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    Published on: April 25, 2019

    by Kevin Coupe

    Feargal Quinn, who turned a small chain of supermarkets in Ireland into one of the world’s most influential retail businesses, and who was seen as one of retail’s most innovative and passionate ambassadors, has passed away at age 82. Details about the cause of death have not yet been released, but he had been suffering from a series of health issues over the past few years.

    Feargal - and I’m going to call him by his first name here, because he was my friend of at least 30 years - was a grand man who saw retailing not just in business terms, but also as a kind of public service that, when done well and right, could raise the spirits and improve the lives of the people who worked there and the people sho shopped there.

    His book, “Crowning The Customer,” published in 1990, remains one of the best books ever written about retailing. In it, he talked about how his retailing philosophy was nurtured by his father’s business running what was known as a “holiday camp.” Families would pay one fee and come to the camp for a period of time, and there would be nothing left to sell them - the only goal was to make sure that they had such a good time that when they left, they would turn to his father and book another trip for the following summer. It was, he said, “the boomerang effect,” and he said that this should be the goal of the retail store - to be so good that people would always return. It was, in retrospect, an early definition of what these days is known as “lifetime customer value,” which stands in contrast to a more short-term, transactional mindset.

    “Crowning The Customer,” by the way, is available on Amazon, as are his two other books, “Mind Your Own Business: Survive and Thrive in Good Times and Bad,” and a memoir,

    “Quinntessential Feargal”. Better books about retailing you will be hard-pressed to find.

    I had the great pleasure and privilege of spending time with Feargal over the years, much of it in his stores, where he delighted in spending time walking the aisles and interacting with shoppers at the front end, bagging groceries, charming the children, and acting as if customers were his personal guests. Which, of course, they were.

    Thirty years ago, you could walk into a Superquinn store and walk through the bakery and the seafood department and ‘fruit & veg” and past the meat counter, and see posters with pictures and descriptions of the people who milled the flour and caught the fish and picked the tomatoes and raised the cows. Long before it was cool and trendy, Feargal was thinking about the path between the farm and the table, and was endeavoring to both shorten it and cast light upon it, which he knew would be good for his customers and good for his stores.

    On a regular basis, Feargal and his team of company leaders would venture out into the stores and essentially open the books to the people who worked there. No secrets - he believed that it was important to share the numbers with employees so that they would feel like more than employees, but would feel a sense of ownership, of pride, and would treat customers like guests. Which, of course, they were.

    It was Feargal who decreed that the company’s Dublin offices would never be referred to as “headquarters,” but rather as a “support office,” because this would reinforce where the business was being done and what the priorities should be. (Company employees who called it “headquarters” had to pay a modest fine.)

    It was Superquinn that pioneered the idea of loyalty marketing, which would track and reward customer behavior … that was one of the first companies to test self-checkout … that utilized traceability technology to guarantee meat’s provenance from pasture to plate. Superquinn was doing “meal solutions” long before it was called that, and created “retail theater” and engaged in “experiential marketing” long before these words were bandied around by so-called experts. And it was Superquinn to which so many retailers - at least, anybody of consequence and character and ambition and taste - made pilgrimages over the years, hoping to learn a little something, or maybe just have some of Feargal’s ingenuity rub off on them.

    (I dug some old pics out of the archive, and posted them below.)

    Feargal’s sense of public service extended far beyond his stores. He was extraordinarily active in an organization formerly known as CIES, an alliance of global supermarket executives that was dedicated to educating and enlightening its members, with one-store independents given as much respect and credence as thousand-store chains; the annual summits, in places like Paris and Shanghai and Berlin and London and Dublin were celebrations of out-of-the-box thinking. (Its successor organization, the Consumer Goods Forum, has never caught the same magic or had the same priorities.) He also was active with the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and EuroCommerce - Feargal believed that by sharing ideas and celebrating innovation, it would create the prototypical rising tide that would lift all retail boats.

    His public service efforts also extended into the governmental and political. For a time he was chairman of the Irish post office, engineering innovations (long before email) that helped to reinvigorate a dying system. Even while running Superquinn, Feargal ran for and won a seat on the Irish Senate - Seanad Éireann - in 1993, where he served until 2016; I remember years ago he invited me to join him there and watch him debate, and it is one of those great memories that gave me a different view of his passionate belief in the importance of giving, not taking.

    The Quinn family sold the company in 2005, correctly seeing that it was becoming almost impossible for a small company in Ireland to effectively compete on prices and for real estate. Since that time, Feargal was tireless in his advocacy for small business. He wrote a regular newspaper column and produced (with Anne O’Broin, the amazing woman who worked with him for much of his time at Superquinn, and who he would cheerfully concede was a rock star who helped make him possible) a series of television programs called “Retail Therapy” that helped troubled retailers turn things around. (It was reality television that uplifted, delivered with trademark Feargal style and race.)

    Through all these accomplishments - and I am giving his life short shrift, trust me - Feargal remained quintessentially himself. He always had a kind of impish smile, with a devilish sense of humor. He loved golf. He loved wearing brightly colorful socks (and always wanted to see mine when we’d run into each other … I always disappointed on this score). I’d always get St. Patrick’s Day cards from him. He provided an early review of “The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies,” the book that Michael and I wrote, and offered some guidance and suggestions about my second book, “Retail Rules.”

    I did an interview with Feargal a few years ago, which you can read here. I think you’ll enjoy it, and that it’ll give you a glimpse of what made him so special to so many people. I know that I’ve spent some time this morning looking at the emails that Feargal sent me over the years… always cheerful and optimistic and lively.

    My heart goes out to his family - his wife, Denise … his children, Eamonn, Stephen, Gilliane, Zoe and Donal … and his 19 grandchildren.

    Feargal Quinn was a great man, a grand man, and he was my friend, and I treasure the time I got to spend with him over the years. He will be well and frequently and affectionately eulogized in coming days, by the many people whose lives and businesses he touched and made better.

    This was my modest contribution, a salute to a person who opened my eyes to so much over the years, and who opened his heart to so many.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 25, 2019

    This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either ... they are similar, but not exactly the same. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

    Hi, Kevin Coupe here, and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    During a recent trip to Chicago, it took me about an hour to walk to all of the four Amazon Go stores that have been opened in the city. They’re all pretty closely clustered together, and downtown Chicago isn’t that big.

    One of the things that seems to distinguish these stores from the ones in Seattle and San Francisco is the fact that while they are all in high-traffic areas, they are mostly nestled inside office buildings; one is in a train station. For the most part, they aren’t even open on weekends - one of them is open on Saturday, but the others are strictly Monday-through-Friday affairs …. connected to people’s work lives.

    One of the things that occurred to me while visiting these small Amazon Go stores actually may have been the result of the fact that I was in Chicago attending the Food on Demand Show, and was going from there to attend the Home Delivery World Show … it seems to me that it is entirely possible that one of these days, Amazon may put a Go store on a truck.

    Possible? The more I think about it, the more I think it might even be likely.

    First of all, Amazon is willing to try almost anything. Second, these stores are so small that you might be able to get a lot of the merchandise that they carry onto a decent-sized van. Third, Amazon says it wants to make it easy for people to buy stuff … and it doesn’t get much easier than having an Amazon Go store in your driveway, especially if you are a Prime customer and Amazon knows what you’ve bought or almost bought, and can extrapolate from that information what you might buy.

    To be clear, I have no inside information on this. I’m just speculating … guessing, really. It just seems like a natural extension, Jeff Bezos likes to take chances, and I think putting Amazon Go on wheels could be an iteration we’ll see down the line.

    Which makes me wonder if retailers competing with Amazon - which is pretty much everyone - ought to be thinking the same way … figuring out how to go to the consumer in new ways that haven’t yet been tried.

    Anyway, that’s what is on my mind this morning, and as always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 25, 2019

    Bloomberg follows up on recent stories about how Amazon employees actually are listening selectively to people using its Alexa-powered system as a way to improve voice recognition capabilities with a new report saying that the same team “has access to location data and can, in some cases, easily find a customer’s home address.”

    According to the story, “Team members with access to Alexa users’ geographic coordinates can easily type them into third-party mapping software and find home residences, according to the employees, who signed nondisclosure agreements barring them from speaking publicly about the program.

    “While there’s no indication Amazon employees with access to the data have attempted to track down individual users, two members of the Alexa team expressed concern to Bloomberg that Amazon was granting unnecessarily broad access to customer data that would make it easy to identify a device’s owner.”

    Amazon responded to the original stories by saying that “employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow.” But now, Amazon has elaborated, saying that “access to internal tools is highly controlled, and is only granted to a limited number of employees who require these tools to train and improve the service by processing an extremely small sample of interactions. Our policies strictly prohibit employee access to or use of customer data for any other reason, and we have a zero tolerance policy for abuse of our systems. We regularly audit employee access to internal tools and limit access whenever and wherever possible.”
    KC's View:
    I am distressed by what appears to be a lack of transparency and forthrightness by Amazon … the perception of a drip, drip, drip of information seems more like Facebook, and not good for business.

    I believe Amazon - I think - but they are mishandling this. (I’m not entirely surprised by the fact that Alexa knows where I am… when I ask what the weather is, she tells me about my town.)

    I accept that if machines actually are going to learn and get smarter, I may need to participate in this process, and that there could be tradeoffs.

    But let me make that decision, one way or the other. Transparency matters, and in this care, I don’t think Amazon lived up to my expectations.

    Published on: April 25, 2019

    The proposed merger between Walmart-owned Asda and Sainsbury, which would have created the largest supermarket chain in the UK with a 30+ percent market share, has been blocked by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

    The CMA said that if the merger went through, it would result in higher prices and longer lines.

    The BBC this morning says that “Sainsbury's boss Mike Coupe said the regulator was ‘effectively taking £1bn out of customers' pockets.’

    “But he said the supermarkets had agreed to end the deal.

    “Asda boss Roger Burnley said he was disappointed: ‘We were right to explore the potential merger with Sainsbury's, which would have delivered great benefits for customers and supported the long term, sustainable success of our business’.”

    The BBC writes that “Sainsbury's and Asda had said the planned tie-up would have cut their costs, allowing them to lower prices for consumers across the UK. Analysts also believed it was designed to help the two supermarkets counter the rise of discounters Aldi and Lidl in the increasingly competitive grocery market.” The two companies had agreed to sell a number of stores and guarantee price cuts as a way of getting the deal through, but the CMA remained unconvinced.
    KC's View:
    Both companies now have to figure how to develop strategies based on a) being independent and b) competing with each other … which is kind of hard considering how much time they’ve spent talking about they are worse off this way. Plus, Walmart almost certainly will be looking to sell Asda to somebody, since it clearly wanted out of the UK.

    I’m thinking Eddie Lampert will make a bid.

    Published on: April 25, 2019

    It used to be something of a truism that if a mall had a Tesla dealership and an Apple Store, it had a much better odds of being successful.

    Now, 9to5Mac has a story about a new study suggesting that things ain’t what they used to be.

    “Analytics firm Thasos says that foot traffic at US malls has been dropping since last August, except for a small uptick during the holidays,” the story says. “Meanwhile, data from Coresight shows that almost 6,000 retail stores have closed so far in 2019, more than the amount during all of 2018.

    Notably, strong brands like Apple and Tesla are often believed by landlords to increase consumer traffic and are given better deals on leases. However, Thasos’ latest data shows that hasn’t been the case lately and that landlords are likely overpaying for brands like Apple and Tesla.

    His firm found malls with so-called experiential tenants that aren’t just focused on selling products, like Apple, Italian food hall Eataly and Tesla, haven’t been drawing in extra traffic.”
    KC's View:
    It was less than a year ago that we had a story about how former JC Penney CEO Mike Ullman, at a conference on economic disruption, disputed projections from some quarters that roughly 25 percent of the nation’s 1,200 malls will close because of online competition and shifting consumer shopping habits. It will, Ullman said, be much worse - and he expected only 300 malls might actually survive … and they’d be the nones with either an Apple Store or a Tesla store. Or, preferably, both.

    Just goes to show how fast things are changing.

    Published on: April 25, 2019

    CNBC reports that “McDonald’s is teaming up with AARP and the AARP Foundation to hire more older workers.

    “The partnership will mean that all U.S. job postings from the fast-food giant will be featured on AARP’s job board. With the AARP Foundation, McDonald’s U.S. division is also piloting a program in five states to match McDonald’s and any franchisees who opt into the program with older Americans looking for jobs.”

    While McDonald’s has long pitched itself as a great first job for young people, it has found that such employees are in short supply and don’t have the kind of flexibility it needs in terms of hours and availability. “The Chicago-based company is also dealing with a tight labor market as it gears up to hire 250,000 people this summer,” the story says. “So instead, McDonald’s is turning to a demographic eager for jobs: baby boomers.”
    KC's View:
    So if this whole MNB thing goes south, I can make a living saying, “Would you like fries with that?”

    Okay. I could do that. And apparently, I’m in their target demographic.

    Published on: April 25, 2019

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

    Bloomberg reports that McDonald’s is likely to be expanding its roster of delivery service providers, as it negotiates lower rates with Uber Eats, which to now has an exclusive with the fast feeder.

    According to the story, “Ending McDonald’s exclusive deal with Uber Technologies Inc. would open a window for other popular providers like DoorDash Inc. and GrubHub Inc. It’s a sensitive time for Uber, whose initial public offering is expected next month.” The exclusive deal started in 2017, when McDonald’s “announced that it would rely exclusively on Uber Technologies Inc. to handle the service that it’s been expanding across its 14,000 U.S. locations. At the time, the company described delivery as a $100 billion market that would help it reignite sales.”

    Benzinga reports that Amazon has confirmed that it “will close fulfillment centers in four states to retrofit them for other purposes, a move that will displace thousands of employees, and could lead to their departure from Amazon … the facilities to be closed are called ‘Amazon Robotics Quick Deploy,’ which handle small items and use Kiva orange robots that move shelves of goods to human pickers. The centers, located in California, Illinois, New Jersey and Texas, will be re-designed for use as sorting centers, Amazon Fresh delivery hubs and print-on-demand book sites, according to the report. An Amazon spokesperson told Yahoo that it has determined that various facilities are now better suited to handle different types of inventory than they have in the past.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 25, 2019

    Reuters reports that Walmart is going direct with its purchase of Angus beef sold in some of its stores, taking control of the supply chain to a large extent and creating a higher level of transparency.

    The story points out that “normally, Walmart would buy Angus beef from companies like Tyson Foods Inc and Cargill Inc. Walmart has now arranged to source cattle from Texas rancher Bob McClaren of Prime Pursuits and 44 Farms, who said the retailer will sell no-hormones-added Black Angus beef.

    “The cattle will be fed at a feedyard that specializes in avoiding hormones, slaughtered in Kansas and packaged in Georgia before the beef hits shelves in about 500 Walmart stores in the southeastern United States.”

    Scott Neal, Walmart’s senior vice president of meat, says that “having visibility to the end-to-end process lets us know we are helping our customers bring a consistently great piece of meat to their table every time they buy with us.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 25, 2019

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

    • Albertsons announced yesterday that it generated $14 billion during the fourth quarter, the same amount of revenue that it reported for the same period a year ago - though it closed almost 50 stores over the past year, which meant that the stores that remained had a better year.

    BoiseDev notes that “the company actually had a smaller net profit in the quarter of $135.6 million – versus $388.3 million in the fourth quarter of last year,” though last year’s high number was mostly as result of the then-new tax cuts.

    In addition, Albertsons “saw an increase of 52% in its ecommerce sales in the fourth quarter, and a jump of 83% for the full year. “

    A nice way for Jim Donald to end his tenure as the company’s president/CEO; he steps down today to become co-chairman of the board, and is being succeeded by Vivek Sankaran, the former CEO of PepsiCo Foods North America and a former partner at McKinsey and Company.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 25, 2019

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 25, 2019

    Hooray for Hollywood! This podcast comes to you from GMDC’s Retail Tomorrow Immersion conference in Los Angeles, which may have more storytellers per capita than any other place on earth. With visits to Google’s new campus in Playa Vista, in the converted hangar where Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose once resided, and to some of the most interesting and experiential retail spaces in the city, this conference also featured several sessions that, now as podcasts, bring this fascinating content to you.

    First up - a discussion of disruptive storytelling - told through stores, pop-ups and, coming soon, AI and VR - that is changing the way marketers connect with and influence existing and potential customers.

    Our guests:

    • Cody Rapp, CEO of Calmist, a fascinating and growth-focused retail concept recently featured on MorningNewsBeat.

    • Lori Schwartz, founder of Tech Cat, which helps marketers shape their narratives in a fast-evolving environment.

    • Amanda Solosky, co-founder/CEO at Rival Theory, which is developing game-changing AI capabilities that definitely will impact the relationship marketers have with shoppers.

    • And Mariya Zorotovich, director of Responsive Retail Strategy and Incubation, at Intel Corporation, which helps to make all this possible.

    The host: Kevin Coupe, MorningNewsBeat’s “Content Guy.”

    You can listen to the podcast here, or on iTunes ands Google Play.

    Pictured, from left to right:

    Kevin Coupe, Mariya Zorotovich, Amanda Solosky, Cody Rapp, Lori Schwartz.

    KC's View: