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    Published on: March 31, 2020

    by Michael Sansolo

    It’s almost too hard a question to ponder these days: what comes next?

    Even in the best and calmest times, it’s a question that puzzles us because things are always changing. However, in our current moment of social distancing, lockdowns, self-quarantines and more, the notion of what comes next boggles the mind.

    Will people return to shopping as they had in the past? Frankly, who knows? Likewise, there is no way of knowing if a few weeks of cooking and eating at home will create any long term shifts in consumption patterns. I wouldn’t bet on it, but right now there’s no knowing anything.

    Will this strange period (and it will end) launch e-commerce to unanticipated levels of success? Again, who knows? As I’ve written before, this test period of cocooning at home could be launching an epidemic of cabin fever that will have shoppers craving traditional experiences. Again I wouldn’t bet on it, but who knows?

    On a more optimistic note, I’d like to believe we’ll show some continued warm feelings toward all the people who are making our lives as normal as possible. From front line supermarket worker to truck drivers, medical personal and first responders of all kinds, and even postal workers and trash haulers. Will the warm feelings last…again, who knows?  But I have hope.

    What I do know is that probably no one wants to contemplate all of this right now. Right now, we are focused on the problems at hand and with good reason. Right now, it’s all about the basics but we know that someday soon (and it can’t come fast enough) things will return. And what then?

    But here’s what I think we need to consider. There are ways of contemplating every current questions and convincing ourselves that the answer we most desire is certain to come true. That the social distancing period will lead to a complete revival of all that we wish would happen and magically transform the world into exactly the place we want.

    Only that never works out.

    As always we need to cling to the wisdom of Charles Darwin that the strongest, fastest or whatever is never assured of survival. Rather the winners are those who are most adaptable and fittest for whatever changes the world brings about. We cannot possibly know what comes next (or even tomorrow at this point) but it’s our ability to adapt, to change plans on the fly that will be the best path to success.

    And to keep you entertained, one more movie reference to consider - from Argo, the movie dramatization of how the CIA freed a group of Americans trapped in Iran by creating a phony movie company.

    When the CIA agents first presented the idea to their higher ups, they explained that there were no good options for the operation. In essence, the movie idea was “the best bad option.”  (See below.)

    Often that’s a perfect description of our choices. Let’s hope we pick well.

    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 here.

    And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.

    Published on: March 31, 2020

    A business executive told MNB Content Guy Kevin Coupe that he wondered if, when the pandemic is over, he would be able to regain even 60 percent of his business.  But KC thinks that may be the wrong way to look at it.

    Published on: March 31, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    An MNB reader sent me the following ad received via email:

    And he asked this question:

    What do you think of this ad?  Admittedly I do shop here, they have great clothes, but my initial reaction to this ad is that it is in poor taste.  People are having trouble making mortgage payments, making ends meet, and these guys just figure all we’re worried about is how we look on our next VC?  How about they say, “For any purchase we’ll donate 10% to a Toronto Covid-19 relief fund?"

    Or am I overthinking?

    Good question.

    I see a lot of ads and emails like these lately, and if they are not in bad taste, they certainly seem a little opportunistic.  It is a delicate balance that businesses have to walk - they need to make a living, they want to serve their customers, but they don't want to seem exploitive.

    But to be fair, there also have been an enormous number of editorial stories about the same subject, like the ones I've seen in places like the Wall Street Journal (more than once!), The New York Times, and Bloomberg.

    It doesn't seem entirely fair to criticize retailers and advertisers for addressing what for many people is a top-of-mind issue.

    To be honest, I've been working from home - or from a small office around the corner from home - for most of the past 25 years, and I've rarely given much thought to what I wear.  I've also rarely been criticized for my wardrobe seen in video commentaries;  the only comment I got was years ago, when someone suggested that I wore way too many black and navy blue t-shirts.

    But I get that attire at home may be a pressing (pun intended!) concern to folks for whom this is a new and often unwelcome lifestyle change.  And I don't really blame clothing retailers for trying to step into what for many people is a breach.

    There have been some interesting stories that have come out this particular corner of pandemic survival.  The Washington Post, for example, had a story about how Walmart seems to be selling more tops, blouses and shirts than pants and skirts … apparently because people know that during video chats and conferences, they're going to be seen from the waist up.  (See the pictures in the WSJ story above for an example.)

    So if retailers want to sell some shirts and sweaters and even some pants and skirts,I'm not going to come down too hard on them.  it is hard enough to make a buck these days, and it isn't like this seems cavalier or frivolous.

    At least these retailers are acknowledging that the world has changed.  I think if I were an advertiser I'd be careful about ads and emails that are business-as-usual.

    I was at first taken aback, and then kind of impressed by this WeatherTech commercial that I saw the other day:

    Can't blame them for factoring current events into their advertising in a  non-exploitive way.

    But I also like this ad … which is for a traditional sporting apparel company, but is very much of the moment.  And appropriate.

    Published on: March 31, 2020

    The New York Times this morning reports that "on Monday, a contingent of workers who fulfill orders for the grocery delivery service Instacart stayed off the job, demanding greater pay and better access to paid leave and disinfectant.

    "A group of workers walked off the job at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island on Monday, and a sickout called by Whole Foods Market workers is set for Tuesday."

    The story says that "labor experts and union organizers said anxieties related to the pandemic appeared to be widely shared among front-line workers across different companies, job categories and classifications."

    In the case of both the Instacart and Amazon walkouts, the core concern seemed to be worries that the companies were not doing enough to keep their employees and contract workers safe at a time of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.  It was unclear this morning the degree to which the walkouts had any impact on operations, though it was reported that the employee who led the labor protest at Amazon's Staten Island, New York, distribution center had been fired.

    The employee said it was retribution for his organizing activities and for calling for the warehouse to be closed down for two weeks after cases of coronavirus were found there, while Amazon said it was for persistent disregard of social distancing rules at the facility that put other employees at risk.

    CNBC writes:  "Chris Smalls, a management assistant at the facility, known as JFK8, said he was fired Monday afternoon following the strike. Smalls and other employees walked out to call attention to the lack of protections for warehouse workers. The workers are also urging Amazon to close the facility after a worker tested positive for the coronavirus last week. The organizers said that at least 50 people joined the walkout.

    “'Amazon would rather fire workers than face up to its total failure to do what it should to keep us, our families, and our communities safe,' Smalls said in a statement.  'I am outraged and disappointed, but I’m not shocked. As usual, Amazon would rather sweep a problem under the rug than act to keep workers and working communities safe'."

    KC's View:

    It is in fact possible that both reasons for the dismissal are true - that the worker was a rabble-rouser, but that his behavior gave Amazon an excuse.

    Still, firing someone protesting company actions that he says are making workers unsafe is  not a good look for Amazon.  or for anyone.  Especially these days.

    Amazon, through its ubiquity and logistics and sheer competence, has turned itself into a kind of public utility, which can create some tensions when it actually is a for-profit company.  Expectations are higher.  Responsibility is greater.

    There is a good piece in the Financial Times about the unique position in which Amazon finds itself.

    An excerpt:

    "Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO, faces a crucial moment in his company's history, where Amazon's logistics capability could be vital.  Keeping employees … healthy and at work is what stands between Amazon's finest hour, or the breakdown of the most sophisticated logistics ecosystem ever created. The potential perils for Amazon are enormous. Before the onset of the pandemic, the company was already facing scrutiny from regulators and politicians about its market power. If it is seen to be pushing employees to take excessive health risks during the crisis, the political pressure will intensify."

    You can read it here.

    Published on: March 31, 2020

    The New York Times writes reports that even as e-cigarette company Juul has run into cultural and regulatory headwinds in the US, much of it related to perceptions that it has targeted underage people in its marketing efforts, it is running into even greater resistance outside the US - which was seen by the company as a major source of future growth.

    The story says that when tobacco company Altria, looking for ways to replace all the volume it lost with the decline of its traditional business, invested $13 billion to acquire a 35 percent stake in Juul, it believed that "in five years, 50 percent of Juul’s revenue will be international."

    According to the story, Juul "has been met with ferocious anti-vaping sentiment and a barrage of newly enacted e-cigarette restrictions, or outright bans, in country after country. As a result, its ambitious overseas plans have collapsed.

    "Juul was kicked off the market in China last fall after just four days. The company has had to abandon plans for India after the government there banned all electronic cigarettes. Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia and Laos have also closed the door to e-cigarettes. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the arrest of anyone caught vaping outside designated smoking areas.

    "Juul has postponed its launch in the Netherlands and has pulled out of Israel. In South Korea, the number of Juul customers has plummeted after the government issued dire health warnings about e-cigarettes, and the company has scaled back its distribution there."

    While Juul execs say they are committed to refining its products to prevent any health concerns and adjusting its marketing to address the youth issue, the Times writes that "the skepticism and ire among regulators and public health advocates abroad are unlikely to dissipate quickly."

    KC's View:

    Nor should it.

    It seems eminently obvious that Juul and Altria shared the goal of bringing vaping technology not just to the world, but to the youth of the world, in the hope that they would become addicted and fuel there sales for decades.  I mean, why not?  That's the tobacco industry playbook - you sell poison to people even if you know it is addictive, and then you go to the US Congress and lie about it.  And even as people die, you bring young people into your universe to bolster your numbers.

    It is enormously satisfying to see that there is a global backlash to this nonsense.  

    Published on: March 31, 2020

    Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  As of this morning, in the US there have been 164,359 confirmed coronavirus cases, 3,173 deaths and 5.507 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 799,998 cases of the coronavirus, 38,748 deaths, and 169,995 confirmed recoveries.

    •  The Washington Post reports this morning that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is considering a change in guidance and may soon recommend that all people wear face masks of some kind while going outside during the coronavirus pandemic.

    To this point, the story says, while "more people have taken to covering their faces … it remains a scattershot strategy driven by personal choice. The government does not recommend it."

    The Post writes that "the recommendation under consideration calls for using do-it-yourself cloth coverings, according to a second official who shared that thinking on a personal Facebook account. It would be a way to help 'flatten the curve,' the official noted.

    "Such DIY cloth masks would potentially lower the risk that the wearer, if infected, would transmit the virus to other people. Current CDC guidance is that healthy people don’t need masks or face coverings."

    Which would be helpful if we could actually get masks.

    •  From the New York Times:

    "Macy’s and Gap said on Monday that they planned to furlough much of their work forces, a stark sign of how devastating the coronavirus will be for major retailers and their workers who sell clothing, accessories and other discretionary goods.

    "Macy’s, which said the cuts would affect the 'majority' of its 125,000 workers, lost most of its sales after the pandemic forced it to close stores. Gap, which also owns Old Navy and Banana Republic, said it would furlough nearly 80,000 store employees in the United States and Canada. The announcements followed similar actions by other name-brand chains with products considered nonessential … Kohl’s, which employed an average of 122,000 associates in 2019, said on Monday that it would furlough about 85,000 of them."

    The reason is simple - with virtually all bricks-and-mortar retailing closed down in the US, with the exception of supermarkets and drug stores, there is very little money coming in, and the retailers were fast approaching the breaking point.

    The layoffs and furloughs are not restricted to the stores;  a number of retailers also are making cuts in their corporate offices.

    The Times writes that "the layoffs and furlough announcements are likely to continue, as many retailers owe rent payments on Wednesday. Many companies are desperately trying to conserve cash as they max out their credit lines and encounter landlords who are taking a hard line on payments."

    I have a question.  Weren't the various spending bills just passed by Congress and signed by President Trump supposed to help retailers avoid laying everybody off?

    •  Reuters reports that Amazon "is offering higher pay to recruit its own warehouse employees to pick and pack Whole Foods groceries amid rising demand and a worker shortage … This move, known as labor sharing, highlights how the ecommerce giant is reallocating some of its vast workforce to handle a spike in online sales of groceries, as millions of American are stuck at home amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

    "Amazon offers online grocery services through Amazon Fresh from its own grocery warehouses, and Amazon Prime Now, which delivers from its Whole Foods stores."

    The story says that "employees who are selected to make the switch can make $19 per hour, a $2 raise on top of the pay hike Amazon announced earlier this month. Amazon Fresh positions require working in a freezer environment, while a Prime Now shopper role entails picking and packing products for online orders in a Whole Foods store under tight time limits."

    •  Politico reports that "the governors of Maryland and Virginia on Monday directed their residents to stay home, escalating their response to the coronavirus as state officials warned that the outbreak in the region will soon look as dire as New York's."

    Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland said it was an order, and no longer a suggestion.

    The Virginia directive will be enforced until June 1.

    •  The Tampa Bay Business Journal reports that "Publix says it is considering adding in-house curbside pickup and delivery services" independent of its deal with Instacart.

    "Offering in-house curbside pickup and delivery service would be a major shift in direction for Publix, which has relied solely on Instacart since 2017," the story says.

    And a good idea directionally, since Publix is a retailer with a strong brand identity that it should not be leaving in Instacart's hands … especially because Instacart could end up competing with it at some point down the road.

    •  The Los Angeles Times reports that in Culver City, California, a shopping center called Platform is working to find ways to keep its tenants viable through the pandemic, "offering drive-through pickup of select items from many of its independent boutiques and restaurants. Order online, and purchases will be waiting when you arrive, with all proceeds benefiting the vendors and not Platform."

    The story says that "feel-good items include a DIY pizza kit from Roberta’s; wine, beer and alcohol from Flask and Field’s Miriam Yoo; Van Leeuwen ice cream; WFH supplies from Poketo; and Parachute bathrobes. There are also produce boxes from County Line Harvest."  Customers "order and pay online at, wait 45 minutes, then pick up your goods from a sanitized table or have an attendant place them in your car."

    Smart move.  There are mall owners out there that are demanding rent checks even from retailers unable to do business … and there is this company, which is trying to keep its tenants viable.

    Interesting juxtaposition.

    •  In Texas, KSAT-TV News reports that "Walgreen’s customers can now buy grocery items and household goods through its pharmacy drive-thru’s.  The retailer said drivers can pull up to the window and ask for a menu of items, including groceries, medicine, baby formula, medical supplies and household goods.

    "Customers do not have to preorder or leave their car."

    •  The Connecticut Post reports that supermarket chains in the Nutmeg State have agreed to implement tougher rules that will make it easier to assure physical distancing in their stores.  

    Wayne Pesce, president of the Connecticut Food Association, tells the Post that all of his members - including Big Y, ShopRite and Stop & Shop - have agreed "to halve the maximum occupancy of their stores and ask families to send only one representative to do the household shopping … Pesce also emphasized he did not expect that would result in long lines. He said the so-called panic buying that resulted in packed supermarkets a few weeks ago has subsided."

    •  From Bloomberg:

    "Visa is considering a reprieve for gas stations straining under an October deadline to upgrade their pumps, and, along with Mastercard Inc., delayed a set of fee changes that were to take effect next month … Visa and Mastercard will delay until July the planned changes to interchange fees, which are paid by retailers each time a consumer swipes their card at checkout."

    The story says that "the moves are aimed at sending relief to merchants struggling to remain afloat as the coronavirus puts a virtual halt to global travel and governments order businesses to shut."

    •  The Associated Press reports that "older people remain most at risk of dying as the new coronavirus continues its rampage around the globe, but they’re far from the only ones vulnerable. One of many mysteries: Men seem to be faring worse than women … And as cases skyrocket in the U.S. and Europe, it’s becoming more clear that how healthy you were before the pandemic began plays a key role in how you fare regardless of how old you are."

    The AP writes that there also is "the puzzle of children, who have made up a small fraction of the world’s case counts to date. But while most appear only mildly ill, in the journal Pediatrics researchers traced 2,100 infected children in China and noted one death, a 14-year-old, and that nearly 6% were seriously ill."

    But if you put aside age, "underlying health plays a big role. In China, 40% of people who required critical care had other chronic health problems. And there, deaths were highest among people who had heart disease, diabetes or chronic lung diseases before they got COVID-19.

    "Preexisting health problems also can increase risk of infection, such as people who have weak immune systems including from cancer treatment.

    "Other countries now are seeing how pre-pandemic health plays a role, and more such threats are likely to be discovered. Italy reported that of the first nine people younger than 40 who died of COVID-19, seven were confirmed to have 'grave pathologies' such as heart disease.

    "The more health problems, the worse they fare. Italy also reports about half of people who died with COVID-19 had three or more underlying conditions, while just 2% of deaths were in people with no preexisting ailments."

    •  Bloomberg reports that the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic may actually be a good thing for WW International, the brand that used to be known as Weight Watchers.

    The reason?  Analysts say that the current climate - "gyms are closed, people are trapped indoors and stress eating is on the rise" - may serve to make WW relevant again.

    •  Variety reports that the just-postponed 2020 Summer Olympics have been officially rescheduled, for July 23, 2021 to Aug. 8, 2021. The Paralympic Games will run Aug. 24, 2021 to Sept. 5, 2021.

    Reports are that they still will be called the 2020 Olympics, despite taking place in 2021.

    •  Add Wimbledon to the list of sporting events postponed by the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

    Reports are that the cancellation will be officially announced tomorrow.

    Tennis Now reports that "it will mark the first time in 75 years the grass-court Grand slam is not staged in a season. Wimbledon was not played from 1915 to 1918 during World War I. World War II forced the tournament’s cancelation from 1940 to 1945 when the nation withstood heavy Nazi bombing."

    It is considered unlikely that the tournament will be rescheduled for later in the year.

    The French Open already has been postponed until the fall, when it will take place one week after the end of the US Open in New York, though it hardly is a certainty that the US Open will take place in late August and early September.

    If the US Open is cancelled, it is hard to imagine that baseball will be being played, and that the football season will begin on time.  

    •  The Wall Street Journal says that while it is hard to find toilet paper, paper towels and hand sanitizer these days, there is another commodity in short supply,

    Jigsaw puzzles.

    The story says that "the coronavirus pandemic has forced millions of Americans to hunker down in their homes and find ways to entertain themselves. A lot of them are thinking the same thought: jigsaw puzzle."

    Making things worse:  Amazon "has stopped accepting puzzle shipments in favor of household staples and medical supplies. Amazon says it plans to expand its stock as capacity permits, given 'extensive health and safety measures' the company has adopted. But the company won’t say when it will start accepting jigsaw puzzles again."

    My daughter bought a couple of jigsaw puzzles a few weeks ago, and she and Mrs. Content Guy started putting one - featuring Baby Yoda - together on the coffee table in the living room.  Which was great, until Spenser - you know, that cute puppy I've been showing off here the last few weeks - decided it would be a good idea to eat Baby Yoda.  Which he did.

    Published on: March 31, 2020

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

    •  Fast Company reports that "despite major tech companies canceling their annual events due to the COVID-19 pandemic (or in Apple’s case, going digital-only), Amazon appears to be moving ahead with its annual Prime Day sales bonanza, which normally takes place around July … Considering the volume of items Amazon shifts each year during its Prime Day sale, the emails surprised some who assumed the event wouldn’t take place as scheduled this year given the logistics and delivery problems Amazon has suffered from as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads.

    "But it’s also a surprise that Amazon is already openly planning for Prime Day this year, considering the company has come under scrutiny for worker safety issues at its warehouses during the pandemic. It’s not a good look for your company to be willing to put workers at risk for a glorified consumer-capitalist shopping holiday."

    However, the story points out, "just because Amazon is instructing sellers to prepare their inventory for Prime Day doesn’t necessarily mean the company is planning to go ahead with it in July. Amazon could very well be taking a wait-and-see approach, planning for it, but willing to postpone it if necessary."

    Amazon says it has not made any announcements about Prime Day.

    I have to believe that this will all depend on circumstances.  However, if Amazon is stockpiling toilet paper, masks and gloves in some warehouse, and makes them available to people on Prime Day, it could be its biggest promotion ever.  It would be universally reviled for doing so, but sales would be high.

    •  Fast Company  reports that Amazon "has added features to its Alexa voice assistant that can help users determine their risk level for having contracted the COVID-19 coronavirus. As of now all Alexa users in the United States can ask Alexa questions like, 'Alexa, what do I do if I think I have COVID-19?' or 'Alexa, what do I do if I think I have coronavirus?' upon which Alexa will begin triaging them.

    "Once one of the above questions is asked, Alexa will ask the user about their symptoms, travel history, and any possible exposure they may have had to someone infected with the disease. Depending upon the user’s response, Alexa will offer the user guidance that comes directly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about what they should do next."

    I tried this, and it actually is pretty good … basic, not really offering much that you can't get elsewhere, but bringing together useful information in a single, usable form.

    Published on: March 31, 2020

    •  Reuters reports that "U.S. senators are calling for investigations of record profit margins for beef processors like Tyson Foods and Cargill, after ranchers complained surging meat prices due to coronavirus hoarding did not translate into higher cattle prices.

    "Futures prices for cattle have tumbled during the outbreak, worrying farmers as the U.S. economy heads into a downturn and fueling questions about whether the market run by CME Group is an effective tool for risk management.

    Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa wrote on Twitter that U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Justice and Commodity Futures Trading Commission probes may be needed to determine why ranchers did not benefit from soaring meat demand."

    Grassley wrote, ""Beef is flying off grocery shelves but farmers are seeing prices go down … If packers are illegally manipulating markets during crisis, we need USDA & DOJ & CFTC to investigate + help farmers. Four companies control 80% of market & they're taking advantage."

    •  A sign of the times…

    The Minneapolis /St. Paul Business Journal reports that "Delta Air Lines Inc. has ceased carrying its inflight Sky Magazine, which was published in Minneapolis by MSP Communications.

    "A Delta spokesman said that the Atlanta-based airline has removed all non-essential items from its seat backs as part of a streamlined cleaning process aboard airplanes brought on by the spread of coronavirus. He would not say if the move is permanent or temporary."

    I'd bet that this is permanent.  Airline magazines seem like an obsolete offering these days, a reflection of the past rather than the future.

    But Delta, along with its airline brethren, has bigger problems - like getting its planes in the air again.

    Published on: March 31, 2020

    •  Amazon announced that it has hired David Carbon, who used to be the Vice President of Operations for Boeing's 787 Program until departing late last year, to be Vice President of Prime Air, its drone program.

    Published on: March 31, 2020

    I got a number of emails yesterday responding to my interview yesterday with Park City Group CEO Randy Fields, whose ReposiTrak business focuses on the broader out-of-stock issue, for an assessment.  Fields' observation - an industry focus on just-in-time delivery created an infrastructure that focused too much on efficiency and not enough on effectiveness, which gave retailers and suppliers too little flexibility to adjust to rapidly changing circumstances.

    MNB reader Mike Slattery wrote:

    Over the years you have published some very informative interviews, but today’s piece with Randy Fields of Park City Group was IMHO the best ever. The clarity with which he explained the foibles inherent in the grocery supply chain was truly impressive. We can only hope that both ends of the supply chain were  listening.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Very good interview, Kevin. It was extremely informative and straight to the point. I can tell you that in nearly 55 years (since I first started in the grocery business), I have never seen anything like the current state of the industry. One thing I do know, however, is that our grocery industry will figure out how to overcome the challenges and be successful. Keep up the great work! Thank you.

    MNB reader Monte Stowell wrote:

    What is interesting is going into a grocery store and looking at what is on the shelf versus what is out of stock. Now is the time for grocery and mass merchandise retailers to look long and hard at what does not sell and ask themselves, “why are we carrying all these items?” The real reason is that they soaked up the slotting dollars as an easy revenue source. Look at all the extra costs that have been incurred by adding new warehouse slots, slow moving inventory, taking holding power away from faster moving items, the cost of redoing schematics, and then the frustration of the consumer not being able to find the item they want due to out of stocks. I will mention just one category that boggles the mind, toothpaste. Take a look, about 80-100 skus. Colgate and Crest, 20-25 skus each. Most of the skus are very slow moving, and do not give a very high ROI. Lastly, the increased labor costs throughout the system to move skus in and out of the entire supply chain to shelf, and take a long hard look at what is driving category sales. 

    I agree with you … but I'm not sure that now is the best time to be making these decisions.  It might make sense to let things calm down a bit.

    From another reader:

    Kevin, having spent a lifetime in the supermarket business including time spent on the ECR committee regarding inventory, just in time, etc, I find little to disagree with in your interview. However, lauding Amazon for doing a better job is just simply wrong with respect to grocery items, their out of stocks on the same grocery items have been as bad or worse than our local supermarkets with no indication of when they may be back in stock and many overpriced scam items from outside sellers. Number 2 because I have a compromised immune system we have used grocery delivery by Instacart twice and order and pickup once in the past two weeks and they have worked well for us in terms of filling our needs and keeping us protected so in spite of a few issues of delay due to volume and the same out of stocks one would find if shopping in the store the system has worked for us and the price differential has been worth it for us.

    And, from still another reader:

    Thank you for the great insight offered in your interview with Mr. Fields from ReposiTrak.  While listening to Mr. Fields’ ideas, two ideas came to mind.

    First one of my largest retailer customers had already started a major SKU rationalization initiative prior to the current crisis, with the objective of reducing center store space in favor of sections that help them differentiate themselves in their competitive market.  Everyone sells the same center-store stuff, including Amazon, and low-price is no longer a competitive option.  The best option for using physical retail store space is to use it to attract shoppers with something they cannot get elsewhere.

    Secondly, we currently have a process in place to ship and store critical product closer to retail stores through our hurricane preparation programs executed in the Southeast.  It is the same philosophy as the new, micro-warehouses.  Keep the most needed products close to where they will be needed to reduce costs of rush shipments when an emergency occurs.  

    One defect in the process is that nobody wants to pay to keep inventory that is not immediately offered for sale.  There should be a financial tool through which retailers or wholesalers are able to benefit by keeping emergency inventory long-term.

    Regarding the passing of Dr. Tom Haggai, one MNB reader wrote:

    The death of Tom Haggai is a real loss to the industry. In a business that often has ruthless interactions between retailer and vendor, Tom simply did not play by that rulebook. Distinguished, impeccably dressed, formal, gracious are words that come to mind. While at Coca-Cola, I attended, on many occasions, the annual IGA Vendor Conferences. Despite huge crowds of vendors, and plenty of Coca-Cola attendees way higher up the ladder than I was, he never missed an opportunity to greet me (and my wife, since they invited spouses), always remembering our names and treating us like welcomed guests. He was one of the first who recognized partnerships, not simply negotiations. He understood the difficulty that IGA was facing, a worldwide patchwork of independent retailers facing the threat of consolidating retail chains, as well the growth of retailers like Whole Food Markets and Trader Joes. He challenged suppliers to never ignore the neighborhood IGA retailer who knew your name, supported your products, and worked with you, not against you. Tom was a great leader and a gentleman. A tough loss.   

    I commented yesterday about the threatened strike by Instacart workers concerned about inadequate pandemic protections:

    This is a company upon which way too many retailers are placing their trust to carry not just their products, but their brand equity, top consumers all over the country.  

    No retailer is going to change its e-commerce arrangements at this moment in time, but I do believe that they need to be examining their outsourcing deals to make sure that the retailer brand equity is the highest priority, that their customers' needs are being served in ways that bolster their connection to those shoppers, and that the potential for disintermediation is being minimized.

    You can't wait until the crisis has passed to start making these assessments.  You have to start now, before it is too late.

    One MNB reader responded:

    While I clearly understand the issues you have with Instacart and agree that retailers need to look at the possibilities of doing this themselves, in our market there are no options or choices for delivery so: In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is King. Don’t begrudge the one eyed man, shrink the land of the blind!

    Ah … but there are none so blind as those who will not see.

    Yesterday we took note of a Boston Globe report that in just the few weeks that Beantown has been dealing with the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic - much of the state is shut down and residents are being encouraged to avoid unnecessary contact and practice physical distancing - the city's air actually has gotten fresher.

    I commented, in part:

    It seems to me that there is an enormous lesson here.  Granted, the precipitating events are anything but desirable, but the mark of an evolved culture is that you learn from even the bad stuff.  We have a decision to make here.  Are we going to be an evolved culture?   Or are we going to ignore the lessons of the moment and just go back to the same-old, same-old way of doing things? … At the same time, this story ought to serve as a business lesson.  Retailers and suppliers - and, for that matter, consumers - are learning hard lessons about what works and what does not work, what is essential and what is not, and how to best anticipate and serve customers needs and desires.  Are these lessons going to be factored into future strategic and tactical plans and decisions?  Or are businesses going to go back to business-as-usual?

    Prompting one MNMB reader to write:

    Our opportunity is that we get to shape our new normal.  


    On the other hand, we don't always take advantage of opportunities.  We could know, intuitively, that when fewer vehicles are on the road he air gets cleaner, but then we'd probably go ahead and roll back current automobile fuel efficiency standards.  Which you'd think we wouldn't do if we had a choice.

    Oh, well.

    MNB reader Mike Bach had a question:

    I wonder if national auto insurance rates will fall, since there’s less claims being paid out with less drivers on the road.

    (In some states, that means the Attorneys who file these claims will have to get as much as they can from accidents that do occur. Fewer “loss of consortium” claims, like the attorneys in FL like to file.

    Brings a whole new meaning to “pain and suffering”…)

    Regarding our story about retailers re-evaluating how they deal with vendors, one MNB reader wrote:

    As a vendor “sales guy” for over 40 years, I have always felt that vendors were always minimized in your discussions. The expectations and demands placed on vendors have increased over the years as slotting fees, late charges and reset costs have increased with a “take it or lose the business” attitude with the trade.

    I waiting to see the new normal.

    On another subject, from another reader:

    Regarding the lack of condoms story and the possibility of a baby boom in 9 months, I heard that when these babies reach adolescence they may be referred to as Quaranteens.


    Responding to our story about e-funerals, one MNB reader wrote:

    I like this idea, although I hate that it’s needed. Having lost all 4 of our parents in just over a 2 year timespan, my wife and I are acutely aware of how helpful it was to be able to gather, to celebrate, and to remember their lives with family and friends. Not having the opportunity to do that seems like the unkindest cut of all, denying people the fellowship and support needed as they navigate the valley of death.

    I know our church has had to quickly develop new ways to stay connected; launching pre-recorded worship services on YouTube for Sunday mornings and using Google Hangouts/Meets for mid-week prayer time. Creating a virtual space for folks to grieve is an idea born out of necessity and humanity. It, too, will continue beyond this pandemic in some form, I’m sure.

    It was so nice to get some emails from folks who were part of Friday's MNB Virtual Happy Hour.

    Here's one:

    Thanks so much for hosting – I  truly enjoyed the happy hour and the feeling of connection with other retail folks across the US.

    I wanted to share with you a few creative ways businesses near  me are adapting to the current situation.

    A local distillery, Boardroom Spirits, is now making hand sanitizer and giving out 4 oz. per person per day for free. Truly a BYOB - (for the sanitizer!). While picking up your sanitizer you can also pick up pre-orders of anything on their menu and they even deliver for $5 within 20 miles of Lansdale, PA (Will even bring free sanitizer too) 

    Our veterinarian is doing curbside visits outside their practice.

    A local car dealer will bring the test drive and the finance person to you.

    List goes on, but it’s encouraging we can still do some of the ‘same’ things – just differently.

    And from another:

    Truly enjoyable, and the connection was needed & relevant.  I was able to hang with the group for an hour then dropped, so missed my chance to point out that I’m the one in Portland and “for the team” will venture to Willamette Vineyards to enjoy their fab facility & view of the vineyards off to the East.  Looks like they have some screeching specials! 

    A later start time would be good for us out here, yet HH at 8pm EDT is hardly all that happy.   I was able to do some ceremonial sips even at 2:30, and can again.  Go with where the majority of your readers are, and others will have to adapt.  I’ve learned trying to make everyone happy results in frustration for the host, and inevitably a group who still aren’t happy with what you decided.  Any HH is welcomed.