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Hi, Kevin Coupe here and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.
None of us is getting younger, and as we age, especially these days, finding ways to continue to be relevant is increasingly important. That is a theme that has found its way onto MNB a few times just this week, just as it has been in many novels and movies over the years. I am reminded of the moment, in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, when Spock says to Kirk in a moment of self-doubt ands reflection, “Is it possible that we two, you and I, have grown so old and so inflexible that we have outlived our usefulness?”
Of course, they haven’t.
I thought about this the other day when I read a story on the CNN site about how, in Japan, there appears toi be a growing market for rented “ossans,” which is the Japanese word for middle-aged men.
This is not as kinky as it might sound.
According to the story, “As in many cities around the globe, most people in Tokyo prefer anonymity when it comes to their wants, needs and vulnerabilities. Urban citizens may be desperate to get advice from an older, wiser person, but they don't want to turn to the guy they've worked with for years or the uncle who remembers the tears shed over a broken toy truck. Someone familiar might judge them.”
And, what they are finding is that some middle-aged men have enough accumulated wisdom and experience to have some value.
There actually are rental services out there - one of them did 45 rentals a day last year - that provide listings of middle aged men who are willing to meet you for a cup of coffee or a drink, or maybe just a walk in the park, and listen to your problems. The best ones, the story says, tend to people who have gone through some measure of personal or professional pain and have come out on the other side; nothing like a few healed wounds to offer some perspective.
Some people want advice. Some people just want companionship. Some need people to provide some manual labor.
It also is worth noting that ossan rentals didn’t just start because somebody got the idea out of thin air. They started because middle aged men in Japan, formerly part of a highly respected class, had fallen on hard times as the nation’s economy faltered and lifetime employment contracts no longer were a pat of the culture. A lot of these fellows were looking for something to do, and it strikes me as ingenious that somebody figured out that middle-aged fellows might have some untapped value.
As someone who thinks of himself as being in middle age, though my kids point out that I’m only middle aged if I live to be 128, I’m glad to hear that guys my age are seen as having some sustained value … and maybe, if this trend finds its way to the US, I now have a future career to which I can look forward, my own undiscovered country. Maybe I have not outlived my usefulness.
One thing, though. Apparently, the ossan in Japan make about $10 an hour. My rates are going to be a little higher than that, though I also might work for beer.
That’s what is on my mind this morning, and, as always, I want to hear what’s on your mind.
In 1910, in a speech delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris, former President Theodore Roosevelt spoke of how credit belongs to “the man who is actually in the arena.” It is a speech that was referred to often in the past week or so, during the coverage of the passing of Sen. John McCain, perhaps most movingly in the eulogy by former President Barack Obama.
I’ve been thinking about that speech this week because of moves made by several companies this week that placed those businesses right in the center of the arena, even though these moves also may have placed them at the center of a bulls eye.
It probably is a dead heat in terms of which move was the most controversial, but for being pure Twitter bait, I’ll give the nod to Nike, which decided to make Colin Kaepernick the face of an ad campaign celebrating the 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” slogan.
The theme of the new campaign: “"Believe In Something Even If It Costs You Everything.” The first video - which I think is an extraordinarily evocative piece of advertising - can be seen above, left, or here.
Kaepernick would seem to be perfect for this effort. He is, after all, the NFL quarterback who believes he has been blackballed by the league for social activism that had him taking a knee during pre-game renditions of National Anthem; while accused by some of disrespecting the flag and the nation’s military troops, Kaepernick and those who have followed his lead have been very clear that they have taken a knee to draw attention to cases of systemic police violence against minorities.
It is, to say the least, a hot button issue that has engendered debate and generated deep and passionate argument in the worlds of sports, politics, media and the broader culture.
My point in bringing this up is not to create a forum for a discussion of the Kaepernick case, though I will concede that from the beginning I’ve been clear about his stated motivations, and so have never felt that he was engaging in any sort of disrespectful action. Rather, it is to point out that this hardly is a safe choice for Nike, though it certainly is in character for a company that has been willing to push the envelope.
The New York Times writes that “the timing of the partnership with Mr. Kaepernick caught many industry veterans, as well as the N.F.L., off guard. For more than a year, Nike has virtually ignored Mr. Kaepernick and declined to use him in any of its marketing campaigns, even though he has been under contract to the Oregon-based company since 2011.
“The new partnership comes months after Nike extended its agreement with the N.F.L. to provide on-field uniforms for all 32 of the league’s teams. On Monday, when asked if Nike had informed the N.F.L. about the campaign beforehand, a Nike spokeswoman said that ‘Colin is not currently employed by an N.F.L. team and has no contractual obligation to the N.F.L.’”
And, while there have been plenty of objections raised to the new Kaepernick campaign on social media, with some folks burning their Nikes in protest, the Times notes that analysts of such things say that there seems to be more pro-Kaepernick sentiment overall. Estimates are that medias coverage of the controversy has generated some $43 million in free advertising for Nike. And, the Times writes that a recent survey from Morning Consult says that “urban and young consumers were more likely to say they would react favorably to a company that advocated the right of protesters to kneel during the national anthem. Indeed, on social media — where the nation’s youth live and breathe — Mr. Kaepernick attracted more than one million responses on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter in the hours after he announced the Nike partnership, according to ListenFirst, a social media analytics company.”
If it works out for Nike, it could provide Eye-Opening proof that taking politically controversial stands - as long as they are in synch with the brand’s identity and equity, as well as the priorities of its target consumer - may be a legitimate approach in today’s climate.
At the same time, Levi Strauss president/CEO Chip Bergh is getting involved in the gun rights debate, publishing a letter this week in Fortune in which he says that his company has "established the Safer Tomorrow Fund, which will direct more than $1 million in philanthropic grants from Levi Strauss & Co. over the next four years to fuel the work of nonprofits and youth activists who are working to end gun violence in America.”
And, he writes, his company “is partnering with Everytown for Gun Safety and executives including Michael Bloomberg to form Everytown Business Leaders for Gun Safety, a coalition of business leaders who believe, as we do, that business has a critical role to play in and a moral obligation to do something about the gun violence epidemic in this country.”
Bergh writes that after he requested in 2016 that gun owners not bring their weapons into his company’s stores - after one shopper accidentally shot himself while trying on jeans - he “received threats to our stores, our business, and even on my life. It was unsettling. But these personal attacks pale in comparison to the threats that activists and survivors from Parkland, Sandy Hook, and daily incidents of gun violence face every time they speak up on this issue.”
And so, he writes, while not calling for a repeal of the Second Amendment or anything close to that, Bergh says that he feels he has no choice in this case.
“As president and CEO of a values-driven company that’s known the world over as a pioneer of the American West and one of the great symbols of American freedom, I take the responsibility of speaking up on the important issues of our day very seriously,” he writes. “ We can’t take on every issue. But as business leaders with power in the public and political arenas, we simply cannot stand by silently when it comes to the issues that threaten the very fabric of the communities where we live and work. While taking a stand can be unpopular with some, doing nothing is no longer an option.”
I’m sure that some people will burn their Levis, but I respect Bergh for taking a principled and reasoned stand, and putting his money where his mouth is. Like Nike, Levi Strauss now may find itself in the center of a controversial public debate, as well as the center of a (metaphorical,I hope) bulls eye.
It is not nearly as controversial - except, I suppose, to those who feel that the National Park system is wasteful and/or an unaffordable public policy expenditure - but I also took note the other day of an announcement by LL Bean that it is donating $3 million - $1 million a year over three years - the the National Park Foundation, in the belief that it will help encourage people to visit the nation’s more than 400 national parks.
Again, this is right on strategy - LL Bean has been focusing for the past few years on its ‘Be An Outsider” campaign, designed to return the company to its outdoors roots and remind people of its origin story, as well as its credibility.
And, it puts LL Bean’s money where its mouth is. In the arena.
Look, I want to be clear about this. Not every company can or will engage in public policy debates. It will depend on culture and strategy and brand identity … and the ability to identify an intersection of all of these where a company can be persuasive and credible.
But when the Eye Opening moments come - and it would be my sense that we live in a world where, more and more, such moments will present themselves - business leaders may need to step up to the plate.
And, perhaps, remember what Theodore Roosevelt told us more than a century ago:
”It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Reuters reports that Walmart is testing a new program, called Spark Delivery, which is designed to use independent drivers to deliver groceries order online to consumers. Spark Delivery, the story says, “is a crowdsourced platform, which works with independent drivers who partner with Delivery Drivers Inc, a separate firm that manages such workers.”
The story says that “the initiative is Walmart’s latest attempt to tackle one of the biggest challenges in retail: the so-called ‘last mile’ of delivering goods to online customers. Despite having 4,700 U.S. stores within 10 miles (16 km) of 90 percent of the U.S. population, the Bentonville, Arkansas based retailer is still trying to figure out how to efficiently make deliveries and has poured billions of dollars into ecommerce in recent years … Walmart has so far had mixed success with its various delivery initiatives.”
Walmart has ended alliances with Uber and Lyft, and also abandoned a scheme to have store employees make deliveries on their way home from work.
Reuters writes that Walmart is racing “to meet its goal of offering home delivery to more than 100 U.S. cities by the end of the year,” which came after Amazon bought Whole Foods in 2017, “which spurred several traditional retailers to push such services fearing increased competition in the sector.”
As the Wall Street Journal writes, “In the past, Walmart resisted the costly model of home delivery, instead expanding its curbside grocery pickup, a service that lets shoppers order online and then drive to a local store to pick up their items in the retailer’s parking lot. However, with rivals Amazon.com Inc., Kroger Co. and Target Corp. investing in similar home-delivery services, the company made a pivot earlier this year.
I continue to believe that if Walmart really wants to differentiate itself in this space, it needs to own the delivery experience. Everybody is trying to do it by outsourcing this critical function, but I think it is a long-term mistake that outs the brand potentially at risk. It is expensive, sure, but it isn’t like Walmart doesn’t have money.
The Associated Press reports that Amazon has placed an order for 20,000 vans - all of which will be built at a Mercedes Benz plant in South Carolina - that will be used in its new delivery program.
That program, announced earlier this summer, will actually help outside contractors build their own delivery businesses, giving them access to Amazon’s technology, training, and affordable leases on vehicles and equipment.
The goal of the program is to give Amazon greater control over the delivery function, and make it less reliant on companies such as FedEx, UPS and the US Postal Service.
The AP writes that Amazon says that "tens of thousands" of people have applied to be part of the program - enough to prompt it to increase its initial van order of 4,500.
And speaking of investments…
This is such an interesting way to go about getting more control over the delivery process. Amazon creates the system, but empowers outside contractors to put it into motion … and while they’ll be delivering Amazon items exclusively in the beginning, it isn’t hard to imagine that eventually they’ll be competing with those other delivery companies … but always as part of Amazon’s ecosystem.
H-E-B has opened its tenth Central Market, and the third one in Dallas, with a 45,000 square foot store at Midway Road and Northwest Highway that is in a space formerly occupied by an Albertsons and, briefly, a Sun Fresh Market.
The Dallas Morning News reports that this is the first Central Market with curbside pickup, which is designed to fill 400 orders a day; the News notes that the service has just been added to another Dallas-area Central Market.
Though the first Central Market opened in 1994, H-E-B has been deliberate about rolling out the format. However, Dallas has gotten Central Market stores before H-E-B has opened stores there.
“The San Antonio-based retailer's H-E-B banner stores will at some point enter the Dallas market, just not anytime soon, said Stephen Butt, president of the Dallas-based Central Market,” according to the News.
The irony here may be that over the long term, it is Central Market - with its differentiated approach to retailing and a strong focus on fresh and specialty foods - that may a strong engine for H-E-B’s long-term growth as center store sales from its traditional stores move online. Or maybe H-E-B will just begin adopting more of Central Market’s approach as a way of differentiating its stores.
The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that Starbucks is opening its third Reserve Roastery today, in Milan, which the story notes “is a milestone for former CEO Howard Schultz because it was in Milan where he was first inspired to turn Starbucks into what it is today.”
The first Reserve Roastery was opened in Seattle in 2014, and the the second in Shanghai, last December. Future Roastery locations include Chicago’s Michigan Avenue (in what used to be the old Crate & Barrel store) and New York’s Meatpacking District.
According to the story, “The Milan roastery will total 25,500 square feet in the former post office in Palazzo delle Poste on Piazza Cordusio,” an ornate 1901 building designed by architect Luigi Broggi.
The story notes that “Schultz announced his retirement earlier this summer, but he is consulting for the coffee company through the opening of the Milan and New York roasteries.”
The pictures certainly make the spot look bellissima, and I’m certainly up for a trip to check it out.
Wegmans has announced that it has installed a new system in all its 97 stores that is designed to help shoppers who are either blind or vision-impaired.
According to the announcement, Wegmans is working with Aira, a San Diego-based startup that “makes use of wearable technology, artificial intelligence, and live, human assistance to deliver real-time visual description for people who are blind or have low vision. Using a smartphone or a pair of smart glasses, an Aira ‘Explorer’ can connect to a remote, trained professional who can provide assistance on-demand using a live camera stream, GPS, maps, and information sourced from the web … Blind and low vision shoppers can download the Aira app on their smartphone and use it to connect to a remote, sighted agent to access information on-demand. On request, Aira agents can help shoppers navigate the store, find specific items, and identify the shortest checkout lines all at just the touch of a button.”
“At Wegmans, we are committed to providing incredible customer service to all our shoppers,” says Linda Lovejoy, community relations manager for Wegmans. “Our partnership with Aira helps us deliver on this commitment, giving our blind and low-vision customers access to this innovative service and the ability to navigate our stores easily and efficiently.”
Wegmans, clear-eyed as always, about how to serve customers.
The Guardian has a fascinating - and frankly, scary - story entitled “Franken-algorithms: The Deadly Consequences of Unpredictable Code,” which lays out what it calls “an unfolding technological crisis, as code piled on code creates ‘a universe no one fully understands’.”
“So much attention has been focused on the distant promises and threats of artificial intelligence, AI, that almost no one has noticed us moving into a new phase of the algorithmic revolution that could be just as fraught and disorienting – with barely a question asked.”
And, it goes on:
“Here’s the problem. Between the ‘dumb’ fixed algorithms and true AI lies the problematic halfway house we’ve already entered with scarcely a thought and almost no debate, much less agreement as to aims, ethics, safety, best practice. If the algorithms around us are not yet intelligent, meaning able to independently say ‘that calculation/course of action doesn’t look right: I’ll do it again,’ they are nonetheless starting to learn from their environments. And once an algorithm is learning, we no longer know to any degree of certainty what its rules and parameters are.”
Think one step closer to Judgment Day, Skynet and Cyberdyne Systems, except without the cute robots.
• In San Antonio, the Express News reports that H-E-B “will put all of its Austin digital team under one roof and hire hundreds of employees to staff its new digital headquarters there — the latest in a series of big moves this year to bolster the company’s mobile and online operations.”
The plan is to build a “world-class tech facility and innovation lab” that will “consolidate its digital team currently operating in Austin along with Austin-based Favor, the mobile delivery company H-E-B bought for an undisclosed sum earlier this year.”
…with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…
• The Boston Globe reports that Staples has moved “to pull off its biggest acquisition since its play for Office Depot fell apart due to antitrust concerns two years ago,” and has filed documents “with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday, telling Essendant shareholders that they should vote against a competing merger proposal, one that would combine Essendant with Genuine Parts Co.’s S.P. Richards business.”
Staples is arguing that because both Essendant and S.P. Richard both sell office supplies to resellers, a merger would be monopolistic.
In other words, it is hoping that the very regulatory attitude that scuttled one merger in which it was invested will scuttle another one, thus allowing to make another acquisition.
Got the following email from an MNB reader regarding our back-and-forth about baby boomers’ sensitivity not just to getting older, but about what they’ll be called as they get older:
KC, I don't think you are too sensitive about your age at all, and I call BS on the guy who said he calls everyone sir, even a 16 year old boy? He's still a kid, not a sir! Come on now, that not only sounds silly but I'll bet the kid would be taken aback, and think it was odd - I know I would have at that age. At 16 I would have called the gentleman sir, out of respect but in no way would I expect it back!
Another MNB reader wrote:
As one firmly in that category, I thought your analysis on what to call boomers was right on and honestly pretty funny. Sure it is a little surprising when someone calls you sir or you look in the mirror and see all the gray (or missing) hair but unless you let it change the way you think about yourself it makes little difference. It really is about change management isn’t it?
Regarding the story about Geoffrey Owens, the former “Cosby Show” actor who lately has been working at Trader Joe’s to make ends meet between acting gigs, and who got job-shamed because of it, one MNB reader wrote:
This story fascinated me in that people and the media apparently went straight to job shaming without even considering the alternative.
Geoffrey Owens may have been researching a part...?
Awhile back you mentioned trying to adopt a new viewpoint which I'm going to paraphrase as "trying to see both sides of the story" before passing judgement on situations. Many of us were raised with something along that same line in that for one to truly know someone, they must walk a mile in their shoes.
I'm disappointed with the current state of affairs where people don't even think things through before either saying or doing something harmful to another person without caring. I often wonder where it will end but I was also taught to do the right thing whether or not anyone is looking and raised my daughters to do the same thing. One never really knows the impact of a little kindness but hopefully the ripples continue outwards.
Hopefully there are others who will continue to do the same and thanks for letting me vent.
I take your point, but the fact is that Owens wasn’t researching a part, has been up front about why he was working at Trader Joe’s, and much of the media called foul for job-shaming only after certain media outlets made fun of him.
I think there are times when the media jumps a little too quickly. Seems to me that this isn’t one of those times.
Amazon announced that it is expanding its partnership with Sears, in which it provides full-service tire installation and balancing for customers who purchase any brand of tires - including DieHard - on Amazon. It’ll now be available at Sears stores nationwide.
Prompting MNB reader Andy Casey to write:
There are still “Sears stores nationwide”? Who knew.
And, regarding the Starbucks store in Mexico staffed completely by senior citizens, MNB reader Robert Mahon wrote:
That should be done in the USA as well. I ‘d apply.
Me, too. Just not quite yet. Maybe after I’ve been an ossan-for-hire.