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    Published on: May 28, 2019

    by Kevin Coupe

    There was an Eye-Opening story in the Washington Post over the weekend about how the state of Nevada has become “the nation’s first majority-female state legislature,” which has meant that “the male old guard has been shaken up by the perspectives of female lawmakers. Bills prioritizing women’s health and safety have soared to the top of the agenda. Mounting reports of sexual harassment have led one male lawmaker to resign. And policy debates long dominated by men, including prison reform and gun safety, are yielding to female voices.”

    The story says that “the female majority is having a huge effect: More than 17 pending bills deal with sexual assault, sex trafficking and sexual misconduct, with some measures aimed at making it easier to prosecute offenders. Bills to ban child marriage and examine the causes of maternal mortality are also on the docket.” And one longtime legislator - a woman, Teresa Benitez-Thompson, now the Assembly Majority Leader, says confidently that before now, “"None of these bills would have seen the light of day.”

    This is not a story about politics. Not really.

    For the record, it isn’t just Democrats. GOP Assemblywoman Jill Tolles tells the Post that Republican women “share a lot of common ground and lived experiences with Democratic women.”

    The Post notes that “no other legislature has achieved that milestone in U.S. history. Only Colorado comes close, with women constituting 47 percent of its legislators. In Congress, just one in four lawmakers is a woman.”

    But the Eye-Opening point, I think, has less to do with politics and more to do with how institutions change when perspectives change … and how people who have defended the old way of doing things have to be prepared for the fact that no matter where they work, to quote the old Sam Cooke song, “A change is gonna come.”

    This applies to leaders of organizations that have not embraced institutional diversity as a way of becoming more relevant to customers. It applies to organizations that have not changed the way they do business to adjust for a population that is more and more becoming dominated by women - strong women with skills and convictions.

    “There’s change in this building that is just this amazing story of transformation,” Assemblywoman Heidi Swank tells the Post, “and it really highlights the importance of the female majority being not just here, but finally being heard.”

    And leading. That’s the Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 28, 2019

    Bloomberg reports that while Walmart has pursued a legal strategy that “has managed to toss out allegations of pay discrimination brought by potentially thousands of women over the last decade,” mostly through a divide-and-conquer approach, it now “is being hit with a new round of individual pay bias lawsuits, alleging the same claims.”

    “Since February 2019,” the story says, “at least 13 individual lawsuits have been brought against Walmart, symbolizing a strategy shift by lawyers who represent the employees making the allegations. More are on the way, according to Cohen Milstein partner Christine Webber, who is serving as a litigation quarterback of sorts.”

    Bloomberg goes on: “Plaintiffs’ attorneys across several states are now getting creative, pursuing curated individual claims against Walmart, after the Supreme Court nixed a class of about 1.5 million women in 2011 and effectively blocked smaller regional class actions against the company with a June 2018 decision in an unrelated securities case.

    “Most of those classes were shot down as courts questioned the timeliness of the claims or the certification requirements for each class. Walmart also settled with many of the named plaintiffs in the cases representing many workers.”

    The current claims, according to the story, “which date back to 2001, are legally timely because of a procedural grace period; their statute of limitations was paused as the case made its way to the high court. Individual plaintiffs then filed their cases with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has been investigating the claims before issuing right-to-sue letters—a process required before workers can bring private litigation against an employer. Now, the lawsuits are being filed.”
    KC's View:
    Lots of smoke, and Walmart’s ongoing position seems to be that while there may be the occasional brushfire, there’s nothing bigger than that, nothing to really worry about.

    While I understand Walmart’s legal strategy, I’ve always thought that it would’ve been nice to have at least one major class action against the company that would’ve created a fair and even playing field for the plaintiffs, to whom I am extremely sympathetic. It sounds now like the plaintiff community may have come up with a way to marshal their forces in a way that satisfies the courts but can continue to raise legitimate questions and challenge the status quo.

    Published on: May 28, 2019

    Switzerland-based Swatch Group has decided that it is time for a new retail approach.

    Bloomberg reports that the company - which shook up the Swiss watch world years ago by creating an affordable, fashion-forward brand - “is setting up a drive-through store where it will sell products from its namesake label packed in burger boxes and brown paper bags.”

    The store will be next to the company’s headquarters in Biel, Switzerland, but “while Swatch plans just one drive-through site in the out-of-the-way city for now, the move shows how the brand is trying to inject novelty into the buying process. After years of insisting that customers prefer the boutique experience before splurging, Swiss watchmakers have been revamping retail networks as consumers increasingly search for and buy products online.”

    One thing that has been changing: “Companies have … been cutting out middlemen, focusing more on their own stores and keeping a bigger part of the profit for themselves.”
    KC's View:
    Really interesting approach by Swatch, pushing the limits on what it thinks may be possible and what shoppers will accept. It may not work, but if it does … it will have pushed retailing forward a bit.

    Also, I’m intrigued by the whole “disintermediate the middlemen” strategy, about which I think a lot of retailers in a lot of categories ought to be concerned. If retailers are not perceived by consumers and suppliers as bringing something important - even critical - to the table, then I don’t think they will; end up having much of a shelf life.

    There are just too many ways to go around them.

    Published on: May 28, 2019

    Interesting piece in the Washington Post about how JC Penney, like many retailers, “has failed its most loyal shopper: the middle-aged, middle-income mom of middle America. Analysts say retailers, caught up in a millennial-chasing frenzy, have invested heavily in new store formats and trendy brand partnerships,” which has both made middle-aged, middle-income moms “feel unwelcome” while “eating into companies’ bottom lines.”

    Part of the problem, analysts tell the Post, “is economic. Rising inequality and stagnant wages have squeezed middle-class Americans, leaving them with less disposable income to spend on clothing and housewares. As a result, they are trading down from department stores to chains such as Target, Walmart and T.J. Maxx, where business is booming.”

    But companies like Penney and Kohl’s and Dress Barn find themselves sinking in the mushy middle, with expectations that tariffs on imported goods only will make things tougher in the short term.
    KC's View:
    One place where I think I’d disagree with some of the analysts quoted in the Post story is the conclusion that the short tenure of Ron Johnson - the former Apple Store exec who wanted to reduce the chain’s reliance on coupons and promotions and create a store-within-a-store approach - may have been the beginning of the end for JC Penney.

    I’ve long believed that while the implementation was flawed - to say the least - Johnson was right that JC Penney was so invested in a promotional strategy that it no longer had a compelling story to tell to shoppers.

    The middle, I think, doesn’t have to be mushy. I think it can provide a solid foundation for a retailer, but it has to be built upon with imagination and innovation … offering a compelling narrative.

    Published on: May 28, 2019

    The New York Times has a story about how a number of scientists are turning down entreaties - and funding - from vaping company Juul, which says it wants to support research into whether its products are “more public health benefit than risk.”

    The reason for the rejection is simple: these scientists don’t want to find themselves and their reputations being corrupted and coopted by an e-cigarette company that is 35 percent owned by a tobacco company, and that makers a product that serves as a nicotine delivery system.

    The Times points out that there is a clock ticking - if Juul does not produce evidence that it has public health benefits by 2022, federal regulators could shut it down.

    The Times story notes that Juul’s “popular vaping products have contributed to what health officials have called an epidemic of e-cigarette use and nicotine addiction among teenagers. Because many researchers have spurned the company’s lucrative offers, Juul has had to rely on scientists with tobacco industry ties — further damaging the company’s credibility and making it even tougher to attract independent investigators … Juul’s predicament is made worse by the bans that many universities have on accepting funding from the tobacco industry.”
    KC's View:
    These people will find some scientists who will not only take the money, but shade the research to support the priorities of a company that sells a nicotine delivery system. Of course they will - after all, the tobacco companies were able to find scientists to support their lies … and now they’re investing in e-cigarette companies, believing that they’ve found a new method to addict people to their poison.

    Not that I feel strongly about this.

    I’m glad that some scientists, at least, are turning Juul down. Gives me hope.

    Published on: May 28, 2019

    The New York Times writes that while “the craft beer market has expanded rapidly over the past decade, as breweries across the United States have dreamed up whimsical and inventive beers, often with unconventional ingredients — Beet sugar! Jalapeños! — along with high calorie counts and elevated A.B.V. (alcohol by volume) figures,” these same breweries now are moving in a somewhat different direction.

    They “are now looking to make products similar to one they have long ignored and even scorned: watery, light beer.” Similar … but not the same.

    “Rather than simply recreate the light beers they have long derided, many craft brewers want to emphasize their artisanal handiwork,” the Times writes. “Some beers, like Dogfish Head’s 95-calorie Slightly Mighty, are lighter, lower-alcohol versions of I.P.A.s, which often contain 200-plus calories and A.B.V.s above 5 percent, that still command respectable flavor. Others, like Harpoon Brewery’s Rec. League and Sufferfest’s gluten-removed Repeat, feature chia seeds, bee pollen or other ingredients that purport to have health benefits like reducing inflammation or lowering blood pressure. And some craft breweries are simply producing nonalcoholic beer.”

    Another example: “26.2 Brew, a beer from the aptly named Marathon Brewing, part of Boston Beer Company, that is marketed to athletes,” and that contains both seal salt for electrolytes and coriander for flavor.
    KC's View:
    While I’ve long been a craft beer guy (even though I’ve been mocked for this by some folks, like my old friend Jim Duban), my beer consumption has gone way down lately as I’ve tried to be more conscious about health and weight. But a lighter, healthier beer that remains high in flavor sounds like a really good idea, and I’m going to have to try some.

    Published on: May 28, 2019

    The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. District Judge William Conley in Madison, Wisconsin, has “temporarily barred Anheuser-Busch ads that say Bud Light contains ‘100% less corn syrup,’ describe corn syrup as an ingredient in Coors Light or Miller Lite, or mention corn syrup without reference to the brewing process.”

    The story goes on: “The decision granted parts of a preliminary injunction requested by MillerCoors LLC, which sued Anheuser-Busch Companies LLC in March over Bud Light ads pointing out that Coors Light and Miller Lite use corn syrup in their brewing processes.

    “The campaign began in the Super Bowl, during which Anheuser-Busch Companies LLC, part of Anheuser-Busch InBev SA, BUD 0.56% ran several Bud Light ads introducing the corn-syrup theme. It continued after the game, including on billboards describing Bud Light as having ‘100 percent less corn syrup’ than either rival brand. MillerCoors argued in its lawsuit that the ads ‘deceive beer consumers into believing that there is corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup in Miller Lite and Coors Light.’ There is no corn syrup in either beer by the time it reaches consumers, the company says, and high-fructose corn syrup is never involved at any point.”

    The Journal says that “Anheuser-Busch described the ruling as a victory because it left Bud Light’s Super Bowl advertising unscathed, and said it plans to resume airing the original commercial as soon as this weekend.”
    KC's View:
    I know that A-B thinks that this approach give sit a differential advantage, but I’m mystified why it would do something that, quite frankly, creates questions about an entire category. This strategy does nothing to make me think that Bud Light is a better choice than, say, a 26.2 Brew or a Slightly Mighty.

    Published on: May 28, 2019

    MarketWatch has a story saying that Target claims that “urban shoppers who take advantage of the same-day delivery service in small-format stores buy way more items than those who buy and carry out.
    The retailer offers the option for shoppers to purchase their items and then arrange for delivery at a time of their choosing for a $7 flat fee.

    Target COO John Mulligan says that “once we solve the problem of carrying the order home, it frees them up to shop more, a lot more … Average basket size on these orders is more than five times bigger than the average for these locations, and they include a very strong mix of items from our home category.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 28, 2019

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

    • In Oregon, the Portland Business Journal reports that iconic local ice cream maker Salt & Straw has just received a $4.2 million investment from the Oregon Venture Fund (OVF), “will fuel some technology advances that will largely help grow the company's direct-to-consumer business and improve experiences for customers and employees across the company. Salt & Straw currently offers home delivery, including through a seasonal pint club that delivers pints on a monthly basis.”

    Kim Malek, co-founder of Salt & Straw, says that while bricks-and-mortar is key to the company’s strategy - the company has 19 stores in six West Coast cities - the new funding won’t be used to open any more stores. The focus is on technology and direct-to-consumer.

    The goal, according to OVF officials, is to put Portland’s Salty & Straw on a par with Vermont-based Ben & Jerry’s.

    If they really want to be the Pacific Northwest answer to Ben & Jerry’s, I have to wonder if that means an eventual sale; Ben & Jerry’s, after all, now is owned by Unilever. I hope they stay independent, though, because I think it is healthy for the food business to have small, vital, innovative companies out there. Besides, I love Salt & Straw … it is right up there with Graeter’s at the top of my ice cream food chain.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 28, 2019

    Two notable deaths this weekend in the sports world…

    • Bart Starr, the iconic Green Bay Packers quarterback who led the team to five championships, has passed away at age 85. He has suffered a series of strokes and a heart attack in recent years.

    In its coverage, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes that Starr “served as the extension of coach Vince Lombardi on the field during the Packers’ glory days of the 1960s.” That dynasty, the story says, “remains the most successful seven-year stretch in NFL history with five titles, including wins in the first two Super Bowls.”

    As for Starr, the Journal Sentinel writes, “He is most famous for leading the legendary drive and scoring the touchdown on the iconic play in Packers history, the quarterback sneak against Dallas that won the Ice Bowl in 1967. The Ice Bowl drive and sneak were the culmination of the Lombardi-era Packers’ will to win, toughness and discipline that Starr embodied as quarterback of those teams.”

    • Bill Buckner, a former All Star and batting champion who over his career had more hits than either Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams, has passed away at age 69 from Lewy body dementia.

    While Buckner was an excellent player who spent most of his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, he is perhaps best known for a play he didn’t make - in game six of the 1986 World Series, while playing first base for the Sox, he was unable to field a ground ball hit by the New York Mets’ Mookie Wilson, which was part of an overall collapse by the Sox that led to the Mets winning the series in the seventh game of the series.

    In a touching appreciation in the Boston Globe, writer Dan Shaughnessy notes that Buckner “played 22 seasons in the majors and twice made it to the World Series. He was a good teammate and a solid family man. He aged better than most retired athletes and always looked like he could still give you a couple of innings when he’d return to Fenway Park tanned and fit.

    “But for the final 33 years of his life, Buckner was best known as the guy who missed the ground ball. For many fans and media members, it defined him. And it was unfair.”

    Shaughnessy writes that Buckner eventually found peace. “Allowing himself to be the butt of the joke, he filmed a Nike commercial with Spike Lee and Willie Mays. He did autograph shows with Mookie Wilson, signing photographs of the play. He appeared with Larry David in an episode of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm.’ In ‘Curb,’ Buckner’s error is the running joke. Buckner ultimately saves the day at the end of the episode, catching an infant thrown from a burning building.

    “There was even ultimate forgiveness at Fenway, much of it owed to the Red Sox’ new image as champions. In April of 2008, on the day the 2007 world champion Red Sox received their rings, Buckner received a standing ovation before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.”
    KC's View:
    One other note - over a 22-season career, Buckner never struck out three times in a single game, and never struck out more than 39 times in a season. He was a great player, possessed of an uncommon grace.