business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from an MNB reader about alternative methods (drones?) for delivering prescription drugs, especially now that corner drugstores are closing all over the country:

I recently attended the annual “Open Enrollment” session for my company – a few things stood out to me as it relates to this story:

“mail order” is clearly the preferred way to go when it comes to many prescription drugs, thus eliminating or at the very least significantly reducing the need to the visit to the corner pharmacy

“Telemedicine”  is here for real and leaped miles ahead with the pandemic… in many cases it’s now or going to be in the near future the first stop for primary  care for many people – Primary Care Doctors Offices to follow the corner Drugstore?

The corner pharmacy is no longer a corner pharmacy…  it’s now a “Health Hub” that just happens to have a pharmacy in it.  Something that a traditional rural corner drugstore just can’t compete with. Many may not even have the needed types of health care professionals in their towns to staff such a hub.  This also has implications for the CPG industry as when our local pharmacy (CVS) became such a “Health Hub” recently, they significantly cut back on the amount of retail selling space to make room for the new added health care services.

Regarding former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz's efforts to intercede in Buffalo, where the company is facing unionization efforts, MNB reader Kenny Fried wrote:

Having seen Howard up close with Starbucks employees  for more than 15 years, I can tell you I have never witnessed any other corporate leader connect and care more about his employees than he did.  Not having him around as the public face of Starbucks makes a huge difference.

Responding to last week's FaceTime piece about the increasing reliance on self-checkout, MNB reader Michael Seelig wrote:

I completely agree with your assessment of the “new” front end at grocery. I would like to add one more observation, maybe, just maybe, the retailers are being realistic as to how often they use all of the cashier supported checkout stands. It’s been years since I have been in any store, other than Costco, where they use much more than 50% of the checkout locations. Maybe, they are owning up to all that dead space and providing other options.

I mentioned in my commentary about the inflation story above that I got a lot of pushback on the piece I referenced last week by former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich on the subject.  Here are some of those comments…

From one MNB reader:

As an executive in the C-store business, the main driver behind inflation and rising prices for our industry and our company in particular is the rising wages. It is not as Robert Reich preaches largely because of a lack of competition or supply bottle necks.

New York State continues to raise the minimum wage in addition to fewer workers vying for all of the openings has forced us to offer a higher wage for entry level positions. I have no qualms about paying people more, but as a company that continues to invest in services for customers and the physical plants we have very little choice. No doubt we are also seeing increases from our suppliers which we have to pass along to the customers.

There are really only 3 ways to make up the increase in costs: 1)Raise retails, 2) Negotiate lower cost of goods, or 3) Become more efficient (which means fewer employees).

That is reality and KC may not agree, but join us in how things really work.

From another MNB reader:

How long is the big bad corporation rhetoric going to continue?  The same government that is pointing the finger at Big Corp is the same one that has allowed them to be.  If anyone thinks that the corporations are just raising prices for fun has rocks in their heads.  Yes the bottlenecks are adding to inflation, but that is not the sole reason.  It is raw materials, ingredient costs, packaging costs, transportation costs.  When you just look at one piece, the cost of containers.  That expense has quadrupled since the pandemic.  Let alone the holding costs.  Who pays for that?  The companies do.  So that cost is passed on either through higher prices or efficiencies in the plants.  By efficiencies I mean less labor and more automation.

So Robert, stop deflecting blame to Big Corp and start pointing it to Big Gov as the issue here.  Oh, you're from California.  Should have seen that first and then I would understand.

My problem with this email is that I'm not sure that "big government" is entirely responsible for all the increased costs that you list.

From another reader:

There is only so much money to spend before you are not making a profit or losing money. When the cost of shipping the item has increased five-fold and the cost of all of the ingredients/components have increased significantly the money has to come from somewhere. In some cases, it now costs more to ship items than it did to make them. As we have seen, price increases help but in no way make up for the incremental expense. It may not be about reducing advertising because the items are not easy to find, it’s so manufactures can continue to support their employees and answer to shareholders.

And from MNB reader Steve Anvik:

Robert Reich has been ranting from the liberal viewpoint, as long as conservatives have been from theirs.  Reality is that both sides take money / sell influence - and thus the mergers and monopolies he often rails against, continue.  What to do in this “apparent” political impasse, when both sides rightfully find fault in each other? 

Go back to the Luddite philosophy? Or ride a financially conservative robust U.S. economy (which benefits nearly everyone) to drive wealth that “trickles down” to create jobs, increase prosperity overall?  Are there poor? As a relational % Yes.  I’ve noticed though every person in the U.S. has a new Apple or Android, cars outnumber citizens, etc. 

We’re not perfect, but raising the lowest tiers of society takes money (both free market, and tax revenues) - so bashing business is popular, but misplaced.  Throttling the economy down, as imho is happening today - will turn inflation into stagnation, or a tipping point of debt.  Robert Reich should retire, and give us all a break.  

I think that it is fair to say that everybody rants, regardless of their political perspective.  But rather than discount one side or the other, I'd prefer to think that there may be good ideas on all sides that, if you could figure out ways to negotiate, compromise and find common philosophical ground, we might be able to make actual progress in addressing real issues.

Responding to last week's piece about my Skip Barber experience, one MNB reader wrote:

Clearly you didn’t trust the safety measures put into the car and the track. The race school didn’t want you to get hurt either. Just saying…

I trusted the school.  It was me that I didn't trust.  I was out of my comfort zone.  Which was sort of the reason I took the classed wrote the column.

And from another reader:

I can so relate to the experience … 25 years ago with two kids in elementary school I did the Skip Barber racing school.

Got real aggressive at one point and did a major spin out lucky I did not seriously hurt myself or others 

Spent not few hours constantly repeating “you have two kids, you have two kids"…