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    Published on: October 19, 2018

    by Kevin Coupe

    Yesterday, in my FaceTime commentary, I offered a tongue in cheek proposal:

    I’m pretty sure it has legs, could be an enormously powerful and revenue-generating idea, and could make me millions, if not billions. The name of the company will be Front End Systems Global, and here’s how it will work. I’m going to be in the business of hiring front end store personnel - I’m going to hire all the people, pay their wages, and provide them with as little health care and benefits as I can get away with. Then, retail stores can come to me and outsource all their front end needs - they’ll never have to hire a checkout person again, and can take all those expenses right off their books. I’ll handle all the scheduling, all the HR. Retailers will see me as a godsend.

    Even better, I will be able to build efficiencies because when I go into a market, I’ll hopefully be able to get three, four five companies as clients, so I can move people around as needed. The people who work in store A on Mondays and Wednesdays might work at store B on Tuesdays and Fridays, and store C on Saturdays - it’ll all depend on how I schedule them, and who is available.

    The punch line was this:

    Because I’m moving front end personnel from store to store and chain to chain, I’ve essentially managed to level the playing field for all these companies, eliminating any differential advantage they might be able to achieve in the one place in the store where employees actually interact with shoppers.

    In other words, a crappy idea - at least for retailers. And then I compared it to Instacart’s business model.

    Well, while my tongue was decidedly in my cheek when I made this proposal, apparently I wasn’t that removed from reality.

    The Financial Times yesterday reported that Uber is working on a similar proposal.


    Uber, the story said, “is developing a new short-term staffing business, dubbed Uber Works, that would help to diversify its business ahead of next year’s planned initial public offering. Uber hopes to apply its ‘on-demand’ model and large database of contractors to provide a temporary workforce for events and corporate functions, such as waiters or security guards.”

    The story goes on:

    “While some on-demand workforce companies such as TaskRabbit have offered an extra pair of hands to consumers to help with house cleaning or building flat-packed furniture, Uber Works is pitched as a business-to-business service, like Uber Freight.

    “The effort could also help to retain Uber’s drivers — which the company calls ‘partners’ — by offering alternative sources of income. Drivers on the Uber ride-hailing network can already opt to deliver food for Eats customers.”

    Okay, this isn’t exactly what I was suggesting, but it is pretty damned close. And it isn’t hard to imagine Uber extending itself into the retail front end arena. It would be a natural move.

    It also would be smart, especially as it drives to drive up its IPO value, for Uber. But not smart for retailers looking to differentiate themselves in customer-facing roles that ought to be of a much higher priority.

    Still, the FT piece was pretty Eye-Opening.

    One other thing. Just FYI, I recorded that FaceTime video more than a month ago … I just never had a chance to use it because of other subjects and opportunities that intervened.

    Like I said. Just call me Nostradamus.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 19, 2018

    by Kevin Coupe

    ORLANDO - Yesterday, at the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Fresh Summit here, I had the opportunity to occupy the main stage with Leslie Odom, Jr., the Tony and Grammy award winning actor who originated the part of Aaron Burr in the groundbreaking original production of “Hamilton.”

    It was an unusual concept, for which I give PMA enormous credit - looking at the subject of innovation, disruption, diversity and storytelling through the prism of art and culture, as opposed to business, and finding metaphors and lessons in unexpected places. We were joined in the session by Stuart K. Robinson, an author and motivational speaker who also has served as a kind of life and career coach for Odom.

    (That’s us in the picture at left - Leslie Odom Jr. is on the right, Stuart K. Robinson is on the left.)

    It ends up that there were tons of lessons to be learned…

    One of the most interesting stories of the session was when Odom - who had experienced a good deal of career success to that point - talked about six years ago feeling unfulfilled and considering a career change out of acting. He talked to Robinson about it, who responded, “You can quit if you want to, but it would be nice if you actually tried first.”

    “What do you do when the phone doesn’t ring (for an audition or job)?” Odom said Robinson asked him. “What are you doing for yourself to make or create or get yourself in there when the phone isn’t working?” It was a career revelation for him, he said, to realize that he had to be more responsible for his own happiness and fulfillment. And, Odom said, he hasn’t stopped working since.

    (All I could think about when listening to this story was, where was Robinson when I needed him a long, long time ago?)

    Odom also talked about the importance of collaboration in the development of “Hamilton,” and how the team that put it together over the long haul to Broadway was the best team he’d ever worked with, with every person in the process responsible for the final product.

    Robinson and Odom also talked about the importance of mentorship, and finding inspiration in unexpected places - the person you might talk to on an elevator, the child who just naturally has all the right priorities - and of keeping one’s eyes and heart open to a plethora of experiences.

    Interestingly, there were some thematic connections to an earlier session, entitled “Today’s Disruptions, Tomorrow’s Opportunities,” that used a science-focused prism to explore the subject. Moderated by Greg Williams, editor of Wired and featuring Georgia Tech professor Dr. Jaydev Desai (an expert in medical robotics) and inventor Dr. Andrew Pelling (who runs an Ottawa incubator and technology lab), the revelation here was how important it is to put people of varying talents together and allow them to explore their passions, to ask questions, and be rigorous in looking for answers.

    Pelling talked about he often challenges himself by fishing stuff out of the trash and figuring out how to turn it into some sort of medical device, and even once created an offshoot of his lab that only focused on projects that he’s absolutely sure will fail.

    This completely connects to “Hamilton,” a show that was unprecedented in its approach to history and historical figures, making us seen them through different eyes because they were portrayed onstage as never before. “Hamilton” should’ve failed, if you think of it in the context of successful Broadway shows that are either based on Disney movies or are jukebox musicals. But it didn’t … and in fact, it soared.

    And, speaking of soaring … as we wrapped up our session, Odom treated us to two songs … an a cappella version of “Forever Young,” from which he segued into “Dear Theodosia,” from “Hamilton.” He brought the house down … and it was one of the best sessions of which I’ve been a part. Indeed, it really was the room where it happened.

    KC's View:

    Published on: October 19, 2018

    Amazon has opened pop-up stores in four Whole Foods stores around the country, as it further strengthens its ties with the food retailer. The stores essentially offer a wide variety of connected home solutions sold by Amazon, and are similar to those operated in a number of Kohl’s stores around the country.

    The Whole Foods featuring the Amazon installations are in Pasadena, California; Davie, Florida; Denver; and Chicago.

    Thanks to Patrick Spear, CEO of GMDC, for alerting MNB to these installations and contributing the pictures of the Pasadena store.

    KC's View:
    Smart. Inevitable. A natural fit. Choose your adjectives.

    Want to get a sense of Amazon’s commitment to physical retail of various kinds? Go to this page on Amazon’s site to see how many there are … and this list doesn’t include all the Whole Foods stores around the country that hold the potential to sell Amazon products, or the six existing Amazon Go stores.

    Published on: October 19, 2018

    The New York Times has an interesting story about how the automobile of the future are likely to feature “powerful communication technology” built into their dashboards, changing the ways in which drivers and passengers interact with the world while in the car.

    One of the benefits of this technology, the story suggests, is that it will “usher in a range of conveniences. These may include offering drivers options for fuel, food and lodging, perhaps with a bit of a hard sell thrown in.”

    In fact, it already exists.

    The Times writes that “since December, GM has equipped about 3 million cars with an in-dash system it calls Marketplace. The free-to-use system communicates directly with merchants, enabling a driver or passengers to order and pay for a variety of products and services without a cellphone … Marketplace interacts with GM’s infotainment system and establishes a dialogue with the car owner. For example, if the car is running low on fuel, Marketplace can provide directions to the nearest gas station. The system allows drivers to sign up for the vendor’s reward program and can point the way to discounted gas. There is no need to swipe a credit card at the pump, because Marketplace handles the transaction and turns on the pump.”

    Vendors engaged in GM’s Marketplace reportedly include Starbucks, McDonald’s, Shell, Exxon Mobil, Dunkin’ Donuts, Applebee’s,, IHOP, Parkopedia, Priceline, Wingstop, TGI Fridays, Office Depot and Yelp (for restaurant reservations).

    One caveat: “Many owners of cars equipped with Marketplace probably don’t even know it’s available. Only about 75,000 people have signed on, and it’s not mentioned in any car manuals. GM wanted to allow time for refinement and for lining up more merchants, but is now starting to promote the system to consumers.”
    KC's View:
    Just another glimpse into a future that is coming faster and more relentlessly than many companies are prepared for … but should start thinking about now. Because as these kinds of technologies gain traction, companies will need to be ready to get on the fast track, or be relegated to the slow lane, which is not a sustainable strategy.

    Published on: October 19, 2018

    • The New York Times reports that while Amazon has not yet announced the location of its second North American headquarters, dubbed HQ2, “that hasn’t stopped investors, economic officials and developers from trying to reverse engineer the HQ2 search, to understand what a company seen as embodying the future wants and needs, and what local governments should do to be part of that future.

    “The growing consensus is that the place that checks the most boxes is Northern Virginia. In online betting forums, it has the best odds of landing the project. Analysts at Citi recently said most investors they spoke with also expected HQ2 to end up in the Washington area, noting that Northern Virginia is home to Amazon’s cloud computing division’s ‘largest and fastest-growing office outside of Seattle’.”

    Indeed, the story says that all signs seem to be pointing toward Crystal City, which offers “good transit, diverse residents, a friendly business climate and a single developer with a big chunk of land.”

    Amazon has pledged to announce the location before the end of the year.

    • E-commerce and digital media company MyWebGrocer has been sold by California private equity group HGGC LLC to Miami-based Mi9 Retail, which describes itself as “a leading provider of end-to-end software solutions for retailers, wholesalers, and brands.”

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    According to the announcement, “The addition of MWG enhances the Mi9 Retail suite, giving the company an entrée into the grocery vertical and positioning Mi9 even more aggressively within fast moving consumer goods (FMCG).  The MWG solution bolsters the existing Mi9 offering with new e-commerce, order management (OMS), and click-and-collect functionality.  Additionally, MWG customers will benefit from the broader Mi9 suite of demand management, price and promotions management, and retail analytics solutions.”

    Full disclosure: MyWebGrocer has been a longtime and valued MNB sponsor.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 19, 2018

    • At the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Fresh Summit in Orlando, Joe Pezzini, president and CEO of Ocean Mist Farms, received the 2018 Robert L. Carey Leadership Award, while Dave Corsi, vice president of produce & floral for Wegmans, received the 2018 Bryan E. Silbermann Collaboration Award.

    The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Target has achieved “a long-elusive milestone” - it has opened a store in Vermont, which means it now has at least one store in all 50 states.

    The store, a 60,000 square foot “small-format” unit in South Burlington, “will have groceries, the usual assortment of Target goods and a Starbucks. It also will be the first store in the northeast to have a drive-up, where shoppers can order online and have their goods brought to them.”

    • The New York Times reports that StarKist has pleaded guilty “to one felony charge of price fixing for its role in a broad conspiracy to rig the price of canned and ready-to-eat tuna, the Justice Department said. The company faces a fine of up to $100 million for forcing shoppers to pay inflated prices from at least November 2011 through December 2013, the Justice Department said.

    StarKist is an American subsidiary of Dongwon Industries of South Korea.

    • The Associated Press reports that after several years of stagnating business, Starbucks is restructuring its European operations.

    According to the story, Starbucks “is selling 83 company-owned stores in France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg to its longtime partner, Alsea.

    “Alsea will also provide services to 177 other Starbucks locations in those countries which are owned by franchisees;” it already operates more than 900 Starbucks stores in Mexico and South America.

    • The Daily Meal reports that Starbucks next week will open its third Princi bakery location, in New York City’s theater district, selling “coffee, food, beer, wine, pizza, and dessert.”

    The first two in the US are in Seattle and Chicago; Italian artisan baker Rocco Princi has six stand-alone shops in Milan and London, and Starbucks has licensed the concept for the US.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 19, 2018

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Coca-Cola has named Brian Smith, president of the company’s Europe, Middle East and Africa unit, as its new COO/president. The story notes that CEO James Quincey, who took over from Muhtar Kent, had not named a number two until now..

    Coca-Cola also said that CFO Kathy Waller will retire next year, and be succeeded by John Murphy, currently president of Coke’s Asia Pacific group.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 19, 2018

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 19, 2018

    The Boston Red Sox are going to the World Series, having defeated the Houston Astros 4-1 to win the best-of-seven AL Championship Series 4-1. The Sox will play the winner of the Los Angeles Dodgers-Milwaukee Brewers NL Championship Series, in which the Dodgers hold a 3-2 series lead.

    In Thursday Night Football, the Denver Broncos defeated the Arizona Cardinals 45-10.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 19, 2018

    First Man, the new movie written by Josh Singer (Spotlight, The Post) and directed y Damien Chazelle (La La Land) about Neil Armstrong, the first man to step on the moon’s surface, is a counterintuitive approach to the subject. Unlike The Right Stuff, which is a big, sweeping, uplifting movie that remains one of my favorite films ever, First Man is a highly interior movie. There are few big shots of rockets breaking the surly bonds of earth; rather, the camera stays inside the various capsules, experiencing the moment from the inside. You realize how primitive the technology was, and how brave the early astronauts were to ride inside capsules that seemed highly unlikely to hold together.

    Armstrong is not portrayed by Ryan Gosling as an explorer with big dreams and ambitions; he’s a science nerd trying to solve what essentially is a math problem. And, he’s an emotionally repressed nerd; early in the movie, he and his wife (played by Claire Foy, fabulous as she shoulders the emotional weight of the relationship and the movie) bury their daughter, who has died of cancer. From that point on, Armstrong seems to exist only in his head, because his heart has been so severely broken.

    What this does is add up to a movie that I liked very much, but found hard to connect with … I realized in retrospect that this in part is because movies about exploration - from The Right Stuff to Star Trek - have trained us to think about space travel in terms of a grand adventure, while First Man suggests that in some ways the most treacherous trip Armstrong takes is the one that has him navigating his own emotions.

    There are some great business lessons from the movie, the best coming from a line delivered by Armstrong after he’s survived the crash of a test vehicle. His NASA superiors seem to be concerned about how the failures they’re having, but he’s resolute: “We have to fail down here,” he says, “so we don’t fail up there.”

    Good one.

    I’ve seen the first episode of “The Romanoffs,” the new Amazon series from “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner. It is an ambitious series - eight episodes, each one self contained with as different cast, with the only connective link being that characters in each believe that they are descended from the Russian royal family. Amazon released the first two episodes at the same time, and now is dropping one new one a week.

    Episode one, ‘The Violet Hour,” takes place in Paris, and focuses on an aging woman and her nephew, and how their relationship is complicated by the hiring of a Muslim woman to be the aunt’s new caregiver. This also is a case of a story being told from an emotional distance, though I really loved the performances of Marthe Keller (Marathon Man, Black Sunday as the woman, and Inès Melab as the caregiver.

    I don’t love ‘The Romanoffs” yet … but I’m intrigued enough by the premise and the structure to give more episodes a shot.

    I have a lovely Oregon wine to recommend to you this week - the Primarius 2015 Reserve Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley - which I had with blackened swordfish and sweet potato hash. Yum.

    That’s it for this week.

    Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

    KC's View: