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    Published on: September 26, 2017

    by Michael Sansolo

    According to an old poem, “Those whom the gods would destroy they first make angry.” In other words, lose your cool at your own peril.

    But we could probably expand that to include “they first make arrogant.” Assuming we know the answers is a recipe for disaster in all walks of life. Far too often all of us think we know more than we do and act on what we believe rather than what really is.

    Let me explain my reason for waxing poetic today. As longtime readers of MNB know we try hard (too hard at times you might say) to find lessons in all kinds of activities. One I studiously try to avoid is politics because no matter how obvious the lesson the discussion alienates half the audience immediately.

    There’s a third-rail issue that demands discussion and consideration simply because of the new way it is being examined. That issue is the Vietnam War, a topic that a few decades back tore apart families, communities and nearly a nation.

    The war and all that happened around it is currently the subject of a brilliant 18-hour, multi-part documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick that’s currently airing on PBS. Though painful in countless ways, the completeness of the work is staggering including interviews with both US and Vietnamese combat veterans. (Watch the interview of a young and badly injured John McCain and you might never look at the senator the same way again.)

    But the reason to share this with you today is the painfully repeated lessons of ignorance and arrogance that comes through hour after hour. It’s an incredibly clear reminder of the importance of knowledge before starting any endeavor and the equally important need to get and accept factual accounts of the events all around you.

    Minus that, ignorance and arrogance create a toxic mix and a near guarantee of failure.

    As the documentary shows, the war began with the US badly understanding the country itself. The first teams of Americans into the conflict didn’t speak the language, didn’t know the history of 100 years of mismanaged French colonialism, didn’t know the terrain and, worst of all, didn’t understand the people. Our perception and goals of the war never fully aligned with those of our allies.

    Worse yet, US military and political leaders consistently demonstrated an unwillingness to face the realities of the battles, bragging repeatedly of victory for purely political reasons. Incredibly, we learn the North Vietnamese demonstrated many of the same failings, refusing to listen to dissent or understand the painful toll their actions brought to their own country.

    In one particularly painful episode we learn that the famous Tet Offensive was actually a shared defeat by both sides. The North suffered incredible levels of casualties and achieved almost none of the stated gains of the attacks. The US and our Southern ally badly lost credibility and confidence.

    Arrogance and ignorance are a disaster in wartime and, no doubt, just as deadly for any business. The Vietnam War documentary offers a painful, but important reminder not to be missed.

    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: September 26, 2017

    by Kevin Coupe

    One of the things that John Oliver has become renowned for with his HBO Sunday night program, “Last Week Tonight,” has been his ability to explain complicated issues in simple terms, reducing them to an Eye-Opening essence with sharp (often profane) words and visuals. (His classic bits about net neutrality and FIFA are worth finding on YouTube.)

    Oliver was at it again on Sunday with a piece about corporate consolidation and the impact it can have on consumers. It is brilliant, opinionated, and, as usual, probably should be watched with the use of earphones so as not to offend co-workers or small children.

    Great stuff.

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2017

    Kroger has announced the launch of a new website/portal that will serve to facilitate its efforts to partner with local and emerging brands.

    The site is kroger.Com/WeAreLocal.

    According to the announcement, “Kroger recognizes the importance of carrying local and regional brands that are meaningful to the nearly nine million customers served in its family of stores daily … Kroger’s team of buyers continuously look for opportunities to purchase regionally that allow the company to expand its product portfolio for customers, stimulate the local economy and enhance product freshness.”

    Mike Donnelly, Kroger’s executive vice president of merchandising and procurement, says that Kroger has “had a longstanding, 365-day-a-year commitment to support and source from local farmers, ranchers, food producers, wineries, breweries and product makers.”
    KC's View:
    Smart move, especially in view of the fact - probably coincidental, because it just happened a few days ago - that Whole Foods seems to be centralizing its operations now that it has been acquired by Amazon. The more that retailers are able to localize and drill down and be both responsive and resonant to their local communities, the better they will be able to compete in the current environment.

    Published on: September 26, 2017

    CNBC reports that Target next month will increase its own minimum wage from $10 to $11 an hour in all its US stores, and “committed to boosting its minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020 … Target said the wage increases will begin in October and will apply to the 100,000 temporary workers that the retailer plans to hire ahead of the holidays.”

    According to the story, “The pay raise will outpace Wal-Mart's recent increase in its minimum wage. The two retailers have been engaged in a quiet wage war for years. Target raised its hourly minimum pay rate in April 2015 to $9, up from the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour at the time. That move came in response to an announcement by Wal-Mart in February, where Wal-Mart promised to lift its base pay to $10 an hour by 2016.

    “While Wal-Mart has touted past pay increases, using earnings conference calls to circulate the news, Target has moved more stealthily, only saying earlier this year that it would be investing billions of dollars back into the company.”
    KC's View:
    It long has been the contention here that when retailers invest in their people, they create a work environment in which employees feel invested ion the business and the vision. Good move by Target.

    Published on: September 26, 2017

    Interesting piece in the Chicago Tribune about the continuing social and economic experiment that is the Whole Foods store that was opened in Englewood, Illinois, a year ago.

    The story says that Whole Foods “has made good on promises of providing jobs, supporting local vendors and boosting healthy food options. The store has, for some, improved quality of life and perhaps even paved the way for future large-scale investment in Englewood.

    “But Whole Foods acknowledges there’s still much work to be done, particularly in connecting with shoppers on a tight budget who may be unfamiliar with natural and organic products. And the mostly black neighborhood’s well-documented struggles of poverty and crime, exacerbated by lack of economic development, remain steep challenges for business.”

    Englewood, the Tribune writes, “remains one of the city’s areas of concentrated poverty, ranking fifth in economic hardship out of Chicago’s 77 community areas, according to an analysis last year by the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Englewood had the highest percentage of households living in poverty, 48.3 percent, and the third lowest per capita income, $11,281, according to the study.”

    Whole Foods does not break out sales for the store, but will say that it is meeting expectations. However, Michael Bashaw, Whole Foods Midwest region president, says that “we got into this (location) from a mission-based perspective and we’re still looking at it that way.”

    There does seem to be a sense that Whole Foods’ presence serves as a signal to other businesses that Englewood may offer opportunities, but “prices — and perception of prices at Whole Foods — remain an obstacle. A couple of blocks east on 63rd Street, several Englewood residents leaving Aldi, a discount grocery chain, said they liked having Whole Foods in the neighborhood, but didn’t shop there often.”
    KC's View:
    The story suggests that Amazon’s ownership of Whole Foods will not affect the retailer’s commitment to low-income neighborhoods, but I have to admit that I’m not sure I’m entirely persuaded about this. I do think that price cuts will make the store in Englewood more feasible, and I hope that the commitment does not waver.

    Published on: September 26, 2017

    The Atlantic writes that as Amazon increasingly expands into bricks-and-mortar, its “do-it-all corporate strategy adheres to a familiar playbook—that of Sears, Roebuck & Company. Sears might seem like a zombie today, but it’s easy to forget how transformative the company was exactly 100 years ago, when it, too, was capitalizing on a mail-to-consumer business to establish a physical retail presence.

    “To understand Amazon - its evolution, its strategy, and perhaps its future - look to Sears.”

    You can read the entire analysis here.
    KC's View:
    I think there are a lot of object lessons here, but the biggest may be that even though Amazon is more than 20 years old, it would appear that at no point two decades ago - or even one decade ago - did anyone from the company ever look around and notice that the competitive landscape was changing, and with it, the needs, desires and expectations of the US consumer. Sears’ head was so far deep in the sand - or maybe elsewhere - that it did not evolve when evolution was demanded, or create the kind of internal revolution that might’ve made it less irrelevant.

    It would be easy to suggest that Amazon is genetically engineered not to be so oblivious. I would think that this is true, but I’ve also learned never to underestimate the ability of businesses leaders to delude themselves.

    Published on: September 26, 2017

    LL Bean last week took out an ad in the New York Times that was, on first look, a little perplexing.

    If you were reading it inside, the full page ad was devoid of pictures or copy … except for this line:

    Just bring this outside.

    There also was the LL Bean campaign slogan, “Be An Outsider,” and one more line:

    No, seriously. Take this outside.

    And if you brought it outside, photochromic ink suddenly became visible, and with it LL Bean’s manifesto:

    Welcome to the outside.
    Where there are no strangers.
    Only friends you haven’t met yet.
    Where days have names
    like beach, snow, and bluebird.
    And where the smell of a campfire
    means you’re in the right place.
    You don’t need a passport to come here.
    An invitation to play here.
    Or a membership to belong here.
    Just step outside your front door,
    and you’ve arrived.
    You can forget your age, your worries,
    even your bathing suit.
    Just don’t forget to bring your friends.
    It doesn’t matter where you come from.
    Only that you come often.
    So wherever you are, join us.
    Because on the inside, we’re all outsiders.
    And if it’s outside, we’re all in.
    Be an Outsider.

    Ad Week< describes the effort as “marketing that embodies a brand promise, rather than just communicating it,” and judges it “a delight.”
    KC's View:
    I hate to always think of things in terms of movies, but when I read the copy for this ad, I couldn’t help but think of the Nike ad that Mel Gibson’s character narrates in What Women Want

    You don’t stand in front of a mirror before a run...
    and wonder what the road will think of your outfit.
    You don't have to listen to its jokes and pretend they're funny
    in order to run on it.
    It would not be easier to run if you dressed sexier.
    The road doesn't notice if you're not wearing lipstick.
    lt does not care how old you are.
    You do not feel uncomfortable...
    because you make more money than the road.
    And you can call on the road whenever you feel like it,
    whether it’s been a day…
    or even a couple of hours since your last date.
    The only thing the road cares about...
    is that you pay it a visit once in a while.
    No games.
    Just sports.

    I love the LL Bean ad … because it is more than words. And that’s a big deal.

    Published on: September 26, 2017

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

    • The Bergen Record reports that Wegmans has opened a new store in Montvale, New Jersey, a 108,000 square foot store for which shoppers were lining up before 7 am on Sunday, and that one longtime fan of the company described as a kind of “mecca” for food shoppers.

    Not to kick a company when it is down and out, but I cannot help but note that Montvale was the corporate home of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (A&P), a company that seemed as focused on remaining rooted in an irrelevant and incompetent past as Wegmans seems focused on providing extraordinary products and services.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2017

    Regarding Ahold Delhaize CEO Dick Boer’s contention that his company’s stores have to be “more exciting” and “more entertaining” in order to compete, MNB reader Brian Blank wrote:

    I don’t need Stop & Shop to be exciting, and certainly have no interest in a restaurant or meeting place there.  I just want a supermarket where I can buy the food I’m looking for, and do it easily, and maybe even at a good price.  My local (literally just around the corner) Stop & Shop seems to go out of its way to infuriate me by discontinuing items I buy regularly, by not having other items in stock, by blocking the aisles with huge gondolas of stock that should have been put on the shelves overnight, and, of course, by NEVER having sufficient cashiers on duty/lanes open.

    I was very critical of Stop & Shop’s stores, prompting another reader to write:

    In reading your Ahold-Delhaize article, I wondered if you had been to one of the new Hannaford concept stores? I believe their first one may have been Bedford, NH. More prepared food @ fair prices, Hannaford To Go and more makes this an improved and flexible shopping trip. I think one of them is worth your visit. Much better experience then Stop & Shop, whom by the way is in the middle of making office cut backs.

    I have not been to that store, but I would agree that pretty much every Hannaford store I’ve been to is superior to my local Stop & Shop stores.

    On the subject of the shrinking US magazine industry, one MNB reader wrote:

    I hadn’t really given much thought to how real this is until last week. My son is a senior at a local university and needed to clip some ads from a print magazine for an assignment. That seemed a little strange to me and I don’t know what the assignment was about, but it was interesting to realize that we do not have a single issue of any magazine anywhere in our house. I guess that’s probably pretty common.

    MNB reader Tom Redwine wrote:

    I cancelled my decades-long subscription to Rolling Stone magazine in October of 2002. I'd disagreed with aspects of their music and culture coverage over the years, but what put me over the edge was their "Women In Rock" issue, which featured Shakira, Britney Spears, and Mary J. Blige on the cover. Say what you want about these ladies (I'm quite fond of Mary J. and Shakira myself), however, neither of the three were "in rock.”

    I'm actually looking forward to the sale of Wenner's stock, because some bright buyer just might make Rolling Stone not suck again.

    FYI: my wife and I subscribe to about 3 magazines and a couple of newspapers, both to have access online (there are also some physical print copies included) and to support good journalism, which is crucial now more than ever.

    In my sports segment yesterday, I noted that “politics seemed to get a lot more attention than the fields of play” over the weekend, which prompted MNB reader Jerome Schindler to write:

    Sticks and stones may break my bones but a professional athlete kneeling when the National Anthem is played will never hurt me.

    And from MNB reader Jim Gaylord:

    The NFL is in a tough spot on this one.  While I can appreciate team owners (employers) supporting their players (employees), they can’t afford to alienate fans (customers) on either side without a potentially significant impact to revenue.  If your fan/customer base reflects the general population, which the NFL’s probably does, it’s always best for business to remain neutral…at least publicly.

    I’m sure they’d like to stay neutral, but the majority of the owners seem to feel that they don’t really have that choice right now. They lose the players and they lose the games, and if they lose the games, they lose a lot of revenue. And I think it is remarkable the degree to which all sides of the league seemed to be unified this weekend.

    I kept thinking about the lines from EM Forster, with which I always have agreed:

    If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.

    These folks stood - or knelt - with their friends last weekend, and I would expect they’ll do the same next weekend.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2017

    In Monday Night Football, the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Arizona Cardinals 28-17.
    KC's View: