Today, I chat with author/speaker Fawn Germer, who is out with a new book, "Coming Back: How To Win The Job You Want When You've Lost Your Job You Need." Our conversation focuses not just on what people need to in order to be resilient and relevant in a world where fast-paced change requires it of any employee (and not just because of the pandemic), but also on how companies ought to think differently about the people who work for them - or ought to.
It is, I think, an enlightening chat … and I hope you enjoy it.
"Coming Back: How To Win The Job You Want When You've Lost Your Job You Need" is available on Amazon, from iconic independent bookstore Powell's, and wherever books are sold.
This week, Tom Furphy and Kevin Coupe open up their ongoing MorningNewsBeat.com segment about technology strategies that are changing the world of retail, and build on this week's Innovation Conversation about the "buy or build" debate. In addition to their regular Wednesday video chat, they'll be hosting a room on Thursday afternoon on Clubhouse, the new social networking app that enables real-time audio conversation between the hosts (Tom and KC) and fellow members.
The Financial Times this morning that "Instacart is exploring the use of robotic warehouses to fulfill its orders, as it looks to streamline the process of ferrying items from stores into customers’ homes … For almost a year, the company has been researching ways to automate the picking process. Last spring, Instacart sent out proposal requests to at least five companies that offer robotic systems that would pick goods from purpose-built 'dark' warehouses instead of store shelves."
The current model uses more than a half-million "gig workers" to pick at store level: "The workers drive to stores, pick the goods off the shelf, check out and deliver to customers’ doors. Instacart charges a delivery fee, and in some cases takes a commission, while gathering lucrative data on shopping habits."
FT writes that Instacart wants to open as many as 50 such robotic facilities in the US, and has engaged in extended discussions with several technology companies. However, it has not yet gotten buy-in from its retail partners, which, as FT notes, "have been hesitant to further entrench Instacart into their businesses."
Such a move, the story suggests, also "is also likely to revive fears among its grocery store partners that the company may one day attempt to go it alone, buoyed by years of insights from shopping data, a claim that Instacart has strongly and repeatedly denied."
Longtime (or even new) MNB readers know where I come down on this - I've been saying for years now that Instacart's eventual play will be to compete with its retail clients. It already is competing with them, in essence, for promotional dollars, collecting them directly from suppliers and offering Instacart-specific deals to consumers rather than simply serving as a service-provider intent on bolstering its clients' brands.
I would imagine that a network of robotic warehouses, combined with all the shopper data collected by Instacart and its relationship with suppliers, would make it a formidable competitor when it decides to make that move.
Interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal about how hiring alliances created by various companies - those that would hurt hard by the pandemic and those that found themselves desperately needing people to meet increased demand - have borne fruit.
"The partnerships have matched many tens of thousands of workers with open jobs, according to several companies involved in them," the Journal writes. "And labor specialists say they could be a model for future hiring alliances among employers."
Among the examples cited in the story:
"Albertsons says it has recruited at least 1,400 staffers from 23 corporate partners, including Hilton, MGM Resorts International, Regal Cinemas and Inspire Brands Inc., whose portfolio includes the Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings and Jimmy John’s restaurant chains."
"Amazon.com Inc. estimates it selected tens of thousands of workers from 21 U.S. corporate partners such as Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. as it went on a hiring spree last year, placing more than 400,000 people in permanent U.S. jobs to handle soaring demand for at-home shopping."
"CVS Health Corp. formed hiring partnerships with 64 U.S. employers—including Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. and Gap Inc.—as it raced to fill open positions in its stores, warehouses and call centers amid a coronavirus-fueled surge in its business last year. The pharmacy and insurance giant created dedicated hiring websites for its partners’ displaced workers and streamlined the selection process for some jobs. Of the more than 100,000 people whom CVS recruited from March to December last year, about 3,700 came from the new partnerships, according to a spokeswoman."
It will be interesting to see if these alliances are sustainable as we move to a post-pandemic economy. After all, businesses always have ebbs and flows, and there may be ways that they can continue to help each other in a way that ultimately is good for both customers and employees.
Two different stories in the Wall Street Journal point to how restaurants are looking to find new business models that will be more adaptable to changed consumer preferences shaped by the pandemic.
• The Journal reports that while app-based delivery services such DoorDash and Uber Eats have provided a lot of restaurants with a lifeline to customers during the pandemic, the high cost (as much as 30 percent of every order) of using them means that "a host of food-ordering tools, along with some restaurants, are finding ways around those apps and the commissions they charge."
According to the story, "Some new players say they can steer enough orders to make it worthwhile for the restaurants to organize their own deliveries—as pizza shops and takeout businesses have long done—or to outsource deliveries to a partner. Lyft Inc. has said it is exploring such partnerships with restaurants.
"Whether these alternatives can grab market share, or turn profits, is an open question. Makers of the new crop of services say they save both restaurants and consumers money, because restaurants aren’t marking up menu prices to offset commissions and they can charge customers smaller delivery fees."
• The Journal also reports on how, "for his latest culinary venture, veteran New York City chef Franklin Becker has decided to tackle what might seem like a mission impossible. He is opening four restaurants at once, each with different themes and menus, from the Israeli-inspired Shai to the Southern-styled Butterfunk Biscuit Co.
"The challenge is mitigated by the fact that Mr. Becker won’t have any actual dining rooms to manage. The restaurants are delivery-only—or ghost kitchens, as they are called in the industry. And they will all operate out of a single location, a 490-square-foot space in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood.
"Mr. Becker, 51 years old, says the approach affords him the opportunity to test and develop new dining concepts, including ones he may eventually open as bricks-and-mortar locations, and save on rent, labor and other costs at the same time."
The story says that "the chef’s efforts speak to a larger trend in the New York dining world, with several restaurateurs setting up similar operations in the past few years.
"Indeed, Mr. Becker rents his facility from Zuul, a New York-based ghost-kitchen company that has other restaurant tenants in the same Soho space."
The biggest point that these stories make is that retailers thinking that the restaurant industry is down for the count are making a strategic error, because at all levels we're going to see the smart ones figuring out how to reposition their businesses for the future and be more competitive. Supermarkets counting on keeping the share-of-stomach going forward without being equally as innovative are kidding themselves.
The other point I take from these stories….
Zuul? Really? They're renting from Zuul?
Don't they know that Zuul is the Gatekeeper of Gozer?
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 28,765,423 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 511,133 deaths, and 18,973,190 reported recoveries.
Globally, there have been 112,015,791 confirmed coronavirus cases … 2,479,156 resultant fatalities … and 87,384,088 reported recoveries. (Source.)
• The Washington Post reports that "at least 43.6 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S. This includes more than 18.9 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 75.2 million doses have been distributed."
• From the Wall Street Journal:
"The country reported more than 56,000 new coronavirus cases for Sunday, down from Saturday’s total, which exceeded 71,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University that was published early Monday Eastern time. The data may update later. While the daily tally of new cases is down sharply from peak levels reached earlier this year, it is still elevated compared with totals in the late summer and early autumn."
The Journal notes that "Hospitalizations due to the disease fell to 56,159 as of Sunday, down more than 53% from a month earlier, according to the Covid Tracking Project. The number of Covid-19 patients requiring treatment in intensive care units was less than 12,000 for the first time since Nov. 9, with 11,862 people in ICUs across the country."
• The New York Times writes that "experts have pointed to a variety of explanations for why the country’s coronavirus metrics have been improving over the past few months: more widespread mask use and social distancing after people saw friends and relatives die, better knowledge about which restrictions work, more effective public health messaging, and, more recently, a growing number of people who have been vaccinated. The most vulnerable, like residents of nursing homes and other elderly people, were among the first to receive the vaccine.
"While scientists hope the worst is behind us, some warn of another spike in cases in the coming weeks, or a 'fourth wave,' if people become complacent about masks and distancing, states lift restrictions too quickly or the more contagious variants become dominant and are able to evade vaccines."
• The Wall Street Journal writes that "several new research papers suggest that Covid-19 survivors who have gotten a first dose of vaccine are generating immune responses that might render a second shot unnecessary, potentially freeing up limited supply. The research, while preliminary, found that the previously infected people generated protection against the disease quickly and at dramatically higher levels after a first shot of the current two-shot regimens when compared with people who were vaccinated but hadn’t been sick."
• The Washington Post reports on the question that the nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, gets several times a day: "When will things be normal again?"
His answer: "We don’t know."
"In general, there are too many unknowns to say definitively when the coronavirus pandemic will end," the Post writes.
"It really depends on what you mean by ‘normality'," Fauci says. "If normality means exactly the way things were before we had this happen to us, I can’t predict that."
One thing Fauci does suggest is that "face masks - for many Americans, one of the most visible signs of abnormality - may still be necessary in 2022."
But in the end, he says., nobody knows.
It all depends.
• CNN reports that "Publix joined a growing list of US grocers and retailers offering incentives to workers who get the Covid-19 vaccine. The popular Southern supermarket chain said it is offering its employees $125 gift cards when they sign up and show proof of vaccination."
Among the other chains offering vaccination incentives: "Aldi is offering its hourly workers with two hours of pay for each vaccine dose they receive. That equals a total of up to four hours of paid time off. The grocery chain said it would also 'cover costs associated with vaccine administration' to its employees who want to get vaccinated" … "Trader Joe's is providing its workers 'an additional 2 hours of regular pay per dose for taking the time to get vaccinated,' according to a spokesperson for the company" … "Kroger is offering its associates a one-time $100 payment if they provide proof they received the full manufacturer-recommended doses of a Covid-19 vaccine" … Starbucks "is giving its employees up to two hours of paid time off per dose, or a total of up to four hours of paid time off" … "Target said it will offer its more than 350,000 hourly employees up to four hours of pay - two hours for each dose they receive —-and free Lyft rides of up to $15 each way to get to and from their vaccine appointments."
I think it is great the companies are offering incentives. Me, I think the best incentive is not getting sick. But that's just me.
• Axios reports that "America’s much-maligned vaccine rollout is actually going relatively well, at least compared to other wealthy countries … The U.S. has carried out more vaccinations than any country in the world, and given a first dose to a higher percentage of its population (12%) than all but five countries: Israel, the Seychelles, the UAE, the U.K. and Bahrain.
"In fact, the U.S. is distributing doses three times as quickly as the EU, adjusted for population, and nearly five times as quickly as Canada."
The story notes that "the U.S. has some major advantages over most of the world. Not only does America have the money to reserve more doses than it could possibly use, it also has the capacity to manufacture them domestically."
• Reuters reports that "Israel reopened swathes of its economy including malls and leisure facilities on Sunday, with the government saying the start of a return to routine was enabled by Covid-19 vaccines administered to almost half the population.
"Shops were open to all, but access to gyms, hotels and theatres was limited to people with a 'Green Pass': those who have had both doses of the vaccine more than a week prior, or recovered from the disease with presumed immunity.
"Pass-holders could prove their status by presenting a vaccination certificate or downloading a health ministry app linked to their medical files."
• The Wall Street Journal reports that "Covid-19 survivors who have gotten a first dose of Covid-19 vaccine are generating immune responses that might render a second shot unnecessary, potentially freeing up limited vaccine supply for more people, several new research papers suggest.
"The research, while preliminary, found that the previously infected people generated protection against the disease quickly and at dramatically higher levels after a first shot of the current two-shot regimens when compared with people who were vaccinated but hadn’t been sick."
• The Wall Street Journal writes that "some supermarkets are still struggling to figure out how to deal with customers who show up without masks or don’t wear them properly.
"The challenge comes almost a year into the pandemic, and after public-health authorities have repeatedly said masks are a critical tool in limiting the spread of the coronavirus. Translating that advice into stores has been challenging, grocers say, putting them in the uncomfortable position of policing customers and trying to defuse confrontations."
The story notes that "after a surge in new cases around and just after the holidays, new Covid-19 infections have been falling more recently. Grocery employees in some states, including New York, Illinois and Virginia, are now eligible to get vaccinated. Still, masks remain contentious, with some governors dropping statewide mandates while health officials ask people to be vigilant. And vaccines currently remain out of reach for the majority of the population. Public-health experts say the sheer number of shoppers who patronize groceries each day creates risks for workers."
The Journal quotes Steve Smith, CEO of Food City, as saying, "You still have what I call boneheads that won’t wear masks."
Sometimes the boneheads aren't just argumentative. Like the one in Maine who tried to run over a supermarket store manager with his car after he was told to wear a mask.
First of all, kudos to Steve Smith, who is blunt enough to call a bonehead a bonehead.
I hope the bonehead in Maine ends up with another term attached to his name: convicted felon.
I feel bad for retailers who find themselves in the position of having to police this issue because lawmakers have not done their jobs. Political leaders ought to have common sense and sense of responsibility enough to establish mask mandates that will help keep their constituents safe until the pandemic has passed, and take the onus off retailers. That's what I said back in early April, and I still feel that way.
• Meanwhile, "Saturday Night Live" this weekend offered its own take on the wear-your-mask-in-the-supermarket issue, called "Grocery Rap":
With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…
• From CNBC:
"Walmart wants to tap what it sees as its greatest asset: its reach.
"Every week, 150 million customers visit its stores, website and app. The company not only wants to sell groceries, clothes and other items. It wants to chase new business opportunities, from bulking up its ad sales to becoming a major health-care provider. With the strategy, Walmart is acknowledging a tough reality: Retail may not be enough to power its future … Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the discounter will weave together diverse services that customers want, from issuing a credit or debit card to dropping off groceries on their doorstep. It will also increase investments to cater to customers’ changed shopping habits, such as automation that will help it keep up with the heavy volume of curbside pickup orders."
“We feel emboldened and are now moving with even more speed and aggressiveness,” McMillon said. “We’re scaling new capabilities and businesses and designing them to work together in a mutually reinforcing way.”
This continues the narrative that I talked about in a commentary last Friday - that Walmart seems intent on broadening out its traditional business model that will allow it to continue to grow. And crush smaller, less-well-funded competitors.
An "emboldened" Walmart? Not good news for a lot of other retailers.
• The Associated Press reports that "Kroger Co. says personal data, including Social Security numbers of some of its pharmacy and clinic customers, may have been stolen in the hack of a third-party vendor’s file-transfer service."
According to the story, Kroger "believes less than 1% of its customers were affected - specifically some using its Health and Money Services - as well as some current and former employees because a number of personnel records were apparently viewed. It says it is notifying those potentially impacted, offering free credit-monitoring.
"Kroger said the breach did not affect Kroger stores’ IT systems or grocery store systems or data and there has so far been no indication of fraud involving accessed personal data."
• Today is Supermarket Employee Day, a new holiday proclaimed by FMI—The Food Industry Association "to recognize employees at every level for the work they do feeding families and enriching lives."
W"hen FMI proclaimed this new holiday to recognize the six million employees that comprise our nation’s food industry, nobody ever could have imagined how much this celebration would be embraced," said Leslie G. Sarasin, FMI’s president and CEO. "In this short window of time, supermarkets and food manufacturers are coordinating a broad spectrum of activities to honor our industry’s front-line heroes on this first-ever Supermarket Employee Day."
• Reuters reports that McDonald's "will tie executive bonuses to new goals for diversifying the company and for the first time publicly release demographic details of its workforce.
"Under the new rules, CEO Chris Kempczinski stands to lose 15% of his approximately $2.25 million annual bonus if he fails to meet goals to increase the portion of women and Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities in senior leadership roles … The burger chain said Wednesday that it aimed to boost women in leadership roles, senior director and above, from 37% to 45% globally by the end of 2025.
"It also said it would increase the portion of historically underrepresented groups, in such leadership roles in the United States from 29%, where it now stands, to 35% in the next five years."
• From the New York Times:
"Nearly four years after traces of chemicals believed to cause health problems in children and reproductive issues in adults were found in mass-market macaroni and cheese packets, Annie’s Homegrown has begun working with its suppliers to eliminate the offending material from their food processing equipment.
"The presence of the chemicals, called ortho-phthalates, rattled consumers who rely on the food staple, especially parents. Phthalates make rigid plastic more flexible material and are commonly used in tubing and conveyor belts found at food manufacturing plants and in food packaging … Annie’s, known by its cute bunny logo, disclosed its move in a statement on its website, saying the company was working 'with our trusted suppliers to eliminate ortho-phthalates that may be present in the packaging material and food processing equipment that produces the cheese and cheese powder in our macaroni and cheese'."
• From Reuters:
" Chinese community grocery shopping app Xingsheng Youxuan has raised about $2 billion in a new funding round that values the company at $6 billion prior to the fresh capital injection, three people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters … Headquartered in central China’s Hunan province, three-year-old Xingsheng Youxuan delivers online bulk orders to offline grocery stores located inside or near residential communities.
"It now runs the service in 13 provinces and municipalities, covering more than 6,000 counties and over 30,000 towns, according to its website.
"With more than 8 million daily orders, Xingsheng Youxuan estimated it had a gross merchandise value of 40 billion yuan ($6.18 billion) in 2020, the website said."
Responding to our Friday FaceTime about how an Austin-area H-E-B gave away food to customers when the electricity went down at a particularly bad time last week, MNB reader Rich Heiland wrote:
You know how I feel about H-E-B so not surprised by your chat this morning. I am willing to bet that decision was not made by corporate by the store manager. The real key to service is trusting people on the ground to make decisions, and empowering them to do it. My consulting career has taught me that while a of businesses talk empowerment and trust, too few really practice it.
Last week I did a Zoom conversation about organic and regenerative farming with Carl Jorgensen; I admitted in that prologue that I cannot remember being on a farm. (Vineyards, yes!) MNB reader Sandy Voit wrote:
Sorry you haven't had experience of being on a farm. It is amazing and humbling to talk with farmers about their experiences in raising food and marketing it. They are truly the unsung heroes in our industry - they are there all hours of day and night, in all weather, ensuring that our stores have great produce (or dairy or meat) for our customers to buy and enjoy.
Also want to drill down a little further and recognize the support that is needed to keep farmers on the land. PCC Community Markets, back in 1999, created a Farmland Trust to basically buy development rights of farms in order to keep their property taxes low so farmers wouldn't be forced off their land as increasing property values would drive their property taxes sky high. This Farmland Trust has now saved 26 farms (over 2700 acres) and continues to expand its programs and fundraising. And PCC Community Markets has provided them over $1MM in the past 5 years towards these efforts to keep sustainable farmland available in our region. All a part of the greater environmental good that good groceries make happen...
As I mentioned last week, once pandemic restrictions are lifted I suspect I'll be visiting a number of farms - I got a bunch of invitations yesterday after that piece was posted.
Weighing in on Walmart's promised wage increases, MNB reader John Rand wrote:
Some years ago (5? 6? ) I was lucky enough to enjoy an extended and unstructured hour long conversation with a senior leader at Walmart and, at one point, he asked me a wonderfully open ended question: what was the one thing I would recommend Walmart do to improve its business that it wasn’t looking at?
My answer was, “Pay your people more.”
He started to laugh but then asked me my reasoning, and I said that Walmart was critically dependent on a customer base that was something less than extraordinarily affluent, and that anything that produced greater spending power for the bottom 1/2 to 2/3 of the country would increase business. And further, that Walmart set the de facto wage rates for the entire country due to its size.
I like to think he took that seriously. Even if it had nothing to do with me, I have noticed a general increase in their pay rates in recent years.
This latest news is in line with that. And probably will mean other retailers will need to compete a little more in wages to attract employees.
Finally, one MNB reader wrote in about my Friday OffBeat conversation with Mark Greaney, author of the "Gray Man" series of novels:
I was familiar with Mark Greaney from his work with Tom Clancy so I watched and enjoyed your interview.
He said he lived in Cologne and you mentioned you experiences there. I spent a weekend or more each year in Cologne for over 20 years as I visited my distributors in Europe or visited ANUGA and ISM, I loved that city. You mentioned that waiters marked coasters each time they delivered a glass of beer to keep track, did you notice that the local brand Kölsch, came in small glasses wherever it was served? The glasses were the right size to keep the beer cold while you finished it off, so I would consume 3 - 5 glasses with my Jaegerschnitzel.
The waiter marked the coaster each time they came by with a tray full of glasses and dropped a glass off at the table. I look forward to my next visit to the Fruh, Gaffel House among other favorite places.
I do remember drinking multiple glasses of Kölsch while consuming Himmel und Erde - Heaven & Earth - which consisted of blood sausage, mashed potatoes and apple sauce. (I misstated the name of the dish as "Heaven & Hell" in our conversation.) But Heaven on Earth would've been a better name for the dish.
In the Australian Open men's singles championship, Novak Djokovic defeated Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 to win the 18th Grand Slam Championship of his career, putting him just two behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the all-time Grand Slam record.
And, in the women's singles championship, Naomi Osaka beat Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-3; she is now four-for-four when she's made it to a Grand Slam final.