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    Published on: September 11, 2019

    by Kate McMahon

    It was a crushing revelation in the checkout lane. The iconic “Stew’s bag” – a brightly-colored plastic shopping bag from Stew Leonard’s flagship store – was no more. Done. A victim of time and a plastic bag ban enacted by the city of Norwalk, Connecticut.

    For the record, I completely support the national movement to eliminate single-use plastic bags in order to protect the environment. I know these proven polluters threaten oceans, waterways, fish and wildlife, and overwhelm landfills. I dutifully keep reusable bags in my car at all times.

    But, I have to tell you, the Stew’s bag was different. It was just that much thicker, and sturdier, than any other grocery bag. You could trust it. Always. You felt confident the picnic watermelon would not burst a seam and splatter all over the parking lot. Ditto your Thanksgiving turkey or a few half-gallons of milk.

    I’ve spoken with many fellow inveterate Stew’s shoppers who share my dismay and are quick to note that we saved and recycled those bags long before “recycle and reuse” was a thing. Said one: “I always hoarded my Stew’s bags and stashed them where my family couldn’t find them. I even traveled with them.”

    To say Stew’s bags went everywhere is an understatement. Back in 1974, customer Colleen Blanchard had her photo taken in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow brandishing her Stew’s bag with the bold yellow, orange and green - and admittedly hokey - graphic of a boy milking his cow. Since then, some “hundreds of thousands of customers,” according to the company, have sent in comparable photos from every corner of the globe, including the Great Wall of China (from a personal friend of mine), Stonehenge and a nude beach in the Caribbean.

    My personal lamentations aside, this story points to the importance of brand engagement and adapting to the changing retail environment.

    Stew Leonard’s, a family-owned specialty grocer which bills itself as the “World’s Largest Dairy Store,” has an identity that permeates its Disney-like atmosphere, private label products and yes, packaging. Shopping there is an experience, and you can’t help but be engaged (or perhaps prompted to cut and run) when personally greeted by Clover the Cow.

    One could argue that father-son brand-builders Stew Leonard Sr. and his son Stew Jr. invested in experiential marketing long before most retailers knew the term. Since the first store opened 50 years ago, they have made shopping at Stew’s unlike any place else, replete with a seasonal petting zoo, the “Farm Fresh Five” animatronic singers, and the best free sample stations around. When customers posed for photos with their Stew bags in Florence and in Florida and mailed them in, it reflected just how much they felt Stew’s was their store. (And they received a gift certificate in return).

    The chain is adapting – like retailers everywhere – to the myriad laws and policies designed to reduce the prevalence of plastic bags. Eight states have banned single-use plastic bags, while other states and municipalities are imposing fees or recycling programs to curtail use and change consumer behavior.

    Stew’s sells its sturdy, re-usable bags for 99-cents each, and the signature font and graphics remain unchanged. In a nod to changing times, the grocer now posts its “Bags Around the World” promotion on Instagram, as well as the framed photos lining the wall in the Norwalk store.

    Not surprisingly, before the Norwalk ban took place some customers inquired if they could buy whole cases of Stew’s bags for their own stockpile. If my travels take me near any of the other six Stew Leonard’s stores where the ban has not yet taken place, with a seventh store opening next week in Paramus, NJ, I may just have to stop and stock up on a few Stew’s bags for posterity. I wouldn’t trust a watermelon or Thanksgiving turkey to a lesser bag.

    Comments? Send me an email at .

KC's View:

Published on: September 11, 2019

by Kevin Coupe

The Polaroid photo is back.

Fast Company writes about Polaroid Lab, a new gadget scheduled to be released next month, that takes a retro approach to photography.

Basically, the Polaroid Lab allows a person to take a picture on a smart phone and then use an iPhone or Android app “to transfer it onto a piece of proudly analog Polaroid instant film,” where it then develops “in classic fashion.”

The story goes on: “For those without an existing affinity for instant photography in its traditional form, the whole idea of turning a digital photo into a chemistry-based snapshot may sound like a backward act of hipsterism, akin to pressing your MP3 collection onto vinyl. But what the Lab does, it does well. And analog instant photography - a medium even Polaroid itself once left for dead - has snapped back to life, giving the Lab a shot at success.”

Essentially, Fast Company writes, “The Lab dials back the ephemeral nature of modern photography by encouraging you to choose your most meaningful pictures and give them permanent form.”

Wait a minute. The photos on my phone aren’t permanent?

The thing about this story is that it just reminds us of how companies like Polaroid, which got on the map because they innovated, were unable to maintain that culture in their companies and eventually became virtually obsolete. In Polaroid’s case, it went bankrupt twice.

Look, I hope they’re successful, just like I hope most companies are successful. I love a comeback story.

But I’m dubious, if only because I’m just not sure that the culture is crying out for print pictures that are “almost (but not quite) square, with a distinctive white border that’s thicker at the bottom than on the other sides.”

Turntables and vinyl records are making a comeback because audiophiles maintain they offer superior sound quality. I’m not entirely sure that Polaroid will be able to make the same claim. But we’ll see.

However it turns out, one way or the other it’ll be an Eye-Opener from which we all can take a lesson.
KC's View:

Published on: September 11, 2019

Internet Retailer is out with its 2019 Amazon Report, reaching the following conclusions:

• “Amazon now accounts for 37% of total U.S. online retail sales, up from 34% in 2017.”

• “With 58% of its $232.9 billion revenue coming from its marketplace, Amazon is the largest online U.S. marketplace. Last year alone, over 25,000 sellers worldwide sold more than $1 million on Amazon, with the average U.S. marketplace merchant selling more than $90,000 on the site.”

• “In the past year, Amazon has been growing its fulfillment sector, housing 155.4 million square feet of warehouse space in the U.S. and will be investing in more aircraft carriers, bringing its total fleet up to 50.”

• Amazon “has quickly cemented its place as the third-largest digital advertising platform in the U.S., behind Facebook and Google.”

• The “hugely profitable Amazon Web Services division … grew its sales of cloud computing and storage services by 68.6% last year.”

• Amazon’s “Whole Foods Stores, Amazon Go outlets and other physical retail locations … generated three times more revenue last year than the year before.”
KC's View:
I occasionally get email from folks asking why I spend so much time writing about Amazon. Just these six bullet points should answer that question - Amazon continues to make moves that don’t just grow its business, but also set the terms for the business competition. These moves also continue to give it an enormous financial advantage, allowing it access to money to a degree and at rates that most other companies - and countries - cannot begin to match.

Published on: September 11, 2019

The Dayton Daily News reports that Meijer and Aldi have joined the list of retailers that are asking their customers not to carry open firearms in their stores regardless of local laws and regulations.

The move follows similar statements from companies that include Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons, Walgreen, CVS, and Wegmans, all of which came in the wake of political pressure formed in the wake of mass shootings, committed by a man described as a white nationalist and domestic terrorist, in an El Paso, Texas, Walmart that resulted in 22 people being killed and 25 being injured.

There also have been other gun-related incidents at Walmart, as well as in other public places, that seem to have drawn greater attention to the gun issue. At the same time, Walmart is being sued by the family of one of the El Paso victims, meaning that these retailers are thinking about exposure to potential litigation in addition to the safety of their shoppers.
KC's View:
This continues to be a somewhat controversial position, with some arguing that a ban on open carry is not the same thing as a ban on all weapons, and can create a target-rich environment for a terrorist. I would agree that it is not a perfect position, but rather represents initial steps by these retailers to draw a line somewhere; I won’t be surprised if down the line retailers start drawing a thicker line that will ban all weapons from their stores.

It’ll probably take more mass shootings to make this happen.

Published on: September 11, 2019

The New York Times reports that the California State Senate has approved a bill that will apply to app-based businesses and require “companies like Uber and Lyft to treat contract workers as employees … Under the measure, which would go into effect Jan. 1, workers must be designated as employees instead of contractors if a company exerts control over how they perform their tasks or if their work is part of a company’s regular business.”

According to the story, “California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, endorsed the bill this month and is expected to sign it after it goes through the State Assembly, in what is expected to be a formality.”

The bill is expected to prompt other states to follow the same direction.

Here’s how the Times describes the likely impact:

“In California, the legislation will affect at least one million workers who have been on the receiving end of a decades-long trend of outsourcing and franchising work, making employer-worker relationships more arm’s-length. Many people have been pushed into contractor status with no access to basic protections like a minimum wage and unemployment insurance. Ride-hailing drivers, food-delivery couriers, janitors, nail salon workers, construction workers and franchise owners could now all be reclassified as employees.

“But the bill’s passage, which codifies and extends a 2018 California Supreme Court ruling, threatens gig economy companies like Uber and Lyft. The ride-hailing firms — along with app-based services that offer food delivery, home repairs and dog-walking services — have built their businesses on inexpensive, independent labor. Uber and Lyft, which have hundreds of thousands of drivers in California, have said contract work provides people with flexibility. They have warned that recognizing drivers as employees could destroy their businesses.”
KC's View:
I have to admit that as someone who in virtually all of my side hustles - giving speeches, doing a bit of consulting, working in video and podcast production - is classified as a contract worker, and as someone who employs contract workers from time to time, I’m a little resistant to this. It seems to me that in some ways, it contradicts some of the things that are supposed to make contract employment so attractive.

But … I’m not an app-based business, so I probably don’t have to worry about this. And if companies like Uber had not taken advantage of their contract workers, they wouldn’t have to worry about stuff like this. They have only themselves to blame, it seems … though I’d love to see a legislative fix that would somehow split the difference, giving people necessary protections while allowing Uber and Lyft to survive (assuming they become better actors).

Published on: September 11, 2019

• The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon has recently agreed to “take space in a first-of-its-kind three-story warehouse, a new type of distribution center that could reduce delivery times in congested cities to hours rather than days.”

The warehouse, in Seattle, is described as “the first of its kind to open in the U.S. with multiple floors that large delivery trucks can access by ramps, property analysts say … While common in densely-populated Asian and European cities, modern warehouses with multiple floors have been absent until recently in the U.S., where higher land and construction costs deterred developers.

“But now that more retailers are racing to deliver more same-day packages, developers are starting to build the multistory fulfillment centers needed to speed delivery in congested cities.”
KC's View:

Published on: September 11, 2019

Fast Company reports that McDonald’s “is acquiring a Bay Area voice-recognition startup called Apprente, with an eye toward using it to take orders at drive-through windows. The companies have already run demos at McDonald’s test restaurants, and McDonald’s says Apprente’s technology is aimed at handling ‘complex, multilingual, multi-accent and multi-item conversational ordering’.”

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

According to Fast Company, “This marks the third recent tech investment for McDonald’s. Earlier this year, the company bought Dynamic Yield, which customizes drive-through menus based on factors like weather and time of day. McDonald’s also invested in Plexure, a New Zealand company that makes some of its mobile apps.”

Fox Business reports that Taco Bell is introducing a new vegetarian menu, rolling out new meatless alternatives to some 7,000 locations but not using fake meat in its list of ingredients.

“As more fast-food chains double down on menu items with meatless alternatives from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods,” the story says, “Taco Bell has teamed up with the American Vegetarian Association to rollout meatless alternatives to classics like its Crunchwrap Supreme and burritos … Taco Bell’s decision to implement a permanent vegetarian menu comes as other fast-food competitors like Burger King, White Castle, and KFC have been adding alternative meat products from the likes of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods to menus.”

Asked why, Liz Matthews, the company’s chief innovation officer, says, “It’s really easy for brands to do what everyone else is doing. We want to go after things that are really exciting and are successful, and not just mediocre. At this point, we’re not leaning into that.”
KC's View:

Published on: September 11, 2019

• Albertsons announced that Geoff White, who has been president of its Own Brands business, has been named the company’s Executive Vice President and Chief Merchandising Officer.

• Walmart announced that it has hired Nuala O’Connor - formerly vice president of compliance and customer trust and associate general counsel for privacy and data protection at Amazon, as well as most recently president/CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a global nonprofit focused on digital civil liberties - to be its new senior vice president and chief counsel of digital citizenship, a new role at the company.

Walmart says that “the new function will focus on how Walmart uses data and technology in a way that supports the company’s goal to be the most trusted retailer.”
KC's View:

Published on: September 11, 2019

The other day MNB carried a brief obit about the passing of Hans Rausing, the son of the founder of TetraPak and the company’s former CEO/chairman, at age 93.

I commented:

Unconfirmed rumors say that Rausing will be buried in a paperboard container that will keep his remains fresher longer.

Several MNB readers thought that this was in poor taste, and I apologize if they were offended.

To be honest, though, I thought it was funny. If anything, it was too easy.

As Michael Sansolo says, when someone throws you a fastball over the center of the plate, you have to take a swing.

And one other thing. When I kick … and I hope it’ll be awhile before that happens … I dearly hope people will make jokes. Lots of them. Good ones, bad ones, and even some of questionable taste.
KC's View:

Published on: September 11, 2019

The Los Angeles Dodgers last night became the first Major League Baseball team to clinch a 2019 division championship with a 7-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.

ESPN reports that “in the divisional era (since 1969), only the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees have strung together more consecutive crowns. The Braves won 14 straight NL East titles from 1991 to 2005 (there was no postseason in the strike-shortened 1994 campaign). The Yankees were American League East champs nine years running, from 1998 through 2006.”
KC's View:
Impressive, especially during a period during which teams like the Red Sox seem to go from feast to famine, finding it difficult to string together this kind of excellence over this long a period of time.

I have only one problem with this story. Seeing the Dodgers playing the Orioles during the regular season offends my sensibilities. I know I’m hopelessly addicted to tradition in such matters, but I still think that inter-league play ought to be reserved for the post-season, in the same way that I believe that things like artificial turf, domed (as opposed to tented) stadiums, and especially the designated hitter ought to be reserved for the trash heap.

I know these seem like small matters, but I will once again quote the great Robert B. Parker: “Baseball is the most important thing that doesn’t matter.”

Published on: September 11, 2019

This special podcast, recorded in front of a live audience at the recent Retail Tomorrow Immersion conference in Boston, goes inside the evolving world of LL Bean, the iconic catalog business that has engineered a dramatic and highly successful shift into omnichannel retailing through transformational leadership and a willingness to disrupt from within.

Our special guest is CEO Stephen Smith, the first outsider to ever run the company, who offered a unique perspective on how a legacy retailer - founded in 1912 - has been transformed into a model of 21st century marketing savvy.

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

You can listen to the podcast here , or on iTunes or GooglePlay.

This edition of the Retail Tomorrow podcast is brought to you by the Global Market Development Center (GMDC), connecting people & companies to opportunities for growth.

Pictured, left to right: Kevin Coupe, Stephen Smith

KC's View: