even now, he teaches us ... there is much to live up to. There will be time in the days ahead to reach out to as many people as I can ... for the moment, please just accept our heartfelt thanks.
    KC's View: