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    Published on: November 9, 2021

    by Michael Sansolo

    Size can provide a powerful advantage in any form of business competition, but it offers no guarantee of continued success especially against smaller, more creative and more adaptable competitors. Apparently that’s true, even in the world of wrestling where brawn dominates.

    The Washington Post ran an interesting story this weekend about how World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) - the absolute titan of its world - is being increasingly and successfully challenged by upstart All Elite Wrestling (AEW). 

    Now, to be totally transparent here, I am not even a casual fan of wrestling, pro, amateur or otherwise. But the story about this bout between WWE and AEW seems to provide a number of interesting avenues. 

    For starters, the upstart seems to be doing a good job of figuring out what it is and what it is not and recognizing that simple truth of business.  As AEW honcho Tony Khan told the Post, “I don’t think you’ll ever please every wrestling fan, but if you can make most of the fans happy most of the time, then you’ll have a great fan base.”

    I have to imagine a lot of business can relate to that quote. 

    And AEW’s approach is a reminder that in wrestling or business, the biggest opponent can still have exploitable flaws. For instance, AEW focused in on what apparently are key areas of viewer dissatisfaction such as shows that are too long and too predictable. Interestingly enough, AEW was able to get a lot of clues about this dissatisfaction by listening carefully to fan complaints on social media and podcasts.

    So sure, no reader of MNB is going to be as big or powerful as Amazon or Walmart, but that doesn’t mean either company is perfect. Listening to customers might provide clues on areas of opportunity.

    Most instructive might be that AEW apparently focuses on the action in the ring more than the theatrical drama outside the ring. And the upstart is putting a premium on finding wrestlers who are really good at their craft, rather same simply being good actors.

    Not to make too obvious a point, but a parallel argument could be that food stores that focus on good food might find an advantage over companies with superior technology, for example. Logistics matter greatly, but at the end of the day people eat food.

    To be fair, this wrestling battle isn’t a perfect example of challenges in the supermarket industry nor are the lessons of this scuffle perfectly applicable. Except that it is a stark reminder that the advantage of size can also become an Achilles Heel, especially if the behemoth loses sight of what customers really want or becomes complacent in any way.

    In business, wrestling or life itself, adaptability and flexibility (as Charles Darwin pointed out a long time ago) can be the key to survival. Even when you are in the ring with a giant.



    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 9, 2021

    KC tells the story of Lombardi's Seafood, of Winter Park, Florida, where the shift from restaurant to marketplace is a result of the pandemic and current staffing issues.

    Published on: November 9, 2021

    by Kevin Coupe

    From the New York Times this morning:

    "The explosion of internet commerce has transformed New York City, with same-day delivery of a couch, a television or the latest laptop just a few clicks away as more companies compete for faster delivery.

    "Now the nation’s largest city has become the biggest laboratory for the latest evolution in rapid e-commerce — a surge of online companies promising groceries at your door in 15 minutes or less, so no one has to worry about running out of milk or missing powdered cinnamon for a poundcake recipe."

    The story goes on:

    "Ultrafast grocers are already a growing part of the online market in London, Paris, Moscow and other cities. These companies are now landing in New York, drawn by its density, which provides access to many shoppers at once, and buoyed by the larger pandemic boom in e-commerce, industry experts said.

    "But critics say the online grocers could upend the landscape of the city, where running to the corner bodega for orange juice or knowing deli workers by name has long been part of daily urban life. Some worry that the online grocers will siphon business away from local bodegas and supermarkets, and send more delivery workers onto crowded city streets already filled with food app workers racing to deliver hot meals."

    I find myself conflicted about the scenario depicted in the Times story.  I feel bad for the bodegas and traditional neighborhood stores who find their traditional business models challenged, but then I read a comment like this one from one of those businesspeople:

    “We’ve been here forever and they come from nowhere and grab a market that is our market."

    That's where they lose me.

    "Our market?"

    Not really.

    Customers don't belong to retailers.  Customers need to be earned by retailers … every hour of every day of every week of every month.

    I recognize this is hard.  Many of these new delivery companies have significant resources, funded by investors who believe they're going to be able to disrupt traditional businesses and turn a profit (if only by selling their companies toi larger entities).

    And when the legacy businesses respond to the challenge by making comments about "our market" to the Times and other papers, that's exactly what disruptive influences want to read.

    It may be that while the legacy businesses lack resources, what they really lack is imagination.  

    Me, as much as I like to use e-commerce providers, I also like to go to stores.  Sometimes out of necessity, but more often than not because I make the choice - the store offers me something (a product, an experience) that I can't get online.

    That's the Eye-Opener.  There actual is no ethical consideration about whether 15-minute delivery companies should exist, should compete against traditional retailers.  There is only the fact of business life in the world today - which is that without constant innovation and a constant re-evaluation and reinvention of a business's relevance and resonance, it is impossible to survive, much less thrive.

    Published on: November 9, 2021

    Price Chopper/Market 32 and Tops Markets announced that they have completed the merger of the two companies that was announced earlier this year.

    Now that the merger has been approved by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the two companies "will be managed locally by their respective leaders and continue to be referred to by their established brand identities, but will be owned and overseen by a new parent company, Northeast Grocery, Inc. As previously announced, Scott Grimmett, the current president and CEO of Price Chopper/Market 32, will lead the new parent company. He will also serve on its board of directors as will Frank Curci, former Tops Markets Chairman and CEO … Blaine Bringhurst will serve as president of the Price Chopper/Market 32 business and John Persons as the president of the Tops Markets business. Dave Langless, the Chief Financial Officer of Tops, will serve as the parent company's CFO.

    "Northeast Grocery, Inc. will be headquartered in Schenectady, N.Y., as will Price Chopper/Market 32. Tops Markets will retain its main office in Williamsville, N.Y."

    The two companies said in the announcement that the merger "cements a powerful alliance between the two storied independent grocery chains, as it virtually doubles their collective footprint in the Northeast. With increased scale across their now-combined footprint of nearly 300 stores, the merged companies are better positioned to leverage increased value for customers; advance shared opportunities for innovation; and fortify the depth of their expanded workforce, community, and trade partnerships, thereby becoming stronger and more competitive."

    According to the announcement, "The regulatory review process by the FTC mandates the divestiture of 12 of the combined companies' stores. C&S Wholesale Grocers (C&S) has been approved to purchase all 12 stores. GU Markets LLC, an affiliate of C&S Wholesale Grocers, will operate these stores."

    KC's View:

    They're right - this merger will make the companies more competitive.  The deal will create critical scale and enhanced capacity that can only help, plus, as my friend Scott Moses (who, as Managing Director at Solomon Partners, advised Price Chopper/Market 32 on the deal) emphasizes, it will keep some 30,000 people employed.  All important stuff.

    But the reality is that a lot of the folks I talk to in the industry believe that this is just a precursor of an eventual acquisition of Northeast Grocery by a larger entity.  (Kroger comes up a lot, especially once it launches a pure-play e-commerce model in the northeast, which could - depending on location - dovetail nicely with where Northeast Grocery does business.

    The folks at Price Chopper/Market 32 and Tops Markets won't want to hear this, especially right now.  But that's the reality of the moment.

    Published on: November 9, 2021

    Walmart said yesterday that it is using autonomous vehicles developed by Gatik to bring customers orders from a dark store to a Neighborhood Market in Bentonville, Arkansas, which the two companies say "signifies a historic milestone in commercializing autonomous delivery safely and at scale in B2B short-haul logistics sector."

    According to the announcement, the deployment "represents the first time that an autonomous trucking company has removed the safety driver from a commercial delivery route on the middle mile anywhere in the world.

    "Gatik’s fully driverless operations, which began in August 2021, involve consistent, repeated delivery runs multiple times per day, seven days per week on public roads and unlock the full advantages of autonomous delivery for Walmart’s customers: increased speed and responsiveness when fulfilling e-commerce orders, increased asset utilization and enhanced safety for all road users."

    “This milestone signifies a revolutionary breakthrough for the autonomous trucking industry,” said Gautam Narang, CEO and co-founder, Gatik. “Our deployment in Bentonville is not a one-time demonstration. These are frequent, revenue-generating, daily runs that our trucks are completing safely in a range of conditions on public roads, demonstrating the commercial and technical advantages of fully driverless operations on the middle mile."

    And Tom Ward, senior vice president of last mile at Walmart U.S., said that "we’ve identified that autonomous box trucks offer an efficient, safe and sustainable solution for transporting goods on repeatable routes between our stores … and look forward to continuing to use this technology to serve Walmart customers with speed."

    KC's View:

    The New York Times this morning has a story about the circumstances that make this even more important:

    "Truck drivers have been in short supply for years, but a wave of retirements combined with those simply quitting for less stressful jobs is exacerbating the supply chain crisis in the United States, leading to empty store shelves, panicked holiday shoppers and congestion at ports. Warehouses around the country are overflowing with products, and delivery times have stretched to months from days or weeks for many goods.

    "A report released last month by the American Trucking Associations estimated that the industry is short 80,000 drivers, a record number, and one the association said could double by 2030 as more retire."

    Gatik and its brethren are likely to get even hotter than they've been.

    Published on: November 9, 2021

    The New York Times this morning reports that "just days before workers at three Starbucks stores in the Buffalo area were scheduled to begin voting on unionization, both labor and management took steps that reflect the high stakes involved, including an attempt by Starbucks on Monday to delay the election."

    The delay follows a previously reported visit by former company CEO Howard Schultz to the area, where he told workers, "We’re not a perfect company.  Mistakes are made. We learn from them, and we try and fix them.”  Schultz also argued that "the company’s history of doing right by its employees, including offering them health care benefits and equity, showed that it had their interests in mind."

    The Times notes that "the National Labor Relations Board is scheduled to begin sending ballots to workers at the three stores on Wednesday; they are due back by Dec. 8. Under an October ruling from a regional official of the labor board, the three stores are slated to hold separate elections, meaning that a simple majority at any one of the stores would create a union.

    "But on Monday, Starbucks appealed the ruling, arguing that the board’s acting regional director erred in not setting up a single election involving all stores in the Buffalo area instead. It asked the N.L.R.B. in Washington to review the decision, and for a stay in mailing out ballots until the board rules. A single, larger election typically favors the employer."

    Meanwhile, the story says, "The union filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board last week accusing the company of unlawfully 'engaging in a campaign of threats, intimidation, surveillance, solicitation of grievances and the closing of facilities' during the election campaign."  The "closing of facilities" referred to in the c complaint occurred over the weekend, when Starbucks closed the stores in question so that employees, if they chose to, could attend the meeting at which Schultz spoke.

    There are no corporate Starbucks stores in the US that are unionized.

    KC's View:

    Yet.

    Published on: November 9, 2021

    The New Yorker has a piece about what it calls "The Great Organic-Food Fraud," which addresses a core problem in the organic food business - that "there's no way to confirm that a crop was grown organically."

    An excerpt:

    "More than in most retail transactions, the organic consumer is buying both a thing and an assurance about a thing. Organic crops are those which, among other restrictions, have been grown without the application of certain herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. Close scrutiny of a crop of non-organic tomatoes might reveal that they had been exposed to these treatments. But it might not. And an organic product can become accidentally tainted if proscribed chemicals carry across from a neighboring crop. The rules forgive such contamination - to a point. Testing for residues is not common in American organic regulation.

    "The real difference, then, between a ton of organic soybeans and a ton of conventional soybeans is the story you can tell about them. The test, at the point of sale, is merely a question: Was this grown organically? That’s not like asking if a cup of coffee is decaffeinated. It’s more like buying sports memorabilia - is this really the ball? - or like trying to establish if a used car has had more than a single, careful owner."

    It is, in the end, largely a matter of trust … which is what a man named Randy Constant exploited, making a fortune in the process.

    You can read the entire story here.

    Published on: November 9, 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…

    •  In the US, we've now had a total of 47,453,950 cases of Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 776,311 deaths and 37,496,364 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 251,242,619 total cases, with 5,074,954 resultant fatalities, and 227,466,895 reported recoveries.   (Source.)



    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 78.8 percent of the US population age 12 and older, and 67.5 percent of the total population, has received at least one dose of vaccine, while 68.4 percent of the 12-and-older population and 58.4 percent of the total population, has been fully vaccinated.

    The CDC also says that 31.1 percent of the population age 65 and older and 12.8 percent of the total population has received a vaccine booster shot.



    •  The New York Times reports this morning that "Singapore will no longer cover the medical costs of Covid-19 patients who are eligible to get vaccinated against the virus but choose not to, the country’s Health Ministry says … The announcement came as the number of severe cases, which have been mainly among unvaccinated people, has stabilized but remains high, the ministry said. Of about 280 intensive-care beds for Covid patients, 134 are occupied, and most are among those not vaccinated, a senior minister of state, Janil Puthucheary, said at a news conference.

    “'We will begin charging Covid-19 patients who are unvaccinated by choice,' starting Dec. 8, the ministry said in a statement on Monday. Those who are not eligible for the shots will be exempt from the rule, it said, including children under 12 and people with certain medical conditions."

    The story notes that "Singapore has vaccinated more than 80 percent of its population, outpacing most other countries. But the sustained numbers of severe cases have put such a strain on Singapore’s health care system that officials said they would expand the overall hospital capacity to 4,000 hospital beds from 2,500 by the end of the month."

    Excellent idea.  I argued months ago that insurance companies in the US ought to take a similar position - if people can get vaccinated but choose not to and end up in the hospital, they have to be responsible for their own medical costs.  This might not dissuade certain million dollar quarterbacks from taking certain positions, but maybe it would persuade other people from listening to them.



    •  CNBC reports that "a federal judge in Texas on Monday ruled that United Airlines’ employee vaccine policy can proceed.

    "The Chicago-based airline has one of the strictest employee vaccine policies in the country. In September, it said that staff who receive medical or religious exemptions would be placed on unpaid leave.

    "Six employees filed suit to block the policy in September."

    Published on: November 9, 2021

    •  CNBC has a story that we've reported on a lot here on MNB - how Kroger is invading the Florida market without opening a single store, instead using Ocado-powered warehouses to create a pure-play e-commerce model.

    An excerpt:

    "Florida is ground zero as Kroger rolls out a national strategy to become a more dominant e-commerce player. It has invested at least $55 million just on construction of its shed alone. It has hired 900 employees and counting across the state. And it has announced plans to use the state as a blueprint to break into new markets and take on grocery rivals, including entrenched regional players like Florida-based Publix and retail behemoths like Amazon and Walmart with market values that are about 54 times and 13 times larger than Kroger.

    "Kroger has argued that the sheds will help it keep up with customers who are buying more food and household items online — while increasing the money it makes from each of those orders. With its Florida expansion, the grocer must not only prove the sheds can power a large, profitable e-commerce business in a notoriously low-margin industry, it must also win over customers in a brand-new market where some may not even know its name. It may be the largest supermarket operator in the country, but in the state, Kroger is the newcomer and, at least initially, the underdog.

    "The playbook that the grocer is developing with Kroger Delivery in Florida will be useful as it expands the business to the Northeast. Last month, it announced plans to build a shed to serve customers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut for the first time. It has not shared its timetable for that project."



    •  GeekWire reports that "starting next year Amazon customers will be able to pay on Amazon.com and Amazon’s mobile shopping app via Venmo, the mobile payment service owned by PayPal.

    "It’s the latest deal inked by Amazon to give customers another way to pay for products on its marketplace. Earlier this year it partnered with Affirm to let customers buy products in monthly payments."

    The story notes that "Venmo processed $60 billion in total payment volume for the quarter, up 36%."

    Published on: November 9, 2021

    •  Bloomberg reports that "of all the industries experiencing crunches for hourly labor, it’s hard to find one with a greater recruiting challenge" than the meatpacking business.  "Companies have tried all the usual tricks to lure applicants, including offering signing bonuses of as much as $3,000, but they’re still short workers and, as a result, there are an increasing number of sparse shelves.

    "For America's meateaters, this is a problem. Some cuts have soared 25% over the past year, while others are fetching near record prices, making meat one of the biggest contributors to pandemic inflation. And industry experts expect meat to keep gaining through the holidays and beyond."

    The message seems to be that retailers need to prepare their customers for inevitable sticker-shock.  Better to own the situation and communicate clearly about it than just let consumers find out on their own and react to it.



    • As retailers struggle to find enough workers to staff their stores, the New York Times reports, "Macy’s said on Monday that it would raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour by May and start offering education benefits to employees in February.

    "The increase will lift Macy’s average base pay above $17 an hour, a company statement said. Macy’s did not specify its current minimum wage, but said it varied by location.

    "The education program will cover tuition, books and fees for programs including high school completion, college preparation, and associate and bachelor’s degrees within a network. It is expected to cost the company $35 million over the next four years.

    "Macy’s will also offer employees an extra paid day off, it said."



    •  In honor of the late Frieda Rapoport Caplan, founder of specialty produce pioneer Frieda's, lifestyle retailer and design company Concepts International is using kiwi - which Frieda's brought to the US in 1962 - as inspiration for a new sneaker design that also honors ther company and its founder.

    According to the announcement, . The New Balance 992 “Low Hanging Fruit” sneaker features "a textured balance of brown suede and pops of neon green, giving overt nods to the kiwi. The shoes feature a playful twist through a strawberry footbed, harkening back to 1990s Americana when the pairing of strawberries and kiwi made a dynamic flavor profile. Concepts will simultaneously be launching a matching apparel collection including the Concepts Icon hoodie, sweatpant and T-Shirts — all garments that inform a new luxury streetwear sensibility."

    “Recognizing what Frieda did in terms of breaking new ground in a male-driven environment is admirable in itself. Whether breaking the glass ceiling of produce or redefining fruit & veggie marketing, she’s always been in a league by herself. Uncovering these stories for our consumer and bringing them to life through fashion has always been at the forefront of what we do,” says Deon Point, creative director at Concepts, in a prepared statement.

    Published on: November 9, 2021

    Dean Stockwell, who enjoyed a 70+ year acting career and was perhaps best known for playing Admiral ‘Al’ Calavicci in the science fiction series "Quantum Leap," serving as a hologram (and frequent comic relief) appearing regularly to time traveler Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula), has passed away at age 85.

    Stockwell's career ranged from the films Anchors Aweigh to Blue Velvet to Air Force One to Paris, Texas to Married To The Mob to To Live and Die in L.A.to the original film version of Dune.

    Published on: November 9, 2021

    Regarding the continuing efforts to unionize Amazon - and Amazon's resistance - one MNB reader wrote:

    I was a retail union member in early career days (still get a small pension) so I’ve got some firsthand experience with both the pros and cons.  I don’t have any idea what the law is around what companies can or can’t do during an election but it seems a little unrealistic to think Amazon is going to welcome unionization or even avoid forcefully making its case for why they think it is the wrong move for employees. You can bet the union isn’t saying nice things about Amazon either.  And when it comes to bullying and intimidation, well let’s just say, my experience is that unions can hold their own.

    Reacting to our piece yesterday about the "SNL" skit satirizing people who have no idea how to drive a manual transmission - something IO talked about here some three years ago - MNB reader'mDeborah Faragher wrote:

    When I saw this on SNL, you were the first person I thought of.  I must confess that, after 57 years of driving nothing but cars with a manual transmission, I am now in an automatic.  It wasn’t really by choice, my TT died and I didn’t see the point in replacing it.  And after driving our car for over a year now, I still reach for a gear shift.

    So glad you saw it and know your readers will appreciate it.

    And MNB reader Joe Axford wrote:

    I remember that Face Time 3 years ago very well, as I am a devoted manual transmission car owner. I like to feel like I'm driving the car, not the other way around.



    I talked here on FaceTime about my booster shot, which led one MNB reader to write:

    Thank you for getting your booster- not just for yourself but for all of us.  Boosters and vaccines are to protect all of us (not just the person who gets the vaccine)- especially those that don’t have protection against covid.

    My husband has absolutely no antigens- even after having 2 Pfizers and a booster.  He is immunocompromised from meds that he needs to take due to a kidney transplant several years ago.  His doctor told us that only 15% of his immunocompromised patients have antigens after the vaccines & boosters.  We’ve cancelled two vacations, and have shrink our entire world and do nothing but sit at home because there are still many people who won’t  get vaccinated and put my husband and the 85% of immunocompromised people at risk.

    I’m not being political here.  Obama wanted all of us to do one day of service a year.  Why can’t getting a vaccine be that one day of service to the community?  Just a suggestion.

    Thanks Kevin for continuing to stand up for what you believe in.

    That's why  got my booster.  It felt like the right thing to do.  Which also is why Big Bird got the vaccine.

    And, from another MNB reader:

    My husband and got our boosters on October 2 and have felt so good since.  We too are looking for a return to some sort of normal.   



    The other day we took note of a Fast Company piece about a new "53,000-square-foot food production facility in Emeryville, California that makes cultivated meat - real meat grown from animal cells, without the animal."  According to the story, "large glass windows offer a view into a warehouse filled with rows of metal tanks and tubes. Welcome to the anti-slaughterhouse: Upside Foods, the company that designed the center as it first commercial facility, will produce chicken, beef, duck, and other meat from cells grown inside bioreactors … The machines inside the building will be able to produce multiple types of meat, cultivating muscle tissue, for example, by feeding muscle cells so that they grow and multiply."

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Are those metal tanks called tleilaxu axolotl tanks?

    Extra credit for the obscure Dune reference.  Though, because I know nothing about Dune, I had to look this up … and maybe it isn't as obscure as I thought.  Maybe, u=in fact, just obscure to me.

    Published on: November 9, 2021

    In Monday Night Football, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Chicago Bears 29-27.