retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: November 2, 2021

    by Michael Sansolo

    It’s usually impossible to measure the impact of a small gesture when it comes to managing people. Except, apparently, when it comes to the Atlanta Braves, one of the participants in this year’s baseball World Series.

    An incredible story emerged last week detailing the moment the Braves turned their season around and it’s the kind of thing that any business could do. It doesn’t require hitters, pitchers or multi-million dollar salaries. Maybe just some spoons, cups and cones.

    According to the story from the New York Times, the Braves were struggling through a seemingly lost season when the great change came. At the time, the team was playing in Boston and discovered a soft serve ice cream machine in the visiting team’s clubhouse. In the special way that food connects to happy memories, the team embraced that moment and decided that a similar machine in their home clubhouse was essential.

    As the story goes, the players decided that Freddie Freeman, the team’s star, was the perfect person to make the request. At first the team’s general manager thought it a terrible idea that would lead to massive weight gain among his players, but then agreed, recognizing that it might be a way to demonstrate loyalty and respect to his players.

    When the machine arrived, the Braves were playing less than mediocre ball and, as we New York Mets fans know, were seemingly out of contention. Certainly the soft serve machine didn’t pitch winning games or hit any home runs, but it helped build the esprit de corps that played a part in the Braves’ massive surge in the standings and all the way to the World Series.

    Managers of all teams - especially in your stores and companies - can learn from this. The soft service ice cream machine was a small, seemingly meaningless gesture. But as the reporting of this dramatic sporting turnaround demonstrates, the machine did so much more.

    In many ways it demonstrated management’s recognition of the players’ efforts and the importance of creating some fun and spirit, along side the work at hand. In that way, the machine was anything but a small gesture. It mattered because of what it meant.

    As the Braves’ general manager put it, “You need good players, obviously, but I do think you should have an environment that people are happy to come to work every day, whether you’re a baseball player or an executive in an office.”

    So while baseball salaries or trades for hot-hitting players are completely irrelevant to business, the notion of small gesture is anything but. Especially in such strange and unsettling times, there are no doubt countless ways that companies can reward staffers for doing their job and demonstrate caring and listening.

    For example, at the recent NACS show, a convenience store operator from southern Louisiana told me how she supplied a few gallons of potable water daily to staffers when the region was hard hit by hurricanes and water supplies were damaged. No doubt, that created some amazing loyalty among her team and certainly gave them added incentive to come to work during incredibly tough times.

    We are constantly reminded that staffers are so essential to building a winning team and that while pay matters, work conditions - especially caring and listening managers - matter most of all. Given the current labor shortage with companies scrambling to find help, it’s important to remember that the first tool in fighting back comes from retaining your existing staff.

    And that begins by creating better workplace, training and improving management at all levels and finding ways to make staff loyalty as important as customer loyalty.

    Sometimes it can be as simple as some soft-serve ice cream.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com.

    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: November 2, 2021

    Michael Sansolo's column this morning focus on how a soft-serve ice cream machine in the clubhouse helped propel the Atlanta Braves to a potential championship season.  But there's another story about the Braves having to do with how management values institutional knowledge that grabbed KC's attention - especially because of a Wall Street Journal story about how so many Baby Boomer retired during the pandemic, leaving their companies short of both bodies and experience.

    Published on: November 2, 2021

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Oxford University Press is out with its "word of the year," and, go figure, it is "vax."

    The announcement reads like this:

    "When our lexicographers began digging into our English language corpus data it quickly became apparent that vax was a particularly striking term. A relatively rare word in our corpus until this year, by September it was over 72 times more frequent than at the same time last year. It has generated numerous derivatives that we are now seeing in a wide range of informal contexts, from vax sites and vax cards to getting vaxxed and being fully vaxxed, no word better captures the atmosphere of the past year than vax."

    Y'know what I hope next year's word will be?

    Normal.

    Published on: November 2, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that "a new generation of delivery startups is competing around the world for investor cash and the loyalty of impulse buyers - promising groceries in as little as 10 minutes … The new fast-delivery startups use small warehouses known as 'dark stores' staffed by fully employed personnel. Executives say that employing a dedicated staff to deliver their companies’ own inventory of products allows them to offer faster delivery times and a more consistent quality of service compared with existing delivery companies, which typically employ gig workers to ferry products sold by third parties.

    "The startups have positioned themselves to take advantage of what they say is an underserved market somewhere between a larger supermarket chain and the convenience store around the corner."

    Some examples from the story:

    •  "Uber Technologies Inc.’s Eats division and Carrefour SA announced a 15-minute grocery-delivery service in Paris. The partnership involves delivering goods stocked in warehouses run by Carrefour partner Cajoo.

    •  "Uber Eats is piloting company-owned warehouses in Taiwan for faster grocery deliveries. It has also joined with GoPuff—which is backed by SoftBank Group Corp. —in the U.S. to quickly deliver convenience and other items from its more than 400 warehouses."

    •  "Rival DoorDash Inc., which leads the U.S. market for convenience deliveries, recently said it is also exploring its own warehouses for grocery deliveries."

    •  "London has become a particularly fierce testing ground, with at least eight startups offering superfast delivery times …  Players, including Getir Perakende Lojistik AS, based in Turkey, and Germany-based Gorillas Technologies Ltd., have covered London’s double-decker buses with advertisements. Deliveroo Holdings PLC, a more traditional food-delivery company backed by Amazon.com Inc., said in September that it would launch its own 10-minute grocery delivery service in the city."

    KC's View:

    There are a few predictions I would make about this, none of which should come as a surprise to anyone.

    First, these startups only are going to be effective in highly dense areas, because otherwise 10 minute deliveries simply defy the laws of physics.  

    The problem, though, will be that population density also can translate into dense traffic … which can get in the way of a 10-minute delivery.

    Second, it won't be that long before a number of these startups either fail or merge.  The proliferation of all these delivery brands just don't seem sustainable, and it is likely that at least some of them have been founded to be acquired.

    I know that going from two hour delivery to one hour to 30 minutes to 10 minutes seems like the path to the holy grail, but I have to wonder if the focus on speed actually misses a larger point.  For example, I would argue that Amazon's focus on Prime and Subscribe and Save are less about speed and more about convenience and responding to customers' established needs and detected wants.  Sure, speed is important - but that strikes me as more about efficiency than effectiveness, and you all know how I feel about that debate - which is that effectiveness is at least as important.

    Published on: November 2, 2021

    Tulsa World reports this morning that Tyler, Texas-based Brookshire Grocery Co. is acquiring Reasor's, a 17-store chain in Oklahoma that has been in business for close to six decades.

    The story says that the Reasor's stores will continue to operate under that banner after the deal has concluded, probably in Q1 of next year.

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    Brad Brookshire, chairman and CEO of Brookshire Grocery Co., said in a statement, "Reasor’s is a perfect fit for Brookshire Grocery Company. Our company culture and values are the same. We’re a family business that started with my grandparents opening our first small store in Tyler, Texas, more than 93 years ago.

    "We are dedicated to embracing our Reasor’s employee-partners and offering the best service to the Oklahoma community. Our company’s mission is to create and deliver exceptional experiences and value to our customers through our core values of excellent service, integrity and doing our best every day."

    KC's View:

    As the behemoths get larger and more powerful, with greater resources to bring to bear on competitive marketplaces, it simply is going to make more sense for smaller companies to find alliances and mergers that will give them greater efficiencies.  The challenge, as always, will be to also find ways to build on each other's strengths and achieve greater effectiveness.

    Published on: November 2, 2021

    Fast Company reports that the federal General Services Administration (GSA) is following up on an executive order issued by the Biden White House designed to use the federal government's "immense buying power to give preference to domestic manufacturers of everything federal agencies need, from desk chairs to solar panels," and close loopholes that allow some companies to claim provenance to which they are not really entitled.

    GSA, the story says, "is launching a new set of rules to require more transparency in how products are made. It’s an effort to stomp out counterfeit items that falsely claim to be made in the United States, and also to encourage domestic manufacturers to fill in supply gaps for products the government wants to buy but can’t source domestically. It’s an effort that could kickstart a new wave of manufacturing in the United States."

    Part of the problem, Fast Company writes, is that many products are "made in America," but their components are not, and yet manufacturers have been able to make this claim.  Out of the gate, regulators say, the federal government will be compelled to products that meet a 60 percent threshold, going up to 65 percent in two years and eventually to 75 percent.

    KC's View:

    The other problem, best I can tell, is that there is not broad agreement on a certification system that establishes what is made-in-the-USA and what is not.  There ought to be, and it ought to be used as a credible marketing tool by both manufacturers and retailers.

    By the way, I've never understood why a company like Amazon has not created a made-in-the-USA filter within its various segments and categories, allowing consumers to prioritize those items within their search parameters.  I know it might not be the easiest thing to implement, and would require Amazon to either develop or access the kind of credible certification system that I mentioned above, but I think it might be the kind of thing that would gain traction and positive attention.

    Published on: November 2, 2021

    The Bronx Times reports that "Ahold Delhaize-owned e-grocer FreshDirect and "its charitable partner, NY Common Pantry (NYCP), announced the launch of a new mobile pantry last week … Made possible by FreshDirect customer donations, the fully equipped vehicle, which will travel the streets of New York City, is the latest innovation in reimagining the pantry model and fighting food insecurity and hunger.

    "The NYCP Mobile Pantry will bring fresh food, nutrition education and social services (all available at their East Harlem and Bronx locations), directly to food insecure New Yorkers in their own neighborhoods throughout New York City. Executives from FreshDirect’s operations team provided counsel on the design of the vehicle and special features to maximize the service offerings of the mobile pantry."

    According to the story, "The 22-foot customized vehicle is fitted with refrigerators and freezers to properly store proteins, produce, and dairy and has ample shelving for shelf stable items. There is a window and concession door to take orders and for serving clients. Additionally, social services staff will have the ability to sign people up for Choice Pantry Membership at the truck, provide emergency food, and assist people with accessing benefits including SNAP."

    KC's View:

    This is a great examples of what food companies sneed to do - figure out ways to nourish their communities in all the permutations of that word.

    Published on: November 2, 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:  46,931,284 total cases … 767,436 deaths … and 36,81,836 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  247,989,981 total cases … 5,023,888 fatalities … and 224,675,131 reported recoveries.  (Source.)



    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 78.1 percent of the US population age 12 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 67.9 percent of that group being fully vaccinated.  The CDC also says that 66.8 percent of the total US population has received at least one dose of vaccine, and 58 percent is fully vaccinated.

    In addition, the CDC says that 25 percent of the US population age 65 and older has received a vaccine booster shot.



    •  The Seattle Times reports that on a central question with which scientists have been wrestling during the pandemic:  "How much immunity does someone have after recovering from a coronavirus infection, and how does it compare with immunity provided by vaccination?"

    Now, the story says, the CDC "has weighed in for the first time … Reviewing scores of research studies and its own unpublished data, the agency found that both infection-induced and vaccine-induced immunity are durable for at least six months — but that vaccines are more consistent in their protection and offer a huge boost in antibodies for people previously infected.

    "In comparing the two types of immunity, scientists said research shows vaccination provides a 'higher, more robust, and more consistent level of immunity to protect people from COVID-19 than infection alone'."

    Demonstrating that the folks who have said they don't need a vaccine because they've already had Covid-19 ought to reconsider their positions based on scientific evidence, as opposed to what they may be reading on Facebook.



    •  The Associated Press reports that "the federal government will require companies with at least 100 workers to provide paid time off for employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and paid sick leave to recover from effects of the shots … Those requirements will be part of a pending federal rule that will spell out how large employers will meet a requirement that workers be vaccinated or tested regularly for the virus."



    •  Reuters reports that Amazon "will not require fully vaccinated U.S. warehouse employees to wear masks at work from Tuesday unless mandated by state or local law, a source familiar with the matter said … Amazon's decision comes just before the crucial holiday season, for which it has been hiring thousands of hourly workers by offering them sign-up bonuses in a tight job market."

    The story notes that "the e-commerce giant had in August ordered all U.S. employees to wear a mask at work regardless of their vaccination status due to the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant of COVID-19."



    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "more than 30,000 visitors to the Shanghai Disneyland theme park were kept within the park’s gates on Sunday and forced to undergo Covid-19 testing after a customer tested positive for the virus, a move that underscores China’s eradication efforts.

    "With fireworks exploding above them as they awaited nasal swabs, the Disney visitors became the latest Chinese residents to experience life under a 'zero tolerance' policy for the virus enforced by their country’s government. Leaders there have taken stringent measures to contain pockets of the coronavirus in the country, despite criticism from business groups and a close to 80% vaccination rate."

    China's zero-tolerance policy doesn't just apply to Covid, it seems.  The New York Times this morning has a story about how the country now has "a newly amended criminal code that punishes the slander of China’s martyrs and heroes. Since it went into effect in March, the statute has been enforced with a revolutionary zeal, part of an intensified campaign under China’s leader, Xi Jinping, to sanctify the Communist Party’s version of history — and his vision for the country’s future.

    "The Cyberspace Administration of China, which polices the country’s internet, has created telephone and online hotlines to encourage citizens to report violations. It has even published a list of 10 'rumors' that are forbidden to discuss."

    I wonder how the country will re-write its Covid history when all is said and done.

    Published on: November 2, 2021

    •  Bloomberg reports that Uber Eats is getting intro the diaper business, introducing a new delivery category called "Babies and Kids."

    According to the story, "It is the latest in a series of new verticals launched by Uber Technologies during the pandemic, including the delivery of groceries, prescriptions, alcohol and flowers.  Uber is partnering with national brands including buybuy BABY and Bed Bath & Beyond. They are also creating exclusive partnerships with direct-to-consumer companies, like organic baby food brand Yumi."



    •  The New York Times reports that "Amazon is getting ready to go to space.

    "The first two prototype satellites from Project Kuiper, the internet-from-space venture from the e-commerce giant, are scheduled to launch in the fourth quarter of 2022, Amazon announced on Monday. That will formally kick off its competition with SpaceX, the space company owned by Elon Musk, and OneWeb, among other rivals, for beaming high-speed internet connections to customers from low Earth orbit.

    "It will also be a crucial test of the satellites’ design before the company launches thousands more devices into orbit … Like SpaceX, Amazon plans to spend $10 billion on the project, which sits within its devices unit. But the company has been slower to start than SpaceX, whose Falcon 9 rockets have lofted nearly 2,000 internet-beaming satellites into orbit for its own venture, Starlink. Thousands of customers are testing the SpaceX service for $99 a month with $499 antenna kits."

    Published on: November 2, 2021

    •  Elton John apparently has found a home in Arkansas.

    Business Insider reports that Walmart and the singer-songwriter "have created Elton John Eyewear, which launches in stores and online at Sam's Club today. The line will also appear at Walmart stores throughout the US later this week. In 2022, fans of the 'Tiny Dancer' singer can find these eyewear offerings at Walmart's international locations.

    "In an exclusive statement provided to Insider, John said that he has 'had a dream for quite some time to create my own eyewear collection.'  The musical artist named each frame in the collection himself, including 'Rocketman,' 'Prodigy,' and 'A-List'."

    Published on: November 2, 2021

    •  Publix Super Markets said yesterday that its Q3 sales were $11.9 billion, a 7.8 percent increase from $11.1 billion during the same period a year ago.  Same-store sales for the period were up 6.3 percent.  Net earnings for the three months were $856.9 million, compared to $917.6 million in 2020, a decrease of 6.6 percent.

    Published on: November 2, 2021

    •  SpartanNash has announced that it has hired Ileana McAlary to be the company's new Senior Vice President, Chief Legal Officer, and Corporate Secretary.  She succeeds the retiring Kathleen Mahoney.

    McAlary most recently was Vice President, Associate General Counsel and Compliance Officer at Wolverine World Wide, and before that was Senior Counsel at Meijer.

    Published on: November 2, 2021

    Yesterday, we took note of a Wall Street Journal piece about how supermarket chains are coping with out-of-stocks created by myriad supply chain issues.

    I commented, in part:

    These out-of-stocks, as much as they can be a pain in the neck, also are an opportunity.  Rather than leaving holes on the shelves or trying to disguise the holes by refacing available product, retailers ought to explain to consumers why those holes exist.  (Most consumers, I'm guessing, really don't understand the supply chain issues that create out-of-stocks.). And then, they ought to ask consumers to tell them which products they want but can't find and then offer to contact them when the items become available and even put some aside for them.

    Instead of being a problem, the out-of-stocks then become an opportunity to create a relationship, to reinforce to the shopper that the retailer is on his or her side.

    One MNB reader responded:

    Are you for real? You think the retail stores have the personnel to call folks when items are available and even create a storage area for said items. 

    Damn right I'm for real.  But before I respond, another email from another MNB reader:

    I'm not sure about you, but the supermarkets I shop at, whether it's Kroger owned King Soopers just down the road or the Whole Foods on the way home from work, there aren't any store employees with ample time to be able to roam the aisle's explaining to me why certain items are out of stock.  The fact that labor shortages are the main factor causing out of stocks in the supply chain, your vision to connect with the shoppers to drive more brand value is for stores to throw additional labor at the problem?  Stores can't hire enough labor as it is to keep current day to day operations flowing, let alone create a new customer contact program.  Circular reference error here, correct?  And having spent time working in a grocery store, there is no communication channels in place for those stocking shelves vs those ordering product vs those running the department.  I'm not even sure how a store would put together such an operation as out of stocks are mostly temporary/whack a mole.  Sorry shoppers, your pasta sauce is out of stock because the truck driver was delayed in their cross country delivery route, and the plant loading the truck was delayed because half of 2nd shift last Tuesday didn't show up, and production was delayed because tomatoes were held up at the border……

    Also, I haven't visited many stores where front line workers engage customers or actually care that the item I want isn't available.  When have you gotten an action oriented reply when the check-out clerk asks if you found everything alright and you reply no.  In my experience this creates an awkward interaction as the check out clerks have zero control over any other store operations or if the item you want is there or not.  These employees are coming off 18 months of risking their health to work on the front line.  Seems like a big ask KC for stores to create a program to explain to me why items are out of stock.  I know why they are out of stock, and actually, it's a good reminder I can't have everything I want at the precise moment I want it. 

    I don't know how much detail retailers have to go into beyond explaining that they've been unable to get the product from the supplier.  But while these readers seem to be looking for reasons that retailers can't do what I'm suggesting, I think retailers - at least those that want to differentiate themselves from the competition - ought to look for ways to do it, not excuses why they can't.

    I'm sorry if I'm being harsh, but it seems to me that you are content with retailers doing business the same old way.  I think that's the path to obsolescence, and that it makes a lot more sense to figure out ways to make a difference in customers' lives.  Whatever it takes, whatever it costs.

    Another MNB reader seems to agree with me:

    The out of stocks could also provide a big opportunity for local vendors\products to gain shelf space and exposure. And do so without the heavy burden of shelf or stocking fees. I would think independent grocers could have an edge over chain stores in optimizing this opportunity due to their local relationship and ability to be flexible to take advantage.

    Another comment I made about the Journal piece was:

    The other thing that I find interesting in this story is the note that "some retailers are withdrawing discounts to reduce demand."

    This seems reminiscent of how, during the height of the pandemic, promotions and sales seemed to go away - there was no reason to discount anything because all anyone needed to do to send stuff out the front door was to bring it in through the back door.

    I have to wonder if the confluence of all these events could lead to a time when the industry will be smarter and more targeted about how discounts and sales are deployed, with retailers figuring out ways to reinforce and deepen their relationships with best shoppers rather than putting stuff on sale to generate traffic that may not lead to sustainable growth.

    One MNB reader responded:

    I have maintained for many years that we have unnecessarily trained shoppers to buy on promotion, when there are other ways to add value for the shopper in-store.  Going forward,  with a strained supply chain, perhaps this is the time to transition away from the “deal” mentality to one of developing better ways to stay in stock on relatively small number of categories and items that shoppers repeatedly buy at high volume retailers in food, drug and mass. 



    There also was a piece yesterday from Los Angeles Times business columnist David Lazarus in which he posed a question:

    How come a box of Special K Fruit & Yogurt that shows "a spoon being lifted from a bowl … the spoon holds crunchy-looking flakes accompanied by white clusters and little bits of red … prominently featured beside the bowl are a juicy-looking strawberry, raspberry and blackberry" actually has no berries in it?

    "There are no strawberries," Lazarus writes.  "No raspberries. No blackberries. The only fruit listed is dried apples, which aren’t even depicted on the box."

    I agree with Lazarus on this, and commented, in part:

    The food industry can continue to perpetrate the dubious argument that these questions don't matter, which strikes me as being anti-consumer, or it can begin to take an ethically more defensible approach of saying, "We are on the shopper's side.  We are going to go out of our way to make sure that things are what we say they are, because that's the right thing to do."

    I don't think this is being purist.  I just think it is trying to be as accurate as possible, which is in the best interests of consumers, which means that in the end it will be in the best interests of the industry.

    One MNB reader agreed:

    Kevin, greatly enjoyed your comments this morning.  As in everything, we have to have truth in labeling – pictures or otherwise.  Society doesn’t work if we all wear costumes every day and pretend to be something we aren’t.  Let’s leave the costumes to Halloween, and then go to market by making life better for the consumer and each other, otherwise, what’s the point?

    But MNB reader Bob McGehee wrote:

    I’m betting the vast majority of these lawsuits result in some lawyers making a bunch of money and the damaged party gets a coupon for $0.25 off their next purchase.  The literal expectation of some products has been flawed not for years but generations.  Can you say “Pork and Beans”?  I knew you could. 

    In virtually every case where lawyers get involved, it is the lawyers who have the potential for making a boatload of money if they win.  But that doesn't mean the cause is dishonorable.

    Published on: November 2, 2021

    In Monday Night Football, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the New York Giants 20-17.