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    Published on: January 14, 2020

    by Michael Sansolo

    If MNB had a patron saint, it likely would likely be the wisdom offered by one-time New York Yankee great Yogi Berra, who once offered the following bit of timeless wisdom: "You can observe a lot by just watching."

    All of your faithful MNB correspondents believe the world is filled with non-stop lessons for businesses to consider and possibly copy. Sometimes even when you get a vaccination.

    Like many people of my age cohort, I have been directed to get a vaccine to ward off shingles. Based on discussions I’ve had with people who have suffered from shingles, this isn’t a controversial move. It’s an illness worth avoiding at all costs.

    The problem is the shingles vaccine used until a few years back has been replaced by a superior version and sadly, finding that vaccine can take a good amount of time and effort. For example, my doctor was unable to give me the shot because the office had no supplies and I ran into a similar problem at the clinics inside all the chain drug stores and supermarkets where I live.

    Then through pure serendipity I stumbled on the local Patient First clinic, and was delighted to discover the vaccine was in good supply. So I bared my arm and got shot number one. Then last week, I returned and got the second shot.

    But that’s not the point of this story. Rather it is all about the entire experience at the Patient First in Rockville, MD. Long story short, it’s wonderful. The facility is clean, the staffers incredibly pleasant, caring and they actually explain things to fools like me.

    And it goes further.

    While awaiting shot number 2, I noticed a framed poster on the examination room wall explaining the customer service attitude of Patient First. The poster tells you if you have chills they’ll bring you a warm blanket or a cup of coffee or tea. If you have kids with you they’ll supply coloring books and crayons.

    Most importantly, these days, each exam room has a charging station for our smart phones with (I checked) cords for Apple or Samsung devices. Not surprisingly I couldn’t pass that up. (Of course, there was Wi-Fi in the waiting room.)

    Now clearly, no one is going to Patient First to get a quick charge or coloring book, but it struck me as a wonderful way to make an unpleasant occasion a little less so. Someone at Patient First has clearly done some insightful research into those things that really bother visitors and offered up simple and small solutions.

    The presence of a charging station won’t get me to make additional trips to the clinic, but the entire customer-centric approach of Patient First will get me to return when I need the place and, obviously, I’m going to recommend it.

    The same attitude should be the focus of any customer facing business because those same patients will come to your stores and restaurants and will wonder why you don’t do the same. As Kevin wrote last week, “Good enough isn’t ever good enough.”

    Or heed the advice of sage baseball announcer Vin Scully who (as an astute MNB reader pointed out yesterday) said, “Good is not good when better is expected.”

    Because what was previously good enough isn’t even close these days; everyone must do better.

    Start by considering Yogi Berra. Look around, and consider the exceptional and disappointing experiences in your life, and then get busy emulating the former and purging the latter from your business.

    It will take effort. But the reality is that there is no vaccination to prevent or cure mediocrity.

    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: January 14, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    Morning Consult is out with a new poll evaluating the nation's most trusted brands, concluding that "the United States Postal Service, Amazon and Google rank as the top three most trusted brands in the country."

    Wait a minute. The US Postal Service?

    Yup. Now that's an Eye-Opener.

    The fact is that the USPS is number one with Gen X and Baby Boomers. (Want to bet that Sunday delivery and the Post Office's relationship with Amazon have had an enormous impact on perceptions?)

    Google and Amazon are among the top-performing brands with Gen Z and millennials.

    Some other Eye-Opening notes from the survey:

    • "Netflix over-performs with younger generations as does The Hershey Company among older Americans."

    • "Nike's Kaepernick gamble pays off with Gen Z: The apparel brand is the seventh most trusted brand among Gen Z consumers."

    • "CPG brands perform better among older generations, dominating more than two-thirds of the Most Trusted Brands among Gen X and boomers, half of millennials, and less than one-third of Gen Z consumers."

    • "Most major brands have maintained high levels of confidence from consumers. Three-quarters of Americans trust the average major company to deliver on promises."

    • "Top performing brands, including Google and Amazon, are more well-trusted than any major institution, save the military."

    • "Younger consumers are generally more skeptical of corporate America and hold brands to higher ethical standards."

    • "Today, less than a quarter of Americans have a lot of trust in their neighbors or labels on food packaging, while fewer than one in 10 say the same about the news media or the U.S. government. Just four percent put a lot of trust in either Wall Street or Hollywood."

    Eye-Openers, all.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 14, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Albertsons is planning an initial public offering that would value the company at $19 billion.

    If the plan goes through, it would be the latest attempt by private equity group Cerberus Capital Management, which owns Albertsons, to cash out. In 2018, Albertsons announced a planned merger with drugstore chain Rite Aid, which would've provided a path to going public. But investor pushback scuttled that plan, and Albertsons instead focused on achieving greater efficiencies and effectiveness.

    The Journal writes that Albertsons "has substantially reduced debt since it last filed paperwork for an IPO in 2015. It ended November with about $8.34 billion in net debt excluding operating leases, down from $10.52 billion a year earlier.

    "The Boise, Idaho-based company posted a 2.7% increase in same-store sales when it reported third-quarter earnings last week. The operator of 2,260 stores has been remodeling its locations, investing in technology and selling real estate, outpacing its bigger rival Kroger Co. in growth. The improvements have come under chief executive Vivek Sankaran, who joined from PepsiCo Inc. last year."
    KC's View:
    This one will work, I predict. This isn't to say that Albertsons does not have a lot of work still to do. It does. And when the economy starts to recede, as it inevitably will, things will get even tougher. But this is a company that has made a lot of progress in the past few years, with numbers and attitudes that look better all the time.

    Published on: January 14, 2020

    The Los Angeles Times reports that Walmart "will add shelf-scanning robots to 650 more U.S. stores by the end of the summer, bringing its fleet to 1,000. The 6-foot-tall devices, equipped with 15 cameras each, roam aisles and send alerts to store employees’ handheld devices when items are out of stock."

    According to the story, "The new robots, designed by San Francisco-based Bossa Nova Robotics Inc., join the ranks of Walmart’s increasingly automated workforce, which also includes devices to scrub floors, unload trucks and gather items on online-grocery orders."
    KC's View:
    I saw several of these things wandering the exhibit floor at the National Retail Federation show in New York City yesterday, and while they are impressive, I did find myself feeling a little skeptical about them.

    Not that they can't do what they're pitched as doing. They seem perfectly capable. But I can't help but wonder if stores - and more importantly, customers - would be better served by having employees in the aisles, able to detect out of stocks and clean up messes, but also able to talk to shoppers and serve both an ambassadorial and utilitarian role.

    I don't think I'm being anti-technology here, and I acknowledge that low unemployment numbers put pressure on retailers to find other solutions. But low unemployment won't last forever, and I'm just wondering if there are ways in which a more human approach could eventually be more differentiating.

    Published on: January 14, 2020

    Yahoo Finance has an interview with Ron Johnson, who ran the Apple Stores to great acclaim and was CEO of JC Penney with considerably less success, in which he says that after a great decade, Amazon is about to run into nine miles of bad road.

    “I think the next decade is tough for Amazon, they are on their heels,” he says. “Amazon is an interesting place.”

    The reason: "It has nothing to do with government regulators starting to sniff around the online retailer’s business model pioneered by Trump foe Jeff Bezos. It has everything to do with how old school retailers are reinventing themselves - finally - to not only compete against Amazon, but be the first choice for consumers."
    KC's View:
    If Amazon is facing nine miles of bad road, it would be a mistake for its competitors to underestimate its ability to quickly and efficiently fill in potholes.

    I would completely agree with Johnson that a number of retailers - think Walmart and Target - have gotten a lot better at competing with Amazon. They've invested the time and money and energy in reinventing their business models to embrace new consumer behavior realities, and customers are responding. No question about it. And there are other retailers out there that have decided to compete with Amazon not by playing the same game, but by emphasizing their own strengths and differential advantages, playing games that Amazon cannot or will not play (so far).

    But … that leaves a lot of business in play, because there will be a lot of retailers out there who will read this story and think that they don't have to offer inspired, innovative and experiential stores, that they can do the same-old, same-old and survive. They're wrong.

    I would suggest that Amazon will adapt. I would suggest that Amazon always has known that it would have to adapt, that it would get tougher … which is why it has continued to innovate relentlessly.

    Here's the bottom line reality: The next decade will be tough … for everybody in the retail biz. Delusions, illusions and complacency will have no place there.

    Published on: January 14, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal reports that for the first time since 1994, annual wine consumption by Americans dropped - it was down 0.9 percent last year. It happened as "millennials opt for alternatives like hard seltzers, cocktails and nonalcoholic beer," part of a "generational shift as the number of millennials surpasses baby boomers, who drove strong demand for wine in America."
    KC's View:
    Hard to imagine, just based on my consumption. What can I say? I'm doing my best.

    There were two interesting notes from the story. One is that the sales of lower priced wines have decreased more than higher priced wines - which means that a) consumers may be getting more educated and discerning, and b) people tend to drink lower priced wines faster than more expensive wines.

    The other is that the wine industry believes that as millennials get older, they'll drink more wine. This may be wishful thinking, though … as the state of the planet gets more tenuous, they may actually drink more of the harder stuff.

    Published on: January 14, 2020

    • The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that as much as Amazon has dominated the bookselling business over the past two decades, it also is making a move to expand its footprint as a book publisher - signing up bestselling novelists Dean Koontz and Patricia Cornwell to deals that will have it publishing their new novels.

    One challenge - traditional bookstores generally boycott Amazon-published books, but both Koontz and Cornwell believe that its superior reach and marketing ability will compensate for a lack of a physical presence.

    Koontz's first book under the Amazon contract, "Nameless," comes out on March 31. Cornwell's first Amazon-published book, "Quantum," came out last October and reportedly sold well despite lousy reviews - though the sales apparently skewed more to digital downloads and audio books and away from hardcover sales.

    There could be a change, though - the new owners of Barnes & Noble have suggested that any boycott of Amazon-published books could come to an end.

    Reuters reports that "India ordered an investigation of Inc and Walmart’s Flipkart on Monday over alleged violations of competition law in the latest setback for U.S. e-commerce giants operating in the country.

    "The Competition Commission of India (CCI) said it was ordering a wider probe following a review of allegations that Amazon and Flipkart were promoting some 'preferred sellers' and in turn hurting business for other, smaller sellers."

    Both retailers said they were confident that they were in compliance with local laws.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 14, 2020

    • The Miami Herald reports that Walmart has opened a new store in the areas that has no cashiers, "designed to improve the shopping experience and speed checkouts. The West Miami-Dade store will have the same number of workers, about 100, as a traditional neighborhood market. But instead of swipers and baggers, the checkout lane will feature roving employees assisting shoppers when they need it."

    The store also features both click-and-collect and same-day delivery.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 14, 2020

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

    • The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that "Sears Holdings Corp., the estate of the iconic department store left behind in bankruptcy, has agreed to settle litigation over new owner Edward Lampert’s $5 billion purchase of the retailer’s best stores for more than $18 million.

    "Sears sold its best assets including 425 of its most profitable stores back to Mr. Lampert’s hedge fund, ESL Investments Inc., last year, and an ESL-backed company, Transform Holdco LLC, became the new owner. Fights between the 'old' and 'new' Sears over the payment terms of the transaction started almost immediately."

    While the old Sears said that the new Sears owed it more than $57 million, it has agreed to take a check for $12 million, which "may ultimately go to paying off the old Sears’s vendors, former employees owed severance and tax authorities."

    Probably be a smart move to take the $12 million check to the bank ASAP, and make sure it clears. The so-called 'new' Sears may not be around very long.

    Glossy reports that Target has announced All in Motion, a private-label "activewear brand for men, women and kids, launching online on Jan. 17 and in stores Jan. 24. For Target, the line represents a growing focus on activewear and another big step for the company’s growing apparel empire."

    According to the story, "The retailer now has 41 owned brands, 19 of which are found in the men’s, women’s and kids’ clothing and accessories categories. Others are in grocery, beauty and home. At a time when all big-box retailers from Walmart to Kohl’s are investing more in private label, and Amazon is ramping up its fashion business, Target continues to show it’s investing time and resources into building brands that go beyond just filling a white space in the market at a lower price point."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 14, 2020

    • California's State Bros. Markets announced that Jerrold Williams, most recently senior vice president/chief human resources officer for Hostess Brands and a former Kellogg and Daymond Worldwide executive, has been named the company's senior vice president of human resources.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 14, 2020

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 14, 2020

    • In the college football National Championship game last night, LSU defeated Clemson 42-25, the school's fourth national title and first since 2007.

    • The Associated Press reports that on the heels of Major League Baseball suspending Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch for one year each - as well as fining the club $5 million and taking away a number of future high draft picks - the team fired both men.

    The charge: that they participated in the use of technology to steal opposing teams' signs and then communicate pitch choices to batters, which is strictly against the rules.

    “While it is impossible to determine whether the conduct actually impacted the results on the field, the perception of some that it did causes significant harm to the game,” said Commissioner Rob Manfred.

    The next head likely to be on baseball's chopping block - Alex Cora, who was the Astros' bench coach when the events transpired and reportedly was an active participant. Cora now is the manager of the Boston Red Sox, a team embroiled in its own sign-stealing scandal.
    KC's View:
    Good. As the great Robert B. Parker once said, "Baseball is the most important thing that doesn't matter." It is entirely appropriate that the powers that be take this kind of crap very seriously.

    Published on: January 14, 2020

    The nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards were announced yesterday…

    Best Picture
    Ford v Ferrari
    The Irishman
    Jojo Rabbit
    Little Women
    Marriage Story
    Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    Actor in a Leading Role
    Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
    Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
    Adam Driver, Marriage Story
    Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
    Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes

    Actress in a Leading Role
    Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
    Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
    Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
    Charlize Theron, Bombshell
    Renée Zellweger, Judy

    Actress in a Supporting Role
    Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
    Laura Dern, Marriage Story
    Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit
    Florence Pugh, Little Women
    Margot Robbie, Bombshell

    Actor in a Supporting Role
    Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
    Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
    Al Pacino, The Irishman
    Joe Pesci, The Irishman
    Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    Best Director
    Bong Joon Ho, Parasite
    Sam Mendes, 1917
    Todd Phillips, Joker
    Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
    Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    Adapted Screenplay
    The Irishman
    Jojo Rabbit
    Little Women
    The Two Popes

    Original Screenplay
    Knives Out
    Marriage Story
    Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    International Feature Film
    Corpus Christi (Poland)
    Honeyland (North Macedonia)
    Les Miserables (France)
    Pain and Glory (Spain)
    Parasite (South Korea)
    KC's View:
    I added this story yesterday about 10 hours after posting MNB … I was sort of on the run at NRF, and got caught up on the nominations later than usual.

    One note worth making - seven out of 20 acting nominations went to Netflix films — including three of the slots for Best Supporting Actor. That says something about the impact that a disruptive company - which challenges traditional distribution methods - can have on a traditional industry. Ignore such challenges to your own business at your peril.

    Add that to the fact that the industry is getting a lot of heat - all of it deserved - for the fact that white men tend to be more recognized than women or people of color. This also is the kind of trend that can disrupt a traditional industry, which makes it seem less relevant to its customer base.

    All mistakes that can be avoided. But you have to work at it.