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: December 21, 2021

    by Michael Sansolo

    We've long argued here that that insights and business lessons can be found almost anywhere, if you look around, pay attention and ask questions.  And today, I'm going to prove the point, by citing as a metaphor the business residential trash removal.

    The trash hauler in my neighborhood just made a somewhat dramatic change and one that I know didn’t begin here. But it seems important all the same.

    A few weeks back we were notified of some key trash hauling changes, primarily that our pickup schedule was being cut in half (from twice to once weekly) and that the trash company was giving everyone in the neighborhood new trash cans. The first part of the change didn’t bother us since as empty nesters my wife and I really don’t generate much garbage, but the second puzzled us at least briefly.

    The new trash bins have two distinct features. First they have a pink lid (kind of a branding thing with our hauler, go figure) and second, halfway down the front, they have a small metal bar embedded in the bin. That, I learned was the key.

    The bar allows the trash crews to simply hook my bin to a mechanism on the back of the truck that then automatically lifts the bin and tilts the contents into the truck.

    Obviously, that’s only part of the story. Thanks to the new larger bins, the company can reduce our pickups by half and thanks to the machinery, the crews on the truck are now smaller and, hopefully, way more efficient.

    That’s what got me thinking.

    Most of the current conversation around labor focuses on the current shortage and the difficulty of finding and retaining workers. But even before the current crisis there was considerable discussion about how to integrate technology and human staffers to make the latter more efficient and certainly more cost effective, especially in a time of rising wages.

    The answer, as I heard repeatedly, would involve finding those places where the personal touch was necessary and making certain that people were trained and in those jobs. In other spots - think scanning shelves for out of stocks - robots or technology could, and in some cases already, do the job.

    Of course, the downside is that a large number of entry-level jobs disappear, unless companies figure out profitable ways to re-deploy and properly train people for new roles.

    Now clearly that’s not the case with my trash hauler as there isn’t a lot of customer service or interaction involved with the job or expected by the consumer, yet I give the trash hauler credit for clearly explaining the change and what it would and would not impact. That’s a lesson right there.

    And let’s be honest, this trash hauling changes is no harbinger of great changes to come as we live in a world of ATMs at banks, self-checkouts in supermarkets, automated room vacuums and self-driving cars. We’re not yet up to Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics, but you get the drift: it’s one more change in the world of work and in the relationship between technology, human workers and customers. And it certainly won’t be the last such move … though it is the last one I'll be writing about this year.

    See you in 2022.  Happy Holidays.

    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: December 21, 2021

    Amazon has been involved in a lot of disruptive businesses, but KC thinks this new one is a little on the mind-blowing side - its cloud computing business is actually helping researchers figure out how to dim the sun as a way of combatting climate change.  It may end up being an example of, like Icarus, flying too close to the sun, but it also reflects a mindset that everything and anything is possible.

    Published on: December 21, 2021

    The Des Moines Register reports that He-Vee plans to expand outside the Midwest for the first time, with plans to build seven new stores in Indiana, Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky, in 2023, as well as build a Tennessee distribution facility to service those units.

    Here's how the paper frames the story:

    "The Des Moines Register obtained a video of Hy-Vee CEO Randy Edeker announcing plans to build the Tennessee distribution facility, which will initially service seven new stores in Indiana, Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky, in 2023. Hy-Vee posted the video on Zipline, the company’s internal communication platform for employees.

    "A spokesperson with Hy-Vee declined to comment on the expansion.

    "According to Edeker’s statements in the video, posted Wednesday, Dec. 8, Hy-Vee intends to open two stores in the Nashville metro area, one in Knoxville and one in Memphis, all in Tennessee, with additional stores landing in Huntsville, Alabama; Louisville, Kentucky; and Indianapolis, Indiana.

    "The new distribution facility in Nashville will be the company's first outside of Iowa, where it has similar facilities in Chariton and Cherokee … Edeker said Hy-Vee expects to build at least 21 stores in the four-state region by 2025. According to the video, select Hy-Vee employees will begin relocating to the Nashville region as early as January 2022.

    "Currently, the company has more than 93,000 employees at more than 285 stores in eight Midwestern states: Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin."

    KC's View:

    The decision by Hy-Vee would appear to put it in a position where it has to compete to an even greater degree with Kroger and Publix, which has been moving into the region from the southeast.

    MNB fave Burt Flickinger, managing director of the Strategic Resource Group, tells the Register that it's "an interesting time for Hy-Vee to move south given their unbalanced, lack of success in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market … They never reached the size and scale in the state of Minnesota that they had hoped for because they just weren't able to compete head-to-head with a high volume of food operators in Minneapolis, most notably Costco and Target."

    I'm not sure things get easier as Hy-Vee moves in another direction … though it never should be about easy.

    If it works out, this will be seen as a smart strategic move.  If it doesn't … well, I keep thinking about the end of Unforgiven, in which Gene Hackman tells Clint Eastwood that he "does not deserve to die like this."  And Eastwood says, "Deserve's got nothing to do with it."

    Published on: December 21, 2021

    The Associated Press reports that "Starbucks says it will negotiate in good faith with workers at the first store to unionize in the company’s 50-year history.

    "In a letter sent to all U.S. employees Rossann Williams, an executive vice president, said Starbucks never favored unionization and still prefers to speak directly to employees, but respects the legal process and wants to work with those in Buffalo who voted in favor of union representation."

    Workers at a single Buffalo, New York, store voted to unionize a couple of weeks ago, opening up the possibility that other workers in other stores in other locations could opt for unionization.

    KC's View:

    I don't mean to make light of this, but what choice does Starbucks really have?

    I suppose it could close stores that get unionized, but that would sort of be off-brand.  Not a good idea.

    Better to negotiate in good faith and make job one creating such an improved work culture that union decertification votes start being discussed within the workforce.

    Published on: December 21, 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 United States, there now have been a total of 52,059,667 cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 828,836 deaths and 40,719,047 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 275,900,600 cases, with 5,379,813 resultant fatalities and 247,625,845 reported recoveries.  (Source.)



    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 77.4 percent of the US population age five and older, and 72.9 percent of the total population has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 65.4 percent of the five-and-older population and 61.5 percent of the total population being fully vaccinated.

    The CDC also says that 32.4 percent of the US population age 18 and older, and 29.8 percent of the total population has received a vaccine booster dose.



    •  The CDC is saying that 73 percent of new coronavirus cases in the US are of the Omicron variant, the Wall Street Journal reports, saying that this highlights the variant's "substantial increase in infectiousness compared with earlier versions of the virus.

    "The CDC said Monday that Omicron had overtaken the Delta variant of the coronavirus in the U.S. and accounted for an estimated 73% of infections for the week ending Dec. 18.

    "In many parts of the U.S., Omicron now makes up more than 90% of cases, the CDC said. Infectious-disease experts have said they believe the true share is likely even higher than that."



    •  The Wall Street Journal this morning writes that "the Biden administration will distribute 500 million free at-home Covid-19 testing kits to Americans and take steps to deploy federal medical personnel to overburdened hospitals this winter, as the Omicron variant spreads around the country.

    "President Biden will outline the plan during a speech at the White House on Tuesday. His administration is grappling with how to publicly underscore the urgency surrounding the highly transmissible variant, while seeking to convey that the U.S. is better prepared to battle the pandemic than it was a year ago.

    "Mr. Biden is expected to stress that Americans should take the Omicron variant seriously but shouldn’t panic, according to administration officials. The president will tell vaccinated Americans who are following public health guidelines that they should feel comfortable spending the holidays with their families. Unvaccinated Americans, however, are at much greater risk of hospitalization and death, Mr. Biden will warn, according to the officials, who added that the administration is preparing for cases to keep rising.

    "Even as parts of Europe have returned to previous pandemic-related restrictions including lockdowns and tightening border controls, Mr. Biden is expected to once again rule out the need for shutdowns or other tough measures."



    •  The New York Times this morning reports that "Fox Corporation, the owner of Fox News, told employees on Friday that those working in New York City would have to show proof they’d had at least one dose of the Covid vaccine by Dec. 27, removing the option to get tested weekly instead.

    "The new policy was in keeping with New York City’s vaccine rule, which Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in early December and which is more stringent than a contested Biden administration rule requiring vaccine mandates or weekly testing at larger employers.

    "The New York City mandate, which requires on-site workers at all businesses to be vaccinated, is the country’s most sweeping local vaccine mandate and affects some 184,000 businesses."

    At the same time, the Times writes, "CNN is closing its U.S. offices to all employees who are able to work remotely, according to an internal memo sent to staff Saturday evening

    “'If your job does not REQUIRE you to be in the office in order to do it, please work from elsewhere,' the network’s president, Jeff Zucker, wrote to staff, citing a surge of COVID cases around the country and within the teams at CNN.

    "'We are doing this out of an abundance of caution,' the memo read. 'And it will also protect those who will be in the office by minimizing the number of people who are there'."

    And, the Times reports, "Several of Broadway’s biggest shows, including 'Hamilton,' 'Hadestown' and 'Aladdin,' are canceling all performances until after Christmas, and 'Jagged Little Pill' announced it was closing for good, as a spike in coronavirus cases batters the performing arts throughout North America as well as in London.

    "The cancellations, prompted by positive coronavirus tests among cast or crew members, come at the worst possible time for many productions, because the holiday season is typically the most lucrative time of year … with the Omicron variant driving a surge in cases, there were multiple Covid-prompted cancellations Off Broadway, as well as in Chicago, Houston, Denver, Los Angeles and other cities."



    •  Axios reports that "the World Economic Forum announced Monday it will delay its 2022 global meeting in Davos, Switzerland, until the summer in response to uncertainty over the emergency of the Omicron coronavirus variant … The annual January meeting has now been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic for a second year."



    •  The Boston Globe reports that Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced yesterday that "indoor venues — including restaurants, gyms, and nightclubs and performance venues — must begin checking proof of vaccination … The policy will take effect over the coming weeks, and be scaled up over time, giving businesses time to train their staff and the city time to create a smartphone app akin to the one used in New York City to help support the vaccine requirement rollout. By May 1, though, everyone over the age of four will need to be able to show proof they’ve received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to enter many businesses in the city.

    "Response to that idea was mixed.

    "Many businesses celebrated the move, saying a citywide policy sets clear rules for themselves and their patrons. Others saw it as yet more red tape after two years of ever-changing pandemic restrictions. Some were heartened that leaders of neighboring communities — such as Arlington, Brookline, Cambridge, Medford, and Salem — signaled support for the policy and may follow suit."



    •  In an exchange on "This Week" on Sunday morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who turns 81 on Christmas Eve and has been in his job since being appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, said he plans to remain on the job until Covid-19 is under control.

    " There's no doubt about it. ... It's kind of like we're halfway through World War II, and you decide: 'Well, I think I’ve had enough of this. I'm walking away.'  You can't do that. You've got to finish it — and we're going to finish this and get back to normal."

    Which sort of reminded me of this scene from Skyfall, in which M says, "I know I can't do this job forever, but I'll be damned if I'm going to leave the department in worse shape than I found it …  I'll leave when the job's done."

    Published on: December 21, 2021

    •  GeekWire reports that Amazon is shaking up its healthcare and pharmacy businesses.

    "Amazon senior executive Neil Lindsay, a key figure in the growth of the company’s Kindle and Prime businesses, has been tapped to lead the company’s newly combined healthcare organization," the story says.  "John Love, currently vice president of Alexa Shopping, will become vice president of Amazon Pharmacy in January. Amazon Pharmacy reportedly hasn’t yet lived up to external expectations since it was launched a year ago.

    "TJ Parker and Elliot Cohen, founders of Pillpack, led Amazon’s pharmacy business since its acquisition of the prescription-by-mail company in 2018 … With Love taking over the Amazon Pharmacy leadership, Parker and Cohen will be 'transitioning to work closely with Neil to continue to evolve our healthcare strategy and customer offerings'," the story says.



    •  Reuters reports that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) have "asked the Labor Department for a full investigation into Amazon.com Inc's labor practices."

    According to the story, the two senators "wrote in a letter that about 'one out of every 170 U.S. workers is an Amazon employee, underscoring our particular interest in ensuring that the company's employment practices are fair, and in accordance with the law. We urge you to use every mechanism at your disposal to investigate Amazon's labor and employment practices immediately.'

    "The lawmakers noted that the National Labor Relations Board had found that Amazon wrongfully terminated a worker who complained about unsafe working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic as well as two others who criticized Amazon's practices."

    The two senators also noted that a union election at an Alabama warehouse is being re-run because of charges that Amazon did not play fair during the original balloting, and now there are concerns being raised about Amazon's policies at an Amazon facility that was razed by a tornado.



    •  Ahold Delhaize announced this morning that bol.com, its online retailer in the Benelux, is acquiring a majority stake in delivery expert Cycloon, which is designed to "jointly accelerate the growth of Cycloon and share the ambition to make delivery more sustainable and social … With the growth of the e-commerce and related logistics sector, challenges are increasing in terms of delivery capacity and impact on the environment and infrastructure. The partnership with bol.com allows Cycloon to substantially accelerate its mission of green and social delivery, creating a future-proof position with strong growth opportunities in a competitive market. For bol.com, the partnership ensures that a greater proportion of packages can be delivered by bicycle and that the online retail platform can offer customers the best service in delivery."

    Published on: December 21, 2021

    •  Bloomberg reports that Walmart has been sued "by California for allegedly dumping hazardous waste including toxic cleaning supplies, pesticides and batteries in local landfills.

    "The complaint against the retail giant for unlawfully disposing waste since 2015 at more than 300 stores was announced Monday by state Attorney General Rob Bonta. 

    "'We are not talking about a few batteries and a can of insect killer here,' Bonta said at a press conference. 'Walmart’s own audits found that the company is illegally disposing of hazardous waste in California at a rate of over more than 1 million items each year' … Walmart called the lawsuit 'unjustified,' saying in a statement that the state is demanding a level of compliance on waste disposal that goes beyond what’s required by law."

    Published on: December 21, 2021

    •  The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the last Kmart in California, in the community of Grass Valley, has closed for good.

    The story notes that "Kmart began life in the late 1800s as a five and dime store in Tennessee. Its first Kmart-branded store opened in 1962 in San Fernando, Calif., and at its height, Kmart had thousands of locations nationwide," but has been decline for the past two decades, suffering through store closures, layoffs and a merger with Sears - none of which fixed what ailed the chain.

    Target reportedly has snapped up the Grass Valley location for a store location.



    •  CNBC reports that Sears "is considering a sale or a redevelopment of its massive corporate headquarters in suburban Chicago, as its retail footprint keeps dwindling.

    "Transformco, the parent company of Sears and Kmart, said it will begin to market the 273-acre property in the suburb of Hoffman Estates, Illinois, to potential buyers early next year. It’s also considering other redevelopment uses for the site."

    Published on: December 21, 2021

    •  Publix Super Markets announced the promotion of Malinda Renfroe, currently the company's Director of Marketing Operations, to the role of Vice President of Marketing.  She succeeds Mark Irby, who is retiring after 48 years with the company.

    Published on: December 21, 2021

    Yesterday, we reported that the US Department of Labor announced over the weekend that enforcement of a vaccine-or-test mandate at businesses with 100 or more employees, originally scheduled to take place on January 10, now will be pushed off a month, to February 9.  The change was announced just a day after the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit reinstated the mandate, reversing an earlier decision by the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit issued a stay preventing the mandate from being implemented.

    I commented:

    I wish that everyone were vaccinated and boosted.  I think that it would put us in a much better position as a culture and an economy.  But with every passing day, I begin to think that while public health officials are doing their level best, this thing has become way too political - it is like many of the moves being recommended by public health officials drive us further apart instead of bringing us together.  That's what used to happen, but seemingly not anymore.

    Maybe the best way to deal with this is, rather than mandate that people get vaccinated, to say that if you're not vaccinated, not only are insurance companies not going to cover your medical expenses, but you're also not going to be able to go to theaters or restaurants or bars or ballgames, or travel on airplanes or stay in hotels.  Though, to be fair, this probably will deepen the sense of polarization as well.

    Maybe, in the world in which we live, it will be have to be enough to let it be a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

    It is a confusing time.  Yesterday, I went out to Starbucks to get coffee for my wife and daughter.  There were more than a dozen people waiting to pick up their orders, and maybe three of us were wearing masks.  A quarter-mile away, at the local Covid testing station, there were more than a dozen cars on line with people waiting to be tested.

    Talk about whiplash.

    I mentioned on Friday that I am way past "worn out" and "angry" about how some folks have responded to the pandemic - that I am "pissed off" and "exhausted."  But it occurs me that these emotions may be the very definition of the larger polarization.

    All of which prompted the following email from an MNB reader:

    I read your report everyday and prior to the pandemic quite liked you. It is views like this and opinions that you publish that make me never want to comply with anything. Your attitude is the problem. I would get vaccinated and boosted if you came at it from a point of kindness but you don’t. So reading things like this make me want to do the exact opposite of what you want. You are polarizing the country , you are part of the problem not the solution. Remember old school journalism where you just report the facts ? Maybe try that for a bit and remove your biased and incredibly condescending and rude opinions and you may see the people come together for the common good. 

    I'm sorry if you don't like me anymore.  MNB never has been about just "reporting the facts."  From day one, it has been about "news in context and analysis with attitude," and lots of opinion.  (Not just mine.  Your opinions are included, too.)

    I don't think I was being unkind.  Not even condescending, though I can understand if you feel that way.  But if it is attitudes like mine - and, to be fair, virtually every public health expert out there - that are keeping you from being vaccinated … well, I do not even know how to respond.

    Except to say, ignore me.  Stop reading MNB, if it makes you feel better.  But please, please, please … get vaccinated.  Get boosted.  Please.

    MNB reader Terry Marshall wrote:

    I agree with your assessment.  My wife and I are fully vaccinated with both shots and the booster.  Did I want to do it, no, but it was the right thing to do for my health and my loved ones.  My son, though fully vaccinated, caught Covid about 2 months ago.  Was sick but was not hospitalized and fully recovered.

    I think one of the issues is saying, “mandates”.  When the term first came up, I told my wife, “this is going to be a problem”.  No one wants to be told what to do with their bodies, especially by a government entity.  I think if the term,  “strongly recommended,  strongly suggest” might have helped some, but still with misinformation and everything, might not have made much of a difference.  I, like you, are burned out on Covid.  I hate turning on the news and seeing the same stories.  If there isn’t anything new to report, don’t lead off with it.  It has become too political.  Anyhow, I don’t know the answer.  All I know is I tell people it is their choice, but I would recommend it to help ensure they are around for their families.  It doesn’t cost you and what is wrong with taking that extra precaution for yourself and loved ones?

    I guess I would suggest to you that the Covid story has to be the lead story for newspapers and TV news programs simply because it is the biggest story of the moment.  I, for one, can't wait until it isn't anymore.



    On another subject, from another MNB reader:

    Here’s some upside on the allowing the use of cellphones for grocery employees while working…

    When I was a young front-end manager in a grocery store, I had difficulty getting some of our staff members to go outside and retrieve empty carts from the parking lot.  It would be exceptionally tough to find volunteers for the job, especially if it was really cold outside, really hot outside, or raining.   Now, some of those same folks who are lacking ambition happily volunteer for the job because it gives them a chance to look at (and use) their cellphones while they are away from the prying eyes of management.    I watched a clerk out in the middle of a sleet storm the other day standing at the cart corral with one hand on a cart and the other hand on their cell phone trying to text a message.   (I understand it’s a good opportunity for vaping as well…….)

    Not sure this is the best way to sell it, but I get your point.



    We reported the other day that a company called Simbe Robotics "has just been issued a patent for spectral imaging of produce and meats and detect how fresh they are."

    MNB reader Bob Thomas responded:

    The first store that makes this technology available to produce shoppers will be a winner.  Imagine no knocking on cantaloupes or squeezing tomatoes.  Maybe they could put a fake scanner by the Charmin.

    Published on: December 21, 2021

    •  There were two Monday games this week because of Covid-related schedule adjustments…

    Las Vegas Raiders 16, Cleveland Browns 14

    Minnesota Vikings 17, Chicago Bears 9



    •  The New York Mets announced yesterday that the team has hired veteran manager Buck Showalter to a three-year contract, making him the 24th manager in the team's history.

    Showalter, 65, has 20 years of managerial experience in the major leagues, owning a lifetime record of 1,551-1,517 (.506). He is a three-time Manager of the Year award winner, earning the honors in 1994, 2004 and 2014. Showalter’s 1,551 career wins rank 24th all-time in MLB history and the 3,069 games managed rank 21st in the majors. He has guided three of the four teams he’s managed to the postseason and been to the playoffs a total of five times.  A Showalter-managed team, however, never has won a World Series.

    KC's View:

    Two things here.

    One.  Showalter becomes the fifth person to manage both the Mets and the New York Yankees.  This became a terrific trivia question since the hiring became known, with three of the others being easy:  Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra, and Joe Torre.  But the fourth was harder to remember: Dallas Green.

    Two.  Fellow Mets fan Michael Sansolo yesterday observed to me in one of our regular phone calls (we talk 2-3 times a day) that while Showalter may not be the perfect choice, he is a hard-ass, and the Mets can use a littler hard-assery at the top.  Add to that the signing of Max Scherzer - also a known hard-ass - and the Mets may now have some toughness in leadership that will serve the team well.