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    Published on: June 11, 2021

    Yesterday KC talked here about the return of vinyl records, which outsold CDs last year.  But he missed something - the fact that there apparently is a small but noticeable resurgence in - wait for it - cassette tapes. What the hell is going on here? 

    Published on: June 11, 2021

    by Kevin Coupe

    Longtime MNB readers know that almost from day one, I've tried to quote Jimmy Buffett song lyrics whenever possible … I've always been.a big fan of Buffett, having been to numerous concerts over the years and even having spent more than a few nights in his restaurants, bars and resorts.

    Now comes a Bloomberg Businessweek feature about how there's a new Margaritaville Resort about to open in New York's Times Square … a $370 million, 32 story hotel that is opening just as New York reopens.

    The story points out that this is just the latest in what has been a branding blitz for Buffett … the story says that "It may sound counterintuitive for a 74-year-old crooner whose songs include Too Drunk to Karaoke and Math Suks, but the branding bacchanalia puts Buffett at the cutting edge of so-called experiential marketing."

    Let's be clear.  Next time I'm in Times Square, I'll probably check Margaritaville out, just because I'm curious.  But … and I hesitate to say this because Buffett is a lot smarter and more successful than I am … but as I read the Bloomberg piece all sorts of alarm bells went off in my head.

    It's not just because there are elements of the story that suggest a greed that seems unseemly and a little out of synch with the persona that Buffett has carefully crafted over the years - actually, one of the miracles of Buffett Inc. is that somehow, through it all, the singer-songwriter seems completely authentic and maybe even a little incredulous at all the brand development.

    Let me give you three reasons the story made me worry about the brand.

    The first one has to do with the New York opening.  A Margaritaville resort in Times Square may have a natural expiration date, and it may not be that far in the future.  I was one of the people who went to see Buffett's Broadway show, "Escape To Margaritaville," which closed fairly quickly and lost money - even while watching it (and, admittedly, enjoying it), it felt to me like a show that was made more for a touring company or Las Vegas.  Not New York City.  Not Broadway.  It just doesn't fit.  (If I want to have the island experience, I'm not going to Manhattan island … I don't care what the brochures say.)

    My second concern is that I'm honestly not sure the degree to which the Margaritaville brand will outlive the 74-year-old singer.  I'm not trying to be morbid here, but it seems to me that I'd be trying to figure out ways to make my fan base wider and more sustainable.  In other words, figuring out a succession plan.  I'm not sure that the solution is to bring Kenny Chesney into the Margaritaville fold, but when Jimmy stops touring or worse, is there going to be a natural decline in fan loyalty and brand equity?

    (A subset of this concern is the Margaritaville brand of retirement communities.  I just think that sends the wrong message about who the audience is, and that it skews really, really old.)

    Third … I'm a little worried about the lack of control.  The story makes the point that Buffett Inc. - the actual name is Margaritaville Enterprises - doesn't actually own very much except for intellectual property.  Almost everything is a licensing deal (which actually reminds me of another fellow from New York who has his name all over stuff that he didn't actually own).  That's great in terms of not having to lay out much money, but there's also the risk that comes when you put your name and reputation in the hands of other people who may not share your priorities or values.  Again, you can vet everybody best you can, but the risk always is there.

    As I said, I'm a huge Buffett fan … but there's something about this story that worries me.  Maybe Margaritaville Times Square will work out better than "Escape To Margaritaville," and will have a better end than the experiential restaurant that Guy Fieri once opened nearby (and that was savaged in one of the cleverest, bitterest reviews ever published in the New York Times).

    But when I think of Buffett, I think of the guy who sang…

    "My old red bike … Gets me around … To the bars and the beaches of my town … And there aren't many reasons I would leave … Yes, I have found me some peace."

    And the refrain from that song:

    "You can have the rest of everything I own … 'Cause I have found me a home."

    Published on: June 11, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal that the US House of Representatives has five proposals on the table that would, if implemented, "curb the market power of large online platforms by restricting them from certain lines of business and curtailing their ability to buy competitors."  At least at the moment, the proposals seem to have bipartisan support, and similar conversations seem to be taking place in the US Senate.

    According to the story, the five draft House bills "would make it unlawful for operators of large platforms to control a business that creates an irreconcilable conflict of interest, to advantage their own products or services over a competitor, and to acquire companies that pose current or potential competitive threats.

    "Another bill targets the budgets of antitrust enforcement agencies, while a fifth requires platforms to make their services interoperable with those of other companies."

    KC's View:

    While antitrust legislation and distrust of the tech sector seem to have accomplished the impossible task of creating bipartisanship, I'm not sure that it is entirely fair to hold tech companies to different standards than other sectors.

    For example, there are an enormous number of retailers that give their own private label products preferential treatment compared to equivalent national brands;  would that also be outlawed by legislation?

    In addition, there are startup companies that, while they exist to create a challenge to bigger business, are counting on the fact that at some point they'll be acquired;  this legislation could cut out that possibility, and cut reduce innovation.

    I'm in favor of intelligent and nuanced antitrust enforcement, but in this case I think the adjectives are as important as the nouns.

    Published on: June 11, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal reports that United Parcel Service (UPS) "is exploring a same-day option, a delivery model that has been employed by gig-economy players, as the pandemic has accelerated the shift to e-commerce."

    In fact, the company has gone a little further than just "exploring" - it reportedly is running a pilot, though has not offered any details.

    The rationale for offering a same-day delivery service is that Amazon - which is one of UPS's biggest customers - has its own proprietary same-day service, as do companies like Shipt, Instacart, DoorDash and Uber.

    The Journal writes that "UPS and rival FedEx Corp. have long provided overnight services but they generally don’t deliver packages on the same day they receive them. Both companies have begun offering services where they pick up parcels from some stores in evenings and deliver them the next day. FedEx offers same-day services in limited markets. It has also been testing robots that could make deliveries of medicine, pizzas and other items to consumers’ homes."

    KC's View:

    Experts say that it is unlikely that UPS "would go after already-popular services such as grocery or meal delivery," but it seems inevitable that it will have to come up with some sort of same-day service.  That's the benchmark for many customers these days, and to not do so would be to ignore the marketplace.

    Published on: June 11, 2021

    The New York Times this morning reports that Netflix is getting to retailing, launching a site - Netflix.shop - that "gives Netflix a new way to bring in cash after a quarter in which its explosive growth showed signs of slowing down in the increasingly crowded field of streamed entertainment, one that now includes a formidable rival in Disney+."

    According to the story, "the site is the next logical step for a company that has gotten serious about the retail business in the last year, an effort led by the executive Josh Simon, who runs Netflix’s consumer products division.

    "Mr. Simon joined the company in March 2020 after working in a similar role at Nike. On his watch, the consumer products team has grown to 60 people, from 20, and Netflix has made deals with Walmart, Sephora, Amazon and Target to sell clothes, toys, beauty kits and housewares, among other items, related to its series and films.

    "Netflix created the online store with the tech company Shopify. Mr. Simon described it as a 'boutique,' adding that products tied to only a few Netflix shows will be included in its first few weeks."

    KC's View:

    I think this is a smart idea, though it does seem a little retro to me.  You'd think that rather than having an e-commerce site, Netflix would offer consumers the ability to buy items in real time via the screens on which they are watching its programming.

    Maybe that's the next step.

    Published on: June 11, 2021

    •  The Winston-Salem Journal reports that Lowes Foods "has formed a partnership with QuickCollect Solutions that is focused on providing more grocery options to consumers returning to the workplace.

    "The partnership expands Lowes Foods to Go delivery options by placing Bell and Howell’s QuickCollect GL temperature-controlled grocery lockers at offices and corporate campuses.  Orders are placed online and delivered the next delivery day.

    "Once an order is placed and has been delivered to the locker, the guest is notified via text or email with a unique pickup code. From there, the guest can simply scan the code and retrieve their items."

    •  Reuters reports that Amazon "could be fined more than $425 million under the European Union's privacy law … Luxembourg's data-protection commission, CNPD, has circulated a draft decision and proposed a fine highlighting Amazon's privacy practices among the bloc's 26 national data-protection authorities … The case relates to Amazon's collection and use of individuals' personal data and violations under EU's landmark data privacy rules known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)."

    •  AdWeek reports that Instacart "is committing up to $1 million in advertising credits to help boost Black-owned consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands on the platform.

    "Specifically, the grocery delivery service is offering brands credits for its Featured Products offering. The credits are valid through 2021 … Supporting Black-owned businesses was one of the initiatives outlined by Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta in an April 2021 blog post about how the platform plans to 'continue to be an advocate for the Black community and drive systemic change in what we can impact and own within our company and the communities we serve'."

    •  Bloomberg reports that Amazon has reversed a previously announced policy - instead of returning to an office-centric model this fall, it now will allow corporate employees to work remotely two days a week if they so choose.

    According to the story, "Amazon said it expects office workers in the U.S., U.K. and several other countries to resume working mostly on site the week of Sept. 7, according to an email sent to employees Thursday. Workers can seek exemptions to the rules, which have to be approved. Corporate employees would also have the option of working up to four weeks a year fully remote from a domestic location."

    However, the decision could have repercussions:  "Amazon’s new position … may slow the revival of Seattle’s downtown, which has been struggling to rebound from the pandemic while white-collar workers stay away. Amazon is the largest office tenant in the city, with a campus that sprawls through multiple neighborhoods.

    "As businesses shifted to remote work during the pandemic, foot traffic downtown dropped dramatically. More than 160 street-level businesses downtown shuttered permanently last year, according to a tally from the Downtown Seattle Association."

    Published on: June 11, 2021

    •  CNN reports that "a grandmother and her 1-year-old grandson were shot and killed Thursday at a Publix grocery store in Royal Palm Beach, Florida … The shooter is also dead. The motive in the shooting is also not known, and the sheriff's office said there is no known relationship between the gunman and the victims.

    "The victims' families have invoked Marsy's law, so they will not be identified, the sheriff's office said."


    •  CNBC reports that "Best Buy said it will keep stores closed on Thanksgiving Day and offer many of its Black Friday deals online for the second year in a row.

    "The company joins a growing list of retailers that have already begun to announce plans for the holiday season. Target and Walmart also said they will be closed on Thanksgiving Day for the second year in a row."

    Published on: June 11, 2021

    •  Kroger owned Home Chef, the meal kit company, said that its Chief Product Officer, Erik Jensen, has been promoted to the role of president.

    Home Chef also said that Latasha Kempadoo, formerly the Vice President of Human Resources at XPO Logistics, has been hired as the company's new Chief People Officer.

    Published on: June 11, 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 US Covid-19 coronavirus numbers:  34,275,783 total cases … 614,007 deaths … and 28,278,394 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  175,682,366 total cases … 3,790,435 fatalities … and 159,236,459 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 64 percent of the US population 18 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, and 53.4 percent is fully vaccinated.

    •  A sobering note from the Wall Street Journal:

    "More people have died from Covid-19 already this year than in all of 2020, according to official counts, highlighting how the global pandemic is far from over even as vaccines beat back the virus in wealthy nations.

    "It took less than six months for the globe to record more than 1.88 million Covid-19 deaths this year, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data collected by Johns Hopkins University. The university’s count for 2021 edged just ahead of the 2020 death toll on Thursday.

    "These numbers underscore how unevenly the pandemic spread around the globe, often hitting poorer nations later, but before they had access to the vaccines that have benefited Europe and the US … While Western nations such as the U.S., Canada and the U.K. celebrate low caseloads and declining deaths thanks to mass vaccinations, the intensified pandemic in parts of Asia and Latin America propelled global deaths higher.

    In other words, the pandemic ain't over.

    Published on: June 11, 2021

    …will return next week.

    Published on: June 11, 2021

    If you have not watched "Mare of Easttown" on HBO, put it on your list - the seven-episode crime drama that stars Kate Winslet is one of the best things I've seen this year.  Winslet plays a police detective in a suburb of Philadelphia who is dealing with her own angst as well as that of the victims she deals with every day;  she's divorced and feels distraught over her son's a suicide, the recovering drug addict who is the mother of her grandson is trying to get custody, and she feels like she's watching her life and dreams fade away.

    Weighing on Mare Sheehan's mind and heart is her inability to solve the disappearance of a local young woman, which brings her into conflict with other authorities and local citizens who cannot understand her lack of progress in the case.  Making it all the more difficult is the insularity of the town - everybody has known everybody forever, and yet there are deep, dark secrets that remain to be unearthed.

    The writing is sharp, and the cast - Winslet, Julianne Nicholson, Jean Smart, and Guy Pearce among them - is excellent.  I wrote about it here when the series started, but I can tell you that it finishes in devastating fashion.  Totally worth it.

    One other thing.  Pennsylvania locals have been impressed by the degree to which ":Mare of Easttown" gets the sense of place right - to the point that locally based c-store chain Wawa has celebrated the show with a "Mare of Easttown Spicy Cheesesteak" sandwich.

    Watched the first episode of "Loki," the Marvel series on Disney+, this week.  I always find myself feeling the same thing while watching these series spinoffs from the Marvel Cinematic Universe  - previous entries include "WandaVision" and "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" - I'm not sure why I'm doing it, though I think the efforts are interesting and well-produced, and I feel like if I miss one I'm somehow going to be out of touch with the zeitgeist.  And I do have a certain amount of FOMO.

    I am very excited about watching In The Heights this weekend … and the second season on Lupin" on Netflix … 

    My wine recommendation of the week:  the 2019  Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma's Kivelstadt Cellars called "The Family Secret," which is a beautifully balanced wine, great with chicken and seafood.

    That's it for this week.

    I hope you have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    Stay safe.  Be healthy.

    Sláinte!