business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: November 5, 2019

    by Michael Sansolo

    Here a blindingly obvious confession: I’m way, way short of perfect. I have some skills, but frankly I’m missing many others. Luckily for me, I’m surrounded by people (starting with my wife) who manage to fill in many of those gaps.

    It isn't just me. Truth be told, we all can say the same things about ourselves. However, too often in business we see people, especially in highly visible positions, who act as though they possess all the talents to take on any problem of any kind. Somehow they portray this as strength, when in truth it’s a weakness and an awfully large blind spot.

    Kevin and I got discussing this recently. We're both (loyal and oft-suffering) New York Mets fans, and we were bemoaning our team’s decision to hire Carlos Beltran, a once-great Mets player, as the team's new manager - despite his lack of any relevant experience. (More experienced and successful skippers went, of course, to other teams.)

    What's interesting - and maybe even a little heartening - is the fact that Beltran is widely reported to want to add a previous Mets’ manager, Terry Collins, to his staff as bench coach. In doing so, Beltran may both be providing hope to fans and a great lesson in management.

    Baseball managers, as the saying goes, are hired with the knowledge that they will someday be fired. No one keeps the job forever and, in truth, they usually keep it for a fairly short time. It’s a lucrative position, but comes with incredible pressures especially in the New York media market.

    Beltran's desire to add someone with significantly more experience to his leadership team speaks to his awareness that he lack experience. By adding a former manager he gains someone who will be both his subordinate and his mentor, hopefully making him immeasurably better at doing his new job. That awareness also speaks to his personal confidence that having a more seasoned hand on his team will reflect well on him.

    In addition, it speaks to his confidence that the organization sufficiently believes in him to allow this move.

    (There's a pretty good template for this kind of decision - when Joe Torre took over the New York Yankees, one of his first moves was to recruit Don Zimmer as his bench coach. Fair to say they had a pretty good run together - four World Series championships.)

    Now let’s take that to our own roles in business, leadership and management. The best leaders I have known have always bragged that they surround themselves with people better, smarter and more agile than themselves. Ironically, that might be the single best trait to look for in new managers, that awareness of their flaws and the need to mitigate those issues.

    But let’s also think about whether we encourage and applaud managers to honestly admit and address their shortcomings or do we somehow inhibit them from doing just that. Sadly, the latter is more likely.

    Carlos Beltran may or may not succeed as the Mets’ manager. (History doesn’t make me optimistic.) However, if he actually executes this plan of having a past manager at his side, he may well be delivering an excellent message in the importance of recognizing weaknesses and honestly addressing them.

    That would be a home run for most managers, even far from baseball.

    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: November 5, 2019

    by Kevin Coupe

    Two recent stories grabbed my attention because they told me something I didn't know. (Admittedly, there's a lot I don't know. These are just two drops in an enormous ocean.)

    From the New York Post:

    "France fell to the US in this year’s prestigious World Cheese Awards, losing top prize to a fromage from the Pacific Northwest.

    "Out of 3,804 cheeses from 42 countries which were judged at the ceremony in Bergamo, Italy, the Rogue River Blue from Oregon was chosen as the best in the world Oct. 18. To add insult to French injury, a British cheddar came in second.

    "France’s best-performing cheese, an Epoisses (a soft cow’s milk cheese from Burgundy), ranked a humiliatingly low eighth place — tying with a Swiss Gruyere."

    Go figure.

    Seeing as I think of the Pacific Northwest as my home away from home, this makes me happy.

    From Daily Coffee News:

    "The U.S. coffee landscape is actually being increasingly overrun by large chains," with a new report from the Allegra’s World Coffee Portal saying that "Starbucks and Dunkin’ accounted for 80% of the new store openings in the U.S. over the past year … Starbucks maintains a whopping 40% share of the U.S. coffee shop market, with 14,875 stores and a net increase of 585 stores. Dunkin’ now maintains a 26% share of the U.S. coffee shop market, according to the 2020 report."

    This runs contrary to what has become a truism in the coffee shop business - that "the higher-end specialty coffee segment has the most opportunity for growth and increased market share in the United States."

    This makes me glad that the coffee we drink at home is from Minnesota's City Girl Coffee, and that when in Portland I tend to drink Stumptown.

    I like being a little contrary.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 5, 2019

    The St. Louis Business Journal reports that limited assortment chain Save-A-Lot "will begin offering services to allow customers to pay for and pick up purchases in store."

    According to the story, "The Amazon PayCode program allows shoppers who prefer to pay for Amazon purchases in cash to do so at St. Louis-area Save A Lot locations. The company will also offer the Amazon locker service where customers can pick up and return Amazon packages … Save A Lot described the Amazon rollout as part of its ongoing efforts to modernize the shopping experience at its stores and the broader transformation of its business model."

    The service initially will only be available in St. Louis, but is expected to be rolled out to some 400 stores around the country next year.

    The story notes that Save-A-Lot is "owned by private equity firm Onex Corp.," but has "hired an investment bank to explore a potential sale" because of being "saddled with debt and facing quickly expanding competitors." Onex bought Save-A-Lot from Supervalu in 2016.
    KC's View:
    There's no question that in the world of limited assortment stores, Save-A-Lot is the poor relation, not really able to keep up with Aldi and, I suspect, unprepared to deal with Lidl as it grows. They had a chance a few years ago to make strides, but the moment passed and may not come again.

    Too many of these units suffer from "I don't give a damn" disease … and so connecting with Amazon probably is a good move for the stores that do so, since Amazon most certainly gives a damn.

    I'm not sure, to be honest, if this is the beginning or the beginning of the end for Save-A-Lot as an entity … because just being the place where you can pick up or drop off Amazon stuff isn't the answer for how to become differentiated and vibrant. It is a lifeline at best.

    Published on: November 5, 2019

    Good piece in the Los Angeles Times by columnist Michael Hiltzik about how grocery delivery company Instacart " is currently undergoing a worker walkout for the fourth year in a row. The walkout, which began Sunday and will run through Tuesday, is a protest against an Instacart policy that workers say shortchanges them on tips."

    An open letter from contract workers to Instacart founder-CEO Apoorva Mehta accuses him of a "well-documented history of unscrupulous actions against Instacart’s Shoppers," including "a pattern of behavior as CEO of eviscerating our pay and pirating our tips."

    You can read the column here.
    KC's View:
    The thing about these complaints by Instacart's contract workers is that these are the very same people who are representing the retailers that are Instacart's clients. If they're dissatisfied with Instacart - and so openly hostile to the guy who signs the checks, essentially accusing him of being a thief - are they the people that companies like Wegmans, Fairway and Kroger really want representing their brands in the field?

    It is bad enough that Instacart wants to build dark stores and compete with the very same retail clients that have served as the foundation for its business model. It is bad enough that Instacart can weaponize shopper data from these same clients and use it in its own interests, not the clients. These dissatisfied contract workers now are able to undermine a value proposition by a client retailer.

    How any of this makes sense completely escapes me.

    Published on: November 5, 2019

    The Wall Street Journal the other day had a story about why restaurants are being opened inside a variety of department stores and clothing boutiques.

    Examples cited in the piece - the new Nordstrom store in Manhattan, which has several restaurants that reflect the cuisine of the company's Pacific Northwest roots … Saks Fifth Avenue Manhattan flagship, which recently "opened a Philippe Starck-designed outpost of L’Avenue, the haute Parisian eatery" … "Ralph Lauren’s Polo Bar, which first offered shoppers posh nourishment in 2015 in a space next to a Polo store" … and " Tiffany & Co.’s pricey Blue Box Cafe."

    The Journal points out that "this retail-restaurant surge is not confined to premium meals. The downtown streetwear emporium Kith has allotted square-footage to 'Treats,' an ice-cream-and-cereal bar with signature ice cream cones named after notables like LeBron James and rapper Action Bronson. Meanwhile, an inviting, all-day café called Rose Bakery occupies the first floor of the multi-brand boutique Dover Street Market in Murray Hill." And, this trend is playing out in other cities and stores.

    The reason? Well, it actually is pretty simple. At a time when bricks-and-mortar retail is "wavering" (in the word used by the Journal), retailers are looking for experience-oriented differentiators that will bring people through the front doors. If these restaurants can get people into the store even if they're not doing any shopping, that is seen as a way of growing their stores' ecosystems in an effective way.
    KC's View:
    Makes sense to me … as much sense as any move to create an experience that can be aspirational and transformative for the shopper.

    Published on: November 5, 2019

    Nielsen is out with new data about the bricks-and-mortar retail business:

    • "The number of active CPG retail stores across the U.S. has dropped by nearly 8,000 outlets since 2017."

    • "Despite the contraction in CPG’s retail landscape since 2017, U.S. CPG sales haven’t faltered. Annual brick-and-mortar sales are up over $34 billion since this time in 2017, currently totaling over $964B in CPG products sold in the latest year."

    • "Independent stores have driven 94% of declines, and independent grocery stores in particular represented nearly a quarter of all impacted stores."

    • "Shoppers of this specific type of store are 82% more likely to be without access to a vehicle, 9% more likely to work in the service industry and more likely to be either Black or Hispanic (with an index of 137 and 115, respectively)."
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 5, 2019

    With the planned retirement next year of Frank Gambino, who has successfully grown Western Michigan University's excellent food marketing program - especially its annual Food Marketing Conference - the university has hired Dr. Russell J. Zwanka to join the faculty.

    Zwanka currently teaches Marketing Research, Food Retailing, and Marketing Principles at Siena College in Loudonville, New York.  Previously, he formed and operated the Food Marketing Track at the School of Business at State University of New York at New Paltz, where he built the curriculum for  Category Management and Food Retail Management, while also teaching Marketing Principles, Sales Management, and Marketing Strategy.
    KC's View:
    Two things here.

    First, my friend Frank Gambino is way too young to retire. Way. Too. Young.

    Second, if he is going to retire, WMU has made an excellent decision to hire my friend Russell Zwanka, who brings a lot of passion and intensity to his classes. (I've been privileged to guest lecture in his class at both SUNY and Siena, and in fact will be making a return appearance at the latter next week.) I assume that Russell will end up running WMU's food marketing program, and that's a good move for both of them.

    Published on: November 5, 2019

    • Southeastern Grocers, Inc. (SEG), parent company of BI-LO and Winn-Dixie grocery stores, announced that it will be selling "various CBD products across 152 of its stores throughout Florida and South Carolina, giving its customers access to safe, alternative products that vary from topical care to supplements."

    The announcement notes that "Southeastern Grocers is a member of the Florida Hemp Council; the council’s mission is to create a thriving ecosystem aimed at catapulting the Florida hemp industry to the forefront as leaders in hemp and hemp product production. SEG is working closely with the state of Florida to move the CBD industry forward and is committed to doing so by adding unique products to its shelves."

    • TerrAscend Corp., which describes itself as "the first and only global cannabis company licensed for sales in Canada, the US, and the EU," said yesterday that "Jason Ackerman, founder and former CEO of online grocer FreshDirect, has been appointed to the Company's Board of Directors and named to the role of Executive Chairman. Effective immediately, Mr. Ackerman will oversee day-to-day operations of the Company and serve alongside Chairman Jason Wild and CEO Michael Nashat."
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 5, 2019

    • The New York Times has a story saying that "businesses and households swim in the same economic soup and their outlooks — gloomy or bright — are usually in sync. But in recent months, the two seem to occupy opposite ends of a teeter-totter, with consumers continuing to spend while business owners and managers are chastened by doubt and uncertainty.

    "The economic expansion has extended its record run despite this curious divergence. The question is how long it can continue."

    The story continues: "Among chief executives, persistent trade frictions, worldwide economic weakness and reports of labor shortages are sowing disquiet … their confidence is at recession-level lows, according to the Conference Board, a nonprofit research group. Investment in equipment, software, research and structures fell by 3 percent in September, the Commerce Department reported on Wednesday, the second monthly reduction in a row."

    But … "Consumers have mostly held tight to their optimism. Confidence has dipped slightly in recent months, but their economic outlook remains elevated. Personal spending rose at a 2.9 percent annual rate in the third quarter, after increasing at a 4.6 percent rate in the previous three months."
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 5, 2019

    • McDonald's Corp. said yesterday that its chief people officer, David Fairhurst, has left the company … one day after the fast feeder fired its CEO, Steve Easterbrook, for having an inappropriate consensual relationship with an employee.

    McDonald's said there was no connection between the two events.
    KC's View:
    Yeah. Right.

    Published on: November 5, 2019

    Responding to yesterday's piece about the thin line that seems to exist between being responsive to customers and being a creepy stalker, MNB reader Mike Starkey wrote:

    Certainly an interesting time for all of us in the Loyalty Marketing space.  How do we provide relevant content while not becoming too creepy?  The best positioning, I have heard related to this issue, is likened to the service of a butler (of course, my only butler experience comes from watching Lurch from The Adams Family). 

    A good butler is always there when you need him, but doesn’t seem like a stalker.

    Seems to me a good Loyalty Marketer will somewhat follow this example.

    You went to Lurch. I thought of Alfred, who would make sure the cape and cowl always are ironed.

    Regarding out story about patrons being crowded out by pickers in some stores, one MNB reader wrote:

    About 2 months ago, my vehicle needed routine service at my local Ford dealer.  I scheduled it for early on a Saturday morning.  By 8 a.m., it was complete, and I decided to stop at the Walmart across the street to pick up some grocery needs.  My thought of having a quick shopping trip early on a Saturday in my rural town was a joke.  The number or pickers for on line orders vastly outnumbered the shoppers, and I found the pickers to be rude, indifferent and quite frankly in my way as a shopper.  Their picking carts and attitudes indicated I was a nuisance to their task.  I found it extremely frustrating (get off my lawn type of frustration).  On the drive home, I spent a lot of time wondering if anyone had completed any real research as to the potential business disruption when online shopping reduces foot traffic to the brick and mortar locations – especially in rural America?

    But another MNB reader wrote:

    I’m a bit confused as to why this is an issue.  Whether I shop for myself or order online and someone else does it for me, isn’t it the same number of shoppers in the store? In one case, I’m the shopper. In the other, it’s someone being paid to shop for me.

    Responding to my piece about difficulties I had when trying to get a Real ID, one MNB reader wrote:

    Getting a Real ID as a married woman who changed your name is even more fun!  If you want to use your birth certificate as a document, you will also need to bring your marriage license to document the change from your maiden name.

    From another reader:

    It seems to me we are not seeing the forest for the trees, or something like that.  Why is the government stating on Social Security cards “Do not laminate.”?  Could they explain the reason for that?  I can remember when the Ohio BMV offices that issued driver’s licenses provided lamination for an additional fee.

    On another subject, from another reader:

    Kevin, I agree with you on the impact plastic is having on our environment.  I am surprised to see companies such as Waste Management not listed as an offender.  Why?  They had basically shut down their recycling efforts and had off shored all recyclables to China.  In addition to reducing the number of plastics littering this planet, we need to find ways to recycle plastics cost efficiently.  The top ten offenders and other business leaders need to become proactive in solving this problem.
    This impacts the grocers who have to react to the plastic straw issue by replacing them with paper, replacing plastic bags with paper (not taking into account the impact on the forest), and face the potential of having to remove the plastic bottles from the shelves, plastic containers from the deli.

    Yesterday, when commenting on the firing of McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook after it was found that he “violated company policy and demonstrated poor judgment involving a recent consensual relationship with an employee," I wrote:

    Interestingly, the stories I've read about this have not made mention of what is happening to the employee. Is she or he losing her or his job?

    Prompting one MNB reader to write:

    “He”???!  Aren’t you worried that’s potentially libelous?

    Interesting that you would view such a comment as libelous.

    I actually was trying to be sensitive and not prejudge anybody's sexual orientation … especially because I didn't see any pronouns used when referring to the employee.

    Libelous? I don't think so. (Years ago, after I argued here about a particular business issue affecting the LGBT community, an MNB reader wrote in to say that I should keep the fact that I am gay to myself. I didn't feel libeled by this. Surprised, maybe, though not as surprised as Mrs. Content Guy …)
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 5, 2019

    In Monday Night Football, the division-leading Dallas Cowboys handed the hapless New York Giants 37-18 loss.

    It was perhaps a reflection of the season passed and a harbinger of the season to come for the Giants when a black cat appeared on the field, causing the game to be delayed briefly in the second quarter until it could be herded off the field at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 5, 2019

    Emerging technologies in the health and wellness segment are empowering consumers who more and more are invested in self-care … which can best be defined as a cultural trend keyed to people who want to feel good, look good, live longer and live better. In this new Retail Tomorrow podcast, recorded in front of a live audience at the recent GMDC Selfcare Summit, we talk about the technologies and trends that we heard about there, provide insights into how consumers will interact with them, and offer guidance to companies looking to invest in this burgeoning segment.

    Our guests for this podcast are members of the regular Retail Tomorrow podcast family:

    • Tom Furphy, CEO and Managing Director of Consumer Equity Partners.

    • Nancy Giordano, a strategic futurist who specializes in the post-digital world.

    • Sterling Hawkins, co-founder of the Center for Advancing Retail & Technology.

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

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

    This edition of the Retail Tomorrow podcast is brought to you by GMDC, the Global Market Development Center.

    Pictured, below, from left: Kevin Coupe, Nancy Giordano, Tom Furphy, Sterling Hawkins

    KC's View: