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    Published on: April 24, 2018

    by Michael Sansolo

    Bill Weidenbruch died recently and his story merits a few minutes of your time.

    Bill was no giant of commerce, politics, sports or anything else, but his passing deserves mention because his life deserves it as well. In a small yet significant way, he provides a constant reminder of what makes for competitive distinction.

    For 39 years, Bill worked at the Giant supermarket closest to my house in Maryland. I have and could write at length about the problems we’ve had shopping at this store that’s hemmed into a too small location with a tough parking lot and countless issues of disappointment.

    Bill was none of those. His was the smiling face we and countless other residents of the area passed every time we walked by or entered the Giant. He greeted everyone warmly, offered a cart and any kind of help. As the small obituary for his death noted, he became an institution for all of his customers.

    I’m betting that most of those customers and passersby, like me, didn’t even know his last name until the news came through local social networks that he had passed away. I’m also betting that many, like me, cannot recall a single conversation with Bill. All I can recall is the smile and quick chitchat we exchanged as I entered or walked past the store.

    From a business perspective, I have to imagine the only advantage Bill provided was his eagle eye to keep shopping carts from “disappearing.” Likewise he probably prevented countless complaints for his store by ensuring that those same carts weren’t dinging expensive cars and customer relations in the process.

    To be honest, I have to admit that a warm smile and greeting weren’t enough to provide competitive advantage. Bill’s charm wasn’t enough to keep my family and me loyal to this store. We found others with better prices, fresher products and more, and so we moved on.

    Yet Bill and his story matter. As the competitive environment heats up (and we all know it has and will continue to), not everything will be about efficiency. Neither can every competitive advantage be measured. Some things will go beyond that as we all try to find ways of building connection and experience that get people to forgo the latest in convenience and to bother traveling to and shopping your store.

    The reality is that some elements of competitive advantage will be immeasurable, as was the case with Bill. Perhaps if his store were a little nicer, the produce and meat fresher, and the pricing sharper, Bill’s presence might have tipped the scales another way for me.

    Rest in peace, Bill.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . 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: April 24, 2018

    by Michael Sansolo

    ‘Sup?

    Remember when that silly phrase that started with a beer commercial became broadly enough used to become cliché? There was a time when media and messaging were simpler and a single ad could become an Eye-Opener.

    Apparently it still is the case.

    The Washington Post recently profiled a television ad that even in today’s diffuse media market has managed to do the same. Not surprisingly it’s from the same folks who came up with ‘sup. Now it’s “Dilly, Dilly.”

    As a sports fan, I kept seeing Bud Light ads featuring the phrase and I simply assumed that I was just too old to understand what was going on.

    Good news: I wasn’t!

    “Dilly, Dilly” was a silly, silly line created for a single Bud Light ad and it just took off. The creator of the ad said he knew it was something special when he heard the phrase used by Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, in a game. More recently, the phrase got more attention when it was reported that spectators at the Master’s golf tournament would be forbidden from yelling the phrase.

    Andy Goeler, Bud Light’s vice president of marketing, tells the Post, “Consumers are inundated with so many outlets, so many ways to get content. It’s really hard to break through with a product message. It’s always your main strategy to think, ‘How do we break through the clutter to at least get them to watch us?’ And then, if they watch us, ‘Is it an important enough message to them where they say, ‘I’ll try that,’ or ‘I believe that?’’ And then, we get to the level we’re at where they adopt it, so they’re walking around and using it as part of their own vernacular or wearing it on their own T-shirts.”

    So much for the end of mass media. Apparently, there is life left in it yet.

    Can we get T-shirts that say “Eye Opener”?
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 24, 2018

    In case having Amazon products delivered to your home, workplace or a nearby Amazon Locker just isn’r convenient enough, Amazon announced this morning that Prime members in the US now will have the option of having products delivered to their cars - building on a program that had been tested in Europe and on a limited basis in the US.

    “With Amazon Key In-Car,” the announcement says, “Prime members with compatible vehicles now have the convenience of having packages delivered inside their cars when parked in a publicly accessible area, typically at their home or workplace.”

    Compatible vehicles include Chevrolet, Buick, GMC or Cadillac models from 2015 or later with active OnStar accounts, and Volvos from 2015 or later with active Volvo On Call accounts. Amazon said the goal is to add other makes and models in the future. The service is available at no extra cost for Prime members - for same day, two-day and standard shipping - in 37 markets across the US.

    Here’s how it works, as described by Amazon:

    “To get started, customers download the Amazon Key App and then link their Amazon account with their connected car service account. Once setup is complete and the delivery location has been registered, customers can shop on Amazon.com and select the ‘In-Car’ delivery option at checkout. On delivery day, the Amazon Key App lets customers check if they’ve parked within range of the delivery location, and provides notifications with the expected 4-hour delivery time window. The App also notifies customers when the delivery is on its way, and the package has been delivered. Customers can track when their car was unlocked and relocked in the App’s activity feed, and rate their in-car delivery.”

    In other Amazon-related delivery news…

    Amazon announced this morning that it is now offering “free two-hour delivery of natural and organic products from Whole Foods Market through Prime Now in Denver, Sacramento and San Diego … Prime members receive two-hour delivery for free and ultra-fast delivery within one hour for $7.99 on orders of $35 or more.”

    Amazon has said that it plans to roll the service out in various US markets this year; the addition of Denver, Sacramento and San Diego brings the total where it is now available to 10.
    KC's View:
    Obviously the in-car delivery service is going to be most attractive to people who know where their cars are going to be extended periods of time, and I suppose that it is entirely possible that the offering could find a receptive audience.

    I’m an Amazon fan, but this seems like a little too much - but I have this feeling that if I had one of these makes and models and I tried it, I’d then find it to be so cool that I’d get addicted to it. (That’s the way I felt about Sunday delivery - I didn’t need it until I had it, and then I couldn’t imagine how I lived without it.)

    It is all about expectations … and Amazon continues to raise them.

    I don’t think that people and companies competing with Amazon need to figure out how to mimic such a service, but I do believe that they need to be thinking about how to raise their own bar on products and services - persistently and consistently and always remembering that, in the words of my friend Norman Mayne, that reputation is what you had yesterday and today you have to earn it all over again.

    Published on: April 24, 2018

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Sears Holdings CEO Edward Lampert has offered to buy the Kenmore appliance brand, the company’s home improvement business, and its Parts Direct business - all assets that retain a certain amount of currency with customers that Lampert says he has been unable to sell to an outside entity.

    According to the story, Lampert’s hedge fund, ESL Investments, also is willing “to buy Sears’ real estate, including the $1.2 billion in debt associated with it. Sears could then lease the stores to keep running them.”

    The Journal writes that “the moves are an effort by Mr. Lampert to inject Sears with cash and stave off a bankruptcy filing, while at the same time allowing the hived-off businesses to grow by distributing their products and services beyond Sears and Kmart, according to people familiar with the matter.

    “Some critics, however, have argued that the strategy further weakens Sears by giving shoppers less reason to visit the retailer.”

    The Los Angeles Times reports that “using the pieces of its retail empire to generate cash isn't a new strategy for Sears, which shut 426 stores last year and has repeatedly tapped Lampert for loans as it works to stem the red ink and slash costs. It spun off the Lands' End brand in 2015, bringing in a $500-million cash dividend. A year later, Sears sold 235 stores to real estate investment trust Seritage Growth Properties — in which Lampert holds a stake and serves as chairman of the board — and raised $2.72 billion. And last year, it sold its Craftsman tool brand to Stanley Black and Decker in a deal valued at $900 million.”
    KC's View:
    I have to be honest here, and concede that the financial machinations of hedge fund moguls probably are a little beyond my modest ability to understand. But, on first blush, I think I agree with “some critics.”

    I’m trying to understand what Lampert is trying to do. If I understand it, he would pay for the few things that make Sears barely functional … which sounds more like it is a move to protect his own rear end, as opposed to a strategic move to keep the retailer viable, which is what they’re arguing.

    Not that any of this should be a surprise. He’s gonna strip Sears down to the studs, and then sell off the real estate. It seems like a pretty good bet that Lampert and ESL will come out of this thing relatively okay, but that’ll be a lonely place to be.

    Published on: April 24, 2018

    The Washington Post reports that US health officials have not yet been able to identify the specific source of an E. coli contamination that led to a nationwide outbreak, and for the moment at least ”are sticking with a broad warning to consumers, telling them to throw away romaine, in any form, that comes from the Yuma, Ariz., growing region, and to avoid eating romaine of unknown origin. Most of the romaine sold in the United States during the winter is grown in the Yuma region.”

    The story notes that “outbreak investigations often take weeks because food in the United States is handled and processed many times as it is distributed nationwide. Typically, the contamination comes from animal feces coming into contact with the produce. Investigators are searching the Yuma area and doing field tests trying to find where the problem originated.”

    One clue in the probe has come from eight sick prisoners at the Anvil Mountain Correctional Center in Nome, Alaska, all of whom ate lettuce that came from a single supplier in Yuma.
    KC's View:
    My friend Bob Wheatley of Emergent points out that “if Blockchain technology were already in place in the Yuma agricultural community we wouldn’t be having these blanket alerts from the CDC and the — at times — unreasonable uncertainty about where tainted products are coming from and where they exist currently in the food retail system.

    If the supply chain were digitized as Blockchain technology would permit, growers, distributors, manufacturers and brand minders can know immediately (seconds not hours) where contaminated products came from, where they were shipped, what stores they are in — thus enabling a quick and precise recall that maximizes safety and minimizes business losses all the way around.”

    Published on: April 24, 2018

    Okay, maybe that headline is a little hyperbole.

    That said, Bloomberg reports that Amazon’s newest big best is robots for the home.

    According to the story, “The retail and cloud computing giant has embarked on an ambitious, top-secret plan to build a domestic robot, according to people familiar with the plans. Codenamed ‘Vesta,’ after the Roman goddess of the hearth, home and family, the project is overseen by Gregg Zehr, who runs Amazon’s Lab126 hardware research and development division based in Sunnyvale, California. Lab126 is responsible for Amazon devices such as the Echo speakers, Fire TV set-top-boxes, Fire tablets and the ill-fated Fire Phone.”

    While Amazon has not commented on the project, Bloomberg writes that “people familiar with the project speculate that the Vesta robot could be a sort of mobile Alexa, accompanying customers in parts of their home where they don’t have Echo devices. Prototypes of the robots have advanced cameras and computer vision software and can navigate through homes like a self-driving car. Former Apple executive Max Paley is leading the work on computer vision. Amazon has also hired specialized mechanical engineers from the robotics industry.”

    The story notes that Amazon has ramped up hiring for the division, but also points out that Amazon hardly is alone - companies ranging from Sony Corp. and LG Electronics are investing in the robotics business, with various visions for how it might be employed in the home and workplace.
    KC's View:
    This reminds me of two Jeff Bezos quotes…

    “If you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment.”

    • “As the company grows, the size of the mistakes has to grow as well.”

    Published on: April 24, 2018

    Bloomberg reports that Walmart “is getting suppliers to put food on the blockchain to help reduce waste, better manage contamination cases and improve transparency.” Frank Yiannas, Walmart’s vice president of food safety and health, told the MIT Technology Review’s Business of Blockchain conference this week that “blockchain was able to cut the time it took to track produce to two seconds from six days.”

    Blockchain is defined as “a digitized, decentralized, public ledger of all cryptocurrency transactions."
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 24, 2018

    • The Boston Globe reports that “as the price per pound has skyrocketed over the last few months, the costs of lobster dishes on restaurant menus across the city have been off the charts as chefs have been looking to claw back some of the margins … A combination of lousy weather, international demand, and iced-over Canadian fisheries has created a shortage that has driven whole hard-shell lobster prices to as high as $15 a pound this spring, up from about $8 a pound last year.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 24, 2018

    • The transformation of Chipotle continues, as formerTaco Bell CEO Brian Niccol, who became its CEO earlier this year, has hired Marissa Andrada, formerly Starbucks’ senior vice president of partner resources for the Americas, to be Chipotle’s new chief human resources officer. Andrada’s most recent gig was as senior vice president of human resources and chief human resources officer at Kate Spade & Company.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 24, 2018

    …will return.
    KC's View: