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    Published on: April 3, 2020

    From CNN:

    "The American economy lost more jobs than it gained for the first time in a decade.

    "In March, the economy shed 701,000 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It was the first time the economy lost jobs in a month since September 2010, and the worst month for American jobs since the depths of the Great Recession in March 2009.

    "The unemployment rate shot up to 4.4%, from a near 50-year low of 3.5%. It was the highest unemployment rate since August 2017 and the largest single-month change in the jobless rate since January 1975."

    This report came a day after the US Department of Labor announced that 6.6 million people filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week, just one week after it announced that 3.3 million such claims has been filed.

    Some economists are predicting that the unemployment rate could be in double digits within a few months.

    Published on: April 3, 2020

    MNB Content Guy Kevin Coupe has a challenge/proposal for the MNB community ... one that has to do with closing distances, not creating them.  And, he has another suggestion as well.  (Hint: it has to do with dogs…)

    Published on: April 3, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    Got a note this morning from MNB reader Olivier Kielwasser…

    You reported on retailers who elected to not have their staff wear face masks.  There is a solution though - follow French hypermarket retailer Carrefour’s direction: while cashiers have their window separations, floor associates now have their portable version: using (you’ll love this!) a baseball cap, a piece of Plexiglas that’s bendable enough and a few straps, here is an easy, efficient protective device! 

    And, he offered this picture:

    Now, that's an Eye-Opener … and, perhaps, an illustration of our future.

    Published on: April 3, 2020

    Content Guy's Note:  The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic is having an enormous impact on people of all ages, backgrounds, and places around the globe;  some are having shared experiences, and some are individual to specific people and circumstances.

    Among the people I've been thinking about are the young people who have just started or are about to start their careers, and who now may be facing enormous uncertainty and questions about what comes next.

    I decided to reach out to some young people I know - some of them former students of mine at Portland State University in Oregon, as well as at other schools with which I have developed relationships - to ask them to answer a pair of questions:

    •  How has the pandemic has affected you personally or professionally?

    •  How do you think the world - including but not just the business world - should be different whenever and however we come out of this.

    This series of occasional guest columns continues this morning with a contribution by Paul Ruger, a senior Business major and first-year MBA student at Siena College. Paul operates a family maple syrup business in upstate New York and so is pursuing his degree in both accounting and management as well as Siena's Food Marketing concentration.

    By Paul Ruger

    How has the pandemic has affected you personally or professionally?

    This pandemic has affected me in more ways than I like to think, not only personally and academically, but in a business sense as well. Personally, I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty self-sustaining person, comfortable around others but just fine on my own as well. This pandemic has made me acutely aware of how we take our society, our college community, and even the ability to go to events for granted. It was only after being home for five days in a row that I realized I am not entirely the person I thought I was. I’ve learned so many things about myself, namely that I’m more extroverted than I’d like to admit. I would give the world to be back at school again learning amongst my friends rather than stare at a screen all day. 

    Professionally, I have begun to see the impact of this pandemic on my search for internships. I’m not entirely worried (yet) about my career search next summer, but I am starting to worry that if I don’t secure an internship this summer or fall, I will be at a disadvantage compared to my peers. Most companies are either cancelling internship programs to focus on the core of their business or simply do not have the financial resources anymore to support a paid intern, or to pay for an employee’s time to devote to one.

    However, I think that this pandemic is going to be a revelation for companies allowing employees to work from home. For years companies have toyed with the idea but never implemented it because of cost or mistrust; but now, many had no choice but to move online in order to continue business “as usual.” I’m not sure if this will affect the number of jobs on the market, but it will definitely lead to more work-from-home positions offered. 

    And finally, this pandemic has impacted my business as well. I know most 20-year-olds can’t relate to managing their own business, but that happens to be my case. I operate a maple syrup business with my father, and this all hit the fan as our 6-week season peaked and our largest selling event of the year, Maple Weekend, was supposed to occur. We suffered a 1200% decrease in sales and now have too much inventory and not enough cash. The SBA is working with the federal government to establish grant and loan programs, but who knows if we will ever see any of that money. Throughout this all, however, what can one do but remain optimistic.

    Complaining will get you nowhere, so as the famous lyrics go, “put on a happy face!”

    How do you think the world - including but not just the business world - should be different whenever and however we come out of this.

    The world should be different in many aspects in general, but specifically to this pandemic, I envision a world that recognizes the value of healthcare, the value of global community, and less esoterically, a stronger global supply chain. This should be a wakeup call to all people that it can be difficult to rely on others in times of crisis. It’s certainly doable, but not always easy. We are the ultimate decision makers in this, and it’s dollars to donuts that after this pandemic subsides, more industry is going to move back to America, and maybe the healthcare system undergo some sort of overhaul.

    On a more individual level, I think we’re already beginning to see how the world is going to be, or at least hopefully it will stay this way: people caring for one another. That’s the great thing about crises like this (perhaps a poor choice of words), that coronavirus has the potential to affect you whether you’re rich or poor, old or young, gay or straight, etc. Coronavirus turns a blind eye to money, politics, individual beliefs or practices, and while yes, the elderly are at more of a disadvantage, it levels the playing field. Suddenly everyone loses their self-actualization and drops right back down to fulfilling their basic safety needs. The world should realize this camaraderie long after this is over and seek to maintain it.

    As far as the business world, companies, industries, and even governments are going to be more prepared.  Events like this occur once every century or so, so if a company can be prepared in the future for these conditions again, they’ll be even better suited to face the usual ups and down of business. Overall, I think the world is going to be a kinder but more-prepared place to live in, and while I don’t know how long that will last, I can only hope it’s indefinitely. We’ll just have to wait and see. 

    We'll have more essays in coming days.  Stay tuned. - KC

    Published on: April 3, 2020

    Germany-based discounter Lidl announced that its 700,000 square foot state-of-the-art distribution center and regional headquarters has opened in Delaware, designed to serve that state as well as New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

    Johannes Fieber, CEO of Lidl US, said in a prepared statement that the facility is designed to "meet the surging needs of our customers during this critical time."

    Lidl operates more than 11,000 stores in 32 countries, but has fewer than 100 stores in the US at the moment.

    KC's View:

    Ten million unemployment filings in the last two weeks?  An economy moving headlong into recession?

    Seems to me that Lidl's biggest problem will be not having enough stores to take advantage of the situation (and I don't mean that in a negative way).

    Moments like these are made for Lidl and Aldi and WinCo and Dollar General and all the other formats that can legitimately make the argument that they are sensitive to and effectively addressing food and financial insecurity.

    Published on: April 3, 2020

    From Bloomberg:

    "A senior Inc. executive called a fired Staten Island warehouse worker 'not smart or articulate' in internal discussions about how the company should respond to employee criticism of its handling of the pandemic, according to a person familiar with the matter.

    "Amazon General Counsel David Zapolsky said fired worker Chris Smalls should be the focus of Amazon’s public-relations campaign countering activist employees, said the person who saw an internal memo. Amazon workers around the country have been walking off the job or holding demonstrations to highlight what they describe as inadequate safety precautions.

    "Smalls said the memo reveals that Amazon is more interested in managing its public image than protecting workers, and he called on employees to keep pressuring the company to implement stronger safeguards."

    The story notes that while Amazon has been doing a booming business as customers stock up during the pandemic, it also has been criticized for not doing enough to protect its employees from infection.

    Questioned about his memo, Zapolsky told Bloomberg that "my comments were personal and emotional.  I was frustrated and upset that an Amazon employee would endanger the health and safety of other Amazonians by repeatedly returning to the premises after having been warned to quarantine himself after exposure to virus Covid-19. I let my emotions draft my words and get the better of me."

    KC's View:

    Gee. One might almost say that in his memo, Zapolsky was not smart or articulate.

    He may have been frustrated, but that language strikes me as condescending and demeaning, and not at all respectful of an employee's concerns.

    He might want to work on that.

    Published on: April 3, 2020

    Bloomberg reports that "in idyllic Napa Valley … the buds emerging from dormant vines signal the beginning of a new vintage. The scene looks normal, except that vineyard workers are careful to stay 6 feet apart."

    But there is a problem.  No surprise, it is connected to the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

    "The big worry is how the region’s almost 500 wineries will cope financially. Most depend heavily on visitors - 3.9 million in 2018 - to stop by their tasting rooms, snap up bottles, and join their wine clubs. California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered tasting rooms closed on March 20, though the wineries themselves are classified as essential businesses … Many vintners have discovered that their insurance for business interruptions, meant to replace lost income to cover operating expenses, has a fine print clause that specifically excludes damage due to viruses and infections."

    The bad news for the wineries is good news for wine lovers:  "Good deals and rare wines directly from the source and, even better, the chance to support the wineries you love and forge a more personal connection with them."

    Bloomberg writes that "to fan personal connections - and, of course, sell more wine - dozens of Napa wineries are hosting virtual tastings on Zoom or streamed through their winery Instagram or Facebook pages. More are starting daily. This is a great chance to meet famous Napa winemakers and ask questions, and so far the sessions are wildly popular. Last week, Cade Estate held one that drew 500 viewers.

    "Some helpfully post their tastings on the Napa Valley Vintners website. One public relations professional has put together a website on which her winery clients will be listing tastings and deals … Deals include everything from free shipping to rare cuvées and older, now unavailable vintages, sometimes at discounted prices."

    KC's View:

    The things that these wineries (and not just in Napa, by the way … some of my favorite wineries in Oregon and Washington seem to be making similar moves) are doing probably are not short-term innovations.  It isn't hard to imagine that people could end up being leery of travel for more than just this summer;  it all will depend on how the pandemic unfolds.

    While it would be far better for these wineries' tourist business to be thriving, it may in fact end up being a good thing to be forced to improvise and innovate … to spread their business growth across a broader canvas … and to connect to their customers in new and different ways.

    There is a lovely piece in the Wall Street Journal this morning by wine columnist Lettie Teague, entitled, "Why Wine Remains A Great Connector."

    An excerpt:

    "Wine can do many things.  It can enhance a meal, a meeting or a mood. It can make us feel less lonely, too—an important attribute as the weeks of social isolation grind on, and we’re cut off from habits that otherwise shape our lives. Wine lovers, along with everyone else, are looking for ways to connect. In my town, a few blocks from my house, a group of neighbors decided to get together to toast one another - at a safe distance, of course. They stand on the sidewalk in front of their houses or on their porch steps and hoist glasses of whiskey or juice or, in most cases, wine."

    One of the interesting things about that gathering is how those neighbors chose those wines.  Some picked the last bottle left over from their wedding.  Others chose wine brought back from a trip.  Others chose the cheap stuff.  But almost all the bottles meant something … which is one of the things that wine can bring to any meal, any conversation, any encounter.

    Check out the column here.


    Published on: April 3, 2020

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

    •  It was a milestone - the global count of Covid-19 coronavirus cases passed one million yesterday, and this morning stands at 1,030,199, with 54,198 deaths and 219,852 reported recoveries.

    The US represents about a quarter of those cases - 245,442 as of this morning (up more than 30,000 in just 24 hours), with 6,098 deaths (up 20 percent in 24 hours) and 10,411 reported recoveries.

    •  The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that "the Trump administration is expected to recommend that Americans in parts of the U.S. where the novel coronavirus is rapidly spreading wear cloth face masks or face coverings when in public to reduce transmission.

    "The new recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would aim to reduce the risk that people who are infected but asymptomatic will spread the virus, according to a draft document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and two people familiar with the planning. It has yet to be announced by the White House."

    I think that if this is necessary, then the government should do it.  But … be prepared for the inevitable run on face masks that will occur as a result, and even some ensuing panic. Because if you thought it was hard to find toilet paper, paper towels and sanitizer over the past few weeks, just try finding face masks.

    I would like to see one provision in any announcement - that any person or company found to be price gouging on face masks (or any other pandemic-related equipment, for that matter) will be hit with enormous fines and jail time.  (The jail time will be served in the future, when the pandemic has subsided.  The point should be that anyone who gouges will have the book thrown at them, and that it will be a very heavy book that is going to hurt.  A lot.

    •  USA Today reports this morning that Amazon "will institute temperature checks for employees and offer masks to protect them as they work during the coronavirus pandemic … The company said it is checking 100,000 workers per day for fevers, and plans to roll out checks across their U.S. and European operations network and Whole Foods Market stores by early next week."

    The story notes that "The changes arrive as some Amazon workers expressed concerns over how well the company is working to keep them safe.  On Monday, workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York, walked out demanding Amazon address issues with social distancing and properly sanitized work environments."

    I'm glad Amazon did this.  But quite frankly, it strikes me as two weeks later than it should have happened.  I just hope that it isn't two weeks too late.

    •  CNBC reports that "Instacart announced Thursday it will begin providing its full-service shoppers with health and safety kits in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

    "The kits will contain a reusable cloth face mask, hand sanitizer and a thermometer. Instacart shoppers can request their kits beginning next week through a website the company built for its shoppers. In-store shoppers will also receive face masks from retail locations where the company has in-store operations, the company said.

    "The safety kits come days after some Instacart workers went on strike to protest the how the company was handling their safety during the pandemic. One of their demands was for the company to provide hand sanitizer and wipes."

    I repeat:  I'm glad Instacart did this.  But it strikes me as two weeks later than it should have happened.  I just hope that it isn't two weeks too late.

    •  The Boston Globe reports that Beantown residents looking to order groceries via Peapod, the e-commerce arm of Ahold Delhaize-owned Stop & Shop, now are finding delivery waits of as long as two weeks.

    According to the story, "While Peapod recommends checking for available time slots before adding to your cart, users will note that, as of April 2, every delivery time listed until April 15 is marked “sold out.” There is no option to choose a time slot beyond that date.  Calls to Peapod Customer Care result in a similar outcome."

    Maria Fruci, Stop & Shop’s manager of external communications and community relations, says that "because of the fact that many customers prefer to stay home, we’ve seen unprecedented demand with our home delivery services.  We’ve expanded the availability of delivery times as much as possible, though customers may still be experiencing delays. We are planning to hire more part-time drivers and shoppers in the coming weeks to help fulfill orders. We apologize for the inconvenience and greatly appreciate everyone’s patience as we continue to work diligently to provide alternate solutions."

    It is a shame that Ahold Delhaize shut down Peapod's midwest e-commerce business just before all this stuff hit.  If they hadn't, they might've been able to move some of their resources from the midwest to New England while the crisis is most pressing there, and then perhaps do the same when things get more critical in the midwest as the so-called rolling apex moves through the country.

    •  The Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal reports that "Target Corp. on Sunday will start limiting the number of shoppers it allows in its stores to enhance social distancing as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the nation, the company announced on Thursday.

    "The Minneapolis-based retailer also said it will provide disposable face masks and gloves to 350,000 store and distribution centers workers in the next two weeks, as well as to the 'shoppers' Target employs through its Shipt same-day delivery operation."

    •  Business Times reports that Starbucks is saying that it "will extend special coronavirus provisions, including pay increases for US workers and closed dining areas, for two weeks to May 3.

    "The world's largest coffee chain is also considering the use of non-medical grade face masks and possibly handing off mobile orders to customers at doorways to help ease drive-thru pressure in some stores, the company said in a letter to employees … Starbucks is also sending thermometers to company-operated stores for workers to self-monitor if they choose."

    •  Fox News reports that Amazon founder-CEO Jeff Bezos will donate $100 million to food banks across the US, a response to the impact of the pandemic on employment figures and food security.

    The money will go directly to Feeding America, which will "quickly distribute the funds to their national network of food banks and food pantries, getting food to those countless families who need it."

    The story notes that "Feeding America is in charge of more than 200 food banks that feed 46 million people; it generated $2.9 billion in revenue in 2019, most of which went toward sending food to pantries, according to a 2019 financial report."

    •  Axios reported that "the Democratic National Committee announced on Thursday that its July convention will be postponed until August because of the coronavirus," illustrating how "the global pandemic is changing the fundamentals of the 2020 presidential election, and any snags in the process have the potential to help President Trump's re-election efforts."

    The story notes that "the Democratic convention was originally scheduled for July 13-16 in Milwaukee. The party's new plans for mid-August would put its convention just a week before the Republican National Convention, which is set for Aug. 24-27.

    "At least 15 states have had to postpone their primary contests by weeks and months because the coronavirus outbreak is forcing voters to stay inside and away from large groups."

    •  Feel the need for speed?  You'll have to wait until Christmas, because the much anticipated sequel to Top Gun, Top Gun: Maverick, has been pushed from its summer release date to the end of the year holidays because, well, pretty much every movie theater in America is closed because of the pandemic.

    •  Finally, from Willamette Week, a follow up on a story we relayed a week or two ago.

    You may recall that the Lucky Devil Lounge, an adult club that suddenly lost all of its business when the pandemic created a climate in which lap dancing was a really bad idea.

    (To be clear, I am not endorsing adult clubs or lap dancing.  This is a business story.)

    And so, the Lucky Devil, which had a restaurant as part of its facility, got into the food-to-go business, using dancers to deliver its food and bouncers to make sure they were safe.

    The name of the offering: Boober Eats.

    Which I thought was funny.

    (Again, I am not endorsing adult clubs or lap dancing.  This is a business story.)

    Well, they have to change the name, because Uber sued them for trademark infringement.

    The owner is calling the offering "Lucky Devil Eats" - for now.  But he's toying with other names … including some that no doubt could also get him a) press attention, and b) another cease-and-desist order.

    Like "Porn Grub."

    (I emphasize:  I am not endorsing adult clubs or lap dancing.  This is a business story.)

    Published on: April 3, 2020

    •  CNBC reports that "Walmart has paused efforts to sell a majority stake in U.K grocer Asda, so it can direct full attention to managing the business as the coronavirus pandemic creates massive spikes in demand for groceries, according to people familiar with the matter … Asda had attracted significant interest from private equity firms, who were eyeing the grocer at a valuation at as much as $9 billion, the people said. It could not be immediately determined when Walmart might resume the sale, but it is not under a rush, a person familiar with the matter told CNBC. Its focus now is on freeing its leadership team up to run the business."

    The story notes that "the pause in the sale process highlights the unprecedented landscape in which grocery stores are operating, with shoppers buying in bulk and putting pressure on supply chains."

    Published on: April 3, 2020

    •  Fortune reports that the films that were scheduled to be shown at the annual SXSW Film Festival, canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, now will be shown on Amazon Prime Video.

    From the story:  "SXSW announced Thursday that it's partnering with Amazon Prime Video to stream as much of its movie line-up as possible for a 10-day period in the U.S. It will be free to viewers with or without an Amazon Prime membership.

    "South by Southwest organizers have worked frantically to salvage what they could of the festival and bring attention to the many films that had been planning to premiere there. SXSW, which had been scheduled to run March 13-22, last week announced awards for its competition categories, anyway."

    Published on: April 3, 2020

    •  Reuters reports this morning that Walgreens Boots Alliance said that its same-store sales were up 21 percent during the first three weeks of March, as people stocked up in preparation for the pandemic, but then dropped "by a mid-teens percentage rate" during the final week of the month, when the world went into lockdown and stay-at-home.

    CNBC writes that "Walgreens’ earnings call on Thursday provided clues about how retailers still open during the pandemic may fare. The company’s leaders described the complexities of predicting business trends, as customer patterns shift rapidly during a global crisis. For example, they said, some customers bought many months of prescriptions or sought out pharmacists for advice as they prepared for the pandemic. On the other hand, heavily trafficked stores like those on the Las Vegas Strip have been hit hard by closed casinos, restaurants and nearby businesses."

    Published on: April 3, 2020

    •  BJ’s Wholesale Club announced that it has hired Paul Cichocki, most recently a partner in the Boston office of Bain & Company, to be its Executive Vice President, Membership, Analytics and Business Transformation,  responsible for the company’s membership, marketing and analytics organizations.

    Published on: April 3, 2020

    It has been noted here on MNB - and in a lot of other places - that consumer spending amounts to roughly two-thirds of economic activity worldwide. If pandemic-centric anxiety endures and people are reluctant to spend, expansion will be limited.

    Not exactly a revelation, but there it is.

    It prompted one MNB reader to write:

    Hopefully, this administration will persuade people that the most-patriotic thing they can do is spend money - the moral-opposite of The Obamanable Snowman shaming the people who had money out of spending it back in 2009.

    Really?  The most patriotic thing one can do is spend?

    At the moment, it is hard to imagine that any of the 10 million people who have filed for unemployment benefits over the past two weeks are going to be spending anything.

    It also is hard to imagine at the moment that, with everything going on in the world right now, some folks are still obsessed with taking shots at Obama every chance they get.

    Too bad.  Like the great Pete Hamill writes, "Ideology is a poor substitute for thought."

    Published on: April 3, 2020

    We are a little bit more than halfway through the eighth and final season of "Homeland," and it seems to be that the writers and producers have decided to finish with a story that is faithful to the series' core focus - the tragic psychic costs of war and terrorism, and the essential and perhaps unsolvable disconnects between the Middle East and the West.  It also seems, at least so far, to be a far more streamlined story that some of the seasons have offered - not a lot of distracting subplots or characters to take our attention away from what matters.

    This season finds Carrie Matheson - played tight-as-a-drum by the incomparable Claire Danes - back in Afghanistan, helping Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), now the National Security Advisor, engineer a fragile peace with the Taliban.

    As always, "Homeland" is replete with political intrigue, both here and abroad, with momentous decisions being made for sometime questionable and self-serving reasons, and Danes serving as a damaged moral compass trying to find her bearings in an ethical and historical morass.  The show has had strong spots - especially the first season - and weak sots, but I feel like when it ends a few weeks from now, it likely won't end well, and yet we'll miss its willingness to ask questions about the thin line between bigotry and nationalism, about the moral costs of never-ending wars, and about how it is hard to be a good gay in an increasingly gray and compromised world.

    "Curb Your Enthusiasm" has just completed its 10th season on HBO … and I certainly hope that there will be an 11th.

    It is the show in which Larry David - the producer, writer and star - plays a version of himself who says the things we's often like to say, does the things we'd often like to do, and gets himself into socially unacceptable trouble but manages to turn into sometime wincingly punchlines.

    The thing about "Curb" is that each season's 10 episodes always play out like an incredibly well constructed joke - there is a foundation, the build, there are riffs and digressions, but somehow things always come together for the big punchline.  The people generally are awful and narcissistic, but for some reason - perhaps because the shows come in short bites - it all seems to work.  Beats me why, but sign me up for more … because it is a show that is pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.

    Funniest headline I've read in the last week was in the Washington Post:

    "If you’ve run out of toilet paper, Woody Allen’s memoir is also made of paper."


    I have been really looking forward to the season premiere of "Billions," which comes back on Showtime on May 5 for its fifth season.

    But I'm also curious about how "Billions" will play in the current environment.  After all, it will portray rich and powerful people acting in fascinating and reprehensible ways, with an emphasis on conspicuous consumption.  (It is "Billions," after all.  Not "Millions.")

    At a time when the streets of Manhattan are virtually empty, and unemployment is off the charts, "Billions" may not have the appeal it used to.  It may seem tone-deaf.  Then again, it may be the perfect escapism.

    I have no idea.  Gonna find out pretty soon, though.

    I'm a little surprised by how much I miss traveling.  I've been spending 25 percent of my time traveling for most of the past 30 years, so you'd think I'd welcome a period of time not spent on airplanes or in hotels.  But I miss it.  (I think Mrs. Content Guy and my daughter may miss me being on the road, too.)

    A friend who shares this feeling - and also is a little surprised by it - sent me this video, which was part of an online streaming concert that ran a couple of weeks ago.  It features Willie Nelson and his sons doing a song that it one of my favorites, and one that seems appropriate for the moment.  Enjoy.

    One more thing:

    Okay.  That's it for this week.  Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    Stay safe.  Be healthy.