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    Published on: June 8, 2021

    by Michael Sansolo

    A few nights back, my wife and I did something really out of the ordinary. For the first time in more than 15 months, we actually walked into a nearby mall. It sounds boring on paper, but trust me, it wasn’t.

    As we walked around the mall we felt like adventurers somehow descending into a time capsule. Instead of rows of empty stores we found the mall in pretty good shape, but with some strange changes. For example, a number of stores moved to new spots in the mall possibly, my wife suggested, to take advantage of better locations at reduced rates. 

    Some stores had disappeared (a great movie theater is gone) but there were also unexpected additions such as a jump in the number of nail salons. And there were expected changes such as the long awaited arrival of an in-mall 7-Eleven and Amazon 4-star.  Sears, of course, is gone.

    To be quite honest, I never found much interest in walking this (or any) mall before Covid, yet somehow it was exciting now. Not because I needed to buy anything, but simply because I am fully vaccinated and felt I could do it safely. Heck, we even ate at the food court and that felt special (other than the food, of course).

    These strange moments of re-discovery are likely awaiting many of us as we emerge from the strange Covid slumber, like Rip van Winkle famously did in New York’s Hudson Valley.  In the famous Washington Irving story, Rip managed to snooze through the American Revolution and other doings for 20 years. In Covid times, nearly everyone slept.

    That means there are now a host of new challenges and opportunities facing businesses that in so many ways never existed before.

    The opportunities start with capitalizing on the excitement shoppers will have now freed from the lockdown. Hopefully you watched Kevin’s video report of flying to a business conference last week. I doubt he was the only person to get misty eyed at returning to Newark Airport and United Airlines and it’s hard to imagine anyone felt that way in, say, 2019.

    That same feeling of joy at returning to normal is going to happen in supermarkets everywhere, so why not grab the moment with merchandising aimed at rekindling excitement for shopping, sampling of products, and the sights and aromas of fresh foods. Remember, those same shoppers have learned a great deal about shopping on-line in the past year, so grab the opportunity to win them back by demonstrating why your store, services or products are exactly what they want.

    The big challenge, I think, is to actually grab the moment by building experiences that excite and delight.The temptation may be to simply slip back into the way thing were but that would be a mistake. Normalcy was shattered whether through the anxiety of shopping around unmasked people or seeing (for likely the first time ever) store shelves emptied of critical products. In so many ways, shoppers are like Rip van Winkle staring at a world that suddenly looks so different. In countless ways, summer 2021 isn’t following spring or certainly not 2020 or 2019. It’s a whole new era thanks to the incredibly disrupted year and in turn that means incredible potential for what comes next.

    We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: This is a once in a lifetime moment. Seize it or miss out. Rip van Winkle has awakened.

    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: June 8, 2021

    We'll all be happy to get back to seeing each other in person.   But, KC argues, one of the things that Zoom-style conversations have enabled is the opportunity to actually see each other as people.

    Published on: June 8, 2021

    Kroger said yesterday that it will hold its "first nationwide hybrid hiring event, including virtual and in-store interviews … on Thursday, June 10. The goal of the event is to hire 10,000 associates supporting retail, e-commerce, pharmacy, manufacturing, and logistics operations."

    “We are truly driven to be the best employer in America and one of the best places to work, no matter your skillset, role, or ambitions,” says Tim Massa, Kroger’s senior vice president and chief people officer, in a prepared statement. “We want to meet our associates where they are and provide them with tools and pathways to grow as individuals and with our organization because the jobs of the future will grow and evolve just like our business. Today’s growth-minded associates will deliver tomorrow’s solutions for our customers.”

    KC's View:

    I wish Kroger good luck.  They may need to hire 10,000 people, but that may not be the same thing as actually hiring 10,000 people.  Considering the number of unfilled jobs out there at the moment, this could be problematic.

    Published on: June 8, 2021

    Vitamins-and-supplements retailer GNC reportedly has signed a distribution deal with Walmart that will put a range of GNC-branded vitamins into more than 4,000 Walmart stores, with the goal being to expand the presence to additional sports nutrition and weight-management products.

    “Millions know and trust our brand, and with this collaboration we can deliver the GNC experience to a whole new group of consumers,” Josh Burris, CEO of GNC, said in a prepared statement.  “The future of the wellness industry has a place for everyone, and GNC is making a healthy lifestyle more accessible than ever by delivering quality products to consumers via Walmart’s expansive network of stores.”

    There is no word about whether the new Walmart deal affects an existing relationship that GNC has with Rite Aid.

    GNC has gone through a bankruptcy, a rash of store closings, and a sale of the company to a China-based Harbin Pharmaceutical Group.

    KC's View:

    It may be that smaller retailers that traditionally have had a physical presence are going to have to find a new way to reach shoppers in a bricks-and-mortar environment.  Selling products through other, bigger stores is one way toi do that, whether it means being in mainline shelf sets or having targeted boutiques where it makes sense.

    Probably going to see a lot more of this.

    Published on: June 8, 2021

    Albertsons has announced "the launch of several new vendor partnerships aimed at helping the company boost supplier diversity as the company reaffirms its commitment to racial equity."

    The Supplier Diversity Program applies to the following groups that are over 50% owned and controlled/operated by a U.S. citizen and one of the following categories or ethnicities:  African American … Asian American … Hispanic … Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender … Native American … Service-Disabled Veteran … (and) Female."

    The announcement goes on:

    "Given one of the biggest hurdles for small businesses is access to working capital, Albertsons Cos. is launching an expanded early payment program by partnering with C2FO, a secure online platform for working capital, as part of this program. This partnership with C2FO will help determine the best time and terms for payments between Albertsons Cos. and suppliers. The goal is to help diverse-owned businesses alleviate immediate capital challenges by making access to working capital more equitable by providing funding to qualified, diverse-owned suppliers at significantly lower rates."

    And, "Albertsons Cos. also plans to work with ECRM, RangeMe, and Quantum to expand supplier diversity. ECRM and RangeMe will help identify small, innovative, diverse suppliers. Quantum, an eProcurement and diversity spend management solution, will enhance Albertsons Cos.’ ability to identify diverse-owned and operated suppliers."

    “Albertsons Companies is dedicated to helping our communities lay the foundation for racial equity,” said Jonathan Mayes, Albertsons Companies SVP, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer. “We’re taking these steps as part of our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in our company and the businesses we choose to partner with so that we reflect the wonderfully diverse communities we serve.”

    Published on: June 8, 2021

    Fast Company has an interview with Stephenie Landry, Amazon’s vice president of grocery, in which she says, “Our goal, from a grocery perspective, is to give customers the absolute best experience in terms of selection, price, quality, and convenience, no matter where they want to shop.  All those shopping experiences should support one another."

    Landry discusses the degree to which Amazon's grocery business accelerated quickly during the pandemic, here.

    Published on: June 8, 2021

    Three years after his suicide, a new documentary about chef-author-documentarian Anthony Bourdain is scheduled to be released this summer.

    Directed by Morgan Neville, who gave us Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the new film is called Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, and it looks like it has thew potential to be terrific as it explores the life and mind of someone who came to define the role of food in culture and the role of culture in food.

    Roadrunner is due out on July 16.  Here's a trailer:

    Published on: June 8, 2021

    •. Sprouts Farmers Market announced that it has opened a new produce warehouse in Orlando, Florida - its first in the state and seventh overall - that it said will serve the 23 stores it currently operates there and the 10 new units it plans to open there during the coming year.

    • Eater Los Angeles reports that Alice Waters, the legendary chef-restaurateur responsible for Berkeley's iconic Chez Panisse, is opening a new restaurant in Los Angeles - her first new venture in decades.

    "While Waters’ new restaurant does not yet have a name, Eater has confirmed that it will land at the Hammer Museum, part of UCLA’s sprawling campus in the Westwood neighborhood," the story says, adding that "in true Waters fashion, reps for the Hammer say, the restaurant will 'highlight wholesome foods sourced from local farms dedicated to responsible and regenerative farming practices'."

    The story notes that this "all sounds like something right up Waters’ alley. Her restaurant Chez Panisse has been held up for half a century as a bastion of sourcing, quality, and California bounty, relying on hyper-seasonal produce and a 'less is more approach' to its menu. Chez Panisse, and Waters, are often held as pinnacles of the so-called Slow Food movement that prizes local food cultures and seasonal ingredients above all."

    Published on: June 8, 2021

    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…

    •  Here are the United States Covid-19 coronavirus numbers:  34,227,237 total cases … 612,701 deaths … and 28,177,659 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  174,429,426 total cases … 3,753,525 fatalities … and 157,705,370 reported recoveries.   (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC) says that 63.7 percent of the US population 18 years of age and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 53 percent being fully vaccinated.

    •  In Washington State, KIRO News reports that the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) "has approved a temporary allowance for cannabis retailers to offer 'Joints for Jabs' promotions to support local vaccination efforts.

    "The allowed promotions may provide one joint to an adult customer who received a COVID-19 vaccination at an in-store vaccination clinic.  This approval is effective immediately, optional for cannabis retailers and expires on July 12, 2021."

    The promotion only is available to people 21 years of age or older.

    •  As the pandemic recedes, New York is no longer just waiting for a sunny day.

    The New York Times reports that "Bruce Springsteen is returning to Broadway.

    "'Springsteen on Broadway,' the rock legend’s autobiographical show, which ran for 236 performances, including seven previews, in 2017 and 2018, will open on June 26 at the St. James Theater, at 246 W. 44th Street, and have additional performances through Sept. 4, according to an announcement.

    "As of now, the show will be the first to open on Broadway since the pandemic shut down performances in March 2020. While some Broadway productions have set return dates as early as Aug. 4, most have targeted mid-September for their reopenings."

    Must be a tear from my eye, because everything is going to be okay.

    Published on: June 8, 2021

    On the subject of relative ages between senior executives and front line workers, MNB reader Craig Espelien wrote:

    I wanted to weigh in on the minimum wage/essential worker debate. I was talking with a friend last week and we were on different sides of the mandatory minimum wage issue. After digging into the real issue, we began discussing the disparities between front line worker pay and executive pay. For some reason, this always becomes a thing - especially in retail. Jim Sinegal probably had the best approach at Costco where his comp was limited to some number multiplied by the average wage. This would seem like a great place to start - until you add the following twist…

    Athletes in professional sports are paid pretty large sums of money - and there is never (or rarely) any mention of why they get so much relative to the ticket taker at the arena they play at (or the difference between a high paid actor and the person holding the microphone on set). Likewise with performers (actors, musicians, etc.) - the Talent (individuals like Taylor Swift or a band or whatever) get the vast majority of the funds while the folks on the front lines of concert venues are paid much smaller sums.

    My questioning mind went to why we always seem to hammer on “business” and “CEO’s” but rarely, if ever, include these entertainment focused folks who usually make even more than the highest paid CEO’s.

    I get the “talent” piece but this applies to CEO’s as well. Yes, some do not perform as well as the best but the disparity piece seems to be the rub - not the absolute number paid to the front line folks.  As we have seen from the COVID lockdowns, life kept going without access to new movies or concerts.

    If you want to make the argument that relatively speaking, ballplayers and actors are overpaid, I'm not going to fight with you.

    Except for Jacob deGrom.  He deserves everything the News York Mets can afford to pay him, and more.

    But let's put him aside for a moment.

    I actually have no idea what a lot of performers pay the people who work for them.  I would point out that in most of the cases you cite, the people who are doing things like holding the microphone or taking tickets don't actually work for the performer … not that this is an excuse for not paying people a decent wage.

    The difference, I think, is that part of a CEO's job is to lead … to set the tone for a company … to establish a sense of culture … to create an environment in which people feel invested in the company and essential to its mission and  goals.  As a friend of mine likes to say, "Today’s workers don’t want to be just part of a head count; rather they want their heads to count."  A CEO's job is to facilitate this.  Some of it has to do with wages, but actually there is a lot more involved, as well.

    Athletes and performers often are employees.  Really, really well-paid employees.  Sometimes they are management, too.  But it is a different business construct.

    I get that the high average compensation increases paid to CEOs last year, especially when compared to front line workers, have to be seen in context - some of this stuff has been contracted years in advance.  But the optics aren't great.

    But, as I said, if you want to make the argument that relatively speaking, ballplayers and actors are overpaid, I'm not going to fight with you.

    Except for Jacob deGrom.