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    Published on: February 26, 2019

    by Michael Sansolo

    Compete, we’re fond of saying at MNB, is a verb. More than that, it’s an active verb, especially when companies embrace it as a way to win.

    But winning isn’t easy especially if it feels like the odds are against you in the form of facing larger, financially stronger competition. The truth is that almost every company has some complaint about competition (listen to big companies talk about the challenges of size and public ownership vs. smaller more nimble companies).

    That’s why we need to learn from a competitive strategy launched a few years back at small Grinnell College and this year embraced by Lake Braddock High School in Northern Virginia. The strategy is an attempt by both of those schools to turn around their fortunes in basketball.

    Lake Braddock - a high school that hardly any of you will know - was recently profiled in the Washington Post for its incredibly unexpected success in basketball this year. Lake Braddock has embraced a helter-skelter style of basketball that calls for relentless defense and a high-speed offense that almost entirely uses long-distance three point shots.

    As the team’s coach explained, he was tired of losing games by scores in the 40s and 50s. So he switched his team to a style that best suits his players abilities and frequently results in scores topping 100 points - in high school!

    In fact, nearly every bit of evidence of this being done - according to the Post story - stemmed from teams with long losing records that were simply looking for a new way to win. (If memory serves, this up-tempo style of play was first used at the Content Guy’s alma mater, Loyola Marymount University, back in the late 1980s.)

    Here’s what it shows us. Frequently the competitive battle does seem unfair because of countless factors. So like these basketball teams, we need to find ways of emphasizing our strengths and exploiting competitors’ weaknesses. That might mean focusing on smaller stores, better service, better fresh products or community ties.

    It also means playing offense, and taking the business equivalent of lots of three-point shots.

    Essentially, emphasize what you do best, execute relentlessly and remind consumers (those who actually decide winning and losing) why what you are doing is best. What’s more, de-emphasize those areas where you might lose. If you don’t have the best prices in town, talk values beyond price.

    As always, there’s a great movie line for this. In the first (and only good) Pirates of the Caribbean movie, our hero Will Turner is constantly beaten in duels by the pirate captain Jack Sparrow. At one point, Turner tells Sparrow, “you’d never beat me in a fair fight,” to which Sparrow responds, “that’s hardly incentive to fight fair.”

    Exactly. Look for ways to turn the odds in your favor by emphasizing what you do best. Wage the battle on your terms, not others. Surely it’s not simple, but it’s loads better than losing.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 26, 2019

    The Super Bowl each year gets most of the attention for the innovative commercials interspersed between the plays, but Sunday’s Academy Awards showed that - while the cost of commercial time is about half what it is for the Super Bowl - some advertisers see it as a place for which it makes sense to create some relevant and clever ads.

    Three examples.

    • Google used edited movie clips to demonstrate how its voice activated technology would’ve changed some classic scenes.

    • Walmart highlighted people behind-the-scenes in the movie business as a way of promoting its fashion affordability.

    • Stitch Fix did an excellent job in making its fashion curation business relevant to its shoppers.

    This is all smart stuff, as advertisers realize that it makes sense to give viewers Eye-Openers whenever and wherever it make sense.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 26, 2019

    National Public Radio reports on Walmart’s decision to change the job description for its greeter position, “replacing them with ‘customer hosts,’ who have expanded responsibilities, such as taking care of security or assisting shoppers.” The problem is that this change of responsibilities “appears to disproportionately affect workers with disabilities … the job of greeter has been a particularly attractive fit, as it isn't physically strenuous and is easy to learn.”

    Greeters with disabilities in five states say they expect to lose their jobs: “To qualify for these new host positions, workers must be able to lift 25 pounds, clean up spills, collect carts and stand for long periods of time, among other things — tasks that can be impossible for people with disabilities. Workers say they've been told they must be able to climb a ladder to qualify for some of the other jobs at the store.”

    NPR notes that in a number of these cases, the decision has created an outcry: “The most widely shared story has been in Pennsylvania, where Adam Catlin, a Walmart greeter with cerebral palsy, is facing job loss after 10 years. Almost 4,000 comments have poured onto his mother's Facebook post, which asks people to call Walmart's corporate line to advocate for Catlin's employment.”

    There may also be some legal implications for Walmart. “NPR has also learned of several complaints against Walmart with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as a lawsuit — all by greeters with disabilities who previously lost their jobs after demands changed.”

    Walmart has defended its position. “"We recognize that our associates with physical disabilities face a unique situation,” the company says. “With that in mind, we will be extending the current 60-day greeter transition period for associates with disabilities while we explore the circumstances and potential accommodations, for each individual, that can be made within each store. This allows associates to continue their employment at the store as valued members of the team while we seek an acceptable, customized solution for all of those involved.”
    KC's View:
    Give Walmart credit. It always has been a big employer of people with disabilities. But this is an unforced error, in my view. Sure, it has to the get the most out of its employees, but the money it is spending on these disabled greeters - which cannot be that much in the scheme of things - is an investment that puts a human and compassionate face on the company.

    Let’s be clear. The vast majority of Walmart shoppers have no idea who Doug McMillon or Marc Lore are. But the shoppers at the Walmart storer where Adam Catlin works know who he is … and that ought to be worth a lot.

    Published on: February 26, 2019

    Axios reports that “genetic testing companies that trace customers' ancestry are amassing huge databases of DNA information, and some are sharing access with law enforcement, drug makers and app developers.” The story points out that “there are now more than 50 DNA-testing kit services on the market,” and they are doing enough business that “MIT Technology Review predicts more than 100 million people may be part of commercial genetic databases within the next two years.”

    The story notes that “commercial DNA-testing services aren't specifically covered by federal privacy rules, such as HIPAA, because they aren't health providers or insurers. They are subject to the FTC's protections around privacy disclosures, as well as some FDA standards for how data is used in drug and medical device research.

    “But protections can get murky when genomic data is used for human-subject medical research or for treatment…”

    This isn’t just theoretical: “ and 23andMe - the largest companies that, combined, have DNA data of 15 million users - both share anonymized genetic data with outside researchers and companies.” Kathy Hibbs, 23andMe's chief legal and regulatory officer, tells Axios that this sharing can speed up vital drug development, that its customers are asked if they want to opt in, and that "it's not individual data that's interesting for research - it’s the ability to look at large groups of people to see what's unique. It's the aggregate data, not individual data, that's meaningful.”
    KC's View:
    This story struck me as interesting because it underlines the whole privacy issue; it is critical for businesses to take customer privacy very seriously.

    I don’t mind my DNA being used for medical research purposes, but I do want to be asked. I’m less thrilled with the idea that law enforcement will have access to my DNA, even though I haven’t done anything wrong … it just strikes me as intrusive.

    Same goes for my specific shopper data.

    Published on: February 26, 2019

    Forbes reports that analysts seem to have reached an informal consensus - Starbucks is likely to be “the first big chain to launch a line of cannabis-infused drinks.”

    According to the story, “Cowan released a 100-page document detailing its analysis of the CBD market on Monday. The group thinks that CBD will reach $16 billion in retail sales by 2025 and that we’re likely to see cannabis, specifically, CBD, make its way into other products down the line well.”

    The report goes on: “Should the regulation of CBD oil as an additive to food/beverage change or craft/independent coffee shops find a way to comply with the existing regulation, we could envision Starbucks ultimately piloting the ingredient.”
    KC's View:
    Seems like a safe bet … this would be totally on brand for Starbucks.

    Though I wonder how how the company would develop guardrails to make sure that some people in certain circumstances cannot buy it. Truck drivers on the road, for that matter. Or any drivers on any road.

    Because if it serving of cannabis-infused coffee causes public safety issues, Starbucks could have some serious legal exposure.

    Published on: February 26, 2019

    …with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Roadie, a crowdsourced delivery company, has raised $37 million in new funding, including an unspecified investment from Home Depot.

    The story notes that “the Atlanta-based startup has been providing same-day delivery services through its ‘on-the-way’ model, which uses an app to tap into drivers already on the road. Roadie delivers orders for retailers such as Home Depot and Walmart Inc., shuttles delayed luggage to Delta Air Lines Inc. travelers and handles personal deliveries for everyday users of its app.”

    Roadie launched in 2014 and it says that “it has more than 120,000 drivers across all 50 U.S. states using its app, and it can deliver same day to 89% of U.S. households.”

    In other words, Uber for stuff. It sounds like an interesting model, though if I buy something from Home Depot, say, online, and then am having it delivered, I’m not thrilled with the idea of some random person dropping it off. This isn one of the reasons that Amazon is investing in its own delivery infrastructure - retailers need to own the experience, and cannot afford to lose control of it.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 26, 2019

    …with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    VC Circle reports that Walmart Labs has acqui-hired Bengaluru-based data annotation startup Dataturks.

    Just to unpack that statement a bit…

    When a company acqui-hires another one, the story notes, that’s when “a company is acquired for the skills of its workforce rather than its products or services.”

    The Dataturks team apparently has an expertise in enabling “teams to annotate text and image data using machine learning.,” and they now will join Walmart Labs’ merchant technology team.

    Bengaluru is the official name for Bangalore, which is the capital city of the Indian state of Karnataka.

    You probably knew what an “acqui-hire” is, and that Bengaluru is the same as Bangalore. But I didn’t, and figured I shouldn’t assume anything.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 26, 2019

    …with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    • Ahold Delhaize-owned Giant Food Stores of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, announced that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has approved its acquisition of five corporately-owned Shop ‘n Save locations from United Natural Foods Inc.-owned Supervalu.

    The stores - two in West Virginia and one each in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania - all will be closed for a week while they are converted to Giant’s Martin’s Food Markets format, reopening on April 5.

    The original acquisition, pending FTC approval, was announced last November.

    • The Democrat & Chronicle reports that Wegmans, as it continues its expansion down the eastern seaboard, plans to open its first store in Delaware, in Greenville, near Wilmington, probably in 2022. The store will be in a mixed-use development and, according to the company, “will measure around 115,000 square feet and include "all the bells and whistles of our newest stores.”

    I assume that this will be Wegmans’ only Delaware store. At 115,000 square feet, it will be almost as big as the whole state.

    • The National Grocers Association (NGA) announced the establishment of the Peter J. Larkin Award for Community Service in honor of Larkin’s planned retirement at the end of the year; it will be presented annually “to an independent retailer or wholesaler for his or her dedication and commitment to the communities he or she serves,” NGA said.

    The announcement was made at the annual NGA Show in San Diego.

    • Dwayne Campbell, of Hy-Vee defeated 23 other best baggers from across the country to claim a grand prize of $10,000 at the annual Best Bagger Championship held at the NGA Show in San Diego.
    Elissa Chambliss of Buehler’s Fresh Foods in Ohio was awarded second place and a $5,000 cash prize. Justin Vera of ShopRite in Delaware was awarded third place, Tyler Haselkamp of Coborn’s Inc in Minnesota was awarded fourth place, and Jake Waid of Nugget Market in California was awarded fifth place.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 26, 2019

    • Bashas has hired Barry Craft, who has a career with stops at retailers such as Bruno’s, Schwegmann, H-E-B and Fiesta, to be its new vice president of marketing, merchandising and procurement. Craft will succeed Phil Hawkes, who is retiring.

    Reuters reports that Amazon has named Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo, as a member of its board of directors, “making her the second woman to be named to the e-commerce giant’s board this month.

    “Earlier this month, the company named Starbucks Corp’s Chief Operating Officer Rosalind Brewer as a director, the second black woman to serve on its board.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 26, 2019

    Responding to yesterday’s “worth reading” reference to a New York Times story about the value of a living wage, MNB reader Gary A. Narberes wrote:

    At what point, over the past 30 years, did a minimum wage job go from being a springboard for youth to get into the job sector and giving them spending money to a life-sustaining career?

    Never in their wildest dreams did CEO’s for fast food companies and the like begin to think they would be providing jobs to people supporting families who would want and need medical and dental care. 

    I think this is less an issue about a living wage, but an issue on how our education system is failing our population.  Graduating people without skills to function in the real world (not all students are college bound) cause those individuals to reach for “low-hanging fruit” jobs, ie: minimum wage jobs.

    On a different subject, a note from MNB reader Skye Lininger:

    Thanks for the Oscars update. It is instructive to note that all the films listed were only possible because teams from many nations and backgrounds collaborated (see below).

    Best Picture: GreenBook … Based on a true story about friendship and race relations in the South during segregation.

    Best Actress: Olivia Colman, The Favourite … Colman is a British National.

    Best Actor: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody … Malek is the son of Egyptian immigrants and was raised in the Coptic Orthodox Christian faith.

    Best Supporting Actress: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk … King is African American in a movie based on book by famed black author James Baldwin.

    Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Green Book … Ali is now a two-time winning African-American who converted to Islam in 2000.

    Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma … Cuarón is Mexican and lives in London. This is his second Best Director Oscar in 5 years.

    Best Adapted Screenplay: BlacKkKlansman … Spike Lee movie based on a true story about race relations in Colorado during era of KKK.

    Best Original Screenplay: Green Book … See above.

    Best Documentary Feature: Free Solo … Husband (son of Chinese immigrants) and wife (daughter of Hungarian and Chinese immigrants) filmmaking team.

    Best Animated Feature: Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse … Multi-cultural multiverse story about numerous Spider-Men cooperating to save earth in all its dimensions.

    Excellent point.

    In other words, it sort of looked like the world and even the workplace as it actually is. And maybe even as how some would like it to be.
    KC's View: