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    Published on: July 12, 2022

    by Michael Sansolo

    For years now I have argued that we can find useful lessons in nearly all parts of modern life with one major exception.  Politics.  In part that is because we have a system in which competition largely is limited to two parties, which limits innovation and, frequently, achievement or accomplishment.  And, in part it is because any discussion of politics is likely to create animosity on one side or the other, with a sizeable percentage of people unwilling to concede that lessons can be learned on the other side of the aisle.

    But now I'm going to take a chance, because of a lesson from politics that teaches us something about superior customer service.

    Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, currently is the Senate Majority Leader.  (I can already heart the groans from the other side of the aisle.  Stick with me.). Schumer recently completed an annual endeavor by visiting all 62 counties in the Empire State. As Spectrum News reported, this marks the 23rd consecutive year Schumer completed the feat.

    For those of you unfamiliar with New York State (my place of birth) you might be surprised at how hard it is to complete this tour because the state is far more than just the city that seems to dominate all media coverage. For example, while Kings County (home to Brooklyn) has more than 2.6 million residents, New York also includes upstate Hamilton County with fewer than 4,500 residents.

    And while New York is far smaller than Texas or Montana, it isn’t small - New York City is the most southern part of the state meaning Times Square is nearly 400 miles away from Niagara Falls (the western edge) and 330 miles south of Champlain, which sits near Montreal, Canada, at the state’s northernmost point.

    All of which is to say that Schumer’s travels to each county isn’t simple, and it brings him to parts of the state far from his political base in the metro New York area. No doubt it also means Schumer spends a number of those trips in front of constituents who are likely to vote for whichever Republican challenges him for re-election.

    Yet Schumer keeps traveling.

    There’s something admirable in that. Certainly it could be argued that Schumer’s job is to represent his entire state and he should make an effort to make those trips. But that doesn’t diminish what he does at all. Businesspeople need to copy his efforts, making certain to visit every part of their company, no matter how far-flung, on a regular basis. And those visits should provide time, as Schumer does, to listen to the locals and what they have to say.

    Now I know of many retail executives who make a point of getting to each of their company stores every single year. Certainly that becomes impossible for those companies with many hundreds if not thousands of stores, but that only requires some creative solutions. For example, back in my time at FMI, I argued that each member of the association staff should have a list of companies with whom they had to contact on a regular basis simply to check in, listen to concerns and make a connection.

    Schumer’s travels might even be inspiration for companies of all sizes to find ways to reach out to a large number of customers each year to check in, listen to concerns and make connections. Sure it would be time consuming and could result in a lot of worthless conversations. But it’s impossible to imagine the value of just a few critical connections that could lead to innovation and problem solving. There’s nothing too costly about that.

    Maybe start with a simple goal and make contact with each store’s best customers annually. It could be a simple as a personalized note or a call and unlike Schumer you won’t need to travel to some of the coldest spots in the US like those near Big Moose Lake, NY. 

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at

    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: July 12, 2022

    by Kevin Coupe

    The New York Times over the weekend had a piece about Croydon, New Hampshire, the kind of New England town that Norman Rockwell might've painted, where there is a "cozy general store, one-room schoolhouse and local museum open by appointment. The only thing missing is supposed to be missing: a stoplight."

    The story focuses on a recent political contretemps that occurred in Croydon, precipitated by by a minority of people who argued that the town's school budget should be cut more than in half, asserting that "sports, music instruction and other typical school activities were not necessary to participate intelligently in a free government, and that using taxes to pay for them 'crosses the boundary between public benefit and private charity'."

    The Times writes that Croydon has "a direct-democracy tradition common in New England, when residents gather to approve, deny or amend proposed municipal budgets."  It also traditionally has low turnouts at the annual town meetings — and the budget cuts passed.

    Here's the lesson:

    "Many Croydon residents were livid.  But they were also chastened. They hadn’t attended the town meeting. They hadn’t fulfilled their democratic obligation. They hadn’t kept informed about the Free State movement. To some observers, they had gotten what they deserved … The moment revealed a democracy mired in indifference."

    From that moment came a movement.

    Spoiler alert:  It was a temporary victory, because the move enraged and energized many in the town, and the original budget was reinstated.  Because people showed up.

    You can read the entire Times piece here.

    I read this piece in the Times over the weekend, but hadn't planned to run it on MNB until I got an email yesterday from MNB reader Tom Gordon directing my attention to it:

    I think it speaks to the need for people to tune in, and pay attention to things.

    Just by a community getting complacent, it allowed two people who have no interest in acting in the town’s best interest, to almost ruin a way of life for many people.

    Would be interested in seeing your take in the MorningNewsBeat, if you see a lesson in there…

    Now that you mention it … I think there is an Eye-Opener in there.

    The broader lesson about complacency being the enemy of excellence and innovation plays to every business, including and especially retailing.  In every business, you have to show up.  You have to be engaged.  You have to be ready to do the hard work that can lead to accomplishment and excellence.

    A famous film director who I'd rather not quote by name once said, "“Ninety percent of success in life is just showing up.”  And I think that's true, though, at the risk of channeling Yogi Berra, the other 90 percent is working hard and being resilient.

    One other thing.

    I firmly believe that "sports, music instruction and other typical school activities" are not just necessary to an education, but critical to molding well-rounded, intelligent and thinking human beings.  Sports allows people to challenge themselves physically, emotionally and mentally, revealing character as opposed to building it.   And, as John Fe. Kennedy once wrote, "The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation's purpose...and is a test of the quality of a nation's civilization."

    One of the arguments made by the budget cutters was that people without children should not be required to fund "sports, music instruction and other typical school activities."  But of course they should.  That's what it means to be part of a community.  We educate all children because it is good for the community, for the culture.  We teach them to think, to reason, to embrace their civic lives and responsibilities because it serves us all, in the end.

    We ignore this at our peril.  And people who look to subtract these elements from a liberal education run the risk of revealing their lack of character, and lack of appreciation for what should be the quality of a nation's civilization.

    Is that enough of a take for you?

    Published on: July 12, 2022

    Amazon has announced that it is introducing a new version of its Dash Cart that is lighter than the original version, can carry twice as many groceries, and are weather resistant so they now can be taken all the way to customers' cars.

    According to the announcement, the carts "now include a delicates shelf as well as a lower shelf for oversized items … The Dash Cart screen will now display images of fresh items nearby, like produce, for shoppers to choose from, or shoppers can type in the item name (“tomato,” for example) instead of a four-digit PLU code."

    The carts' technology has evolved "to more precisely determine where the cart is in the store to better show nearby products and deals. The carts feature an extended all-day battery life that requires less charging, making them even more readily available for customers."

    And, for the first time, the Dash Carts will make their debut in a Whole Foods store, in Westford, Massachusetts, later this year, "followed by a few additional Whole Foods Market stores and many Amazon Fresh stores in the U.S."

    CNBC notes that "the carts enable users to skip the checkout line by tracking and tallying up items as they’re placed the cart. Amazon launched the Dash Cart in September of 2020 at its Fresh grocery stores.

    "The carts build on Amazon’s 'Just Walk Out' cashierless technology first deployed in Amazon Go convenience stores. They use a combination of computer vision and sensors to identify items as they’re placed in bags inside the cart. As shoppers add and remove items, a display on the cart adjusts the total price. Shoppers exit the store through a special lane, and Amazon automatically charges their credit card."

    KC's View:

    When I saw those carts at an Amazon Fresh store in Los Angeles, in many ways they were the most impressive part of the experience.  I've said here before that the store was at best underwhelming - it seemed like a dark store that happened to be allowing customers (and not many of them) in - the carts were terrific.  Intuitive.  Convenient.  Very smart.  And potential game changers - they represent the kind of technology that will bring some percentage of shoppers into the store.

    I'll be interested to see how they work in Whole Foods … which, compared to an Amazon Fresh store, is like going to the show.

    Published on: July 12, 2022

    The Los Angeles Times reports that there is "a new front in California’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions" - five cities in the San Francisco Bay Area have voted to halt the opening of a any new gas stations.

    It ends up that Petaluma, a city of about 60,000 people, was the first city in the world to do so.

    And now, there is a move - nascent at the moment, but expected to gain at least some traction - to pass a similar ban in Los Angeles:  "While Petaluma officials at the time called its new gas pump ban 'completely uncontroversial,' it’s unclear how such a policy would go over in Los Angeles, a city with about 65 times as many people and a transportation infrastructure that still heavily relies on vehicles. Lobbyists for gas stations said they will oppose the motion in L.A. if it moves forward."

    Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, says that "such a ban would better prepare the city for a future that doesn’t rely on fossil fuel-powered vehicles, which California has pledged to stop selling by 2035."

    And Andy Shrader, director of environmental affairs in Koretz's office, says that "“L.A.’s enormous and damaging ecological footprint really helped set us on this path … If you have lung cancer, you stop smoking; if your planet’s on fire, you stop pouring gasoline on it."

    KC's View:

    You'd think.  Except the world is filled with lung cancer patients who can't or won't stop smoking, just as it is filled with people who don't acknowledge the existential threat that continued reliance on fossil fuels - by their very nature, a limited resource - may create for the human species.

    Published on: July 12, 2022

    •  Schnuck Markets yesterday announced that it is expanding its partnership with DoorDash "to include prepared foods delivery from 25 stores across the Midwest."  DoorDash will deliver to addresses within 3.7 miles of the 25 Schnucks locations included in the program.  (Schnuck operates a total of 112 stores.)

    “Schnucks’ expanded partnership with DoorDash allows us to reach more customers and gives them greater access to our delicious deli and prepared food options and Schnucks signature items,” said Schnucks Senior Director of Digital Experience Chace MacMullan. “Through DoorDash and our many other ecommerce options such as Schnucks Delivers, Deli Order Ahead, Party Planning Order Ahead and Custom Cake Order Ahead, Schnucks continues to meet our customers where and when it’s most convenient for them.”

    •  Time has an interview with Macy's CEO Jeff Gennette in which he talks about how "the omnichannel customer is going to continue to be vibrant in America, leading to healthy brick-and-mortar brands because those customers buy more frequently and are more profitable.

    "Five years from now, that seamless exchange between brick and mortar, a very developed app, and e-commerce sites is going to be super fast and tailored to an individual. A one-to-one relationship is where omnichannel is going by anticipating customers’ needs at that moment."

    Part of that one-to-one relationship is creating a more personalized, customized shopping experience:  "The bigger point is how to have a shopping experience that meets customers’ needs in that moment," Gennette says.  "A lot know what they want when they walk into a store. They don’t want to wait. That transaction needs to be speedy. Other customers want a fitting room and a knowledgeable Macy’s colleague. They’re booking appointments for a more fulsome shopping experience. We’re working through the technology. We’re training all our colleagues to be ready.

    "We help bring out your unique style for yourself, your family, and your home with a gigantic menu of brands and content from off-price to luxury. We do that fairly well digitally. Doing that in a physical setting has been more difficult, but one we’ve set out to accomplish."

    Published on: July 12, 2022

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The Seattle Times reports that "Starbucks will close five Seattle stores and one in Everett with high rates of crime as part of a broad initiative to boost security at the cafes, the company announced Monday.

    "The closed stores include five in Seattle — stores in the Central Area, Capitol Hill, Ravenna, Union Station and Westlake Center are slated to close — and one in Everett. In total, 17 U.S. stores will close July 31. The stores were chosen based on their level of crime and whether attempts to lower crime rates were successful, a company spokesperson said.

    "Going forward, store managers will also be allowed to choose whether bathrooms are open to the public, and future stores will be redesigned to be safer, the company said Monday.  Those who work at the stores that are permanently closing can choose to be reassigned to neighboring stores, the company said.

    "The stores at Union Station and Pike are unionized, and partners who relocate to other stores will continue to receive union representation if their new store is also unionized."

    •  From Reuters:

    "A federal judge said Subway can be sued for allegedly deceiving customers about its tuna products, including a claim it uses other fish species, chicken, pork and cattle instead of the advertised '100% tuna.'

    "U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco called it premature to accept Subway's argument that any presence of non-tuna DNA might result from eggs in mayonnaise, or cross-contact with other ingredients that its restaurants' employees handle … The judge also said the plaintiff Nilima Amin, an Alameda County resident who claimed to order Subway tuna products more than 100 times from 2013 to 2019, could try to prove that the salads, sandwiches and wraps 'wholly lack' tuna.

    "He rejected Amin's argument that 'reasonable consumers' would expect only tuna and nothing else, calling it a 'fact of life' that tuna products could contain mayonnaise and bread. Tigar also dismissed another plaintiff from the case.

    "In a statement, Subway said it 'serves 100% tuna' and was disappointed the 'reckless and improper' lawsuit could continue."

    They may think the lawsuit is reckless and improper, but I'm really, really looking forward to seeing what kind of evidence the plaintiffs are able to reel in.

    Published on: July 12, 2022

    Monty Norman, who in 1961 composed one of the most recognizable pieces of music in modern history - the James Bond theme - has passed away.  He was 94.

    Various obits noted that over time, composer John Barry - who scored soundtracks for a number of Bond films, starting with From Russia With Love and ending with The Living Daylights - was given credit for the ubiquitous theme music.  Norman sued, arguing that Barry had arranged the theme but not composed it, and won a unanimous verdict.

    Here is the first time the music was heard … in the title sequence for Dr. No, released in 1962:

    Published on: July 12, 2022

    A healthy dose of humility was delivered yesterday by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which in concert with the ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency) delivered the first full-color images from the James Webb Space Telescope.

    Here it is:

    NASA said on its site that this first image "is the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe to date. Known as Webb’s First Deep Field, this image of galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 is overflowing with detail. Thousands of galaxies – including the faintest objects ever observed in the infrared – have appeared in Webb’s view for the first time. This slice of the vast universe covers a patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground."

    More from the NASA statement:  "This deep field, taken by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), is a composite made from images at different wavelengths, totaling 12.5 hours – achieving depths at infrared wavelengths beyond the Hubble Space Telescope’s deepest fields, which took weeks.

    "The image shows the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago. The combined mass of this galaxy cluster acts as a gravitational lens, magnifying much more distant galaxies behind it. Webb’s NIRCam has brought those distant galaxies into sharp focus – they have tiny, faint structures that have never been seen before, including star clusters and diffuse features. Researchers will soon begin to learn more about the galaxies’ masses, ages, histories, and compositions, as Webb seeks the earliest galaxies in the universe."

    More images will be posted on the NASA site beginning at 10:30 am EDT today.

    KC's View:

    I am awed by the images and gobsmacked by the scientific acumen involved in generating this view of the universe.

    Our relative insignificance in the universe never has been so evident.