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    Published on: November 19, 2019

    by Kevin Coupe

    Over the past couple of months, when I've been on the road, there have been several times when I've been lucky enough to be recognized by longtime MNB readers in unexpected locales. Once, I was in Seattle, out jogging down near the ballpark, and I bumped in to MNB reader walking to work at the nearby Starbucks headquarters. This past weekend I was on the Strand in Hermosa Beach, waiting for a table at a favorite beachfront bistro, and an MNB reader out for a walk with his wife came up to me to chat.

    Such moments - and there have been more than a few over the years, and they never get old - always serve to remind me how lucky I am to do MorningNewsBeat each morning, and to have established relationships with so many of the people who make up the MNB community. I like to think that it is more than just a writer's relationship with readers; we've all gotten to know each other over the years through stories and emails and occasional get-togethers over good wine and beer.

    This is a good morning to tell you how fortunate I feel about this. Eighteen years ago today, I wrote MNB for the first time, and was just hoping I'd get 18 days or even 18 months out of it. As I've said here before, I knew I was tired of other people and companies screwing around with my career, and I was convinced there was an audience out there for something a little different when it came to business writing.

    Well, I got a lot more than 18 days or months. I had a few dozen friends and business connections on my email list when I started, and now we have tens of thousands … for which I can thank Michael Sansolo, Kate McMahon, and Tom Furphy for keeping all the conversations lively … all my sponsors from over the years for helping to keep me in business … and most of all, you, for your continued engagement and participation. I couldn’t do it without you.

    Eighteen years. For the record, I'm not done yet. I hope you'll be with me for the duration.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 19, 2019

    by Michael Sansolo

    A number of years ago, a retail executive I knew posed an interesting thought. At his company (like most), store and department managers’ performance were graded on simple and important measures such as sales, profits, and staff turnover.

    All were and are important measures, but he said, they also missed something incredibly important. As he put it, many of those measures were the result of issues that no manager could actually control or influence.

    Two stores could be generating the same sales and margins, for example, but perhaps their managers should be judged differently - especially if one is in a tough competitive situation and the other is not. The store manager in the latter case could be seen as underperforming, while n the former case, the manager could be a star. Context can matter as much as numbers, maybe more.

    Incredibly, two recent sports stories made me think about the difficulty of measuring those intangibles. The first was Jacob deGrom being named the best pitcher in the National League for the second consecutive year despite barely winning more than half his games in either year.

    However, as we diehard New York Mets fans know, deGrom’s brilliance is usually undermined by his teammates. The reason he doesn’t win more often is his team seems to forget to score any runs on the days he pitches or, worse yet, they find new and creative ways to lose despite his sterling performances.. Luckily for deGrom, baseball in recent years has come to embrace new statistics that more accurately measure the impact of an individual player on any game. By those measures, deGrom is almost without peer.

    Sadly, business hasn’t found similar measures, but the deGrom model reminds us that old measures might not accurately portray any situation.

    The second story involved Alex Smith, a competent, but unspectacular quarterback for the Washington professional football team (whose name and play are both offensive.) A year ago, Smith suffered a gruesome leg injury that ended his season and possibly his career. While Smith wasn’t seen as a superstar, his team now talks about how his competence and calm demeanor helped paper over countless deficiencies glaringly obvious in his absence.

    To make it simple: the team had won six of its first nine games last year with Smith. This year the team has won just one of it’s first 10 games. Clearly Smith made a difference.

    His case is a reminder that at times great performers show their mettle in how they improve the entire team, not just with their own performance. There’s no guarantee the team would be better with Smith, but clearly it is significantly worse.

    It’s a reminder that we need to evaluate people in more sophisticated and nuanced ways because their impact might occur in many ways that don’t show up on the top or bottom lines. But they are incredibly valuable all the same. Maybe most valuable.

    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 19, 2019

    Kantar is out with its Brand Z "Top 100 US Most Valuable Brands, concluding that Amazon gets the top spot this year, leapfrogging both Apple (#2) and Google (#3) to take that position.

    “Amazon’s rise to the top is a culmination of how much all the elements people have been talking about — thinking bigger than your category, delivering a seamless experience — really matter,” Victoria Sakal, associate director at Kantar, tells Marketing Daily.

    Rounding out the top 10 are Microsoft, Visa, Facebook, McDonald's, Mastercard, AT&T and Verizon.

    The fastest risers in the group include Instagram, Pinterest, Salesforce and Chipotle, which seems to have moved beyond the brand-eroding impact of a variety of food safety issues.

    A couple of other notes from the study:

    "The US leads all other markets on innovation, with 36% of all US brands ranking highly on this measure. The most innovative brand is Uber, followed by Amazon, Netflix, Disney and FedEx."

    "Delivering a great customer experience is crucial: According to consumers, Uber, Fedex, Pampers, UPS and Amazon provide the best experience."
    KC's View:
    It is fundamental to Amazon's ecosystem-centric strategic approach to growth that it be perceived as a valued and valuable brand. Now, that carries with it enormous responsibilities - like dealing with issues like counterfeit products, which continues to plague the company.

    There's no question that the company wants the word "Amazon" to stand for something … and has been successful in achieving that goal. There's also little question that Jeff Bezos and his fellow Amazonians understand that this is always a work in progress, not a done deal.

    Published on: November 19, 2019

    The New Yorker has a piece about the Park Slope Food Co-op, entitled "The Grocery Store Where Produce Meets Politics," that endeavors to understand and explain what makes the co-op simultaneously attractive, maddening, and unique.

    An excerpt:

    "In the late eighties, the Co-op had seventeen hundred members. Today, there are more than seventeen thousand, which makes it the biggest food coöperative run on member labor in the country, and, most likely, the world. Members unload delivery trucks and stock shelves. They ring up groceries, count cash, scrub toilets, and sweep the floor. They scan other members’ I.D. cards to admit them into the building, and they look after other members’ kids in the child-care room. In the basement, members with colorful kerchiefs tied around their heads bag nuts and spices, price cuts of meat, and chisel blocks of cheese. Bent over their walnuts and dried-apple rounds, they bear an unmistakable resemblance to Russian factory workers, one point in favor of Co-op critics who like to compare the operation to a Soviet work camp."

    And, a personal note from the story's author, Alexandra Schwartz:

    "I joined the Co-op in 2013, and found it to be claustrophobically crowded, illogically organized, and almost absurdly inconvenient. In other words, it was love at first sight. Suddenly, on my editorial assistant’s salary, I was eating like an editor-in-chief. I loved the communal, chatty ethos. And I loved that it looked like New York, with people of all colors and kinds: vegan Rastafarians next to paleo trustafarians, budget-conscious retirees and profligate brownstone owners, queer parents and Hasids, the very young and the very old."

    You can read the entire story here.
    KC's View:
    One of the things that cooperatives tend to understand better than many traditional retailers is the notion of community - of creating sustained connections between the store and its shoppers by quite literally make those shoppers into owners.

    "My store" actually means something to co-op members, and translates into a competitive advantage. It can't be exactly replicated by traditional stores, but it ought to provide some clues about how to compete effectively.

    Published on: November 19, 2019

    Bloomberg Businessweek has an interview with Erik Nordstrom, CEO of the eponymous department store chain, in which he talks about the challenges of operating a store in New York City at a time when many competitors are closing down stores or even going out of business.

    Some excerpts:

    • "I grew up selling shoes. You are literally on your hands and knees in front of the customer trying to take care of them. That’s a good metaphor for how we try to continue to run the business: We focus on the customer, and certainly today’s customer wants things done differently."

    • "Customers are more empowered than ever, less willing to compromise any of their experiences, and shopping is included in that … It’s not so much about our revenue line. As we continue to get better information, we’ve learned about the importance of engagement and experiences. The more we can engage customers—and food and drink is part of that—people come back more often."

    On why he doesn't like the term "omnichannel"… "I talk to customers every day, and I’ve never had one use the word “channel” with me. It’s not how they think. They just want great experiences. People are on their phones and they’re in physical locations, and they want it when they want it, on their own terms."
    KC's View:
    I love this last comment … it is so true that consumers don't think in terms of format, but rather in terms of experiences offered and needs fulfilled. It is that simple … and complicated.

    Published on: November 19, 2019

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

    • The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that American Express has begun paying retailers to accept its credit cards, a move designed to help it catch up with Visa and Mastercard in terms of acceptance.

    The story says that Amex is is offering "sign-on bonuses to some businesses that don’t take its cards," ranging from under $10,000 to about $450,000."

    Amex has said that its goal is to achieve acceptance parity with its competitors, and "AmEx Chief Executive Stephen Squeri has said the company is on track to meet its goal, but the payments show it hasn’t been an easy sell. Sign-on bonuses with no strings attached are nearly unheard of in the credit-card business. Visa and Mastercard sometimes pay businesses to start accepting cards, but that money is meant to defray the cost of payment technology upgrades. Discover Financial Services also sometimes reimburses businesses."

    I don't take Amex, but if they'd like to write me a check for $450,000, I'm happy to begin doing so. Just saying.

    • The National Grocers Association (NGA) announced that it presented its Industry Service Leadership Award to Dave Jones, who recently retired from The Kellogg Co. after 33 years.

    Fox News reports that "two men and a woman were killed in a shooting outside a Walmart store in Oklahoma on Monday that appeared to stem from a domestic dispute, according to officials and family members … the shooting happened just before 10 a.m. in the parking lot of a Walmart in Duncan, located roughly 75 miles south of the state capital of Oklahoma City.

    "The Duncan Police Department said on Facebook that the woman and one of the men were found shot to death in a car, while the other man was found dead outside the car in the parking lot."
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 19, 2019

    • Albertsons Companies announced that Chris Rupp has been named EVP & Chief Customer & Digital Officer. Rupp joins the company from Microsoft, where she most recently served as General Manager of the company’s Xbox Business Engineering team.

    The announcement says that "Rupp will be responsible for integrating and enhancing customers’ experiences across all digital touchpoints, accelerating the e-commerce business, and deepening customer relationships through loyalty programs. She will also assume responsibility for the company’s enterprise data strategy and data science capabilities."
    KC's View:
    There's also this passage from the announcement that tells us something about Rupp's appeal to Albertsons:

    "In 2005, Rupp took a position as a Category Manager with, managing the consumer-centric categories of wireless phones, computers, and office electronics before being named Vice President and GM, Fulfillment by Amazon Services in 2009. In 2014, Rupp was named Vice President of Prime, where she was instrumental in developing the platform’s marketing, policies, and member benefits across several countries. She also was part of the team that created and launched the first Prime Day in July 2015, which has evolved into one of the largest shopping days in the world."

    Published on: November 19, 2019

    Content Guy’s Note: Stories in this section are, in my estimation, important and relevant to business. However, they are relegated to this slot because some MNB readers have made clear that they prefer a politics-free MNB; I can't do that because sometimes the news calls out for coverage and commentary, but at least I can make it easy for folks to skip it if they so desire.

    • The New York Times reports that Chick-fil-A has "stopped making charitable donations to the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, groups that have been widely criticized by advocates for lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender rights." The decision was made after the fast feeder met resistance to expansion plans in some markets, keyed to its support of groups that oppose L.G.B.T.Q. rights.

    The story says that "equal rights advocates described Chick-fil-A’s decision to stop funding the charities as a positive step but called on the chain to do more."

    Some context from the Times story:

    "Chick-fil-A has faced widespread criticism from gay rights advocates since 2012, when Dan T. Cathy, the company’s chairman and chief executive, was quoted saying Chick-fil-A believed in the 'biblical definition of the family unit.' Mr. Cathy commented after news reports revealed that the company’s foundation had donated millions of dollars to efforts to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States.

    "Chick-fil-A ended nearly all its donations to groups opposed to equal rights for people of different sexual orientations in 2012. But since then, it has given money to the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Last year, Chick-fil-A gave $1.65 million to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and $115,000 to the Salvation Army, according to tax filings."

    Published reports say that Chick-fil-A has left open the possibility that it could resume donating to these organizations in the future.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 19, 2019

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 19, 2019

    In Monday Night Football action, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Los Angeles Chargers 24-17.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 19, 2019

    Past Retail Tomorrow podcasts have focused on how technology can have an impact on business models and people's lives. In this edition, however, we drill down to talk about how technology affected one life … and, in fact, makes living a best life possible.

    Our guest: Heidi Dohse, senior program manager in Google's Cloud - Health and Life Sciences division. Dohse's personal and professional story makes for a compelling narrative that is at once provocative and inspiring.

    Hosted by 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.

    KC's View: