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    Published on: August 17, 2017

    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, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    Longtime MNB readers know that I love retail with passion. After all, passion on the part of a retailer often translates into customer passion. The problem is, many retailers don’t realize it and/or seem incapable of capturing it.

    Many. But not all.

    Mrs. Content Guy and I were recently bicycling around Portland, and we were in the Slabtown neighborhood; we stopped at the terrific New Seasons store there for sandwiches and a glass of wine. My wife said she has a store to show me, one that she’d found while I’d been off on a business trip … and she was positively gleeful about her discovery.

    The store was right next door, and it is called Baseballism. The moment I walked in the door, I thought I was in heaven.

    Baseballism was founded by four local guys who loved baseball, but were not in the retailing business. They all had other day jobs, but at some point they started making up these t-shirts with baseball-related sayings. Friends liked them, there was suddenly some demand for the shirts, and then there was the realization that they had a business opportunity staring them in the face.

    There are now six of these stores, in places like Cooperstown, New York, and Atlanta, Georgia, but this is the flagship - they not only sell the merchandise, but they design it in the back.

    The thing that makes Baseballism unique is that none of the merchandise is team-oriented … it all reflects the culture and philosophy of the world’s greatest sport. Like t-shirts with saying - and life lessons - like “Rub Dirt On It,” and “Hustle” and “Live Life Like A 3-1 Count.” And my favorite, “6+4+3=2,” which, if you don’t understand it, tells us everything we need to know about your sports preferences.

    They also have caps and keychains and all sorts of other stuff - including something I bought and now wear everyday, a leather bracelet with the phrase, “Respect The Game,” made from actual baseball glove leather.

    By the way, it tells you everything you need to know about the owners that their business cards have on one side a picture of each owner as a kid playing ball. I love it.

    You can check the online store out here. I hope you like it as much as I do … it is a niche business, but also a little slice of heaven right in the middle of Portland.

    KC's View:

    Published on: August 17, 2017

    by Kevin Coupe

    I’ve long been intrigued with the evolution of the media business, with traditional, legacy-encrusted companies challenged by upstarts with names like Netflix and Amazon that see new ways to reach customers and disrupt old ways of doing business. It is, I think, an apt foreshadowing of what is happening, albeit somewhat more slowly, in retailing.

    In a piece this week about Ted Sarandos, chief content officer at Netflix, Variety writes, “These days, where there’s smoke or fire in the media business, there’s usually one revolutionary holding the match. At the center of most industry angst — or, often, bewilderment and excitement — is Sarandos, who engineered the company’s stunning transformation from a mail-order DVD-rental company in the early aughts to a full-fledged studio that is competing dollar for dollar with a crowded field of rivals for Hollywood’s top stars, directors, showrunners and writers.”

    In just the past week, Variety reports, Sarandos “stole Shonda Rhimes from ABC, lured retiree David Letterman back into talk-show mode, prodded the reclusive Coen brothers into TV production and snapped up Millarworld, a comic-book empire with buzzy titles like ‘Jupiter’s Legacy’ and ‘Huck’ … The dramatic events of the last few days suggest that Netflix is in an escalating arms race with Disney. It also ratchets up the blood sport between Netflix and all the major studios and TV networks as Hollywood grapples with how to adapt to the seismic shifts in technology and consumer habits.”

    The story goes on: “No media company today is expanding faster and is more talked about, admired, feared and debated than Netflix — which has upended the traditional models for television and inspired binge culture … Depending on where you stand, Netflix is either saving Hollywood or wreaking havoc on an already unstable industry.”

    And, in what could serve as a metaphor for traditional retail, Netflix is aiming for a time when as much as half the content it offers will be original, as opposed to programming that is licensed from other companies. Sarandos tells Variety about his biggest fear: “The more successful we get, the more anxious I get about the willingness of the networks to license their stuff to us,” he says. That’s why original content is critical, so subscribers feel like they can’t live without Netflix.

    It is all about finding differential advantages … and then exploiting them aggressively, ruthlessly, and tirelessly.

    It’s an Eye-Opener, I think.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 17, 2017

    The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reports that Target is partnering with Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, which operates bookstores on college campuses around the country, to better serve the college market.

    The bookstores will promote the availability of an expanded range of items via Target’s website, and in some cases will provide pickup facilities for those items.

    Lisa Malat, Chief Marketing Officer with Barnes & Noble College, tells the site that “our unique access to students and parents from the moment of acceptance to move in day allows us to bring Target's college essentials to our nearly 800 college campuses across the county.” And Mark Tritton, Target’s executive vice president/chief merchandising officer, says that this will make the company more visible to more than five million students; there is a hope that this initial exposure will convert these students into lifetime Target customers.

    The story notes that this is consistent with Target’s current strategy of investing in smaller stores and locating them when possible near college campuses.

    Both Target and Barnes & Noble, it should be pointed out, find their business models threatened by Amazon, and are looking for ways to be relevant to and resonant with shoppers.
    KC's View:
    Smart idea, and I wonder if it could be a foreshadowing of a broader relationship between the two companies ion the near future. There may be numerous ways in which they could help each other.

    Published on: August 17, 2017

    • The Ann Arbor News reports that Meijer plans to expand its home delivery offering, using partner Shipt, “to more Michigan cities in the next few weeks. The communities of Cadillac, Ludington, Big Rapids, Gaylord, Petoskey, Manistee, Alpena will see service starting Aug. 22, with Fort Gratiot, Marysville, Adrian, Jackson, Coldwater, Ionia, Mt. Pleasant and Alma getting service two days later.

    The story says that “Meijer customers can use an online app to order items and have them delivered to their homes, or schedule a pick-up time at a local Meijer store. Birmingham, Ala.-based Shipt provides grocery stores and some other retailers with its app and a network of personal shoppers to fill customer orders … The service requires a Shipt membership, which is $99 per year. Delivery is free for orders over $35; a flat $7 delivery fee is added to any orders under $35.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 17, 2017

    • The Washington Post reports this morning that Target seems to be regaining some of its mojo, with its second quarter showing a 32 percent in online sales, and total Q2 sales that were up 1.6 percent, the first increase in more than a year, and same-store sales that were up 1.3 percent. (Profit, however, was down 1.2 percent.)

    “Second-quarter traffic was much stronger than our expectations, and the strength was broad-based — across the country, across categories and across channels,” Brian Cornell, Target’s CEO, told analysts yesterday. “The positive response from our guests shows we’re making progress.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 17, 2017

    • Del Monte Pacific yesterday announced that Gregory Longstreet, most recently the president/CEO of CytoSport, has been named CEO of the company’s US subsidiary, Del Monte Foods.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 17, 2017

    There is a long and interesting piece in The New Yorker this week about Driscoll’s, the world’s largest berry company, in which it looks at how Driscoll’s business strategy has evolved over the years.

    “Produce is war, and it is won by having something beautiful-looking to sell at Costco when the competition has only cat-faced uglies,” the story says. “In the eighties, beset by takeover ambitions from Chiquita, Del Monte, and Dole, Driscoll’s embarked on a new vision: all four berries, all year round.”

    Good story, and you can read it in its entirety here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 17, 2017

    FYI...stories in this section are, in my estimation, important and relevant to business. However, they are relegated to this slot because some MNB readers have made clear that they prefer a politics-free MNB; I can't do that because sometimes the news calls out for coverage and commentary, but at least I can make it easy for folks to skip it if they so desire.

    I'm flexible.

    Yesterday was a day in which President Donald Trump’s relationships with various
    corporations and CEOs seemed to unravel in precipitous fashion, as his comments about racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend seemed to attempt to create a moral equivalence to both sides and give succor to neo-Nazis, white supremacists and members of the KKK.

    By the end of the day, two business-oriented executive advisory councils had collapsed. Even as executives bailed out of them, Trump announced he was disbanding the councils in what appeared to be a pre-emptive move designed to avoid embarrassment.

    The New York Times reported it this way:

    “The bar for a chief executive of a public corporation to repudiate a United States president is extraordinarily high. Corporate leaders aren’t given their power, prestige, responsibility and nine-figure pay packages to use the corner office as their personal soapbox.

    “With President Trump’s comments on white supremacists and other right-wing extremists ringing in the ears of America’s chief executives, that high bar appears to have been passed.

    “This week, what had been a trickle of defections from the White House business advisory councils over issues like immigration and climate change turned into a torrent. By Wednesday, both of the councils had collapsed; Mr. Trump insisted that he had decided to disband them.

    “Such a public schism between a president and a business leadership long considered the backbone of the Republican establishment left corporate historians at a loss for precedent.”

    Among the executives who found themselves in the middle of an unwanted controversy - and, some political analysts suggested, an unforced error by Trump -
    were Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, Stephen A. Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group, Ginni Rometti of IBM, Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, Mary T. Barra of General Motors, Inge Thulin of 3M, and Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup.

    The Times notes that “historically, corporate aversion to politics has at times held firm even under national leadership that threatens the health of the economy, and with it the well-being of every company.” But these CEOs seemed to feel that they could no longer afford to be associated with the administration, and could not be seen by their stakeholders - employees, investors, customers - as being complicit with the administration’s approach.

    However, taking a stand was not without risks. The Times notes in another story that when Walmart CEO Doug McMillon “forcefully criticized President Trump’s response … he risked alienating as many customers as he might win over.”

    The Times went out and talked to a number of Walmart shoppers, and found mixed reactions. Some felt that McMillon was correct, some believed that Trump was correct in his assessment, and some believed that CEOs have no business taking political stands.
    KC's View:
    I commented a lot about this situation yesterday, so there’s no reason to repeat myself, except to again say that I’m with Sen. John McCain, who wrote that there is "no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate & bigotry.”

    There are no good fascists. There are no good Nazis. There are no good white supremacists. There are no good members of the KKK. And CEOs cannot afford to be in any way associated with such movements.

    Published on: August 17, 2017

    I was surprised by some of the email I got yesterday about one of our stories - referencing a piece from Salon about a new startup, MoviePass, created by Mitch Lowe, a co-founder of Netflix, which he says is designed to address the trend toward plummeting ticket sales at the nation’s movie theaters. The goal of the business is to create a system that allows people to spend $9.95 for a monthly pass that will allow them to see one movie in theaters every day of the month. According to the story, the fee would cover “the costs for all movies a subscriber attends, excluding 3D and IMAX screenings, as long as the theater accepts debit cards.”

    Lowe says he believes that the reason movie theater attendance is dropping is that movie tickets are too expensive, and that this would rescue the industry.

    I commented in part:

    This is an interestingly disruptive business idea, though my inclination is to disagree with the basic premise. I don’t think movie theaters are all that expensive - in most cases, one can get a couple of hours of entertainment for less than $15. That’s not so bad. (The Twizzler prices are way out of whack, but that’s not the issue here.)

    To me, the problem is the content - if movies aren’t that good, people don’t go to the theater. Even ten bucks a month is too much if there’s nothing to see.

    I say all this as someone who probably sees 40-50 movies a year … it is what I do, and an art form I love. But I recognize that I’m in a minority that is getting smaller all the time.

    MNB reader Daniel DeMuria responded:

    You could not be more wrong about the issue with ticket prices. As a millennial and young business professional, $15 dollars for a one time only viewing of a movie is absurd. I can find any movie I want for free with in 2 minutes online. The quality might not be perfect but it will cost me nothing. I first heard about this service yesterday on Reddit and I was immediately sold. I use to see almost every major release in theaters but the price to continue this hobby became too much. For the same price as my Netflix, being able to see as many movies as I want, would drive me back to the theater and more importantly for the theater chains back to the overpriced concession stand. 

    Also, if you’re seeing 40-50 movies a year at $15 a movie that comes out too $600-$750 a year not including your Twizzlers. You could see the same amount of movies for $120 dollars with this service.

    I’m intrigued by your claim that “I can find any movie I want for free with in 2 minutes online. The quality might not be perfect but it will cost me nothing.” If you can really find any movie you want, and the quality ain’t great, that suggests that you are watching movies that are being pirated and then illegally streamed. If so, that’s not cool.

    You’re right, I could save money from such a plan. But the money I’m spending helps employ people, both at the theater level and at the companies that actually make the movies. I’m a writer, I studied filmmaking in college, and I’ve had a few flirtations with the movie biz in my career … and so I’m okay with that.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    I think that the MoviePass idea is brilliant. Don’t the majority of profits for movie theaters come from candy and popcorn sales anyways? So why would AMC care if the tickets are being sold through a subscription program? I saw Wonder Woman three times in theaters, and I probably would have seen it more if it had been less costly. For $9.95/month, most moviegoers would increase their trips to the movies which would in turn increase concession sales for the theaters. Imagine how many times a Star Wars superfan would go see The Last Jedi this December if they had one free movie a month. If I owned a movie theater, then this service would be amazing.

    The problem, in my view, is not getting people to see The Last Jedi multiple times. The problem is that there is way too much crap in the theaters, and nobody wants to see it.

    We had a piece yesterday about the impact that e-commerce is having on the cardboard business, which prompted this email:

    Re: Collateral Impact From The Growth of E-commerce: It may be "interesting to consider the unexpected impact of cultural and economic trends," but I wish "environmental" had made it into your list too. My heart dropped when you admitted that you had "never thought about the cost and availability of cardboard," because I have to assume that means that there is even less chance that you've considered its environmental impacts.

    In my experience meeting people from other countries, one of the primary contributors to the negative attitude towards Americans is the stereotype that we are self-centered with a very narrow worldview, and our tendency to overlook or consider the environment last is a prime example. Our extreme consumerist tendencies result in people not thinking past the near-immediate gratification of, for example, the arrival of their Prime package - or worse, the small mountain of packages that appear several times a week for some. Amazon is very forward-thinking, but I don't see them throwing their considerable resources and efforts into reusable packaging because it doesn't make business sense for them too (at least yet). I wish that their loyal customers demanded this of them - I would, but I'm not one of them. I need to do what I can to keep the brick and mortar experience alive because I prefer shopping for most things that way…

    Does it help that I’m religious about recycling?
    KC's View: