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    Published on: March 23, 2022

    The continuing goal of "The Innovation Conversation" is to explore some facet of the fast-changing, technology-driven retail landscape and how it affects businesses and consumers. It is, we think, fertile territory ... and one that Tom Furphy - a former Amazon executive, the originator of Amazon Fresh, and currently CEO and Managing Director of Consumer Equity Partners (CEP), a venture capital and venture development firm in Seattle, WA, that works with many top retailers and manufacturers - is uniquely positioned to address.

    Today, Tom and KC use the development of a technology standard called Matter - which has as its goal interoperability between different brands' smart home devices that will lead to a seamless user experience - as a jumping off point to talk about interoperability between retailers, and how it has the potential to create a more frictionless, smarter shopping experience.   Glen Terbeek was pushing for this years ago with his "Smart Store" initiative, but there remain plenty of opportunities that retailers can take advantage of if they are going to create a differentiated experience for their customers.

    If you'd like to listen to this Innovation Conversation as an audio podcast, click below.

    Published on: March 23, 2022

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Financial Times has a piece about how companies should not just hold "exit interviews" for people who are leaving for greener pastures (or, as seems to be happening more and more recently, just leaving).

    Rather, FT says, companies should consider holding "stay interviews" with people who appear to not be leaving, as a way of retaining them and have a better sense of the temperature of the workplace.

    FT writes, "Such conversations will increasingly form part of employers’ tool kits to retain staff during the Great Resignation. Companies are deploying anything they can to keep people from leaving, says Brian Kropp, chief of human resources research at Gartner, the consultancy. 'They can’t keep people from quitting and can’t hire people fast enough'."

    Among the questions that can be asked in a "stay interview" by employers:  "What do you look forward to when you come to work each day? … What do you like most or least about working here? … What keeps you working here? … If you could change something about your job, what would that be? … What would make your job more satisfying? … What can I do more of or less of as your manager? … What might tempt you to leave?"

    A "stay interview" isn't just an opportunity to ask questions and, even more important, listen to the answers, the story says.  It also can provide employers with a chance to "sell" the company a bit, making the case for why employees should stay.

    The argument often has been advanced here on MNB for why it is important for employers to invest in their workforces - not just in terms of compensation, but also in terms of providing opportunities for people to innovate and implement beyond their job descriptions;  this also creates a workforce that feels invested in the company, which may be one of the best ways to a) keep them, and b) keep the company moving forward.

    This also can't just be part of the performance review process, which is something specific, but rather should be an organic part of the continuing process of leadership and management.

    All of which can add up to an Eye-Opener.

    Published on: March 23, 2022

    From Block Club Chicago:

    "Far North Side families are getting a new grocery store — one that offers only curbside pickup.

    "Fresh Street, which bills itself as the city’s first pickup-only grocery business, will open March 18 at 6191 N. Lincoln Ave. in North Park.

    "The local startup is the latest to enter a growing field of technology-focused grocery businesses. Fresh Street focuses exclusively on pickup grocery orders instead of in-store shopping or delivery.

    "Fresh Street is rolling out a website and smartphone app where users can order from more than 4,000 grocery store products. Its employees prepare the order for pickup in about 30 minutes, founder and CEO Mike Sayles said.

    "Customers get a notice when their order is ready. The store has dedicated curbside pickup parking spaces where customers wait while their order is brought out.  The idea is to replace the traditional grocery store stop for busy families while seeking to perfect the online grocery shopping experience, Sayles said."

    KC's View:

    It has to be hard to launch a business like this, but I give Fresh Street credit for being targeted in its pickup-only approach, and its willingness to own the business as opposed to outsourcing.  I'd like to think this will give Fresh Street a differential advantage.  And, if failing that, at least a difference.

    Published on: March 23, 2022

    The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that in Seattle, employees at a Capitol Hill Starbucks store have voted 9-0 to join Workers United, an SEIU affiliate, "and collectively bargain their first union contract with Starbucks."

    The story notes that "the vote comes less than a week after CEO Kevin Johnson announced his intent to retire in early April, with former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz taking over on an interim basis."  Company chair Mellody Hobson has said that Schultz will be "singularly capable of engaging" with Starbucks' baristas, and that the company remains convinced that it "can continue to deliver far more in direct partnership with our people."

    The vote comes as "across the U.S., baristas at more than 150 Starbucks locations have filed for union elections. Seven of them, including the Seattle store, have been successful so far.  Their demands include raising the minimum wage to $20, instituting 20% raises for workers, establishing debit card tipping options, boosting pay for baristas on short-staffed shifts, mandating annual cost-of-living raises and improving health care benefits, among others."

    The Seattle Times writes that "workers at the Capitol Hill location said they were organizing because they wanted improvements to healthcare coverage and more input in company policies, and because they saw unionizing as a 'fundamental and necessary way to participate in Starbucks and its future as partners'."

    KC's View:

    Starbucks has around 9,000 company-operated stores in the US, so 150 locations is just a tiny percentage of the total.  But to this point, the workers at those 150 stores seem to be fighting above their weight, and so it'll be interesting to see the degree to which this movement gets traction and momentum.

    Putting aside for the moment whether unionization is a good idea - and I'm not at all sure that it is - leadership at Starbucks has to think about the circumstances that have led to this moment.  They can't just blame it on outside factors;  there are inside factors, some of which I detailed yesterday in my FaceTime video, that seem to have separated Starbucks' present from its past.  The question is whether Schultz is able to re-engineer the culture in a way that stops the momentum and creates a more nurturing, inclusive environment for employees.  A typical corporatist interpretation of the moment is that it is the employees' fault if they don't feel like partners, but it seems to me that Starbucks' leadership has to be more self-reflective about their own culpability.

    Thinking about this story, I was reminded of a FaceTime video I did back in 2016, when Mrs. Content Guy and I were hiking among the redwoods in Northern California.  As we walked amongst the giant trees, Mrs. Content Guy wondered aloud what it would take to make one fall. An earthquake of enormous magnitude? A tsunami? I agreed with her, and said that I could only imagine how deep the trees' root systems must go.

    I was wrong. I learned later that the redwoods' root systems don't go very deep at all, especially when you think about how tall these trees are. Rather, they tend to spread out wide, and they tend to be intertwined with the shallow root systems of other redwoods. It isn't by being alone and deep that redwoods stand tall and strong, but rather by depending on others for strength. By being, in essence, part of a community.

    It also ends up that the pine cone from which redwoods grow is one of the smallest in nature. And it is often true of little ideas and unknown people that great change can often come from them.

    Published on: March 23, 2022

    The Boston Globe has a piece in which it celebrates the money-saving qualities of local chain Market Basket, saying that it is a place where "you can still get more for your dollar (usually)."

    It is great publicity, the definition of earned media, and you can read it here.

    KC's View:

    I got interviewed the other day by the Patriot Ledger, which competes with the Globe, and one of the observations I made was that when inflation is raging, Market Basket's core value proposition is a powerful one.

    Published on: March 23, 2022

    MaineBiz reports that LL Bean has posted a 14 percent increase in annual revenues, generating a record $1.8 billion in sales, prompted by "pandemic-inspired consumer interest in outdoor activities, combined with L.L.Bean's wholesale partnerships, new product offerings and international expansion."

    At the same time, LL Bean announced a 20 percent bonus for its employees, which "topped the growth in 2020, when revenue rose 5% and L.L.Bean awarded a 10% bonus, an amount the company hadn't given in a decade … . The extra compensation includes a 12% cash bonus and an 8% 401(k) contribution."

    KC's View:

    LL Bean, led by Steve Smith - who comes out of the Hannaford/Ron Hodge school of leadership and also spent time at Walmart (and has been interviewed here on MNB) - has been the very model of smart growth during the past few years.  It was positioned exactly right when the pandemic hit, but also had, over time, evolved from being a catalog company to one that seemed to strike a smart balance between online sales and a measured growth in physical retailing.  Add to that partner relationships with companies like Nordstrom, Zappos, and Todd Snyder, and an inclusive relationship with employees that it knows are "essential," and you have a winning formula worth emulating.

    In case you're interested, here's my conversation with Steve Smith, conducted last year as part of MNB's 20th anniversary observance.

    Published on: March 23, 2022

    McCain Foods yesterday posted the following message on LinkedIn:

    The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been deeply concerning to all of us at McCain Foods. Our thoughts continue to be with those affected by this crisis and we have done everything in our power to put the health and safety of our employees at the centre of our response.

    On February 24, we stopped construction at our Russian production facility in the Tula Oblast region. We have now made the decision to discontinue the project entirely. In addition, we are also suspending all shipments of our products into the Russian market.

    To help contribute to the global relief efforts underway, we recently donated $200,000 to the Red Cross Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Appeal.

    We are always guided in these decisions by the ethics and perspective of being a family-owned business from New Brunswick, Canada. As the global market leader in prepared French fries and specialty potato products, McCain Foods takes our leadership role seriously across the 160 countries that we operate in.

    KC's View:

    We've been writing about the companies that have not been making these kinds of moves, and so I thought it was important to highlight a company that seems to be doing it right.

    The Wall Street Journal this morning has a piece about how "the world’s biggest makers of household staples have vowed to stop selling all but the bare essentials in Russia."  Except that "staples," in some cases, includes "Lay’s potato chips, Gillette razors and Air Wick home fragrances … along with several brands of ice cream, a line of children’s cosmetics and natural facial cleansers."

    Which suggests to me that in some cases, companies are more concerned with their bottom lines than with drawing the line on a war criminal who is trying to bludgeon a nascent democracy into subservience or, failing that, oblivion, and who is threatening the world with nuclear arms.

    When the history of this is written, I think it will treat the leaders of these companies harshly.  Perhaps more problematic is the fact that Ukraine is playing out on screens - large and small - all over the world.  There will be no place for these companies to hide, and memories may be long.

    Published on: March 23, 2022

    The rich may be different from you and me, in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but they also are worried about the state of the economy.

    Axios writes that "even though they're still flush with cash from the booming market, wealthier people are increasingly worried about the economy, especially inflation … In March, consumer confidence dropped 7% for those earning more than $100,000 — a much larger dip than for those earning less than $50,000, according to a measure of consumer sentiment out today as part of the Morning Consult/Axios Inequality Index."

    This matters, the story suggests, because while "high earners still feel better about the economy on average," they "have more to lose from declining financial markets. The mix of volatile asset prices, Fed rate hikes and a surge in inflation is walloping their confidence."

    Axios continues:  "Wealthy people are more likely to be plugged into financial news and checking their 401k balances, said Jesse Wheeler, economic analyst at Morning Consult.

    "They also tend to be older, and may remember living through inflation decades ago: 'Young people don't know, and they'll soon find out'."

    That said, Axios points out that "lower-income Americans have much more to fear from rising prices. They tend to have less cushion to handle higher prices for food, gas and other necessities."

    Published on: March 23, 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…

    •  In the United States, there now have been 81,476,269 total cases of Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 999,792 deaths and 63,450,626 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 474,877,848 total cases, with 6,123,853 resultant fatalities and 410,629,876 reported recoveries.    (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 76.8 percent of the total US population has received at least one dose of vaccine … 65.4 percent are fully vaccinated … and 44.6 percent have received a vaccine booster shot.

    •  From CNBC this morning:

    "Moderna’s two-dose Covid vaccine was about 44% effective at preventing infection from omicron in children 6 months to under 2 years old and about 38% effective for children 2- to 5-years-old, according to data released by the company Wednesday.

    "None of the children developed severe illness from Covid and the majority of breakthrough cases were mild, according to the biotech company. Moderna will ask the Food and Drug Administration to grant emergency use authorization for the vaccine for children under 6 years old as soon as possible, CEO Stephane Bancel said in a statement.

    "Moderna’s vaccine is currently FDA approved for adults ages 18 and older. Moderna has also asked the FDA to authorize its vaccine for children 6- to 11-years-old, the company announced Wednesday."

    Published on: March 23, 2022

    •  From the New York Times this morning, a story about how, while "many retailers ramped up their e-commerce efforts while Americans were stuck at home during lockdowns … for others, the pandemic presented new real estate opportunities.

    "Some larger online brands — like Warby Parker and AllBirds — have expanded with physical locations for several years, and smaller companies are now experimenting as well, opening free-standing shops, leasing from a retail service or securing short-term spaces in other stores.

    "Business owners are motivated by multiple factors. Some have always included brick-and-mortar outposts as part of their strategy, adopting what’s known as an omnichannel approach, which provides a seamless shopping experience across desktop, mobile and physical platforms.  For others, renting a store has become more attractive because the cost of acquiring customers through social media advertising 'has become prohibitive,' said Michael Brown, a partner in the consumer products and retail practice at Kearney, a consulting firm. The tipping point varies, he added, but it 'typically occurs where growth has slowed and the cost of acquiring new customers has increased'."

    •  Also from the New York Times:

    "Since Instagram arrived in 2010, sharing food photos, writing a thoughtful caption and adding relevant hashtags have been the foundation of many small food businesses’ social media strategy, and a low-cost form of advertising. Then, at the end of 2021, Instagram’s parent company, Meta, changed the platform’s algorithm to prioritize videos, called Reels. Accounts that don’t regularly post the short-form videos appear below those that have embraced the format in users’ Instagram feeds, resulting in a notable drop in engagement on posts — and, in turn, sales — for many small businesses."

    This change, the Times writes, "has left small food companies and their social media managers flailing. Instagram feed captions have functioned as a direct line to consumers and a way to humanize brand accounts."

    In essence, the shift by Meta and Instagram has reinforced a lesson for small businesses - that the perception of social media as being a small-d democratic place was largely illusory, and that success or failure is "in the hands of a few corporations."

    Published on: March 23, 2022

    •  The National Grocers Association (NGA) announced that David Smith, president and CEO of Kansas City, Kan.-based Associated Wholesale Grocers, has been honored with the Clarence G. Adamy Great American Award, NGA’s highest award for government relations.

    Smith received the award March 21 during AWG’s Excellence Awards in conjunction with its Innovation Showcase and Annual Meeting at the Overland Park Convention Center in Overland Park, Kan.

    Published on: March 23, 2022

    Yesterday we took note of an Axios story about how, as expected, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted 3-1 "to propose regulations that, for the first time, require companies to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions as well as their exposure to climate change risks."

    I commented:

    If one accepts, as I do, that climate change is a fact and that some percentage of it can be impacted by addressing issues such as greenhouse gases, then it makes sense to require public companies to a) disclose their approach to these issues and level of implementation, and b) create a level and transparent playing field on which companies can be compared and contrasted.

    Companies always will find some degree of wiggle room, and I'm sure there will be accusations of government overreach and regulatory abuse.  But this doesn't strike me as the case - or at least, the intention - here.

    One objection to the proposal is that climate change is outside the SEC's traditional lane of expertise and regulation.  But it seems to me that one of the ways in which governments - and, for that matter, other institutions and companies - get in to trouble is when they silo their approaches.  Staying within lanes can lead to lack of nuance when it comes to policy;  I would hope that the SEC would get the appropriate guidance from climate change experts in crafting the specific regulations, but I have no problem, in theory, with this approach.

    Prompting MNB reader Tom Hahn to write:

    Of course you have no problem with this approach Kevin, it’s consistent with your leftist POV. You hope the SEC gets guidance from “climate change experts”? The same ones that are running the Biden administration? The same ones that have been wrong on most policy decisions over the last couple years? Not a very comforting thought.

    In your green fantasy world, do the Chinese, the Indians, and the Russians also mandate these measures for companies operating in those countries? If not, what sense does it make to add bureaucracy and cost to US companies to do nothing but further fuel inflation and joblessness among American workers? As with most policies pushed by the left, this is a solution looking for a problem.

    But tell me how you really feel.

    From another MNB reader, on another subject:

    Enjoyed Michael’s column on Coach K. His distinguished record speaks for itself. As a lifelong Bruin, I hope others will take the time to review John Wooden’s accomplishments AFTER he retired from coaching in 1975. His books, speeches and mentoring were likely more meaningful than his championships. May we all enjoy March Madness, sport’s greatest spectacle!

    Reacting to my "Whither Howard Schultz" commentary yesterday, one MNB reader wrote:

    I particularly enjoy your onsite comments; grocery stores etc., and this morning outside a Starbucks where traffic flows by… and a person coming to sit on the bench behind you who is holding a distinctly not Starbucks coffee cup.

    On the subject of not doing business with companies remaining in Russia, one MNB reader wrote:

    Well it’s very easy and uncomplicated - make a concerted effort to not buy those brands.  Jeez, it's not that hard!!

    And, from MNB reader Justin Anthony:

    Just a thought on this topic.  How would people feel if these companies decided to take all profits from the Russian market and turn it into Humanitarian support for displaced Ukrainians?

    Works for me.

    I also like the idea of commandeering ships taken from Russian oligarchs and turning them into aid vessels serving Ukrainians.