business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Despite all the complexity in the world, we Sansolos had great cause for celebration this past week. My mom turned 90 and  in keeping with the times we all gathered on Zoom to wish her a happy birthday from five states and two countries. By all, I mean all of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and two family dogs.

I want you to think about my mom for a second (and no, gifts aren’t required).  She was born in 1930, which means by the time she turned 15 she had experienced the Great Depression and nearly all of World War II. Obviously, I wasn’t around for any of that, but thanks to stories from her and my dad, we had a sense of the hardship of those times.

Plus, we kids witnessed how those times shaped our parents in the decades to come. Both my parents always had a deep sense of frugality and a dislike of waste. They heavily disliked credit and debt and to this day my father prefers to pay cash (if anyone still accepts it) over anything else.

I bring that up in large part because of the wonderful FaceTime Kevin ran last Wednesday examining today’s young people (whom he called the “Exposed Generation").  Kevin wisely (and that’s a term I don’t use often with him) questions what members of the Millennial generation would consider “essential” commerce—a term so important in our Covid environment.

As Kevin pointed out, these young people have seen their early lives buffeted by the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the 2008 Great Recession and now whatever Covid-19 has to bring. As economists have pointed out, this younger generation (and those that follow it) already was falling far behind the financial achievements of their parents. That has to make us all wonder what kind of consumers they’ll grow up to be in the decades to come.

It’s a question worth pondering because it is an incredibly large generation and they’ll be everyone’s main shoppers very soon if not already. 

Someone recently shared with me an article from Buzzfeed that might fuel your thinking on this topic. 

The article argues that the pandemic lockdown and the deep recession that seems to be developing in front of us, might finally end decades of rampant consumerism driving the American economy.

That’s a challenging but important premise for any of us to consider because it flies directly in the face of store and product development for many decades now. But if a new consumer frugality is in the offing, we’re going to need painful self-reflection on how to gear stores to a generation of shoppers who might question why a store that carries 100 varieties of olive oil say, ran out of toilet paper. The entire equation of customer satisfaction might suddenly come under assault, which in turn means the approach to building a winning experience might be shifting as well.

The reality is that we already have competitors that seem perfectly positioned for the kind of world Buzzfeed suggests we will be seeing soon. We’ve argued here before that all those Aldis, Grocery Outlet and Dollar variety stores seemed placed like vanguard soldiers simply awaiting an economic downtown and possibly a population yearning for frugality and simplicity.

The future, it seems, is here and as always, it isn’t for the faint-hearted.

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.