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    Published on: February 3, 2020

    Earth Fare announced this morning that it is closing its 50 stores, and has begun running going-out-of-business sales at each of its locations.  The announcement comes barely after a year after the company, apparently in a  fit of wishful thinking, was saying it planned to double its store count.

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that Earth Fare said that "its efforts in recent years to expand and to improve customer service haven’t been enough to overcome its problem."

    “While many of these initiatives improved the business, continued challenges in the retail industry impeded the company’s progress as well as its ability to refinance its debt. As a result, Earth Fare is not in a financial position to continue to operate,” the company said in a statement.

    The Journal says that even as it sells off inventory and fixtures, Earth Fare is continuing to try to find a buyer for its stores.

    Context from the Journal story:

    "At least two other grocery chains have also started major restructurings in recent weeks.

    Fairway Market filed for bankruptcy last month with a $70 million offer to sell all five of its Manhattan stores and a distribution and food preparation center to the Village Super Market Inc., which operates stores under the ShopRite banner. Village Super Market could shrink its bid to just three stores in Manhattan.

    "Lucky’s Market, which has been backed by Kroger Co., filed for bankruptcy last week and is trying to close or sell about three dozen stores. Interested bidders include Aldi Inc. and Publix Super Markets Inc."

    KC's View:
      I don't know this chain well, but from what I gather, its biggest problem was that it didn't have a strong enough brand identity nor a compelling enough offering to compete in a fractured and fractious marketplace.  That's a recipe for disaster … if you don't stand for something, you're inevitably going to fall when the going gets tough.  And the going only is tougher with every passing day.,

     The Journal points out that last year Earth Fare decided to differentiate its offering by hiring a chief medical officer.  Clearly, these efforts at life support and resuscitation didn't work.  

    Guess they should've hired an undertaker.

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    Inspiration can strike anywhere at any time.  It also can be a matter of responding to circumstances.

    In this case, the circumstances include the need for greater sustainability.  And the inspiration has to do with ice skating rinks.

    The company involved is called Glice, based in Switzerland, and essentially what it did was come up with a concept for skating rinks that don't require cold.  According to the New York Times, The "ice" on the rinks are made up of "polymer panels that simulate the slip and feel of ice."  The rinks require "no cold weather, special blades, electricity or water (other than for cleaning). When skating season is over, the panels can be stacked and stored. In fact, Glice makes skating season a year-round affair."

    Not only that, because the panels are basically plastic, they have more "give" than real ice, and so when you fall down, it doesn't hurt as much.

    Glice rinks are "arguably more ecologically conscious and certainly more convenient than traditional ice rinks, which require large amounts of water and electricity, as well as noisy, cumbersome machines including refrigeration systems and compressors."  While "critics argue that Glice rinks are still bad for the environment because they are made of, well, plastic …  the company replies that this plastic is durable, with panels lasting 12 years, after which you can flip them over, and use them for another 12."

    Not being an ice skater, I can't comment on the efficacy or desirability of the Glice technology.

    I'm just intrigued by the idea that these entrepreneurs saw an opportunity where a lot of us never would;  I drive by an ice skating rink almost every day, but it never occurred to me to think about the sustainability implications, especially as the world gets warmer and puts greater demands on our society.

    The Eye-Opening question it raises for me is, how many other opportunities are there that a little original thinking might identify, and in doing so, open up potentially game-changing business models?

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    New York Times columnist Ginia Bellafante had a piece over the weekend that examined the social and cultural impact of e-commerce, and she was not encouraged.

    The title of the column:  "What We Lose by Hiring Someone to Pick Up Our Avocados for Us."

    An excerpt:

    "The incursion of technology into every aspect of consumption has meant that only the indolent or pathologically tolerant wait for things.

    "Starbucks seems to prioritize mobile orders. So if you choose to order in person, you might find yourself walking straight to the cashier and then lingering for a bafflingly long time as one drink after another — none of them yours — lands in the mobile pickup area, waiting for whatever very busy person made an advance purchase he is late to claim.

    "At the same time that physical retail culture remains ostensibly in crisis, it seems to create fewer reasons to engage with it."

    Bellafante goes on:

    "The act of turning grocery shopping into an occupation threatens something larger — we are losing a way to bridge differences in a world already collapsing from its stratification. The guy who walks into a Starbucks to pick up his pre-ordered flat white as he conference calls into his AirPods doesn’t have to exchange a single word with the worker behind the counter or really even acknowledge her. He grabs his drink and gets on with it."

    She doesn't argue that e-commerce is all bad; she acknowledges that it can be useful for those who are "housebound, to single parents, to others paralyzingly constrained by time."  But she also suggests that e-commerce is turning us into a nation in which basic socialization takes place less often, which is not for the better.

    You can read the entire column here.

    KC's View:
      I'm normally a big fan of Bellafante's columns, but I think in this one she falls into the trap of assuming that most people engaged in mobile ordering and e-commerce are disconnecting from the world.  I don't think that's true.  In my local Starbucks, where I go maybe a couple of times a week, I almost always order via the app … but I also almost always engage the baristas and workers in conversation, chat with other customers, and sort of view it as a place far more social than where I work (which is out of my home, where it generally is just me and the dogs).

    There's also another reality that she ignores - that for a lot of people, the time saved using e-commerce gives them the time to play with their kids, go for a walk, read a book, take a jog … or do numerous other things that, frankly, are more rewarding than walking up and down the aisles of many stores.  (Unless, of course, the store is one that is compelling and differentiated.)

    Now, this isn't everyone.  Some e-commerce users are just lazy and disconnected from other people.  But it isn't a simple construct, and I think this needs to be acknowledged.

    This would, by the way, be a great ad campaign for Amazon - if they could somehow figure out how to quantify how many hours of boring, traditional shopping it has saved people, and then qualify how they were able to use those hours in more uplifting and fulfilling pursuits, it would be a really good commercial that might blunt some of the criticisms it gets.

    Just a thought.  (Maybe for next year's Super Bowl…?)


    Published on: February 3, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal has a story about how one trend - the growth of so-called ghost kitchens that handle delivery functions for existing restaurants - is matching up with another - the growth of vacant space in America's malls.

    Developers, the Journal writes, are saying that ghost kitchens "can create new interest in retail and warehouse space vacated by merchants that have struggled to compete with e-commerce."

    The story notes that "delivery now accounts for roughly 9% of the $282 billion U.S. fast-food sector and is growing faster than dine-in and drive-through sales, according to a recent Bernstein analysis … Restaurants are expanding their delivery offerings to generate sales despite the impact those orders often have on their operational efficiency and profits. The remote kitchens can reduce their real-estate costs while expanding their reach."

    KC's View:

    All that space has to be used for something.  Might as well be for ghost kitchens, dark stores and micro-fulfillment centers.

    Though it does seem to me that it is a buyer's market in a lot of places, and so these restaurants and stores ought to be able to get good deals.

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    From the Washington Post:

    "The prospect of hotter summers, warmer winters, drought and violent weather events have caused experts to warn of coming wine shortages and price increases, changing varietal character and, in some dire predictions, the extinction of some wines altogether.

    "Maybe there’s a fix, says a research paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    "The scientists’ computer models show that if we do nothing, global warming of 2 degrees Celsius would wipe out 56 percent of current wine-growing land; increase that to 4 degrees and an estimated 85 percent of grapes won’t be viable.

    "This team of researchers investigated whether using more heat-tolerant grapes would allow vineyards to adapt. They found that by reshuffling where certain grape varieties are grown, potential losses at 2 degrees of warming could be halved, and cut by a third if warming reached 4 degrees."

    The study says that if global warming proceeds as scientists expect, the wine industries likely to be most impacted will be "in Spain, Italy and parts of California that are already quite warm. But there are winners in warming scenarios: In Germany, northern Europe and the Pacific Northwest of the United States, where in some years they struggle to get enough sun hours to facilitate budding, fruit set and ripening, a warming trend might produce dramatically better wines."

    KC's View:
      The one thing you cannot do is close your eyes to this stuff.

    Last week, we had a story about a fellow in Patagonia who was planing grapes in an inhospitable environment, gambling that it will pay off in about 50 years.  

    Here's what I do know:  Doing nothing is not an option.

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    From the Boston Globe:

    "The floor-to-ceiling aisles of Post-its, pushpins, pencils, and printer ink? History. The endless rows of three-ring binders and hanging file folders? Gone.

    "Instead, there are light-filled co-working spaces with snack-stocked kitchens, digitally tricked-out meeting rooms, and podcasting studios. There are workshops on mindful organizing and 'Finding Your Customer.'

    "Meet the new Staples: It’s not just an office supply superstore anymore, it is, the company puts it, a 'destination dedicated to continued curiosity, growth, and development'."

    The fact is that Staples is dealing with the fact that e-commerce in general and Amazon in particular have had a big impact on its business model;  if you can order file folders and paper (if you actually need file folders and paper) online rather than going to the store, or can put printer ink on a Subscribe-and-Save automatic replenishment list, why do you need to travel to Staples?  On the other hand, if the retailer can appeal to "freelancers, small entrepreneurs, and others who work outside big corporations, including many young people who increasingly look to work - as opposed to religion or organized social groups - for community and affirmation," then maybe it has an outside shot at survival.

    “It’s not about product anymore. That’s something you can buy anywhere online,” says Michael Motz, chief executive of the Staples US Retail group.  “It’s about, how can we provide solutions for you? It’s the connection to your everyday life.”

    KC's View:
      I love Motz's comment … it is almost as if he'd read something we talk about a lot here on MNB, that retailers have to be "more than a source of product and have to turn into a resource for the consumer."  He's playing my song.

    What Staples is trying to do won't be easy.  For one thing, the evolution probably will be situational, depending on available real estate and the needs of local communities.  It also require taking a bit of a hit financially, since turning your business model on its head almost always takes time and costs money.

    Staples also is dealing with some headwinds.  It partnered with Workbar, a WeWork-style business, a few years ago, but then stepped away from that partnership.  And WeWork has had highly publicized issues with profitability amid an expansion plan that some would argue has run amok.

    I admire what Staples is trying to do.  The status quo simply isn't an acceptable option, and I think risk-taking is required.  I suspect the biggest problem Staples may have will be resisting the urge to try to be a little bit pregnant.  Management has to commit.

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    The New York Times reports that "the Wuhan coronavirus spreading from China is now likely to become a pandemic that circles the globe, according to many of the world’s leading infectious disease experts.

    "The prospect is daunting. A pandemic — an ongoing epidemic on two or more continents — may well have global consequences, despite the extraordinary travel restrictions and quarantines now imposed by China and other countries, including the United States.

    "Scientists do not yet know how lethal the new coronavirus is, however, so there is uncertainty about how much damage a pandemic might cause. But there is growing consensus that the pathogen is readily transmitted between humans.

    "The Wuhan coronavirus is spreading more like influenza, which is highly transmissible, than like its slow-moving viral cousins, SARS and MERS, scientists have found … The mortality rate for known cases of the Wuhan coronavirus has been running about 2 percent, although that is likely to drop as more tests are done and more mild cases are found."

    The story makes the point that, not surprisingly, countries with more advanced health care systems are likely to be less hard-hit than those with m ore fragile medical infrastructures;  there also is some question about how warmer weather might tamp down on the disease's spread.  But it also is going to take time to find a vaccine, which means enormous percentages of the global population could be at risk.

    Published on: February 3, 2020

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

    •  From the Wall Street Journal (though it might as well be from the National Enquirer:

    "Michael Sanchez, the brother of Jeff Bezos ’ girlfriend, sued the Amazon.com Inc. founder for defamation, alleging his representatives spread false rumors to news outlets that Mr. Sanchez provided graphic nude photos of Mr. Bezos to the press.

    "The lawsuit, filed Friday in California state court in Los Angeles, also names as a defendant Gavin de Becker, a security consultant hired by Mr. Bezos. Mr. Sanchez, a talent manager, claims Mr. de Becker worked with Mr. Bezos to spread false statements about the public disclosure of Mr. Bezos’ affair with Lauren Sanchez, Mr. Sanchez’s sister."

    The story goes on:  "Mr. Sanchez’s lawsuit acknowledges that he helped publicize the relationship in an attempt to get out in front of news about the relationship.

    "His lawsuit concerns what he says was a campaign by Mr. Bezos and Mr. de Becker to blame Mr. Sanchez for turning over graphic nude photographs, which Mr. Sanchez denies doing. People familiar with Mr. Sanchez’s dealings with the tabloid said he showed a below-the-belt selfie of Mr. Bezos to the Enquirer, without providing a copy, but turned over other images."

    Three things.

    First, Bezos probably will be okay.  He reportedly made about $8 billion last week when Amazon's stock went up seven percent.

    Second, this is going to make Thanksgiving this year at the Bezos household kind of interesting.Third, wouldn't we all be better off if we lived in a world where nude selfies didn't exist, or at least did not become a matter for public discussion?  (You know.  Like what I'm doing right now.)

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    •  Fast Company has a story about retired baseball star Alex Rodriguez, who has just invested in  AB InBev’s Dominican Republic-based beer brand Presidente, becoming not just a minority shareholder but also chairman of the division, "tasked with working to grow Presidente’s presence in the United States, including the release of new products and materials."

    Rodriguez describes Presidente as a brand that in the Dominican Republic "is like Coca-Cola, like Pepsi, like Google, like the Yankees are here in America … When you are Dominican in this country - there’s almost 2 million Dominicans here, and almost 60 million Hispanics - we get to come to this great country where dreams come true, lifting a Presidente is like lifting the Dominican flag."

    The goal:  turn Presidente into the next Red Stripe, a Jamaican beer that has evolved into a global success story.

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    Mary Higgins Clark, who wrote more than 50 suspense novels and sold more than 100 million copies - the vast majority of them after she became a widow with three children in her late 30s - has passed away.  She was 92.

    She had a simple goal in her books:  "You want to turn the page," she told the Associated Press in 2013.  "There are wonderful sagas you can thoroughly enjoy a section and put it down. But if you’re reading my book, I want you stuck with reading the next paragraph. The greatest compliment I can receive is, 'I read your darned book ‘til 4 in the morning, and now I’m tired.'  I say, 'Then you got your money’s worth'."

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    Got this email from MNB reader Jesse Sowell in response to Friday's "OffBeat"…

    I always look forward to your culture notes on Fridays. I, too, have loved "The Good Place" - haven't seen the finale yet…

    I expected to hate Joker, but it turned out to be near the top of my list of the best movies I saw in 2020. For the first 2/3 of the movie, I found Joker to be a great individual acting performance in an underwhelming, even slightly boring, film. Then the final act moved into the public sphere, and, for me, became a brilliant reflection on the state of the world today. Joker acts out what you get when the world divides so starkly: into haves and have-nots, right vs left, the vulnerable vs the bullies, and all the other us-vs-them's we are devolving into. The movie should have ended in the streets and not gone on to the last scene, which was the only part of the movie that felt comic book-ish to me. In the end, Joker may not be "the movie for our times", but I think it may be the movie we deserve.

    But I also totally get why you hated it. I think I could have seen Joker on a different day or in a different mood and felt the same way. Last year I hated Dunkirk, much beloved by everyone I know. To each their own.

    We'll just have to agree to disagree.   I loved Dunkirk.  (Which, by the way, was made by Christopher Nolan, who gave us a much more intriguing Joker, courtesy of Heath Ledger, in The Dark Knight.)

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    In Super Bowl LIV, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers 31-20, capitalizing on a fourth quarter comeback engineered by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who became the youngest player named Super Bowl MVP just a year after he was the youngest player named league MVP.

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    Digital strategies aren't just about creating alternatives to the bricks-and-mortar shopping experience.  Done effectively, they can actually bring people back to the store, while also eliminating customer anonymity, creating rich and actionable data, and deepen relationships between the store and consumer in a way that transcends the simple transaction.

    Our newest Retail Tomorrow podcast, which brings together a terrific panel of experts from a wide range of disciplines, was recorded at Google’s New York City offices during the recent National Retail Federation (NRF) Show.  Our guests:

    •  Matt Alexander, co-founder of Neighborhood Goods, an unusual and fascinating take on physical retailing with stores in Dallas and New York.

    •  Patrick Flanagan, senior vice president of digital marketing and strategy for Simon,  which has more than 200 properties in 37 states and Puerto Rico.

    •  Tom Furphy, CEO and Managing Director of Consumer Equity Partners, a member of the Retail Tomorrow podcast family and a regular contributor to "The Innovation Conversation" on MNB.

    •  And Jalna Silverstein, a leader in Ernst & Young’s Transaction Advisory Practice and its Real Estate, Consumer Experience and Retail Strategy.

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    This Retail Tomorrow podcast is sponsored by the Global Market Development Center (GMDC).

    Pictured below are our panel members, from left:  The Content Guy, Matt Alexander, Tom Furphy, Patrick Flanagan, Jalna Silverstein.

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    Inspiration can strike anywhere at any time. It also can be a matter of responding to circumstances.

    In this case, the circumstances include the need for greater sustainability. And the inspiration has to do with ice skating rinks.

    The company involved is called Glice, based in Switzerland, and essentially what it did was come up with a concept for skating rinks that don't require cold. The "ice" on the rinks are made up of "polymer panels that simulate the slip and feel of ice." The rinks require "no cold weather, special blades, electricity or water (other than for cleaning). When skating season is over, the panels can be stacked and stored. In fact, Glice makes skating season a year-round affair."

    Not only that, because the panels are basically plastic, they have more "give" than real ice, and so when you fall down, it doesn't hurt as much.

    Glice rinks are "arguably more ecologically conscious and certainly more convenient than traditional ice rinks, which require large amounts of water and electricity, as well as noisy, cumbersome machines including refrigeration systems and compressors." While "critics argue that Glice rinks are still bad for the environment because they are made of, well, plastic … the company replies that this plastic is durable, with panels lasting 12 years, after which you can flip them over, and use them for another 12."

    Not being an ice skater, I can't comment on the efficacy or desirability of the Glice technology.

    I'm just intrigued by the idea that these entrepreneurs saw an opportunity where a lot of us never would; I drive by an ice skating rink almost every day, but it never occurred to me to think about the sustainability implications, especially as the world gets warmer and puts greater demands on our society.

    The Eye-Opening question it raises for me is, how many other opportunities are there that a little original thinking might identify, and in doing so, open up potentially game-changing business models?
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    New York Times columnist Ginia Bellafante had a piece over the weekend that examined the social and cultural impact of e-commerce, and she was not encouraged.

    The title of the column: "What We Lose by Hiring Someone to Pick Up Our Avocados for Us."

    An excerpt:

    "The incursion of technology into every aspect of consumption has meant that only the indolent or pathologically tolerant wait for things.

    "Starbucks seems to prioritize mobile orders. So if you choose to order in person, you might find yourself walking straight to the cashier and then lingering for a bafflingly long time as one drink after another — none of them yours — lands in the mobile pickup area, waiting for whatever very busy person made an advance purchase he is late to claim.

    "At the same time that physical retail culture remains ostensibly in crisis, it seems to create fewer reasons to engage with it."

    Bellafante goes on:

    "The act of turning grocery shopping into an occupation threatens something larger — we are losing a way to bridge differences in a world already collapsing from its stratification. The guy who walks into a Starbucks to pick up his pre-ordered flat white as he conference calls into his AirPods doesn’t have to exchange a single word with the worker behind the counter or really even acknowledge her. He grabs his drink and gets on with it."

    She doesn't argue that e-commerce is all bad; she acknowledges that it can be useful for those who are "housebound, to single parents, to others paralyzingly constrained by time." But she also suggests that e-commerce is turning us into a nation in which basic socialization takes place less often, which is not for the better.

    You can read the entire column here.
    KC's View:
    I'm normally a big fan of Bellafante's columns, but I think in this one she falls into the trap of assuming that most people engaged in mobile ordering and e-commerce are disconnecting from the world. I don't think that's true. In my local Starbucks, where I go maybe a couple of times a week, I almost always order via the app … but I also almost always engage the baristas and workers in conversation, chat with other customers, and sort of view it as a place far more social than where I work (which is out of my home, where it generally is just me and the dogs).

    There's also another reality that she ignores - that for a lot of people, the time saved using e-commerce gives them the time to play with their kids, go for a walk, read a book, take a jog … or do numerous other things that, frankly, are more rewarding than walking up and down the aisles of many stores. (Unless, of course, the store is one that is compelling and differentiated.)

    Now, this isn't everyone. Some e-commerce users are just lazy and disconnected from other people. But it isn't a simple construct, and I think this needs to be acknowledged.

    This would, by the way, be a great ad campaign for Amazon - if they could somehow figure out how to quantify how many hours of boring, traditional shopping it has saved people, and then qualify how they were able to use those hours in more uplifting and fulfilling pursuits, it would be a really good commercial that might blunt some of the criticisms it gets.

    Just a thought. (Maybe for next year's Super Bowl…?)

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal has a story about how one trend - the growth of so-called ghost kitchens that handle delivery functions for existing restaurants - is matching up with another - the growth of vacant space in America's malls.

    Developers, the Journal writes, are saying that ghost kitchens "can create new interest in retail and warehouse space vacated by merchants that have struggled to compete with e-commerce."

    The story notes that "delivery now accounts for roughly 9% of the $282 billion U.S. fast-food sector and is growing faster than dine-in and drive-through sales, according to a recent Bernstein analysis … Restaurants are expanding their delivery offerings to generate sales despite the impact those orders often have on their operational efficiency and profits. The remote kitchens can reduce their real-estate costs while expanding their reach."
    KC's View:
    All that space has to be used for something. Might as well be for ghost kitchens, dark stores and micro-fulfillment centers.

    Though it does seem to me that it is a buyer's market in a lot of places, and so these restaurants and stores ought to be able to get good deals.

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    From the Washington Post:

    "The prospect of hotter summers, warmer winters, drought and violent weather events have caused experts to warn of coming wine shortages and price increases, changing varietal character and, in some dire predictions, the extinction of some wines altogether.

    "Maybe there’s a fix, says a research paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    "The scientists’ computer models show that if we do nothing, global warming of 2 degrees Celsius would wipe out 56 percent of current wine-growing land; increase that to 4 degrees and an estimated 85 percent of grapes won’t be viable.

    "This team of researchers investigated whether using more heat-tolerant grapes would allow vineyards to adapt. They found that by reshuffling where certain grape varieties are grown, potential losses at 2 degrees of warming could be halved, and cut by a third if warming reached 4 degrees."

    The study says that if global warming proceeds as scientists expect, the wine industries likely to be most impacted will be "in Spain, Italy and parts of California that are already quite warm. But there are winners in warming scenarios: In Germany, northern Europe and the Pacific Northwest of the United States, where in some years they struggle to get enough sun hours to facilitate budding, fruit set and ripening, a warming trend might produce dramatically better wines."
    KC's View:
    The one thing you cannot do is close your eyes to this stuff.

    Last week, we had a story about a fellow in Patagonia who was planing grapes in an inhospitable environment, gambling that it will pay off in about 50 years.

    Here's what I do know: Doing nothing is not an option.

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    From the Boston Globe:

    "The floor-to-ceiling aisles of Post-its, pushpins, pencils, and printer ink? History. The endless rows of three-ring binders and hanging file folders? Gone.

    "Instead, there are light-filled co-working spaces with snack-stocked kitchens, digitally tricked-out meeting rooms, and podcasting studios. There are workshops on mindful organizing and 'Finding Your Customer.'

    "Meet the new Staples: It’s not just an office supply superstore anymore, it is, the company puts it, a 'destination dedicated to continued curiosity, growth, and development'."

    The fact is that Staples is dealing with the fact that e-commerce in general and Amazon in particular have had a big impact on its business model; if you can order file folders and paper (if you actually need file folders and paper) online rather than going to the store, or can put printer ink on a Subscribe-and-Save automatic replenishment list, why do you need to travel to Staples? On the other hand, if the retailer can appeal to "freelancers, small entrepreneurs, and others who work outside big corporations, including many young people who increasingly look to work - as opposed to religion or organized social groups - for community and affirmation," then maybe it has an outside shot at survival.

    “It’s not about product anymore. That’s something you can buy anywhere online,” says Michael Motz, chief executive of the Staples US Retail group. “It’s about, how can we provide solutions for you? It’s the connection to your everyday life.”
    KC's View:
    I love Motz's comment … it is almost as if he'd read something we talk about a lot here on MNB, that retailers have to be "more than a source of product and have to turn into a resource for the consumer." He's playing my song.

    What Staples is trying to do won't be easy. For one thing, the evolution probably will be situational, depending on available real estate and the needs of local communities. It also require taking a bit of a hit financially, since turning your business model on its head almost always takes time and costs money.

    Staples also is dealing with some headwinds. It partnered with Workbar, a WeWork-style business, a few years ago, but then stepped away from that partnership. And WeWork has had highly publicized issues with profitability amid an expansion plan that some would argue has run amok.

    I admire what Staples is trying to do. The status quo simply isn't an acceptable option, and I think risk-taking is required. I suspect the biggest problem Staples may have will be resisting the urge to try to be a little bit pregnant. Management has to commit.

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    The New York Times reports that "the Wuhan coronavirus spreading from China is now likely to become a pandemic that circles the globe, according to many of the world’s leading infectious disease experts.

    "The prospect is daunting. A pandemic — an ongoing epidemic on two or more continents — may well have global consequences, despite the extraordinary travel restrictions and quarantines now imposed by China and other countries, including the United States.

    "Scientists do not yet know how lethal the new coronavirus is, however, so there is uncertainty about how much damage a pandemic might cause. But there is growing consensus that the pathogen is readily transmitted between humans.

    "The Wuhan coronavirus is spreading more like influenza, which is highly transmissible, than like its slow-moving viral cousins, SARS and MERS, scientists have found … The mortality rate for known cases of the Wuhan coronavirus has been running about 2 percent, although that is likely to drop as more tests are done and more mild cases are found."

    The story makes the point that, not surprisingly, countries with more advanced health care systems are likely to be less hard-hit than those with m ore fragile medical infrastructures; there also is some question about how warmer weather might tamp down on the disease's spread. But it also is going to take time to find a vaccine, which means enormous percentages of the global population could be at risk.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 3, 2020

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

    • From the Wall Street Journal (though it might as well be from the National Inquirer:

    "Michael Sanchez, the brother of Jeff Bezos ’ girlfriend, sued the Amazon.com Inc. founder for defamation, alleging his representatives spread false rumors to news outlets that Mr. Sanchez provided graphic nude photos of Mr. Bezos to the press.

    "The lawsuit, filed Friday in California state court in Los Angeles, also names as a defendant Gavin de Becker, a security consultant hired by Mr. Bezos. Mr. Sanchez, a talent manager, claims Mr. de Becker worked with Mr. Bezos to spread false statements about the public disclosure of Mr. Bezos’ affair with Lauren Sanchez, Mr. Sanchez’s sister."

    The story goes on: "Mr. Sanchez’s lawsuit acknowledges that he helped publicize the relationship in an attempt to get out in front of news about the relationship.

    "His lawsuit concerns what he says was a campaign by Mr. Bezos and Mr. de Becker to blame Mr. Sanchez for turning over graphic nude photographs, which Mr. Sanchez denies doing. People familiar with Mr. Sanchez’s dealings with the tabloid said he showed a below-the-belt selfie of Mr. Bezos to the Enquirer, without providing a copy, but turned over other images."

    Three things.

    First, Bezos probably will be okay. He reportedly made about $8 billion last week when Amazon's stock went up seven percent.

    Second, this is going to make Thanksgiving this year at the Bezos household kind of interesting.

    Third, wouldn't we all be better off if we lived in a world where nude selfies didn't exist, or at least did not become a matter for public discussion? (You know. Like what I'm doing right now.)

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    Fast Company has a story about retired baseball star Alex Rodriguez, who has just invested in AB InBev’s Dominican Republic-based beer brand Presidente, becoming not just a minority shareholder but also chairman of the division, "tasked with working to grow Presidente’s presence in the United States, including the release of new products and materials."

    Rodriguez describes Presidente as a brand that in the Dominican Republic "is like Coca-Cola, like Pepsi, like Google, like the Yankees are here in America … When you are Dominican in this country - there’s almost 2 million Dominicans here, and almost 60 million Hispanics - we get to come to this great country where dreams come true, lifting a Presidente is like lifting the Dominican flag."

    The goal: turn Presidente into the next Red Stripe, a Jamaican beer that has evolved into a global success story.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    Mary Higgins Clark, who wrote more than 50 suspense novels and sold more than 100 million copies - the vast majority of them after she became a widow with three children in her late 30s - has passed away. She was 92.

    She had a simple goal in her books: "You want to turn the page," she told the Associated Press in 2013. "There are wonderful sagas you can thoroughly enjoy a section and put it down. But if you’re reading my book, I want you stuck with reading the next paragraph. The greatest compliment I can receive is, 'I read your darned book ‘til 4 in the morning, and now I’m tired.' I say, 'Then you got your money’s worth'."
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    Got this email from MNB reader Jesse Sowell in response to Friday's "OffBeat"…

    I always look forward to your culture notes on Fridays. I, too, have loved The Good Place - haven't seen the finale yet…

    I expected to hate Joker, but it turned out to be near the top of my list of the best movies I saw in 2020. For the first 2/3 of the movie, I found Joker to be a great individual acting performance in an underwhelming, even slightly boring, film. Then the final act moved into the public sphere, and, for me, became a brilliant reflection on the state of the world today. Joker acts out what you get when the world divides so starkly: into haves and have-nots, right vs left, the vulnerable vs the bullies, and all the other us-vs-them's we are devolving into. The movie should have ended in the streets and not gone on to the last scene, which was the only part of the movie that felt comic book-ish to me. In the end, Joker may not be "the movie for our times", but I think it may be the movie we deserve.

    But I also totally get why you hated it. I think I could have seen Joker on a different day or in a different mood and felt the same way. Last year I hated Dunkirk, much beloved by everyone I know. To each their own.
    .



    We'll just have to agree to disagree. I loved Dunkirk. (Which, by the way, was made by Christopher Nolan, who gave us a much more intriguing Joker, courtesy of Heath Ledger, in The Dark Knight.)
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    In Super Bowl LIV, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers 31-20, capitalizing on a fourth quarter comeback engineered by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who became the youngest player named Super Bowl MVP just a year after he was the youngest player named league MVP.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    Digital strategies aren't just about creating alternatives to the bricks-and-mortar shopping experience. Done effectively, they can actually bring people back to the store, while also eliminating customer anonymity, creating rich and actionable data, and deepen relationships between the store and consumer in a way that transcends the simple transaction.

    Our newest Retail Tomorrow podcast, which brings together a terrific panel of experts from a wide range of disciplines, was recorded at Google’s New York City offices during the recent National Retail Federation (NRF) Show. Our guests:

    • Matt Alexander, co-founder of Neighborhood Goods, an unusual and fascinating take on physical retailing with stores in Dallas and New York.

    • Patrick Flanagan, senior vice president of digital marketing and strategy for Simon, which has more than 200 properties in 37 states and Puerto Rico.

    • Tom Furphy, CEO and Managing Director of Consumer Equity Partners, a member of the Retail Tomorrow podcast family and a regular contributor to "The Innovation Conversation" on MNB.

    • And Jalna Silverstein, a leader in Ernst & Young’s Transaction Advisory Practice and its Real Estate, Consumer Experience and Retail Strategy.

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    This Retail Tomorrow podcast is sponsored by the Global Market Development Center (GMDC).

    Pictured below are our panel members, from left: The Content Guy, Matt Alexander, Tom Furphy, Patrick Flanagan, Jalna Silverstein.

    Enjoy!






    KC's View:

    Published on: February 3, 2020

    Earth Fare announced this morning that it is closing its 50 stores, and has begun running going-out-of-business sales at each of its locations. The announcement comes barely after a year after the company, apparently in a fit of wishful thinking, was saying it planned to double its store count.

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that Earth Fare said that "its efforts in recent years to expand and to improve customer service haven’t been enough to overcome its problem."

    “While many of these initiatives improved the business, continued challenges in the retail industry impeded the company’s progress as well as its ability to refinance its debt. As a result, Earth Fare is not in a financial position to continue to operate,” the company said in a statement.

    The Journal says that even as it sells off inventory and fixtures, Earth Fare is continuing to try to find a buyer for its stores.

    Context from the Journal story:

    "At least two other grocery chains have also started major restructurings in recent weeks.
    Fairway Market filed for bankruptcy last month with a $70 million offer to sell all five of its Manhattan stores and a distribution and food preparation center to the Village Super Market Inc., which operates stores under the ShopRite banner. Village Super Market could shrink its bid to just three stores in Manhattan.

    "Lucky’s Market, which has been backed by Kroger Co., filed for bankruptcy last week and is trying to close or sell about three dozen stores. Interested bidders include Aldi Inc. and Publix Super Markets Inc."
    KC's View:
    I don't know this chain well, but from what I gather, its biggest problem was that it didn't have a strong enough brand identity nor a compelling enough offering to compete in a fractured and fractious marketplace. That's a recipe for disaster … if you don't stand for something, you're inevitably going to fall when the going gets tough. And the going only is tougher with every passing day.,

    The Journal points out that last year Earth Fare decided to differentiate its offering by hiring a chief medical officer. Clearly, these efforts at life support and resuscitation didn't work.

    Guess they should've hired an undertaker.