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    Published on: April 30, 2018

    Walmart this morning said that it plans to sell its UK-based Asda Group to British retailer J. Sainsbury, pending antitrust approvals by regulators.

    Walmart will get $4.1 billion in cash, and will keep a 42 percent ownership stake in the combined company, which would be the UK’s largest grocer, with 2,800 stores.

    Sainsbury says that its goal is to not close any stores in the merger, and to immediately lower prices by 10 percent on many “everyday” items.

    The deal values Asda at $10 billion.

    Most reporting suggests that Mike Coupe, CEO of Sainsbury, would run the merged operations. Note: Mike Coupe is not related to “Content Guy” Kevin Coupe, who only wishes that he could pick up the phone, call cousin Mike, and get the straight scoop. Roger Burnley, Asda’s CEO, is, as Bloomberg points out, a Sainsbury veteran.

    Over the past few years, the UK”s four big grocers - Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda and William Morrison - have all suffered declines in their market shares, in part eaten away by discounters Lidl and Aldi. They also have had to contend with the online threat from Amazon.

    The Financial Times writes: “It’s not hard to see why Sainsbury’s and Asda want to fuse their businesses. Both are wrestling with the same plethora of problems, which go far beyond the depredations that have allowed the German discounters to move from 5 to 15 per cent of the market in a decade.”

    Walmart acquired Asda in 1999 for about $10.8 billion, and at the time was engaged in a strategy of global expansion. In recent years, however, as the Times writes, “Walmart has pulled back from that international growth after struggling to crack markets like Germany.”

    The Wall Street Journal this morning writes that “for Walmart the move is part of a broader shift to form joint ventures in competitive markets and focus investments in areas executives think will provide growth.

    In fact, Reuters reported over the weekend that “Advent International Corp is in exclusive talks to acquire an 80 percent stake in Walmart Inc’s Brazilian unit,” which has been shopped around by Walmart since early this year.

    Bloomberg writes that this reflects Walmart’s new global strategy, “to emphasize faster-growing markets over some of its more mature ones … Walmart is pursuing faster-growth markets overseas, including China and India, while battling e-commerce giant Inc. in its core domestic market. It’s close to completing a deal for a majority stake in India’s biggest online retailer, Flipkart Online Services Pvt, Bloomberg reported last week.”

    The New York Times goes on to write that “putting Asda together with Sainsbury, one of Britain’s biggest grocery chains, could help the combined business negotiate lower prices from suppliers, one of the primary goals of many retail mergers … The biggest hurdle to a merger could be Britain’s competition regulator, which may be wary of allowing two of the country’s biggest grocery chains to combine.

    “The companies may argue that they serve different consumers: Asda caters more to cost-conscious customers, while Sainsbury aims for wealthier ones. Their stores are also largely located in different parts of Britain, with Asda more prevalent in the north and Sainsbury in the south.”

    The Financial Times writes that while Walmart has responded to Asda’s competitive troubles by skimping on investment, “running the group for cash and not following the herd in pursuing costly innovation. The consequences are becoming apparent in its figures: last year, while sales fell 3 per cent, operating profits dropped almost a third.” Sainsbury, however, “has the know-how to improve Asda’s threadbare offering.”

    The Journal says that “in recent years, Tesco, Sainsbury and rival Wm Morrison Supermarkets PLC poured money into their operations, but Walmart held back. It tapped a string of Asda’s most senior executives, including its operations chief, e-commerce head and two chief financial officers, and put them in positions in its U.S. business, weakening Asda’s talent pool, say analysts.”

    FT seems to be skeptical in its analysis, writing that it remains to be seen “whether a deal of this sort can be justified as being in the public interest. The pair will point to the recent, and mystifying, decision of the Competition and Markets Authority not to impose any remedies on Tesco when it merged with the wholesaler Booker, despite the latter’s role as a big supplier to convenience stores. They will point to the rise of online supermarkets such as Ocado, and the ever-present threat from the giant Amazon.

    “These pleas should be treated with caution. Market shares for the Big Four overall may have come down: from 76 per cent in 2009 to 70 per cent last year. That’s pretty much back to the share the four biggest chains had in 1998.

    “But that should not obscure the regressive nature of the deal. In practice, it would mean swapping a Big Four for a Big Two, with Sainsbury/Asda and Tesco each controlling about 30 per cent of the market. Whatever the consequences for consumers, the outlook for suppliers would be bleak.”
    KC's View:
    Both companies are saying something critical about their relative strength in an increasingly competitive marketplace - that they’d be better off together than separately.

    This won’t matter to the plethora of people and entities that will come out of the woodwork to oppose the deal. It is hard for me at this point to judge how successful they will be, but not hard to guess that it will be a long, drawn out and bloody process.

    One guarantee: Plenty of barristers will get rich.

    It really doesn’t matter what the final shape of the deal is. What we know is that attacks on the established retailing infrastructure in the UK from two ends - Lidl and Aldi on one side, and Amazon on the other - has shaken the business to its core. It isn’t like Asda is a small, weak player … this is a company that is owned by the biggest retailer in the world, with seemingly endless resources.

    But all these traditional players somehow misjudged the market, and managed to leave their shoppers vulnerable to pitches from outside entities that somehow managed to attract them, to get them to change their behavior … probably first in small ways, and then, finally, in big ways that mattered.

    To me, the object lesson is that there is no place that this cannot happen, and no single company that is immune. Sure, the US is a much bigger market with a lot more players … but I’d also argue that this means that there are a lot of smaller players who are in worse shape than the likes of Asda and Tesco, with fewer resources and thinner benches, susceptible to attacks from all sorts of angles.

    The retail landscape continues to reshape itself, and there is going to be all sorts of collateral damage.

    Published on: April 30, 2018

    by Feargal Quinn

    Content Guy’s Note: Feargal Quinn is the founder of Superquinn, the Irish supermarket chain that, until he sold the company in 2005, was known through the world for extraordinary customer service levels and exceptional marketing and merchandising techniques that set a high bar for the rest of the industry. Superquinn was known both for its ability to innovate and ideate, as well as a knack for seeing what others were doing and going farther, better and faster, always with shoppers’ best interests in mind.

    Quinn also served for more than two decades as a senator in the Seanad Éireann, and has been active in broadcasting and in print for what he called “Retail Therapy,” in which he helped small business owners define their differential advantages and implement game-changing strategies. He’s also my friend … and I was thrilled the other day when he sent along a version of a column he’d written for Ireland’s Business Post, in which he offered six secrets for running a successful family business. In many ways - especially the section on innovation - I think these ideas are worth thinking about for any business. And so, I am happy to offer them here. Enjoy … there are few people in the retail business as smart as Feargal Quinn.

    There are many many successful family run businesses throughout the country. I had the pleasure of working closely with some of them when I filmed the TV series “Retail Therapy” with RTÉ. I’d like to think that they learned from the time that I spent with them, but I also learned from them too!

    All of the fundamental principles of business also apply to running a family business. However there are also a few more principles which need to be applied so as to ensure the smooth running of the business.

    In every business there are many stakeholders: owners, customers, management, suppliers, and employees. Each has their view on how the business should be run. A family business has the added complexity that the owners, management and some key employees may be from the same pool.

    1. Separate “Ownership” and “Management,” as well as “Business” and “Personal.”

    Of course every business owner would love to see the next generation take over and build on what they have achieved. But some family members may have a different career in mind. Those who do work in the business should obviously be paid for their time and effort but all shareholders should benefit as the value of the business grows.

    At the same time, set sensible boundaries between family life and business life. This is especially important where husbands and wives work in the business together. Perhaps agree not to discuss business while on holiday, at home at weekends and not after 7.00pm on weekdays.

    It also is important to write a family mission statement. This made it clear for everyone where we see both the business and the family. We were also advised to hold an annual family council. The council allows for members of the family who are shareholders but not working in the business to participate too, and acts as a forum to air opinions. It proved to be a very helpful forum when the time came to sell the business.

    2. Facilitate Participation Which Ensures a Diverse Range of Talents.

    Make room for members of the immediate family who want to contribute to the success of the business. It is important that the next generation understand in advance, what are the rules of the game in terms of being able to work or participate in the company. At Superquinn we always had a policy which required that family members who are coming into the business must bring something of value - a qualification or a skill that would allow them to make a real contribution to the business.

    It can be tough for the founder’s son or daughter to earn the respect of more seasoned employees when they start. All of our children worked in Superquinn and they always began working on the shop floor. My son Eamonn began working at Superquinn when he was 11. Several years later he worked at a butchers counter in a supermarket chain in the U.S. When he later joined Superquinn, he brought with him much experience of the trade, as well as years of experience in fund management. He initially began in the fruit and veg section, and in time, he worked his way up through the business to becoming Marketing Director.

    One of the dangers a family business needs to avoid is becoming inward-looking or doing things as “that’s the way we always do it”. Ensuring family members bring new ideas, skills and experience from other business or markets will benefit the business and the individual.

    3. Innovation.

    For any business to survive and grow, it must have a culture of innovation at its core at all times. Too many businesses get stuck in the old, comfortable way of doing business. Instead of anticipating a changed marketplace (as we always sought to do in Superquinn), it can be tempting to bury your head in the sand and hope that the new challenge that you face will simply go away. And therein lies a recipe for disaster.

    In family businesses, the innovation imperative is equally true. But often in a family business there can be a resistance to change. Over time, this resistance can slowly and quietly stymie the business, inching it towards irrelevance and ultimately, extinction. Family businesses must be mindful of this tendency.

    In fact, the urgency of having an innovation culture is even more imperative in a family business. If your winning product or winning customer service or wide product range is what makes you successful today - it is easy to forget that developments in the marketplace, new ways of doing business, or a dynamic competitor will eventually render any standstill business redundant.

    In Superquinn some of our best initiatives came from studying what was being done by others – our instore scratch bakeries, our Sausage Kitchens, our traceability system, the SuperClub loyalty scheme, online shopping, etc. not to mention customer service ideas.

    4. Set large company standards.

    Even if your business is small try to operate to the same standards as a large company. For example, have regular management meetings at a fixed time each week/fortnight with an agenda and managed by a chairman. These should consider operational and financial results, agree short and medium-term objectives and review previous objective results.

    Longer term strategy should be discussed on a formal basis annually. This ensures your management team are involved in the decision-making process, take ownership of their responsibilities and are more accountable for their actions. Differences of opinion can be more easily floated, discussed and resolved in this environment.

    In Superquinn we benefited enormously from having non-family directors on our Board. Our Chairman, Vincent O’Doherty, came to us from the Moy Group and brought with him both experience and an alternative insight that worked wonderfully with the family directors. Non-executive directors can play a key role also.

    5. Act Swiftly to Resolve Situations of Conflict.

    Conflict is an inevitable part of running any business. In a normal business situation, a difficult or uncooperative employee eventually leaves or is dismissed. But dismissal is not a solution where the source of challenge is coming from a family member who is part of the management. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that families who come together on social occasions other than for business have a better degree of communication and a better chance of success in management conflicts.

    Where a family business encounters challenges in resolving a dispute, I would strongly encourage them to avail of mediation services at an early stage. There is little to be gained in prolonging a dispute and dragging it through the courts system. Mediation enables a dispute to be resolved privately, quickly and at a low cost - allowing everyone to get back to focusing their energies on running the business.

    Within family-run businesses, conflicts can be more pronounced in the first generation after the Company is founded. This is why succession planning is so important. Planning ahead for succession, can help the business to cope with the great change which occurs when a founder or other key person steps down.

    6. Plan for succession.

    The old adage of death and taxes being the only certainty in life can have a major negative impact on a family business. For example, if all the equity in the business is held by one generation the next may be faced with having to sell part of the business to pay for taxes triggered by their demise. However, with proper planning this can be reduced. Don’t put off talking to your tax advisors now.

    Similarly, I have seen the founder of a family business keep such a tight reign that, after his sudden death, the next generation struggled to manage as they hadn’t grown their experience despite working in the business for many years. I speak from experience when I say that most people find it very difficult to walk away from a business that they have put their heart and soul into over a long period of time.

    The next generation can have a dramatically positive impact on a business - but they can only flourish if given the space. The next generation needs to be allowed to test their ideas and while they will make some mistakes along the way, they hold the potential to grow and expand the business, sustaining it so that one day they can hand over a thriving business to their children. In these situations, my advice to first generation founders is to step back and place their trust in the hands of the next generation.
    KC's View:
    As I mentioned above, I think many of the elements of this piece are appropriate for every business leader, not just those who run family-owned companies.

    Whether it is the importance of creating a culture of innovation within a company … working to bring together diverse people, personalities and talents … setting ambitious, audacious standards … or hiring people who you know can, will and should replace you in your job at some point … I think these are all valuable nuggets of advice, from a master retailer who I wish were still in the game, just because he always has been fun to watch.

    Published on: April 30, 2018

    TechCrunch reports that Amazon, having made a “slew of acquisitions” in the home security space, now is bringing them together with a series of product offerings that also will offer consultations and installations.

    Called “Smart Home Services,” the suite of products now is being offered to Amazon customers in Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Texas, Nevada, North Carolina, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Washington D.C. and Florida.

    According to the story, “The packages are being sold in five price tiers, at a flat fee — no monthly service contracts, a significant disruption of how many home security services are sold today.

    “The least expensive, $240 for Outdoor Base, gives you an Echo Dot plus indoor and outdoor lighting designed ‘to make it look like you’re home.’ The most expensive tier, $840 for Smartest, includes an alarm siren, motion sensors, safety sensors, a camera, and Echo Dot, the lighting and a video doorbell — potentially rolling in previous security launches from the company like Amazon Key and Cloud Cam. All include two visits from Amazon employees to consult you and help with the installation.”
    KC's View:

    Much as a lot of this sort of appeals to me, I have to admit to a gnawing concern that maybe, just maybe, we’re giving Amazon just a little bit too much access to our lives. We’re creating smart homes, but are we being smart people?

    But … I love the idea of a smart home, and know that I am the kind of person who would need and want both consultation and installation services. And so, I am conflicted…

    And I wonder how often anyone says at Amazon meetings, “How far is too far?” Or, “Is this the initiative that extends the ecosystem to the degree that maybe people will start to wonder about how pervasive we are?”

    I’m just curious.

    Published on: April 30, 2018

    WinCo Foods is announcing this morning that Grant Haag, currently the retailer’s Senior Vice President of Department Operations, has been named the new President of the company.

    Haag, a 34-year WinCo veteran, will serve as President for the next year, before taking over as CEO when current CEO Steven Goddard officially steps down.

    “We firmly believe that Grant is the right choice to lead the Company into the future,” Goddard says, in a prepared statement.

    In its announcement, the company says that “the naming of Haag to the post is the culmination of an intensive two-year process … to identify the right person. The three final candidates for the position were thoroughly vetted and each worked incredibly hard, under close scrutiny from the WinCo Board, to make sure that the best-suited individual was selected.”
    KC's View:
    I’m an enormous fan of WinCo, especially because of what has been its ability to maintain a laser-like focus on its strategy and customers, and the power of its employee-ownership to communicate and deliver a highly specific value to shoppers.

    Haag will be taking over for Goddard at a time of enormous challenges and existential threats to the traditional food retailing business. But he’ll do so with a pretty powerful engine at his command, and so I have a lot of confidence that WinCo will continue to be one of the industry’s winners.

    Published on: April 30, 2018

    The Washington Post reports that yet another big retailer seems to have made a marketing blunder connected to perceived racial bias - in this case, when Whole Foods opened a new 365 store in Long Beach, California, with a pan-Asian restaurant inside called Yellow Fever.

    The problem is that while the restaurant - which has two other locations going by the same name - was designed to imply “an attraction or affinity of Asian people or Asian things,” according to co-owner/executive chef Kelly Kim, the terms also carries other meanings.

    The Post writes that “Yellow fever is a mosquito-borne infection that kills thousands every year, mostly in Africa, and named for the jaundice hemorrhage that the virus produces. But the phrase is also a common reference to a term associated with a white man’s sexual fascination with Asian women.” And, the story says, the opening of the restaurant “triggered a national outcry on social media, with many criticizing the name’s racist undertones.”
    KC's View:
    This is one of those no-win situations. The restaurant owners weren’t trying to be racist, though it probably is fair to infer that they were trying to be provocative; they don’t seem ignorant of such concerns.

    One thing we do know is that the third restaurant was the one that did it, probably because it is in a 365 store, which got it a lot more attention.

    Maybe it blows over, and nothing changes. Maybe it doesn’t blow over, and the name gets changed. I kind of wish people were a little less easily offended, but then again, I’m not the one being offended … my instinct is to change the name, but I’m not sure that really addresses the core problem.

    Published on: April 30, 2018

    USA Today reports that Starbucks intends to cut back on specialty limited-time-only drinks - such as the Unicorn Frappuccino - by as much as 30 percent in the current year.

    The reason? According to the story, “The shticky drinks, which have become a Starbucks mainstay, are available only for a few days and are very photogenic -- the right recipe for an Instagram hit.

    “That’s exactly what the fabled Unicorn became, as thousands flocked to Starbucks and shared their thoughts about the bright pink drink on social media -- both praise and revulsion.”

    And, some of that revulsion came from baristas, who hated making them.

    The story says that “The chain will focus a bit more on other drinks, including cold brews and teas, according to chief operating officer Rosalind Brewer, Starbucks also is bringing its expanded food menu, called Mercato, to many more markets -- 1,800 stores by the end of the fiscal year.”
    KC's View:
    The thing is, you can only do so many things at one time. Plus, there may be a good clue about the reasoning behind this decision in the word “shticky” - for my money, Starbucks would be better off working on increasing line speed and keeping some of their stores a little cleaner on a consistent basis.

    Published on: April 30, 2018

    CNBC reports that vitamin retailer GNC plans to close 200 stores in the US and Canada this year, saying that its efforts to achieve “favorable lease renegotiations or relocation opportunities are ongoing and may impact the amount of stores closings.”

    The closings occur has GNC said that its first quarter net income was just a quarter of what it was a year ago ($6.2 million compared with $24.7 million).

    GNC also said it expects to open only a "limited number" of new locations this year.

    The story notes that GNC “has more than 8,000 locations globally, about 3,300 of which are corporately held and within the U.S. and Canada, according to its website. It also operates shops within Rite Aid stores, and has a little more than 1,000 domestic franchise locations.”
    KC's View:
    I can’t make a really informed judgement about this because I don’t shop at GNC … but it sort of feels to me like the Radio Shack of the supplement business. There seems to be very little in a GNC store that one couldn’t et from a bunch of other places online, and yet it has all these stores, many of them in malls, which themselves are facing declines in customer traffic.

    Next thing you know, GNC will be hiring the same guy who helped Blockbuster engineer its turnaround…

    Published on: April 30, 2018

    The New York Times had a fascinating story over the weekend about the toxic atmosphere that had developed at Nike, and what a group of women did about it.

    An excerpt:

    “There were the staff outings that started at restaurants and ended at strip clubs. A supervisor who bragged about the condoms he carried in his backpack. A boss who tried to forcibly kiss a female subordinate, and another who referenced a staff member’s breasts in an email to her.

    “Then there were blunted career paths. Women were made to feel marginalized in meetings and were passed over for promotions. They were largely excluded from crucial divisions like basketball. When they complained to human resources, they said, they saw little or no evidence that bad behavior was being penalized.

    “Finally, fed up, a group of women inside Nike’s Beaverton, Ore., headquarters started a small revolt.” They surveyed their female co-workers about their experiences, pulled together a report, and put it on the desk of CEO Mark Parker.

    What happened next, the <>i>Times writes, was no less than “an upheaval in the executive ranks of the world’s largest sports footwear and apparel company.” People lost their jobs. Top people.

    But, to be clear, this is not a story that has a satisfying ending … at least, not yet.
    KC's View:
    Two suggestions.

    First, read the story here.

    Second, ask yourself what would happen in your company if a similar survey was done. And don’t kid yourself. Better yet, ask the woman leaders in your company to conduct a similar sort of survey, and get a no-holds-barred look at the kind of stuff that may be going on in your company. And then do something about it. Fast.

    Published on: April 30, 2018

    Tech Crunch reports that Amazon is planning to release a software update to its Alexa-powered smart speaker system that will allow it “to recall information you’ve directed her to remember, as well as have more natural conversations that don’t require every command to begin with “Alexa.”

    The story says Alexa also will be able “to launch skills in response to questions you ask, without explicit instructions to do so. The features are the first of what Amazon says are many launches this year that will make its virtual assistant more personalized, smarter, and more engaging.”

    According to TechCrunch, “the Alexa Brain initiative is focused on improving Alexa’s ability to track context and memory within and across dialog sessions, as well as make it easier for users to discover and interact with Alexa’s now over 40,000 third-party skills.”

    Ruhi Sarikaya, who runs the Alexa Brain Group for Amazon, speaking at the World Wide Web Conference in Lyon, France, said, “We have many challenges still to address, such as how to scale these new experiences across languages and different devices, how to scale skill arbitration across the tens of thousands of Alexa skills, and how to measure experience quality.

    “Additionally, there are component-level technology challenges that span automatic speech recognition, spoken language understanding, dialog management, natural language generation, text-to-speech synthesis, and personalization. Skills arbitration, context carryover and the memory feature are early instances of a class of work Amazon scientists and engineers are doing to make engaging with Alexa more friction-free.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2018

    The New York Times reports on how music legend Bob Dylan is getting into the bourbon business.

    It all started in 2015 when Dylan registered a trademark application for the term “bootle whiskey< a fact that was noticed by Marc Bushala, who had just sold his Angels Envy bourbon brand for $150 million. Bushala reached out to Dylan - who is not the easiest guy in the world with whom to make contact - and made a deal that led to them creating a portfolio of three small batch whiskeys. They consist of “a straight rye, a straight bourbon and a ‘double-barreled’ whiskey. They are Mr. Dylan’s entry into the booming celebrity-branded spirits market, the latest career twist for an artist who has spent five decades confounding expectations.”

    Dylan isn’t just lending his name and image to the brand. he is, in fact, a full partner in the business, and has been active in developing the three lines, which will range in price from $50 to $80.

    “We both wanted to create a collection of American whiskeys that, in their own way, tell a story,” Dylan tells the Times. “I’ve been traveling for decades, and I’ve been able to try some of the best spirits that the world of whiskey has to offer. This is great whiskey.”

    The only thing that didn’t go Dylan’s way was the name. He wanted to call it Bootleg, which could be problematic for a whiskey brand. But they came up with another name - Heaven’s Door - but still plan to “issue an annual Bootleg Series in limited editions, in ceramic bottles decorated with his oil and watercolor paintings.”
    KC's View:
    Sounds like it is worth a try to me.

    One of the interesting things about the Times piece is how it points out that Dylan has long been interested in using his assets - meaning his music and reputation - to endorse brands that he thought synched well with them. Somehow, bourbon sounds perfect.

    Published on: April 30, 2018

    The New York Times reports that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have identified Harrison Farms in Yuma, Arizona, as “one of the sources of tainted romaine lettuce that has so far left 98 people sick, in what is the largest multistate food-borne E. coli outbreak since 2006.”

    The story goes on: “Officials are investigating other parts of the lettuce supply chain and more than two dozen other fields to identify the source or sources of the 90 other E. coli infections, though they said that all are linked to the Yuma area. Because Yuma is near the end of its growing season, lettuce production will be shifting north to the Salinas Valley, in California, for the summer.

    “While no one has died from the current outbreak, 46 people have been hospitalized, with 10 developing a form of kidney failure. The infected range in age from 1 to 88 years old, and about two-thirds are female. Symptoms often include bloody diarrhea, severe stomach cramps and vomiting.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2018

    • Pennsylvania-based Weis Markets announced on Friday its intention to invest $101 million in capital improvements, including “new stores, remodels, supply chain improvements and continued information technology upgrades.”

    Chairman/CEO Jonathan Weis sold shareholders last week that “this is a disciplined program that is designed to produce long-term benefits. It includes two new stores – a unit in Nottingham, Maryland near Baltimore, which opened two weeks ago, and a store in Randolph, New Jersey, which will open later this summer. We also plan 20 remodels, a fuel center and four new pharmacies.”

    In addition, he said, ““Over the past year, we’ve expanded and upgraded our Weis 2 Go online ordering service with curbside pick-up. We recently introduced this service in 25 additional stores and currently offer it in 79 locations. In 2018, we will also test an online ordering delivery service. While we are a brick and mortar operator, we know there is a market for these services.”

    Weis also told shareholders that “his company’s 2017 cash flow benefited significantly from a decrease in its income tax rate due to the enacted Federal Tax Reform and that it should continue to do so in 2018.”

    • Canada’s Financial Post reports that Fairfax Financial Holdings, which is acquiring Toys R Us stores north of the border for $300 million, has ambitions that go beyond Canada’s borders and is “exploring options to keep a foothold in the U.S. and elsewhere.”

    “There’s pieces now we can invest in, pods of stores in the U.S., or elsewhere, and utilize the fact that they’ve got all the systems in Canada,” says Paul Rivett, Fairfax’s president.

    Fairfax’s main business, the story says, is “property and casualty insurance and reinsurance and investment.” Fairfax apparently does not see much downside - just the Toys R Us real estate portfolio in Canada is said to be worth $220 million or more.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2018

    • Smart & Final Stores announced that Derek Jones, who serves as president of its Cash&Carry Smart Foodservice division, now will oversee Supply Chain for Smart & Final in addition to his role as President of Cash&Carry.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2018

    Responding to our story about Amazon’;s coming out with a kid-friendly version of the Alexa system, MNB reader Dan Blue wrote:

    I've been buying stuff on Amazon for 20 years, and have been an early adopter for many of their devices and programs. I have owned an Echo for over three years (got in on the beta program) and recently got Dots for my sons room and "The Cave". We love the "Drop In" feature which operates like and intercom, so I can let my 11 year old dinner is ready from two floors away. As a music unlimited subscriber, it's also great since we can listen to music all over the house. My son is a classic rock fan (going to see John Fogerty this summer), so we haven't had much of an issue with inappropriate content. However, as we discovered recently when one of his friends was over, they can play ANYTHING and there is no way to block or hide content (interestingly, it was my son who said it was inappropriate and changed the playlist and then told my wife after the fact. Otherwise, we wouldn't have known).
    Content, apparently, has been a source of frustration for parents for years (lots of forum posts on why Amazon would launch an ecosystem without ANY ability to block content). Response from Amazon? Mostly crickets, but with an occasional canned, tone deaf response sprinkled in. Now, they have solution, but you have to pay. Yes, it would only cost me $60 (already subscribe to Free Time Unlimited), but they NEED to make this backward compatible. If they don't, there will be many unhappy parents out there who are already invested into their ecosystem (echo-system?).

    Regarding Amazon in creasing the cost of a P{rime membership in the US by 20 percent, MNB reader David Spawn wrote:

    Even before this announcement, I guess I am the rare individual/old fart who does not see the value of Prime membership.  I cancelled my membership yesterday, as it barely saves me any money on shipping  - when you actually do the math of how much I ordered that was under $25, I was losing money even when the membership was $99.  The other “benefits” – Prime Video, pass (Netflix and Hulu are enough for my limited tv time); Prime Music, pass (don’t listen to music via downloads, yes, there’s the old fart); e-books, don’t read ‘em and probably never will, as I far prefer the feel and heft of a printed book.

    As for the “guaranteed 2-day delivery” which was the hook for – as you might say, “that’s a crock.”  Three out of my 4 most recent purchases exceeded the 2-day window, including one that took a week to get to me.  Of course, I’m just one person but it didn’t do it for me, maybe in the future it will, but for now, I don’t see the value of an Amazon Prime membership.

    I’d say you’re right. A Prime membership isn’t for you.
    KC's View: