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    Published on: May 11, 2018

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Financial Times has a story that compares - go figure - Jeff Bezos to Winston Churchill. The reason? They both loved/love a good story, clearly and concisely written.

    Churchill, FT writes, once wrote that “the discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clearer thinking.”

    In other words, clear writing reflects clear thinking. And clear thinking results in clear writing.

    (I happen to love this. It is exactly what I teach the students at Portland State University each summer.)

    Amazon founder/CEO Bezos, for his part, feels the same way. His “recent letter to shareholders extolled the Amazon practice of starting all internal meetings by everyone present reading a memo of up to six pages, explaining what they are there to discuss … The principle is that an executive must refine his or her proposal so fully to express it in narrative form that everyone will be able to understand it. Reading the memo means that all those in the room are informed for the conversation that follows, and are not merely bluffing.”

    Plus, he requires that at the beginning of every initiative, those who will be in charge of it have to write the press release that would be used at the end of the process, explaining the customer value of whatever the initiative happens to be. If you can’t do that, he reasons, then it is questionable whether Amazon should be investing time and money in it.

    Clear writing reflects clear thinking. Clear thinking results in clear writing.

    But here’s the Eye-Opening passage from the story, I think:

    “The surprising aspect is his faith in narrative, rather than the data on which Amazon relies. You might have thought that data would rule decision-making at Amazon, but not so. He said: ‘We have so many metrics . . . and the thing I have noticed is that when the anecdotes and the data disagree, the anecdotes are usually right. There’s something wrong with the way you’re measuring’.”

    FT goes on to say that “preparing a crisp narrative is much harder work than spraying around some sentences on a slide. It requires someone to pause and not only to think through the thread of the argument, but to shape it in a way that can inspire others. Churchill could do that on his feet; the rest of us must concentrate.”

    In other words, “Clear writing reflects clear thinking. Clear thinking results in clear writing.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 11, 2018

    The Seattle Times has a story about how New Seasons Market opened a new store in Ballard, Washington, this week, an event that highlighted “a broader struggle roiling Seattle’s business and political scenes.”

    Inside, the story says, “store employees touted the partnerships they’ve formed with local social-service groups and Pacific Northwest vendors, highlighting condiments from Ballard-based Mustard & Co. and lamb from Reister Farms in Washougal, Clark County, which share space in the store with national brands such as Cheerios and Coke. The company gives 10 percent of its profit to charitable causes and compensates employees for volunteer time, executives said as part of a ‘bread breaking’ ceremony to open the store.”

    Outside, however, “labor and community groups criticized New Seasons for its labor practices and the gentrification that often follows the opening of high-end grocers.”
    KC's View:
    I’ve always thought that New Seasons - a company I like very much - is specifically challenged because it has so many constituencies it has to satisfy. There are the investors, the customers, the employees who expect much of the company they work for, and the community with which it has been so connected over the years. Even when it goes above and beyond, there will be some that won’t be satisfied; when it makes moves to satisfy the investor class, it’ll annoy the community, and when it makes community-oriented moves, it may go against investor short-term interests.
    The key here is “short-term.” I simply believe that retailers - especially in the current competitive environment - have to be focused on the long-term. They cannot sacrifice effectiveness for efficiency. They cannot focus on transactions at the cost of lifetime customer value.

    This isn’t easy. But it is, I think, necessary.

    There may be extra pressure on New Seasons. But there are a lot of companies out there who would be lucky to have these problems.

    Published on: May 11, 2018

    CNBC reports that “Amazon has built a team within its Alexa voice-assistant division called ‘health & wellness’,” which has as its main job making “Amazon's Alexa voice assistant more useful in the health-care field, an effort that requires working through regulations and data privacy requirements laid out by HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), according to people familiar with the matter. The group is targeting areas like diabetes management, care for mothers and infants and aging, said the people, who asked not to be named because the work is confidential.

    According to the story, “While Amazon isn't talking publicly about the health and wellness group, its existence is the clearest indication of the company's plan to bring Alexa voice technology to the rapidly growing field of digital health. Having the right compliance and regulatory licenses in place would allow Alexa-powered devices and apps to share and upload sensitive health data with medical professionals and patients. It would also enable integrations with third-party apps.”
    KC's View:
    I’ll buy this - it makes perfect sense to be able to talk to an Alexa-powered system to get health and wellness information.

    But, of course, there will be privacy concerns. If I ask Alexa about a specific medical issue, will that be between us, or could it find its way elsewhere? That’s certainly a question to which I’d like an answer.

    Published on: May 11, 2018

    On National Public Radio, Marketplace reports on “a small but growing number of people who need a car but would rather not own one. So they're subscribing – paying a monthly fee to access a variety of vehicles they can change up when they want. The flat fee varies depending on the company, from about $400 per month to as much as $3,700, and usually includes maintenance, insurance, roadside assistance, pickup and drop-off. And in most cases the subscription can be ended at any time.”

    While the notion of a car subscription is fairly new, the number of companies offering it as an option is growing: “More and more car companies are offering subscriptions, like BMW and Mercedes, both of which announced new car subscription pilot programs in Nashville earlier this year. Mercedes is also piloting its subscription service in Philadelphia. 

    “There’s also Care by Volvo which launched nationwide in March for one of its new compact vehicles, and Lincoln, which, as part of Ford Motor Co., is also offering a subscription service through Canvas.” And, there are companies like Flexdrive, which offer subscriptions and will be available in 23 US cities by the end of the year; it could be wishful thinking, but the folks at Flexdrive predict that while there are fewer than 150,000 car subscriptions in the US right now, they expect it be in the millions within a couple of years.
    KC's View:
    The story notes that “the American Automobile Association estimates it costs American drivers an average of $706 per month for a new vehicle, including things like depreciation, maintenance and fuel.” I can imagine that under certain circumstances it might make sense to subscribe to a car rather than own one … and whatever reservations I might have about the concept might not be all that important to younger folks who live in urban environments, don’t need a car all the time, and are willing to try something different.

    Never say never.

    Published on: May 11, 2018

    Business Insider reports on how Chipotle, in less than two weeks, has increased its delivery business by 667 percent.

    Now, that high number is largely because until two weeks ago, according to CEO Brian Niccol, few people knew that Chipotle delivers. Two weeks ago, that changed when a new partnership with delivery service DoorDash kicked in.

    Niccol, who just joined Chipotle from Taco Bell, tells Business Insider that “most Chipotle locations have a ‘second line’ dedicated to making burritos, bowls, and more for customers other than those who are ordering in the restaurants, such as for mobile orders and catering.” However, that second line was largely underutilized, and he determined to use it to drive previously untapped sales.
    KC's View:
    I must admit that since Chipotle went through all its food safety problems, I have not been to one. I’ve been worried that what it might deliver is not all what I’d want … like a case of food poisoning. Just can’t get past it.

    Published on: May 11, 2018

    Bloomberg reports that Amazon “has stopped buying a popular type of Google ad … highly coveted real estate at the top of Google search results, where retailers and e-commerce bid and pay handsomely to place colorful, image-rich ads that show up when consumers look online for running shoes, headphones and other products to buy.”

    This digital real estate has been highly profitable for Google, the story says, and Amazon only started bidding on it a couple of years ago, putting it into direct competition with the likes of Walmart.

    The decision to longer buy the space, the story suggests, could be seen “as a sign the company is accelerating its own digital ad offerings, which has been urged by marketers and Amazon shareholders.” At any rate, Bloomberg writes, it is a rare rebuke of Google and almost certainly “deepens the rift between the technology titans and signals Amazon’s growing ambition in the digital advertising market.”

    • Western New York-based Tops Friendly Markets announced that it is expanding its delivery services, powered by Instacart, to “include both Watertown and Cortland, NY. This expansion brings the overall number of TOPS stores with the Instacart program to 115.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 11, 2018

    • Amazon is embroiled in a new controversy in Seattle, where it is protesting a proposal before the city council that would impose a so-called head tax on companies with more than $20 million a year, requiring them to pay $500 per job annually to the city.

    The tax would cost Amazon about $20 million the first year, and the figure would rise over time.

    To protest the proposed tax, Amazon - which is in the middle of a search for a second headquarters city in North America to which it would bring 50,000 jobs - has stopped construction on one site in the city, and has said it will not take on additional space in the city if the tax is approved.

    Some 600 companies in Seattle would be hit by the head tax, which has been opposed by organized labor on the grounds that it would send jobs elsewhere. Among the companies opposing the proposal are Starbucks, Alaska Airlines and Expedia.

    • The Washington Post reports that Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz has said that from now on, all of his stores’ restrooms will be open to everyone, whether or not the person has made a purchase.

    The announcement comes after employees at a Philadelphia Starbucks called the police on two African-American men who were waiting in the store for a friend before ordering, and asked to use the restroom.

    “We don’t want to become a public bathroom, but we’re going to make the right decision a hundred percent of the time and give people the key,” Schultz said, “because we don’t want anyone at Starbucks to feel as if we are not giving access to you to the bathroom because you are less than.”

    • The BBC reports that “at least 73 supermarkets will have to be sold in order for Sainsbury's proposed merger with Asda to be given the go-ahead, according to new research.

    The deal, if permitted by British antitrust regulators, would create the largest supermarket chain in the UK when measured by market share.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 11, 2018

    • Lucky’s Market announced this week that Tim Overlie, the company’s former regional director of operations, will take on the job of director of local foods, a new position within the company.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 11, 2018

    …will return next week.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 11, 2018

    The novels of Michael Connelly, best known as the creator of LAPD detective Harry Bosch, continue to get what I think is an almost miraculously fine treatment in their conversion to a TV series, the fourth season of which is now streaming on Amazon Video.

    There are multiple factors at work here. Fist and foremost, the producers have pulled together a cadre of writers and directors who absolutely get the material - together, they create as kind of modern California noir, in which the streets of LA populated by people of questionable moral and ethical character, giving the words and pictures context and poetry.

    At the center of the fulcrum is Harry Bosch, a longtime police detective played with grit and existential pain by the great Titus Welliver; in his eyes, one can see the attitude that Bosch brings to every facet of his work, as described by Connelly: “Everybody counts, or nobody counts.”

    That means that Bosch works top clear cases without regard for politics, unwilling to shade the truth for any reason. He’s after justice, “neither tarnished nor afraid,” in the words of Raymond Chandler. In this new season, Bosch finds himself running a task force looking into the murder of a celebrated lawyer who was bringing a case against the LAPD, accusing officers of racist behavior. This doesn’t make him popular with anyone, but he’s perfect for the job, because worrying about popularity isn’t in his DNA, and so he goes, navigating LA’s mean streets and ethical canyons, seeking justice.

    As in every one of the seasons of “Bosch,” the casting is first-rate, and the result is an absolutely wonderful series that manages to capture the tone of Connelly’s novels - like I said, it is almost miraculous.

    I have several wines to recommend to you this week.

    First up, the 10215 Orison Wines Pipa Red from Portugal, a blend that is part Touriga Nacional, part Tinta Miuda, part Alicante Bouschet, and part Aragonez - and all delicious. I had it with one of my favorite dishes - a lamb burger topped with feta cheese and harissa. Spectacular.

    I also recommend the 2015 Grapesmith & Crusher Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, which is versatile enough that Mrs. Content Guy and I shared a bottle while she was having lamb chops and I was eating spicy tuna tacos.

    It was heaven.

    And, finally…I had a chance to go to one of my favorite place sin the world, Etta’s, in Seattle this week, and when I went to the bar Morgan poured me something special - the 2016 Andrew Will Cabernet Sauvignon, from Washington’s Columbia Valley. It was extraordinary - not as heavy as many cabs, and perfect, amazingly, with the tuna sashimi I was eating. Go figure. Morgan does it again.

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

    KC's View: