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    Published on: October 3, 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, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    The New York Times had a story the other day about one of the best promotions imaginable - at any of the 216 Helzberg Diamonds stores around the country, when you buy wedding rings you also can get married by an associate who has been ordained as a Universal Life minister.

    All you need is a marriage license.

    "We are here to serve the customer and offer as many services as we can, and we do think we will be performing quite a few weddings at our stores," says Beryl Raff, CEO/chairwoman at Helzberg.

    Some background. Helzberg came to the decision to offer this - the ultimate in value-added services - when it saw that from time to time, people asked to be married in one of its stores. Now, in order to respond to what it sees as a need, it is hoping to get as many of its 1,700 sales associates ordained … which isn't all that hard. (It takes about five minutes on the Internet.)

    There's also a real consumer insight at work here. The Times writes that the Helzberg folks did a survey "of 1,000 young adults ages 23 to 38. Ninety-one percent who hoped to get married said they would consider eloping. The top three reasons were to save money, avoid having to plan a ceremony, and keep their ceremonies more intimate."

    Now, this might not be what I'd want to do. To be honest, it wouldn't be what I'd want for my kids.

    But I totally get it … and not just because I happen to be an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church who has performed two wedding ceremonies over the past 18 months. While I get that some folks think that having someone like me perform a wedding ceremony reflects a lack of seriousness, I actually believe that it has more to do with being very serious … they want a ceremony that is specific and that is performed by someone who has some knowledge of their lives and hopes and dreams. We've all been to too many services performed by an actual minister who does it all by the book … and I don't mean the Bible … in a way that ends up being boilerplate and meaningless.

    Again, getting married in a jewelry store by a clerk wouldn't be my hope or dream. But if that's what people want, and if Helzberg is smart enough to position itself to take advantage of that fact, well … Mazel tov!

    Savvy retailers find their opportunities … and then work them. Relentlessly. Helzberg sees this as a match made in heaven.

    That is what is on my mind this morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: October 3, 2019

    by Michael Sansolo

    ATLANTA - There’s a strange dichotomy at the annual convention of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) currently underway here.

    First, there’s a tremendous spirit of optimism summed up by the show’s theme of “We Can.” That optimism is evident in many educational sessions as industry sales continue to increase and the channel’s points of differentiation seem to grow stronger. In fact, the exhibit floor itself bristles with the possibilities of new products and services in stores ranging from incredible emphasis on fresh prepared foods and baked goods - which position c-stores as being ever more competitive with supermarkets and fast food chains - as well as with new products in the channel's traditional categories, such as beverages, snacks and more.

    Particular exciting to attendees this year is an entire exhibit area focusing on CBD and the range of products (foods and non-foods) that boast the properties of the seemingly “miracle” drug.

    But then there are some harsh realities, summed up powerfully in a speech by Jacob Schram, who formerly ran Circle K in Europe. Schram’s session outlined how the changing world of motor vehicles will likely hit convenience stores - an industry that still relies heavily on selling fuel and on its customers' mobility - like an earthquake in the very near future.

    According to Schram, there are four key signs that the dominance of the internal combustion engine (ICE) is ending.

    • Electric cars, he said, are coming so fast that he expects the wave of change to be larger than the shift from horses to cars in the early 1900s. Already countries as disparate as Norway and China are moving at breakneck speed into electrification, which in turn leads to changes in how vehicles are priced, bought, and, of course, re-fueled.

    • Autonomous vehicles, he says, will create significant changes in everything from reducing car accidents to changing how urban real estate is developed. Plus, consumers might start using cars as living and working spaces.

    • Connected cars, he says, will be similar to today’s smart phones, with consumers personalizing them through applications and turning them into a useful tool of daily living.

    • Shared cars, increasingly popular with younger consumers, create incredible change for family budgets, housing and more.

    Schram, who has worked extensively with Volkswagen, says his predictions are based on real world changes he has seen in his work. And his advice to c-store operators was to find ways to aggressively approach this challenges to seize incredible opportunity for new relationships with shoppers as gasoline becomes less important.

    One thing was clear. The road upon which the c-store business traditionally has traveled may be coming to an end, and retailers are going to have to find alternative routes if they are to continue moving forward.

    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: October 3, 2019

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Wall Street Journal has a story pointing out that "Americans now eat nearly half of their meals alone—and they like it."

    NPD Group says that Americans ate 45 percent of their 2018 meals alone … up from 42 percent a year before. Almost a quarter of all restaurant meals were eaten by solo diners. There's every reason to think that the number will continue to grow.

    "The growth of single-person households and hectic family schedules have made solo dining the new normal. For many consumers, eating alone has lost its stigma as sad and lonely. Instead, they want to relish a solo meal as much as they would any other - and they are ratcheting up their demands for taste, nutrition and convenience in meals-for-one."

    The story notes that some of this is circumstance-driven, but there's also the matter of preference: "Household challenges, like different schedules, account for the biggest reason people eat alone. But nearly one-third of people say they eat alone for personal pleasure, particularly millennial consumers … Further eroding group dining: smaller, more frequent meals; the increasing acceptance of eating in the car or at a desk; the companionship of a smartphone and even the thrill of a moment’s solitude."

    This trend is having an impact on both the CPG and the restaurant businesses - both are having to make adjustments in how they cater to their customers. And it also is something that retailers need to think about as well, especially since so many of them are designed to cater to the married-with-children-and-a-house-and-a-minivan trade.

    I totally get this. Over the years, I've eaten a lot of meals by myself, mostly in bars and restaurants, but also in the apartment that I rent during my summer adjunctivities in Portland, Oregon. (I've been married for 36 years, but my wife would observe that the marriage has survived because I've only been around for maybe 25 of them.) And I must confess that one of the real pleasures of solo dining always has been the ability to try foods and beverages that I would not have the chance to consume at home with my family, where I've generally been the most adventurous eater (though that has changed over time, especially as my kids have gotten older).

    The Greek philosopher Epicurus once wrote that "we should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink, for dining alone is leading the life of a lion or wolf." I'm guessing he didn't see that as a good thing. I prefer, in this case, the writings of Robert B. Parker, whose detective protagonist Spenser takes pleasure in cooking and eating alone - he understands that part of living life well is being willing to take the time to cook good food and drink good wine, even if by oneself.

    Maybe that's an opportunity for retailers and restaurateurs. When interacting with solo diners/shoppers, it can be a good moment to suggest something new or different or even a little bit radical. That can be a powerful lure for customers … it creates an environment in which they feel special, like a regular, and are being treated to some sort of inside deal.

    It could, in many ways, be an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 3, 2019

    CNBC reports that Kroger "is laying off hundreds of employees across the family of grocery stores it owns," focusing on middle management cuts "as it looks to fight automated rivals, like Amazon."

    According to the story, "A spokeswoman for Kroger told CNBC in a statement that 'As part of ongoing talent management, many store operating divisions are evaluating middle management roles and team structures with an eye toward keeping resources close to the customer.'

    "She added that the company’s store divisions, which operate independently, are all 'taking steps to ensure they have the right talent in the right store leadership positions'."

    CNBC notes that even as Kroger has invested in things like robotic warehouses powered by Ocado's proprietary technology, the acquisition of meal kit company Home Chef, and a partnership with driverless car company Nuro, "labor costs continue to be an issue for the company, as union pushback in the U.S. escalates, despite years-long declining union membership rates. Ten years after the Great Recession, more and more workers in the U.S are demanding profits that some believe have stayed largely in corporations’ pockets."
    KC's View:
    The fact is that technology investments almost inevitably will require companies to thin out their ranks. The challenge to retailers will be making sure that the cuts they make in personnel do not impact the in-store customer experience. For heavily unionized companies like Kroger, it will be doubly challenging for them to figure out how to redeploy people and even rethink the role of people in their stores.

    I'd argue that for bricks-and-mortar companies, people are more important than ever, but they have to be the right people in the right places at the right times.

    Published on: October 3, 2019

    The Financial Times reports this morning that "vacancies in US shopping malls have hit an eight-year high," but that the pain apparently is being felt in some places more than others.

    New data from Reis, part of Moody’s Analytics, suggests that "the proportion of units lying empty in some cities, including Indianapolis and Birmingham, Alabama, is about four times higher than the economic hotspot of San Francisco … The retail vacancy rate was less than 7 per cent in 17 cities, led by San Francisco with a 4.1 per cent rate. By contrast, 24 cities saw vacancy rates above 12 per cent, including Memphis, Buffalo and Albuquerque."

    One sad reality: Communities that already were feeling the pain more than others tend to be the ones that are facing the likelihood of even higher vacancy rates. The numbers almost certainly will get even worse with the bankruptcy and mass store closures announced by Forever 21.
    KC's View:
    It is ironic that as FT reports these numbers, Fortune has a story about how "Simon Property Group, a top U.S. developer of shopping centers, and digital commerce pioneer Rue Gilt Groupe, the owner of Rue La La and Gilt, are jointly building up an e-commerce marketplace that will cater to outlet mall shoppers … The site,, had a soft launch in March as a way for Simon, whose outlet malls include the New York area's Woodbury Common, to test the e-commerce waters and offer its tenants another avenue for selling their discounted wares."

    In other words, time to start spreading out the bets.

    Published on: October 3, 2019

    Yahoo Finance reports that UK retailer Tesco "is launching a customer subscription service connected to its Clubcard loyalty scheme, offering perks such as discounted shopping for a monthly fee." Called Clubcard Plus, the program "will be available to new and existing Clubcard customers" for the equivalent of about $10 (US) month. "In return, they will receive up to four benefits each month, including 10% off two 'big shops' in-store, although exclusions and limits apply."

    Members also will get 10 percent off selected Tesco private label items.

    The card program will be available via mobile app.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 3, 2019

    Fox Business reports that "Walmart will suspend the sale of Zantac and all forms of heartburn medication containing the drug ranitidine after the Food and Drug Administration warned of potential cancer risks.

    "The world’s largest employer joins other companies including Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS Health in halting the sale of products containing ranitidine," which has been found in some cases to have low levels of N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA).

    The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said that NDMA is a “known environmental contaminant” that can cause cancer. However, NDMA also is found in "in water and foods like meats, dairy products and vegetables," and FDA has not called "for people to stop taking the medication."
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 3, 2019

    Fortune has a story worth checking out about how "CBD-laced personal care products are about to go mainstream. From drugstores (Walgreens, CVS) to grocers (Kroger) and mall stores (Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle Outfitters), expect to see the letters CBD on plenty of packaging."

    However, while CBD is seen as a non-intoxicating anti-inflammatory, the story suggests that CBD lotions and other cannabidiol beauty balms may not be all they are cracked up to be - CBD's affects on the skin are unknown, and while it may reduce skin inflammation, there's no evidence that it can eliminate or reduce wrinkles.

    Still, Fortune writes, "CBD and skincare may be a good match. The human body naturally produces cannabinoids to regulate pain, inflammation, sleep, appetite, and other functions. The brain has the highest concentration of these cannabinoid receptors, but they’re also present in the skin."
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 3, 2019

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 3, 2019

    In the American League Wild Card game, the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Oakland Athletics 5-1. The Rays now move on to play the Houston Astros in an AL Divisional Series that begins Friday.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 3, 2019

    The Retail Tomorrow podcast goes to GroceryShop 2019 in Las Vegas for an in-depth discussion of not just the strategies and tactics preoccupying many of the attendees, but the motivations behind the decisions they are making with regard to brand identity and technology.

    There were some three thousand attendees at GroceryShop this year, from about a thousand companies and 30 countries, all looking for a competitive edge found in innovative technologies, disruptive business models and provocative insights. Sifting through the presentations and exhibits for Retail Tomorrow, looking for nuggets of wisdom that have the potential to animate and differentiate a retailer, are:

    • Lisa Sedlar, CEO, Green Zebra Grocery.
    • Scott Moses, Managing Director at PJ Solomon.
    • Bob Perry, Director of Business Development, NBC Universal
    • Tom Furphy, CEO/Managing Director, Consumer Equity Partners.

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

    You can listen to the podcast here, as well as on iTunes and 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, below: Lisa Sedlar, Scott Moses, Tom Furphy, Bob Perry

    KC's View: