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    Published on: February 10, 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 10, 2020

    The 92nd Academy Awards took place in Los Angeles last night, and here are the winners in the major categories:

    Best Film:  Parasite

    Best Actress:  Renée Zellweger, Judy

    Best Actor:  Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

    Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, Once Upon A Time A Time … in Hollywood

    Best Supporting Actress:  Laura Dern, Marriage Story

    Best Director:  Bong Joon Ho, Parasite

    Best Original Screenplay:  Parasite

    Best Adapted Screenplay:  Jojo Rabbit

    Best Animated Feature:  Toy Story 4

    Best Animated Short:  Hair Love

    Best International Feature Film:  Parasite (from South Korea)

    KC's View:

    Random thoughts…

    For my money, the funniest  lines of the evening were aimed at Amazon CEO-founder Jeff Bezos, who was in the audience and endure shots from Chris Rock and Steve Martin…

    Chris Rock:  He’s got cash. When he writes a check the bank bounces … Jeff Bezos is so rich, he got divorced and he’s still the richest man in the world! … He saw ‘Marriage Story’ and thought it was a comedy.

    Steve, do you have anything you want to add about Mr. Bezos?

    Steve Martin:  No, I like getting my packages on time.

    Funny stuff.  And Bezos seemed to be enjoying himself.

    Also … Variety notes that Laura Dern's win is "the first time an actor has won an Oscar for a role in a movie distributed by a streaming service — Netflix."  

    Which says something about disruption.

    I think I need to see Parasite.

    Published on: February 10, 2020

    The single best email I got on Friday after announcing the launch of a rebooted MNB and my new investors was this one from an reader who referred specially to my comment that the investment folks don't want to "mess" with my approach and attitude:

    Not yet! How many buyouts and mergers have you covered?

    It was a good run, Congratulations.

    Such cynicism … but I have to admit that it made me laugh out loud.  The new site hadn't even been launched yet!

    We’ll see.  The good news is that I still own the joint … I’m not being merged or acquired.  And not only do I trust the folks with whom I am working, but I trust the MNB community to hold me - and them - accountable.

    Okay?

    Regarding another story, MNB reader John A. Conroy wrote:

    It is interesting that “Shipt is swapping out its green spaceship logo for a shopping bag that better speaks to the brand’s predominantly female base” and Walmart’s 1st Super Bowl ad featured space ships.

    On Friday, we took note of a New York Times story about improving wearable technology is being designed to help commercial truckers avoid giving into fatigue, which "comes with the job of driving an eighteen-wheeler, even with rules requiring rest stops and limiting driving hours. Now, new technologies are becoming available to alert drowsy drivers, sometimes even before they feel tired … Biometric sensors are getting lighter, cheaper and more accurate, and new software systems can connect driver and vehicle data. The feedback loops these systems create could make the roads safer for everyone."

    I commented:

    As someone who does a lot of long-distance driving, I'd suggest that this technology ought to be available for everyone … and maybe even standard equipment on every motorized vehicle.  (Except the autonomous ones, of course.  Computers don't get sleepy.)

    One MNB reader wrote:

    They may not get sleepy, but they do crash…

    Fair point.

    From MNB reader Mark Woodgerd:

    I think that technology is already here.  My wife and I were on a road trip and I was driving our 2018 Ford Edge.  Suddenly the message window lit up with a steaming cup of coffee icon and a message, something like “Driver needs a break”.  We still laugh about it.

    And, responding to my OffBeat piece on Friday about "Porgy and Bess," one MNB reader wrote:

    I was fortunate to see the production — here in Fairfield at the Quick Center. Prior to the performance Professor Orin Grossman of Fairfield U did an overview which was really enlightening. To the issue of the language, this was an earnest attempt to capture the “Gullah” dialect of the time and place. So rather than interpreting it as stereotypical, it came across as sincere.

    We enjoyed it. And to add, until a couple years ago, I too did not like opera. Now thanks to the simulcast I look forward to several performances each season.

    Like I said on Friday, my inability to connect to opera is my fault, not opera's.  I get it.  

    Published on: February 10, 2020

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

    •  Bob Parriott, president/CEO of California's Twain Harte Market, passed away in an airplane accident last week  near the Columbia, Calif. airport.

    In his note to members of the California Grocers Association (CGA), the organization's president/CEO, Ron Fong, wrote:  "Bob was instrumental in the merger of the California Independent Grocers Association with CGA in 2014 and served on the CGA Board of Directors Executive Committee – culminating with his year as Chair in 2018.

    "Bob was a true champion for the independent grocer which was reflected in his life and his work. He was a tremendous supporter of the Association and will be remembered for his leadership during the merger and his time on the Board."

    •  Robert Conrad, best known for playing Secret Service agent James West with tongue firmly in cheek in "The Wild, Wild West" TV series, but who actually starred in at least one series in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, has passed away at age 84.

    Other series in which he starred:  "Hawaiian Eye," "Assignment Vienna," "Baa Baa Black Sheep," and "Centennial."

    •  Roger Kahn, who worked as much of his life as a sportswriter but who changed the form in many ways with his "The Boys of Summer," about the Brooklyn Dodgers of the early fifties, has passed away at age 92.

    Kahn wrote some 20 books, but for me, it will never get better than these lines from the beginning of "The Boys of Summer"…

    "You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat.  Losing after great striving is the story of man, who was born to sorrow, whose sweetest song tell of saddest thought, and who, if he is a hero, does nothing in life, as becomingly as leaving it."

    As long as I live, I'm unlikely to ever write two sentences as fine as those.  I'm just lucky enough to have read them.

    Published on: February 10, 2020

    •  In North Carolina, WTVD reports that "two Earth Fare employees are taking legal action against the closing grocery store on behalf of their more than 3,000 coworkers … the class-action lawsuit, filed by two women in Tennessee and Florida, claims the grocery store chain violated the Worker Adjustment Retraining Notification Act, a federal law intended to protect workers when large-scale employers close up shop.

    Earth Fare said last week it would close all its stores.  The WTVD story says that "the WARN Act requires employers with at least 100 workers to give written notice 60 days before any layoffs happen."

    •  The Associated Press reports that "Uber is still losing money as it expands its food delivery business and develops technology for driverless cars.

    "But revenue for its rides business nearly tripled in the final three months of last year as the company picked up more passengers around the world. That prompted it to say it will turn a profit earlier than it expected."

    Uber, the story says, "lost $1.1 billion in the fourth quarter of 2019, about 24% more than the same time last year … Uber brought in $4.1 billion in revenue, up 37% from a year ago. Its revenue grew around the world, although the biggest gain was in the U.S. and Canada, where it pulled in 41% more than last year.

    "Because of the company’s progress in 2019 and its plans this year, Uber expects to turn a profit in the fourth quarter of 2020."

    •  Advertising Age reports that Heinz Ketchup decided to take advantage of this year's Oscar buzz to post an IMDB page in which it listed all the times that it has shown up in films, including Heat, Groundhog Day, and Benny and Joon, plus When Harry Met Sally, when it showed up in the famous diner scene.

    "But after about a week," the story says, "the platform ended up killing the listing, so Heinz and agency Rethink Toronto turned the idea into a contest. Now they're asking fans to share the ketchup’s famous appearances on social media for a chance to win the red stuff for free."

    •  The Financial Times has a column by Madison Darbyshire essentially saying that "bread is back."

    She argues that while "clean eating" has been all the rage - often seen more as a matter of subtraction than addition - "recently, I have sensed a profound shift. Clean eating is out of fashion, and, in a comeback more surprising than Martha Stewart’s, bread is cool again.

    "Real bread. Crusty, leavened rye, sourdough, wheat and country white have left the domain of hipsterdom and re-entered the mainstream. It is a popular middle-class pursuit to keep your own vile sourdough starter and bake hard-earned loaves on Saturday mornings. After nine years of rapid proliferation, the number of gluten-free products launched in 2018 fell by almost 40 per cent from 2017."

    She goes on:  "Trends are by definition cyclical, as evidenced by the surprising resurrection of mom jeans and crocheted bikinis. But I have another theory about the triumphant return of real food.

    "If the world is warming, continents are ablaze with unstoppable wildfires and liberal democracy is going up in smoke, who has the energy to care about carbs? You might as well have a cookie. Probably two."

    If bread indeed is back, count me as a huge fan.  There are few things as great a crusty artisan bread.  I made a brisket last night for dinner, and I'm really looking forward to the sandwich I'm going to have in a few hours, and the bread is going to be a huge part of the pleasure.

    Published on: February 10, 2020

    You'll see below in MNB's modest but annual Oscar coverage - what do you expect from a guy who co-wrote a book entitled "THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies" - that the Best Animated Short award went to a six-minute film called Hair Love.

    This is a wonderful little film, about a young African American girl trying to deal with her unruly hair, and the single father who finds their shared situation to be a challenge.

    In the matter of six minutes, Hair Love manages to be funny, charming, sad and redemptive … which is no small thing.

    The reason MNB is drawing attention to it - beyond the quality and uplift of the work - is that Dove helped to underwrite the largely Kickstarter-funded production … but has done so with relative little fanfare, just getting its name on the film in the "thanks" at the end.

    But, as Fast Company notes, it has gone beyond that.

    "The soft-sell here is Dove just having its name involved with the film and then able to raise some awareness of that involvement and support through events and other initiatives. For example, when Texas teen DeAndre Arnold was suspended from school for having dreadlocks, the film’s producers reached out to have him walk the Oscars red carpet with them … Dove has also been working…to help spread the Hair Love message by reaching out to tastemakers and media, as well as putting on community screenings of the film in New York and Los Angeles."

    Great film … terrific effort by all involved … and you can watch it here.


    Published on: February 10, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that some technology companies with a presence in the New York City metropolitan area, always on the hunt for new hires in what a seller's market, are "sending their own workers into college classrooms to make sure students have the skills they need after graduation."

    According to the piece, "Tech employees from companies including Google, LinkedIn and Spotify are teaching 22 computer-science courses at the City University of New York this semester. The instructors are recruited through a city program called Tech-in-Residence Corps to help the university meet a soaring demand for technology classes including data analytics, data science and cybersecurity."

    It seems to be working:

    "More than 1,500 students have taken 73 classes across nine CUNY campuses through the Tech-in-Residence Corps, which started in spring 2018 and is run by the Department of Small Business Services, said Commissioner Gregg Bishop. Instructors are paid a $3,500 stipend per course, with the funding coming from the city.

    "The program’s instructors, who work at four dozen different companies, have expertise in fields ranging from software engineering and blockchain to cybersecurity and data visualization. The hope is that New York City students will learn necessary tech skills and that tech companies will broaden their recruitment efforts to give more consideration to public-university graduates."

    KC's View:
      This is really smart, and ought to be adopted by more colleges and business communities across the country.  The notion of putting business people in direct contact with students - teaching classes, mentoring, advising, and helping them make the transition from academia, is incredibly important, if only because the companies putting their folks into the schools are going to have an advantage in recruiting some of these folks.

    To be honest, I have a dog in this hunt - I am on the adjunct faculty of Portland State University in Oregon, and this coming summer will be my ninth in a row, team-teaching a class with the great Tom Gillpatrick and working with Jennifer Nolfi at the Center for Retail Leadership.  One of the things we do every summer is bring executives from a wide range of disciplines into the classroom and engage in a series of colloquiums with the students.  (If you'd like to join us for a night during the summer 2020 semester, let me know … I can promise you an interesting few hours on campus, plus a meal and some great Oregon beer or wine afterwards.)  This so much better than me just standing up and pontificating - and I think the students really appreciate the opportunity to engage.

    Published on: February 10, 2020

    Think of it as independents vs. the big guys, except with better looking walls.

    The New York Times over the weekend had a story about how some independent artists there have decided to open their own galleries as a way of not being indebted to the major galleries and keeping control over their own work.

    According to the story, "a surprising number of artists in Los Angeles have been opening commercial spaces … giving the city’s gallery scene a scrappy energy all its own and providing a strong counter-narrative to the idea that visual culture here is defined by the recent influx of New York and international galleries.

    "These spaces run the gamut from funky weekend-only apartment venues to larger spaces with regular hours, but they tend as a whole to have a more adventurous spirit."

    One canny observer of the local art scene calls it a way of defying "the Home Depot-fication of galleries."

    Some of the independent gallery owners, themselves artists, make a point of not displaying their own work in their galleries (which apparently sometimes can be owned under pseudonyms);  others will show their own work, but are careful not to give themselves preferential treatment, so as to maintain some level of commercial and critical credibility.

    KC's View:
      The thing that I love most about this story - I know only marginally more about art than I do opera, and I established here on Friday how little I know about opera - is the notion of "scrappy energy," and how these artists are looking for ways to bring a kind of guerrilla spirit to their commercial endeavors.  They believe - and I tend to agree - that it is not by being the same as the bigger guys, nor by simply acceding to their dominance, that they can have a greater impact with shoppers (with breathe more rarefied air than I do) and protect their own work.

    In so many ways, they're fighting the same fight as a lot of independents.

    By the way … if you are wondering about the headline to this story, it means you are not old enough to remember Tennessee Ernie Ford, who once had a big hit called "16 Tons."  Great song!

    Published on: February 10, 2020

    CNBC reports that Clorox "has not seen an increase in demand amid the coronavirus outbreak, but the company has plans in place to keep shelves stocked with its cleaning products should sales pick up."

    The story points out that "the coronavirus, which originated in late 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has shaken up global markets as the flu-like disease spreads worldwide. As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 27,000 cases and 560 deaths have been recorded worldwide, though a large percent of those affected are in China."

    There have been about a dozen cases of the coronavirus found in the US, and "because a remedy for the disease has yet to be developed, consumers are expected to load up on disinfecting wipes, sprays and bleach in efforts to kill germs."

    Clorox CEO Benno Dorer tells CNBC that "we’re leaning into inventory to be ready, just in case,” but that “what we will never do is try to benefit from fears or concerns that consumers have."

    KC's View:
      One thing that no company can afford to do is be seen as taking advantage of a tragedy.

    I'm already hearing on the news about some price gouging, and the selling of so-called protective gear that is useless at best.  Some retailers and manufacturers are going to get a black eye because of it, and they'll have nobody but themselves to blame.

    Published on: February 10, 2020

    Interesting piece in the Chicago Tribune about the success that newly opened marijuana dispensaries are having in Illinois, with consumers "buying almost $40 million of marijuana in the first month of sales. Tax revenues from those sales, which haven’t been announced, will help the state and municipalities."

    The good news:  "Marijuana’s legalization has created beneficiaries, as people travel to neighborhoods with dispensaries and spend money at nearby businesses. Although there are no numbers to demonstrate the broader economic impact of recreational weed sales, experts say pot shops have the potential to revitalize overlooked pockets in communities."

    But … "not every neighborhood wants a pot shop, as evidenced by recent community meetings. There are 'NIMBYs,' or people who say they support marijuana in general, but 'not in my backyard.'  And some residents have broader safety concerns and worry about the rowdiness pot shops could attract … As cannabis companies rush to open additional stores — each of the 55 medical dispensaries that were operating before recreational sales started can apply to open a second location — they face zoning restrictions and competition for prime real estate."

    However … "A 2019 study in the journal Regional Science and Urban Economics found that local criminal activity fell when a dispensary came into the neighborhood. The research analyzed monthly neighborhood crime of all types and patterns in retail dispensaries in Denver from 2013 through 2016.  'The results imply that an additional dispensary in a neighborhood leads to a reduction of 17 crimes per month per 10,000 residents, which corresponds to roughly a 19% decline relative to the average crime rate over the sample period,' the paper states."

    Part of the reason may be that, for example, "Illinois requires dispensaries to have security inside and outside the store, including security surveillance monitoring equipment, security guards in stores and sufficient lighting around the premises."

    KC's View:
      I'm generally not a NIMBY kind of guy, but I must admit to some level of sympathy to the attitude that wants to keep marijuana shops out of certain neighborhoods.  This probably is because I remain somewhat conflicted about the issue … which is ironic because in Portland, Oregon, where I spend my summers, it seems like the question is moot - there already are pot shops in most neighborhoods.