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: February 8, 2022

    by Michael Sansolo

    There’s probably no more useless phrase in business than “we’ve always done it this way.” But sadly, it’s a phrase that throughout time has been uttered and likely regretted more than any of us can imagine.

    Just keep that in mind before you say it the next time.

    Let’s be fair, not every unusual idea is a good one and out of the box thinking doesn’t guarantee anything. But we also know that simply doing the same thing over and again is no sure path to continued success. But still, new ideas, especially bold ones are (or should be) always worthy of consideration.

    This was made clear again recently by a decision in Major League Baseball that, without much stretching, has clear lessons for any kind of business. It’s a classic lesson in refusing to think outside the box.

    A few months back, Kevin did a FaceTime video about an interesting idea from the Tampa Bay Rays. For some quick context, the Rays are an incredibly successful team on the field, but thanks to myriad reasons, they struggle financially.

    As Kevin reported, in hopes of changing their financial situation, the Rays made an unusual proposal to Major League Baseball to basically have two homes—Tampa and Montreal—believing the fans in both cities would support the team at an improved level. (Montreal, you may remember, was once the home of the Expos, another team that performed better on the field than at the box office.)

    Out of the box thinking is nothing new for the Rays, a team that manages to compete at high levels each year with a limited budget augmented by creative thinking, such as creative deployment of their pitching staff. The difference this time is that the Rays needed the approval of Major League Baseball to make the plan a reality.

    In January, Baseball said a firm No!  ESPN reported the league thought the idea “too complex and too risky to make long-term commitments to such a nuanced concept.” That’s a fancy way of saying, “we haven’t done anything like that before."

    Unsurprisingly, Tampa’s owner isn’t pleased. "(The sister city approach) was a bold concept, but it was something that we thought would've been incredibly rewarding for baseball, for the players and for the fans in both areas. Again, those were our thoughts. Now going forward, we're gonna regroup and see where things are, and we'll consider a number of things, I'm sure, as time goes by."

    I don’t want to go deeply down into the rabbit hole of poor decision making by baseball’s leadership, but I’m firmly on the side of the Tampa team here. Yes this is a bold and nuanced concept and it might well have provided the league a way to expand games to many other cities that would welcome the chance to host major league baseball for a few months each year. And that might provide a lifeline to other teams struggling with local fan support (think of the Oakland A’s or Miami Marlins.)

    (To be sure, rejection of out of the box thinking is hardly limited to baseball. The National Football League last week rejected an idea by the Cincinnati Bengals to host a mass Super Bowl watch party at their home stadium, citing logistical problems. So instead of a rare, exciting and, likely, profitable idea taking hold, the NFL passed.)

    But here’s the thing for all of us to consider. New ideas - especially out of the box ideas - are too easy to dismiss as complex and nuanced. But success always comes from finding and simplifying those complex points. Living in comfort takes us nowhere new.


    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: February 8, 2022

    From the Seattle Times:

    "Amazon is more than doubling the maximum base salary it pays employees to $350,000 from $160,000 … Amazon also said it was increasing the compensation ranges of most jobs globally and is changing the timing of stock awards to align with promotions.

    "Like many big employers, Amazon has struggled to hire and retain workers of late. The company has long relied on stock awards, betting it can entice workers to take positions even if the base pay is low. But the stock languished in 2021, gaining just 2.4% while the S&P 500 jumped 27%, and the strategy began to lose its appeal. Media reports indicate the turnover rate inside Amazon has reached crisis levels, and a record 50 vice presidents departed last year."

    The New York Times cites an Amazon memo as saying that the moves were instigated by "a particularly competitive labor market."

    KC's View:

    This reflects, I think, an enormous challenge to a lot of companies, especially smaller ones - as big companies like Amazon (and Apple, Facebook, Google, etc…) drive up salaries, it is going to be very hard for companies with lesser resources to compete for those people.

    I also have to imagine that these numbers are going to be a headline in all the materials that pro-union forces send out to Amazon's warehouse employees.  It may not be apples to apples, but the optics aren't great and some will argue that the way Amazon treats people in its distribution facilities is rotten to the core.

    Published on: February 8, 2022

    Reports this morning say that a suspect has been arrested in the killing of an Instacart shopper and the injuring of a store employee during a shooting incident that took place yesterday at a Kroger-owned Fred Meyer store in Richland, Washington, about 200 miles southeast of Seattle.

    The dead man was identified as Justin Krumbah, 38;  the injured man has not yet been identified by police, and remains in critical condition in a local hospital.  There reportedly is video of the shooter interacting with the two men.  The shooter will face charges of first degree murder and attempted murder, the police said.

    The company released a statement saying that it is "cooperating with local law enforcement, who have secured the store and parking lot.  The store will remain closed while the police investigation continues, and we have initiated counseling services for our associates."

    The New York Times writes this morning that "the shooting at the Fred Meyer store came after several fatal shootings in American grocery stores in the past year.

    "In March, 10 people died after a 21-year-old man opened fire in the aisles of a King Soopers store in Boulder, Colo. The next month, a store manager died and two people were injured in a shooting at a Stop & Shop in West Hempstead, N.Y. In June, a toddler and his grandmother were shopping at a Publix supermarket in Royal Palm Beach, Fla., when they were fatally shot by a 55-year-old man who then killed himself."

    KC's View:

    Another reality that American supermarkets are going to have to grapple;  it would be a mistake to think of these events as isolated incidents that do not add up to a disturbing pattern.  

    Published on: February 8, 2022

    From the Wall Street Journal:

    "The U.S. food industry is increasingly reliant on temporary workers, a costlier and usually shorter-term solution to persistent staffing shortages at food plants, supermarkets and farms.

    "Supermarkets and food processors are hiring short-term staff to unload trucks, move goods and assist in-store cooks, filling holes created by employees who have left the workforce during the pandemic or are out sick temporarily from Covid-19. Executives said hiring temp workers can be expensive because they typically cost more per hour than permanent staff and require additional training."

    The story notes that "food companies have often hired temp workers to fill gaps in their workforces or boost personnel during busy holiday seasons. But as the pandemic stretches already-thin staffing levels at many companies, industry executives say they now are relying on temps more than ever.

    "Some companies have flown in short-term workers; others are using multiple temp agencies to fill staffing holes. Temp workers ranging from retirees to parents are drawn to the flexibility of choosing when to work and the ability to make extra cash."

    One example cited in the story:

    "In Kansas, Associated Wholesale Grocers Inc. has retained hundreds of temp workers for its 11 distribution centers in recent weeks, as employees call in sick at record-high levels after contracting Covid-19 or being exposed to it. Most temp workers are traveling to work at the wholesaler’s facilities, and the company is providing housing in hotels and transportation, Chief Executive Officer David Smith said. Short-term workers filled roles ranging from lift operators to order selectors, he added.

    "'We are doing everything we can to maintain an adequate and healthy workforce,' Mr. Smith said. As Covid-19 cases decline in some areas, he said, Associated is seeing more applicants and employees returning to their jobs."

    KC's View:

    To me, one of the problems that this trend creates is an inability for retail brands to use  their people as a way of reinforcing their value proposition to shoppers.  Temporary workers are not likely to have a permanent commitment to the brand, and that can undermine the ability of a company to tell its story.

    Not that every/most retailer(s) do that anyway.  Which would be my complaint/observation about a core weakness in many retailers' approach to brand marketing and narrative.

    Full disclosure: AWG, cited in the story above, is a longtime MNB sponsor.

    Published on: February 8, 2022

    Axios reports that "as the pandemic has coaxed older people to get more nimble with technology— even trolling TikTok to check out their grandkids' posts — tech companies are increasingly catering to their needs … : For seniors, learning to shop online, enjoy social media and use VR headsets can beat back isolation and loneliness — particularly during COVID-19. And to marketers, wealthy retirees look like an attractive sales niche, so they're tailoring products and services accordingly."

    The Axios story points out that "a new report from Euromonitor lists 'empowered elders' as a top-10 global consumer trend for 2022 … Among people 60 and older, 60% visit social media sites at least once a week, and 21% play video games, Euromonitor found.  82% own a smartphone."

    At the same time, the story says, "40% of older people want to use the digital world for decorating their home virtually, experiencing sports or concerts, upgrading their home maintenance skills or to travel with a headset … One in 5 also see other possibilities, like going to a virtual restaurant, trying out sports themselves or playing VR adventure games."

    KC's View:

    I found the "empowered elders" to be an interesting construct, especially because I saw the same term used the other day in the context of older people like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell taking highly politicized and publicized positions against Spotify and Joe Rogan;  it was suggested that this reflects a growing willingness on the part of people of a certain age to engage politically and culturally.

    This all plays into a larger narrative - that as Baby Boomers and members of Gen X age, we will do so with different assumptions and priorities than previous generations. Marketers ignoring this reality do so at their own peril.

    Published on: February 8, 2022

    One of the concerns often raised about Amazon's Alexa-powered smart speaker systems is that people's privacy can be easily invaded.  In its Super Bowel commercial for Alexa, Amazon decided to lean into the privacy issue with a very funny spot featuring real-life married couple Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) and Colin Jost ("Saturday Night Live").

    Enjoy.

    Published on: February 8, 2022

    Newsweek has BrandSpark Internationals' special edition of its BrandSpark Most Trusted Awards (BMTAs), "highlighting the most trusted grocery stores as voted by American shoppers."

    Well, by 3200 American shoppers anyway.

    Here's the list of the top five retailers, by region:

    National

    Walmart

    Kroger

    Aldi

    Publix

    Costco



    Northeast

    ShopRite

    Walmart

    Aldi

    Stop & Shop

    Wegmans



    Midwest

    Walmart

    Kroger

    Aldi

    Meijer

    Hy-Vee



    South

    Walmart

    Publix

    Kroger

    H-E-B

    Aldi



    West

    Walmart

    Safeway

    Costco

    Trader Joe's

    Kroger



    You can read the full list, with all the breakdowns, here.

    KC's View:

    I don't mean to be overly skeptical, but when it comes to being trusted, it is hard for me to imagine that companies like H-E-B and Wegmans - which generate about as much customer loyalty as any food retailer you can name - come in as low as they do.

    This could mean one of three things.

    One, it is the way BrandSpark asked the questions and to whom it asked those questions.

    Two, Walmart's value proposition is generating way more shopper loyalty than it used to;  I'll buy that Walmart always is going to be in the conversation, but the most trusted in every region other than the Northeast?  (Kudos to ShopRite, by the way.)  Hard for me to believe … though it also could be that Walmart pricing is creating greater loyalty at a time of inflation.  (Timing is everything.)

    Three, I have no idea what I'm talking about.

    Published on: February 8, 2022

    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:  78,370,774 total cases … 928,879 deaths … and 48,296,315 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  398,785,192 total cases … 5,771,443 fatalities … and 318,704,015 reported recoveries.  (Source.)



    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 75.7 percent of the total US population has received at least one dose of vaccine … 64.1 percent is fully vaccinated … and 42.3 percent has received a vaccine booster dose.



    •  A number of states - so-called Blue states with Democratic governors - have announced plans to roll back mask mandates, as political leaders and public health officials acknowledge a drop in infections and a willingness/ability of the population to live with Covid-19 and its implications.

    The New York Times reports that "Connecticut will permit students and staff members to stop wearing masks in schools by no later than Feb. 28 … New Jersey said that students and school employees in the state will no longer be required to wear masks as of the second week in March …  … Delaware will end mask mandates in schools by March 31… Oregon and California announced the end to mask mandates at indoor public spaces."

    New York State has not made the same decision, though Gov. Kathy Hochul said, "We are trending in a very, very good direction."



    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Retailers and analysts predicted that the bulk buying in the early days of the pandemic, when supplies of many goods were constrained, would subside once people returned to work, stores were able to restock and vaccinations became widespread. Instead, Americans continue to stockpile food and household goods.

    "Many are spending more time at home and remain uncertain about product availability. Some have moved from tight-spaced apartments in cities to more spacious suburban homes, and inflation is spurring a search for savings by buying in bulk."



    •  From Bloomberg:

    "Ireland will hold St Patrick’s Day celebrations for the first time in three years, adding to signs of life returning to normal amid the coronavirus pandemic.

    "The five day festival in Dublin, which takes place around the St Patrick’s holiday on March 17, was one of the first major events to be canceled in March 2020 as COVID-19 took hold around the world. Its return comes after Ireland dropped most remaining pandemic restrictions in January amid declining infections from the Omicron variant. Smaller events will take place elsewhere across the country on the holiday itself … The return of the festival will be a boost for the hospitality sector, which has been battered by successive lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions. Before the pandemic, the festival organizers put its economic benefit at more than 73 million euros ($83.4 million). This year March 18 will also be a public holiday in Ireland in recognition of people’s efforts through the pandemic."

    Published on: February 8, 2022

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  From the Washington Post:

    "In the past year, inflation swerved around grocery stores like a wobbly shopping cart, slamming into the meat department, milk, eggs and even toothpaste.

    "Fresh fruits and vegetables were largely spared. Until recently.

    "The percentage increase in produce prices from November to December, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, was twice that of other food categories. (Prices for meats, poultry, fish and eggs actually declined a bit in December after rising for seven months straight). Produce prices stayed nearly flat in 2020, rose slightly in most of 2021, then really shot up in the last four weeks of that year, according to data from the International Fresh Produce Association.

    "The increases have been felt by groceries, restaurants and others. The average price-per-pound of fresh vegetables shipped in December was 19 percent higher than a year earlier, and fresh fruit was up 10 percent from the previous year, according to the research firm NPD Group, which tracks food shipped to restaurants through major distributors such as US Foods and Sysco."



    •  From the Dayton Daily News, a story about how Dorothy Lane Market-owned Killer Brownie Co. sees "a future with more brownies — a lot more brownies."

    Matt Ross, vice president of operations at Killer Brownie, tells the paper that "this year the company will produce some 600,000 cases of brownies," and has added some 12,000 square feet of production space.

    The story says that "the Killer Brownie story in recent years has been one of steady growth and demand.  'I refer to it sometimes as a 30-year startup, because the growth we’ve had in the last four years, you usually see that kind of growth in start-ups,' Ross said."

    Great company, great product …  DLM continues to prove that independent retailers can be as innovative and ambitious as any larger competitor with greater financial resources.  In the end, I'd argue, the greatest resources are imagination and drive.

    Published on: February 8, 2022

    Reacting to a piece about how many workers are prioritizing remote working as they make career decisions, and my argument that this actually can work in some companies' favor, MNB reader Carla Dieffenbach wrote:

    I have worked in the retail environment for over 40 years (most in a managerial function). What I see from our Support Center that are still partially working from home, is less support. It is harder to get information in a timely fashion, much more difficult to resolve issues and many are disengaged as to what is happing in the actual retail environment.

    You also have a deeply embittered workforce at the store level, that have been knee deep in the Covid environment for over two years now with no concessions to their work life balance. They are still suffering with workforce shortages, have been ask to do more with less and although they were given small tokens of gratitude early on in Covid it is almost like they are forgotten at this point. The term essential worker was used to motivate people in the retail environment to go to work, but means absolutely nothing now.

    So this begs the question “what do we do to motivate and support the people that actually do the business of the business?”.  Job seekers currently have more choices than ever. Wages are equitable from fast food to the retail environment. Benefits are not at the top of what people are looking for in a job right now. How do we make our work environment more desirable? I would love for retail establishments to consider 4 ten hour days, 5 nine hour days (with every other week three days off), job sharing.

    Let’s find a way to make our retail workforce actually feel “essential."

    This may be a little impassioned, it’s been a long two years and we are still fighting the good fight. My point is there is a large group of people that never had a chance to “work from home” and I hope at some point they are recognized.



    Yesterday, I talked about the importance of allowing for the evolution of personal tastes, which prompted MNB reader John Letourneux to write:

    Soooo, there is hope that you may enjoy delicious Brussels sprouts in the future.

    Maybe.  Not likely.  But maybe.



    Yesterday we ran an email from MNB reader Bill Spoehr that reacted to a story about scientists "searching for the coronavirus in New York City’s wastewater."

    He wrote:

    It’s stories like this that make you a daily read, but also make me grateful that I stayed away from the science buildings in college.

    What leads one to study wastewater???  Just seems like a really sh**y job.

    I responded, in part:

    I know exactly how you feel.

    The last science class I ever took was in 1976, at Loyola Marymount University, and it was essentially about sewage.  (I don't remember the actual title of the class.). I took it because I needed science credits to graduate and was informed (misinformed, actually) that this wouldn't be too hard or too technical.  (This was important - I have no head for science or math.  Is there a science equivalent of dyscalculia?)

    The course was awful.  Meaning, awfully hard.  And incredibly technical.  And boring, at least to me.  There were multiple field trips that were, to say the least, offensively odorous.  (I like unconventional field trips, so you have to work hard to offend me.  I took another class at LMU in "The Philosophy of Death," which included a trip to the Los Angeles City Morgue, which was fascinating … but that's another story that I'll tell you sometime…)

    I'm still bitter about that stupid sewage class.  Based on every other class I took at LMU, I would've graduated summa cum laude, but that one class dropped me back to magna cum laude.  That was more than 45 years ago, and you'd think I'd be over it by now…

    Bill wrote back:

    I had a similar experience with Calculus III.  My mind was blown by that class (“What do you mean the Z axis is coming straight out of the blackboard at me?”) and confirmed when the first exam results came back, 2 days after the deadline to take Pass/Fail or drop.   The resulting D (which was a gift from the professor) kept me from Magna Cum Laude by .02.

    Yeah, that was 40 years ago, and I’m not over it either.

    On the same subject, from another MNB reader:

    Not really MNB related, but my father was an environmental engineer who managed water and wastewater for a major Texas city and I fondly remember him taking me to treatment plants when I was a kid.  As a child, the gross out factor was of course a draw. He even sponsored a few field trips when I was in school.  To this day, my most dubious ‘talent’ is that I can spot water treatment plants from the air when I fly.  A completely useless skill, but it always brings my dad to my mind and a smile to my face.



    Finally … we took note yesterday of a CNBC report that the Distilled Spirits Council of the US (DISCUS) is out with a new report saying that "tequila could soon overtake vodka as America’s favorite liquor, fueled by consumers’ desire for pricey bottles of agave-based spirits."

    I commented, in part:

    I must admit that sipping tequila is not a habit I've adopted to this point, though certainly the pandemic has given me plenty of reason to.  (I think I've pointed out here before that until relatively late in life, I was just a beer and wine drinker, but my adult children have taught me the pleasures of vodka and bourbon.  They're not tequila drinkers either, to my knowledge.)

    One MNB reader replied:

    Put a bottle of Centenario Añejo and some shot glasses in your freezer.  Wait a day and then have a sip of the tequila chasing it with a taste of lager like Tres Equis (XXX). 

    Continue until done (with the shot glass not the bottle).  For authenticity I use the blue rimmed Mexican shot glasses.

    Salud.

    Sounds wonderful.

    Published on: February 8, 2022

    The 94th Academy Award nominations were announced this morning…

    Best Picture

    “Belfast”

    “CODA”

    “Don’t Look Up”

    “Drive My Car”

    “Dune”

    “King Richard”

    “Licorice Pizza”

    “Nightmare Alley”

    “The Power of the Dog”

    “West Side Story”



    Best Actor

    Javier Bardem, “Being the Ricardos”

    Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Power of the Dog”

    Andrew Garfield, “Tick, Tick … Boom!”

    Will Smith, “King Richard”

    Denzel Washington, “The Tragedy of Macbeth”



    Best Actress

    Jessica Chastain, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”

    Olivia Colman, “The Lost Daughter”

    Penélope Cruz, “Parallel Mothers”

    Nicole Kidman, “Being the Ricardos”

    Kristen Stewart, “Spencer”



    Best Supporting Actor

    Ciaran Hinds, “Belfast”

    Troy Kotsur, “CODA”

    Jesse Plemons, “The Power of the Dog”

    J.K. Simmons, “Being the Ricardos”

    Kodi Smit-McPhee, “The Power of the Dog”



    Best Supporting Actress

    Jessie Buckley, “The Lost Daughter”

    Ariana DeBose, “West Side Story”

    Judi Dench, “Belfast”

    Kirsten Dunst, “The Power of the Dog”

    Aunjanue Ellis, “King Richard”



    Best Director

    Kenneth Branagh, “Belfast”

    Ryusuke Hamaguchi, “Drive My Car”

    Paul Thomas Anderson, “Licorice Pizza”

    Jane Campion, “The Power of the Dog”

    Steven Spielberg, “West Side Story”



    Original Screenplay

    “Belfast”

    “Don’t Look Up”

    “King Richard”

    “Licorice Pizza”

    “The Worst Person in the World”



    Adapted Screenplay

    “CODA”

    “Drive My Car”

    “Dune”

    “The Lost Daughter”

    “The Power of the Dog”



    Animated Feature

    “Encanto”

    “Flee”

    “Luca”

    “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”

    “Raya and the Last Dragon”



    The Oscars ceremony is slated to take place on March 27.