business 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: July 19, 2022

    Some thoughts this morning about the degree to which climate change is affecting the production of parmesan cheese from Italy … which simply illustrates the degree to which the uncertainty of the world around us - culturally, politically, environmentally - affects how we do business and enjoy basic pleasures.

    Published on: July 19, 2022

    Fast Company has a story about how business leaders need to consider how they are going to inspire their employees, arguing that inspiration is going to be a key factor in motivating workers to do their best work and remain loyal to their employers.

    An excerpt:

    "Employees, tired of being treated as interchangeable and lucky to have a job, have demonstrated their market power by finding new, better-paying positions and demanding more money and flexible hours. As companies face high turnover rates and pushback about returning to the office, much of the friction comes down to employee sentiment. How connected do your people feel about their role, the business, purpose, and the future? Do they understand the why? If not, it’s time to embrace the future of business and communication through inspiration."

    Fast Company goes on:

    "Can you crisply provide your company’s reason for being in 30 seconds or less? Most leaders and communications professionals sadly can’t, and this miss lies at the heart of uninspired people. Being able to articulate your purpose and business strategy simply is critical to aligning your people around that goal and helping them understand their role in achieving it."

    You can read the entire story here.

    KC's View:

    Interesting piece, especially in the context of something I talked about here recently - the importance of employees understanding a company's history, which can give a sense of core values and purpose, which can/should be inspiring.

    Of course, sometimes shining a light on history tells us more about mistakes and missteps, of misplaced priorities and questionable values.  But that's okay … at least as long as recent history shows evolution and maturation.

    Published on: July 19, 2022

    Axios reports on how "the number of gas stations has been in steady decline for decades," and the likelihood that a combination of factors - volatile prices, the growing popularity of electric vehicles -  "will squeeze them even further."

    The story notes that "the fill-up industry is surprisingly unconsolidated. 80% of the gas bought in America is purchased from a franchised convenience store that's individually owned — even if it bears the brand name of a multinational."  That said, big box stores and supermarkets increasingly are using gas as a loss leader and promotional tool, which puts more pressure on the independents.

    These independent gasoline retailers and convenience stores often find themselves buying weeks worth of fuel at one time.  At moments like these, when gas prices are going down, they end up selling fuel at close to cost or even lower, which does enormous damage to their bottom lines (though growing sales in the food and beverage category can protect at least some of their margins).

    KC's View:

    This trend is occurring at the same time a a half-dozen smaller California cities have decided to ban the building of new gas stations, with the premise being that such building represents an investment in technology facing obsolescence.  (Such a ban also is being suggested in Los Angeles, but isn't likely to be approved anytime soon.)

    Internal combustion engines aren't going away anytime soon, but we're certainly pointed in that direction.  Smart public policy looks to the future, and I would think that it will make sense for many of these independent gas stations to start thinking about what their futures are going to look like too.  The one thing they do not want to do is stay in the buggy whip business for too long.

    Published on: July 19, 2022

    WWD reports that "Macy's will bring Toys R Us to all its U.S. stores, starting this month … Beginning in late July and rolling out through Oct. 15, the in-store shops will range from 1,000 square feet up to 10,000 square feet in flagship locations in Atlanta, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and San Francisco.

    "The footprint within stores may expand by an additional 500 to 3,000 square feet during the holiday season to offer an even wider assortment of products.

    "Inside the stores, the Toys R Us brand will be identified via colored fixtures as well as demonstration tables for customers to interact with various toy assortments. The Toys R Us shops will also feature a life-size 'Geoffrey on a Bench' photo opportunity for families."

    The story says that the move represents an expansion of Macy's partnership with WHP Global, described as "a New York-based brand acquisition and management firm," which bought a controlling interest in the Toys R Us brand portfolio in March 2021.

    KC's View:

    Gosh, it seems like the "Toys R Us Is Back" story has been written more than a few times over the past few years, but it never seems to get traction.

    Maybe this time it will take, though I'm not sure that Macy's is the kind of future-focused engine that will drive it in the right direction.  That said, Macy's has been using the brand in its online store … so maybe there is a there there.

    Published on: July 19, 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…

    •  The US now has had 91,429,409 total cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 1,049,274 deaths and 86,752,569 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 568,767,915 total cases, with 6,389,721 resultant fatalities and 540,034,209 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 78.5 percent of the total US population now has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 67.1 percent. being fully vaccinated.  The CDC also says that 48.1 percent of the total US population has received a first vaccine booster dose, with 28.5 percent of the 50+  population and 35.2 percent of the 65+ population having received a second vaccine booster shot.

    •  From the New York Times this morning:

    "Covid-19 is surging around the United States again in what experts consider the most transmissible variant of the pandemic yet … The latest surge, driven by a spike of BA.5 subvariant cases in this country since May, has sent infections rising in at least 40 states, particularly in the Great Plains, West and South. Hospitalizations have climbed by 20 percent in the past two weeks, leaving more than 40,000 people in American hospitals with the coronavirus on an average day.

    "More than two years after the pandemic began, though, public health officials are sounding only quiet warnings amid a picture that they hope has been changed by vaccines, treatments and rising immunity. Deaths are rising, but only modestly so far in this new wave. And state and local public health officials say they also must now factor in a reality that is obvious along the streets from Seattle to New York City: Most Americans are meeting a new Covid wave with a collective shrug, shunning masks, joining crowds indoors and moving on from the endless barrage of virus warnings of months past."

    Hopefully we're all older and wiser compared to the early days of the pandemic … though I remain a little surprised by how few people have gotten the booster shots compared to the original vaccines.  I mean, once you've made the commitment, why not go the whole way?  As for me, I continue to wear masks when I go into stores, movie theaters, airports and airplanes … and I try to be judicious about my behavior when at public events because of subvariant concerns.  

    •  The Washington Post reports that "Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s preeminent infectious-diseases expert, who has served as the face of the coronavirus pandemic response for more than two years, plans after more than 50 years in government to retire by the end of President Biden’s term."

    There is no official date for Fauci's retirement, but he said that he would “almost certainly” retire by 2025.

    “I do want to do other things in my career, even though I’m at a rather advanced age,” Fauci said.

    I know that not everybody agrees with this, and I don't really want to have an extended debate on the subject.  But while Fauci hasn't gotten everything right, and has had to adjust his recommendations as the science has evolved (which is sort of what scientists do), I feel strongly that he is the very model of the dedicated public servant, a model for the kind of people who occupy important positions in government and help shape nuanced and effective public - in this case, public health - policy.  We are in his debt.

    Published on: July 19, 2022

    •  TechCrunch reports that "Amazon’s annual sales event Prime Day delivered more than $12 billion in sales, according to third-party estimates … Analysts estimated that Amazon sold gross merchandise of anywhere between $12.09 billion to $12.59 billion from Prime Day sales globally. It’s important to note that some countries like India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have yet to host Prime Day sales."

    The story goes on:

    "A study from Adobe Digital Economy Index said that total U.S. online spend across online retailers touched $11.9 billion — an 8% increase from last year, which saw an $11 billion spend. It noted that the second day of Prime Day sales generated more than $5.9 billion, registering a 9.2% growth from the second day last year, which generated $5.4 billion."

    •  From CNBC:

    "Federal prosecutors in New York and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are inspecting a handful of Amazon warehouses as part of a civil investigation into working conditions at the e-commerce giant’s sprawling facilities.

    "OSHA, a division of the Labor Department that polices workplace safety, on Monday inspected Amazon warehouses outside New York City, Chicago and Orlando for possible hazards in response to referrals received from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, said SDNY chief spokesperson Nicholas Biase."

    “The Civil Division of the SDNY is investigating potential worker safety hazards at Amazon warehouses across the country, as well as possible fraudulent conduct designed to hide injuries from OSHA and others,” Biase said in a statement.

    •  Variety reports that "Amazon is launching a significant overhaul to the streaming service’s interface, with a modern look and feel, dynamic visuals, a new live TV hub, improved search and more.

    "The upgrade, which will begin rolling out this week, is the streaming service’s most significant change in nearly a decade. The new design promises to make it easier to find and watch content on Prime Video. It also aims to address what Prime Video members have been frustrated with for years: being able to quickly and easily tell which programming is included as part of a subscription service — and which are available for purchase.

    "The upgraded Prime Video user interface incorporates new visual cues to clearly indicate which videos are included for you (signified by a blue check-mark icon) and which are available to rent, buy or subscribe to (signified with a gold-colored, shopping-bag icon). And near the top of the Home screen within the My Subscriptions row, you can now access all videos included with your Prime membership — with only a single click."

    Published on: July 19, 2022

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Kroger announced that it has opened its latest Kitchen United MIX virtual food court inside one of its Dallas stores, giving customers "the option to mix and match items from various restaurants on one order for pickup or delivery, ultimately allowing individuals and groups to enjoy variety without having to compromise."

    According to the announcement, "Kitchen United MIX houses local and national restaurants, including Dog Haus, Curry Up Now, Monkey King Noodle Company, Celebrity Chef David Chang's Fuku, Capriotti's Sandwich Shop, Carl's Jr., Bad-Ass Breakfast Burritos and The Impossible Shop.

    "This opening marks the first Kitchen United MIX in Dallas and third partnership within Kroger. Kitchen United MIX has a total of four locations in Texas, which includes a new location in Frisco that opened last month.

    •  Having announced that he is closing 16 stores around the country because of safety concerns, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz says he plans to close more stores "that are 'not unprofitable' due to an uptick in safety-related problems including crime, homelessness and drug use in bathrooms."

    “This is just the beginning, and there are going to be many more,” Schultz said. “It has shocked me that one of the primary concerns that our retail partners have is their own personal safety.”

    "Not unprofitable" is such an interesting - and vague - phrase to use.  Forgive my cynicism, but I think it is worth asking whether Schultz could be using safety issues - and nobody here is denying that they exist in some places - as an excuse to close stores that are the focus of unionization efforts.  Or maybe Schultz would just like to cull the herd without having to admit that the company has oversaturated certain places, without having to admit it.  Not sure why I find Schultz to have so little credibility at the moment, but that's just what my gut is telling me.