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    Published on: December 9, 2020

    by Michael Sansolo

    If the Covid world has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes we all need to consider “what if” scenarios where the unimaginable becomes possible. And then we need to figure out what to do should the impossible actually take place - even if the entire exercise is, to be honest, upsetting.

    That brings us to an absurd odd couple to consider: the late founder of Zappos and the Buffalo Bills fourth string quarterback.

    Last week we heard about the tragic death of Tony Hsieh, the visionary founder of Zappos. His story of innovation and business daring is one to be admired, but his tragically unexpected passing, under circumstances that have become increasingly troubling, exposed a huge flaw in his planning.

    The very rich Hsieh died without a will, leaving what is sure to be a legal mess in his wake. As Michelle Singletary, the fabulous Washington Post finance writer, explained, the entire act of planning for one’s own demise is extremely unpleasant. Yet as historic battles of over estates have shows, it’s incredibly prudent to take on the task.

    Singletary’s article offers a bevy of thoughts on how all of us can plan for the moment when we’re gone, an increasingly important issue in the time of Covid. She suggests small steps such as keeping a book listing all key passwords and even writing up key life information so that your obituary actually talks about who you were.

    The harsh reality is that we all need plan for harsh realities. It’s stunning to think that someone as brilliant as Hsieh did not.

    The Buffalo Bills part of the story is more to the point of planning for the unexpected in the weird time of covid. Another Post story profiles Jake Fromm, who occupies a new position in sports: the quarantine quarterback. Fromm is a member of the Bills who never practices with the team, never attends team meetings and even steers clear of the locker room whenever anyone else is around.

    Fromm’s role is to be healthy and ready to play should the virus strike all of the Bills’ other quarterbacks. In many respects, he’s the designated survivor - the cabinet member traditionally held off site during State of the Union speeches to ensure continuity of government should tragedy strike everyone else.

    In other words, Fromm is the embodiment of “what if.” It would sound like a ridiculous idea except two weeks ago another team, the Denver Broncos, was left with no quarterbacks thanks to Covid exposure. Lacking anyone like Fromm, they stumbled through a horrible loss by using a vastly unqualified player at the very important position.  (One has to wonder if the Broncos' former quarterback and current general manager and president of football operations, John Elway, considered suiting up for just one game.)

    The biggest problem with taking action on “what if” scenarios is they really don’t make any sense until they do. Imagine if a food retailer, for some reason, had maintained a warehouse of cleaning supplies on the chance of some national cataclysm. It would have seemed ridiculous and costly, but also would have looked brilliant given consumer demand this year.

    There’s no going back and re-doing the product shortages of this past March and frankly there aren’t many things you can do right now. But as Hsieh and Fromm demonstrate, this is a time for “what if” thinking. You never know how smart you could look by avoid problems no one wants or expects.

    It essentially the same thing as we've been suggesting here on MNB since the early days of the pandemic - that companies needed to create two-pizza teams (small enough to be fed with two pizzas, in the construct developed by Jeff Bezos) charged with figuring out how their business models will be different coming out of the pandemic than they were going into it.

    Because "what if" often becomes "when."

    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: December 9, 2020

    An ad from decades ago seems irresponsible, ridiculous and a reflection of a time when people didn't - but perhaps should have - known better.  KC sees it a different way, though ... as a prompt for people to think differently about the things we see today as acceptable and appropriate.

    Published on: December 9, 2020

    There is a new proposal on the table in the New York City designed to close a multi-billion dollar budget deficit at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which at least in part has grown because of the huge drop in people commuting since the dawning of the pandemic.

    The notion is simple:  Impose a $3 per package surcharge on all deliveries of packages ordered online, though food and medicine would be exempted.  Such a tax could raise more than a billion dollars a year, proponents say.

    The proposal is being made by John Samuelsen, International President for the Transport Workers Union, and Brooklyn Assemblyman Robert Carroll, who say, "We do not have to accept as inevitable the laying off of thousands of transit workers who have already endured and sacrificed so much keeping NYC moving, and functioning, during this deadly pandemic."

    Fox News writes that in addition to closing the budget gap, if implemented the proposal would encourage people to patronize local shops and also would cut down on New York City traffic, which also would be good for the environment.

    KC's View:

    If this were to pass, I have a suspicion that it might create a domino effect - cities all over America (and maybe beyond) would adopt the idea as a way of raising revenue at a time when they all are caught short.  It wouldn't just be cities - towns and villages also might impose such surcharges, where it is legal to do so, as a way of closing budget gaps.

    Three bucks a package strikes me as a little steep, but if my town wanted to charge a buck a package for all those items delivered by FedEx, UPS and Amazon trucks in a given day, and then use those funds to modernize the schools and develop plans for making it ready to meet the challenges of the mid-21st century, I'd actually be okay with that.

    There will be those who will argue that these funds will be mis-used and will lead to government bloat, and I think that is a legitimate concern.  But I think that at a time when the pandemic has imposed enormous stresses on a lot of communities' budgets, and when infrastructure is crumbling at both the national and local levels, we're going to have to find the money somewhere to pay for these issues to be addressed.

    Published on: December 9, 2020

    A light at the end of the tunnel?  Maybe.

    The Los Angeles Times reports that economists at UCLA have issued an "optimistic forecast" suggesting that "the U.S. economy will experience 'a gloomy COVID winter and an exuberant vaccine spring,' followed by robust growth for some years … 'The ’20s will be roaring, but with several months of hardship first.  These next few months will be dire, with rising COVID infections, continued social distancing, and the expiration of social assistance programs'."

    The Times points out that the forecast "assumes mass vaccination of Americans will take place by summer" and "predicts that annualized growth in the nation’s gross domestic product will accelerate from a weak 1.2% in the current quarter to 1.8% in the first quarter of next year, then to a booming 6% in next year’s second quarter and consistent 3% growth each quarter thereafter into 2023."

    KC's View:

    Maybe it is my skeptical nature, but this sounds a little like wishful thinking to me.  But I'm willing to wish, to accept for the sake of argument that, in the lines from "Peter Pan," “all the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust."

    But I also remember another line from "Peter Pan," the one that argues that "you can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it.”   I don't think the a new Roaring Twenties depends on that kind of sacrifice.  Just wearing masks for a few months, avoiding non-essential travel and get-togethers, and acting like the ability of the country's people and economy to recover depends to a great extent on our own behavior.

    Published on: December 9, 2020

    Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and how businesses and various business sectors are trying to recover from it, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  In the United States, we've now had 15,594,534 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, leading to 293,496 deaths and 9,088,387 reported recoveries.

    Globally, we stand at 68,684,817 total coronavirus cases, 1,565,757 fatalities, and 47,587,282 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "Newly reported coronavirus cases in the U.S. rose back above 200,000 and hospitalizations due to Covid-19 hit a record for the third day in a row.

    "The U.S. reported more than 215,000 new cases for Tuesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the first time since Dec. 5 that the daily tally has topped 200,000.

    "New cases in California surpassed 20,000 for the sixth consecutive day, while Virginia reported its second-highest daily tally and infections in Idaho topped 2,000 in a single day for the first time since the pandemic began.

    "Other states took steps to restrict social interactions in an effort to curb the virus’s spread.

    "In Washington state on Tuesday, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee extended broad limits on gatherings, restaurants and other indoor activities until Jan. 4. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said that beginning Friday he would institute a new, modified stay-at-home order, requiring business closures and people to be at home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m."

    •  Gallup is out with a new survey saying that "with two COVID-19 vaccines now in the final stages of approval for use in the U.S., 63% of Americans say they are willing to be immunized against the disease. The public's willingness to receive a COVID-19 vaccination approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has nearly rebounded to the previous high of 66% after hitting a 50% low point in September."

    As in all things these days, reactions are polarized.  Gallup writes:

    "Majorities across most key demographic subgroups now say they would get inoculated should the FDA approve a COVID-19 vaccine, but some U.S. adults are more inclined to do so than others. Democrats' willingness to be vaccinated plunged 25 points in September to 53% but mostly rebounded in October, and has risen to 75% now. Political independents' readiness was also shaken in September and is now restored to its prior level, at 61%. Meanwhile, the percentage of Republicans saying they would get the vaccine, currently 50%, has held steady, although it is up from 37% in August.

    "Women were initially about as likely as men to say they would get the vaccine, but they drastically soured on the idea in September, and they are now less likely than men to express readiness. Similarly, non-White adults were among the most willing to be vaccinated in July, but they now lag behind White adults. At the same time, college graduates remain more likely than those without college degrees to say they would be immunized, but less so than in July."

    I have a simple standard for whether I trust and will take the vaccine:  If Dr. Fauci takes it and says it is safe, I'm all in.

    •  From the New York Times this morning:

    "In El Paso, hospitals reported that just 13 of 400 intensive care beds were not occupied last week. In Fargo, N.D., there were just three. In Albuquerque, there were zero.

    "More than a third of Americans live in areas where hospitals are running critically short of intensive care beds, federal data show, revealing a newly detailed picture of the nation’s hospital crisis during the deadliest week of the Covid-19 epidemic.

    "Hospitals serving more than 100 million Americans reported having fewer than 15 percent of intensive care beds still available as of last week, according to a Times analysis of data reported by hospitals and released by the Department of Health and Human Services.

    "Many areas are even worse off: One in 10 Americans — across a large swath of the Midwest, South and Southwest — lives in an area where intensive care beds are either completely full, or fewer than 5 percent of beds are available. At these levels, experts say maintaining existing standards of care for the sickest patients may be difficult or impossible."

    •  The Boston Globe reports that "Rhode Island now leads the country with an average daily case rate of 122.9 per 100,000 people, according to data published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s among the highest numbers in the world, according to The Financial Times. By comparison, neighboring Connecticut and Massachusetts have positive rates of 74.2 and 65.6 per 100,000, respectively."

    •  From the Los Angeles Times:

    "Prospects for reopening campuses this school year dimmed Monday for hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles students with the hard shutdown of all in-person tutoring and special services amid a dangerous coronavirus surge — and officials declining to estimate when children could return to classrooms.

    "The decision by the nation’s second-largest school district stands to intensify an impassioned debate over the safety of operating schools that divides parents, educators and experts."

    •  Bloomberg reports that "more than 110,000 restaurants have closed permanently or long-term across the country as the industry grapples with the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. And more pain is ahead, with a potential shutdown of indoor dining in New York City just as the temperatures drop.

    "The nationwide tally - representing one in six U.S. eateries - is among the findings of a survey released Monday by the National Restaurant Association. The figure was up from about 100,000 shutdowns in a September survey. The Washington-based trade group shared the latest results with Congressional leaders in an attempt to secure financial support for a sector rocked by rising costs and falling sales."

    I am really impressed by the supermarkets around the country that are doing their best to throw lifelines to their local restaurants, finding ways to sell their wares, while at the same time hiring people for their foodservice operations who used to work in restaurants.  Supermarkets - at least, those that see themselves as being in the food business (which isn't every one of them, to be sure) - understand that they benefit when communities have thriving food cultures, and restaurants are a real and innovative part of that.

    •  The Verge reports that "American Airlines is about to start offering at-home COVID-19 tests to domestic fliers in order to help them meet various state travel restriction requirements, the company announced Tuesday. The airline is partnering with direct-to-consumer home testing company LetsGetChecked, which will sell the tests for $129 on top of the cost of travel.

    "The at-home tests help travelers check off one of the most common travel restrictions that states have implemented, which is a negative test result either before departure or upon arrival. It will also help customers get reliable access to testing, which is still hit-or-miss in many parts of the United States."

    •  The Columbus Dispatch reports that "for the first time in more than a century, Ohio State's football team will not play Michigan.

    "The 2020 edition of The Game has been canceled because of a COVID-19 outbreak among the Wolverines. Michigan called off last week's game against Maryland because of it and the COVID numbers have not improved enough to play this Saturday in Columbus."

    •  The New York Times reports this morning on the latest shortages being dealt with by consumers:  they can't find antacids.

    "People searching online or in stores for over-the-counter tummy soothers are finding that they can’t easily buy antacid medications like Tums, Pepcid and its generic version, famotidine, in parts of the country," the Times writes.  "A few weeks ago, Wegmans Food Markets took the step of limiting shoppers to two packets of famotidine products per trip.

    "During a pandemic that has seen bursts of hoarding, this may be the most unexpected.

    "Americans are stressed. They’re concerned about the rising number of coronavirus cases. They worry about their jobs. Remote learning is a nightmare, and grocery shopping is no walk in the park. Not to mention the elections. And now, here come the holidays. The result is that some people are dealing with 'Pandemic Stomach,' acid-churning episodes that are increasing demand for over-the-counter and prescription antacids."

    •  The Washington Post has a story about one industry that has boomed during the pandemic:  the plastic surgery business.

    The Post writes:

    "Call it a Zoom boom. Or an opportune moment. Plastic surgeons across the globe are anecdotally reporting an unprecedented number of requests for procedures. 'It is unknown if this is pent-up demand from the months of shutdown when patients were not able to get their procedures, or increased interest because of other potential factors,' said Adam Ross, spokesman for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, adding that the organization would not have estimates for the number of procedures done this year until spring 2021."

    The Post goes on:  "Many workers are spending more time on Zoom, which isn’t the most flattering of mirrors. They’re also realizing they won’t have to return to an office anytime soon, which will make recovery, and keeping surgery private, easier. Those who choose facial surgery can cover postoperative swelling with a mask when in public. Add to that the backlog of patients whose procedures were postponed during shutdowns, and the cosmetic surgeon’s clinic or operating room has become a very coveted place to be."

    Published on: December 9, 2020

    CNN has a story about how Albertsons, teaming up with First Refuge Ministries and Linda Tutt High School in Sanger, Texas, to launch a grocery store designed "to support families in need."  Students there can "purchase necessities including toilet paper, meat and basic food items. They pay for their purchases by earning points from good deeds."  And, the store "is completely run by students who manage the inventory, stock the shelves and help other students find and bag the products they need."

    This is no small deal - 45 percent of the students at the school would be defined as economically disadvantaged.

    KC's View:

    This is the very definition of "we're all in this together."  Kudos to all.

    Published on: December 9, 2020

    •  "The total U.S. online grocery market posted $8.1 billion in sales during November as 60.1 million U.S. households placed on average 2.8 orders during the month," according to the Brick Meets Click/Mercatus Grocery Shopping Survey fielded Nov. 11-14, 2020.

    "The delivery and pickup segments captured 73% of the online sales during the month and active delivery and pickup shoppers reported a record-high repeat intent rate of 83% … For today’s households that buy groceries online, delivery and pickup services play an increasingly essential role in meeting their grocery needs. During November, grocery delivery and pickup services generated sales of $5.9 billion, accounting for 73% of the total $8.1 billion in online spending and capturing 13 more share points compared to August 2019."

    “Concerns about contracting the virus, stay-at-home orders, or retail restrictions motivated many to try a service within the last nine months, and now a significant share of those households considers online shopping a desirable alternative to an in-store trip. This presents opportunities as well as threats to established business models and practices,” said David Bishop, partner at Brick Meets Click, adding, "It’s evident the U.S. has an expanded base of engaged customers who continue to become more comfortable shopping online for a broader range of grocery products.  And, when this happens as quickly as it has this year, it creates a range of challenges for service providers, including building capabilities and competencies, and managing costs and customers."

    •  CNBC reports on how a number of third part sellers on Amazon who "are up in arms over a recent policy change meant to help the company conserve space in its warehouses as it faces a pandemic-fueled surge in e-commerce demand alongside the peak holiday shopping season … In August, Amazon put in place stricter quantity limits on shipments from third-party sellers that use its fulfillment service to package and ship orders, known as Fulfillment by Amazon, or FBA. The limits apply to all product categories and differ on an item-by-item basis."

    The story goes on:  "Sellers say they understand why Amazon needed to limit the size of shipments into its warehouses, but they feel the policy puts them in a bind during a holiday that’s already proven challenging due to the pandemic. 

    The inventory-related struggles come as Amazon has highlighted success of small businesses on its platform on this year’s pandemic-delayed Prime Day as well as on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

    "While the inventory restrictions aren’t limited to third-party sellers — Amazon has previously said it’s metering storage of its own products, too, in its warehouses — merchants said they felt like they had little say in how the limits are determined."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "DoorDash Inc. priced shares in its initial public offering at about $102 apiece, according to people familiar with the matter, a sign of strength both for the meal-delivery company and the overall IPO market.

    "The price equates to roughly $39 billion using a fully diluted share count and including proceeds from the offering, which raised $3.37 billion. It is above the $90 to $95 a share range the San Francisco company had been targeting after boosting initial expectations it established last week."

    Published on: December 9, 2020

    •  The Cincinnati Business Courier reports that Kroger is being sued for $85 million by K7 Design Group, which charges that the retailer refused to accept delivery of hand sanitizer that it ordered.

    ""Because Kroger reneged on a purchase order, K7 has been left with a tremendous quantity of hand sanitizer for which K7 has no other use and which it has been forced to store in its overflowing warehouses. And, after it had refused to take delivery, Kroger tried to use its immense market power to force K7 to absorb losses that, both in equity and because of K7 and Kroger's contract, should be borne by Kroger," a press release put out by K7's lawyers said.

    Kroger says that it is "disappointed" by the vendor's suit, and plans to defend itself "vigorously."

    • reports that three Kings Food Markets stores in New Jersey - in Maplewood, Gillette and Hoboken South - that were not included in the $96.4 million acquisition of Kings and Balducci's by Albertsons now have either closed or are slated to close.

    •  The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that "Ascena Retail Group Inc. has won court approval to sell its Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant, Loft and Lou & Grey retail brands out of bankruptcy to private-equity firm Sycamore Partners in a deal valued at about $1 billion … The deal, which could close by next week, will preserve the business as a going concern with at least 900 stores. As of late August, Ascena operated 1,500 retail locations throughout the U.S., down from its previous roughly 2,800 stores."

    Published on: December 9, 2020

    •  Coca-Cola announced that it has hired its first Chief Data Officer - Priya Raman, who is returning to Coke from Microsoft, where she was Chief Data and Intelligence Officer.  During her first run at Coke, Raman was general manager of strategy.

    Published on: December 9, 2020

    MNB reader Bob Thomas had a thought about the coronavirus debate:

    To those people at Stanford (really the Hoover Institute at Stanford) that are espousing herd immunity:  What pandemic has herd immunity eliminated?  They will probably try to claim SARS even though there were just 8,000 cases worldwide and 29 cases in the US.  Quarantines and Public Health initiatives were responsible for the quick eradication of SARS.

    On the subject of free shipping of online orders, MNB reader Jerome Schindler wrote:

    The inconvenient truth is that the shipping is not "free", the cost has to be paid for by someone.  Also, the cost of employees scampering around the store or warehouse aisles filling online orders is also not free.  My complaint is that,  especially in the case of brick and mortar retailers, to a significant measure that someone is the person who expends the cost and time to drive to the store and shop in person.  Adding insult to injury, many of these retailers are now even forcing us to check out ourselves.  Those customers are subsidizing the shipping and other costs of on-line shoppers. 

    On the subject of more people apparently using SNAP program funds to buy healthier foods, such as fresh produce, one MNB reader wrote:

    For the record this mismanaged program, that just deposits money into the recipient’s EBT card account, allows these cards to be use at the following fast food chains to name a few. 

    McD’s, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, KFC, Dunkin Donuts, Denny’s Church’s Chicken, Burger King, etc.

    Wow! To me this is not “moving in the right direction”.  This is a program, that we pay for,  that allows people to eat anything they want.  It is NOT focused on healthy nutrition.

    So, for this article to tout how wonderful it is that produce consumption is up, is very misleading and a total “left” spin on a program that has been rife with fraud since its inception.

    Typical government program.  No accountability, no back checking, not performing to the objective and just giving away money.  I remember working a register during the food stamp times, when I checked out a very well-dressed woman (full length mink coat) that paid with food stamps. 

    Nothing has changed, except the name.

    But another MNB reader wrote:

    Surprisingly, a report released by IRI earlier this year confirmed that SNAP recipients spent a disproportionate amount of dollars on brands vs. private brands.  There is certainly an opportunity for those in need to be able to stretch those food dollars.

    On another subject, from MNB reader John Holter:

    The story about UPS renting trucks was interesting.  But here in Gresham, Oregon, in my neighborhood we have a Prius with UPS stickers on the doors delivering packages.  Small ones of course. 

    Responding to my video commentary about Barnes & Noble embracing a localized approach, MNB reader Dr. Allen F. Wysocki wrote:

    Loved the FaceTime today. Your comments on Barnes and Noble, sounds a lot like the way Wegman’s allows autonomy for their stores when it comes to things like produce.

    On the subject of a positive customer service experience, MNB reader Paul Schlossberg wrote:

    Our Thanksgiving dinner was just the two of us this year - a first without family in our lives. 

    One item we purchased and prepared was disappointing. It was a new (to us) product and we followed the instructions very carefully. 

    Not long after my wife contacted the company through their website. She recapped what we did and wanted to know if there were other suggestions we might have added to our prep and cooking. We did not expect anything more than some hints and tips for the future. 

    The reply we received is an object lesson for all of us who sell food products. Our "customer service representative" was the company's founder, whose name is on the label. 

    We were very surprised when she requested that we send a copy of our receipt so that she could send us a full refund. The dollar amount was significant. What a powerful way to stand behind the brand and the company's commitment to quality and customer satisfaction. 

    This is a small company in a category with huge players. Next year we will buy their brand. 

    And finally, MNB reader Stephanie Steiner wrote in to correct what she saw as a lapse in our sports coverage:

    The Seattle Sounders won the Western Conference Championship last night, and are headed to MLS Cup Finals in Columbus for the fourth time in five years. The match will be Saturday 12/12 at 5:30 pm PST (late night for the east coast folks, but I’ve traveled for that twice, let’s hope it doesn’t go to PKs again! For the Midwest, it’s normal).

    Seattle hasn’t played in front of a crowd for a long time. Columbus will likely have a small one as rules are different there.

    Seattle will be lit up blue and green this week, zoo animals will play with soccer balls, flags have been flying already for a week. If people were out and about, jerseys would be everywhere.

    Thanks for the update.

    Published on: December 9, 2020

    In Tuesday Night Football, the Baltimore Ravens beat the Dallas Cowboys 34-17.