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    Published on: December 7, 2022

    I have some personal business that I need to take care of for the next couple of days, and so MNB is going to go on a brief hiatus.

    The archives, of course, are open, and I'll be back Monday with news and hand-crafted commentary.

    Have a great few days.

    Sláinte!!

    Published on: December 7, 2022

    by Michael Sansolo

    With all the current challenges in business, it’s hard to believe that anything is a larger concern than the labor market and the ever-increasing problems of finding and retaining good personnel. The problem probably seems nearly unapproachable to many operators who are desperate to find anyone at this point.

    But a key step in managing this problem starts with the recognition that your current staffers most likely leave because of their direct supervisors. The best way to combat the current shortage is to retain those folks you already have.

    With that in mind, it’s worth reading a recent article from Fast Company on the key skills new managers (and, let’s face it, all managers) need to develop to succeed. Luckily, not one of the skills is impossible to achieve, but they all require focus and the Fast Company article should be required reading.

    The first of the four skills is probably the one that needs addressing right now: have openness to learning. As Fast Company states (and I can admit to this weakness in my career) most managers really don’t know how to manage. The skills required are completely different than the skills that got you promoted in the first place. 

    Simply put, we all get promoted for being good at tasks and suddenly we’re asked to be good at managing others.  The problem is that there’s not a straight line connection from the former to the latter. Companies can enable this skill by offering courses or mentorship, but new managers can help themselves by reading one of the thousands of managerial books or by taking on line courses. 

    Next, managers need to develop a great sense of empathy.  That doesn’t mean you are responsible for all the happiness in your subordinates’ lives. But caring about your staffers can help create a positive workplace, which in turn can lead to better performance. Let’s face it, everyone is stressed right now so you are pretty much guaranteed that a little empathy will be appreciated and might go a long way.

    Managers also need learn how to give feedback, both good and bad. The skill is especially important when it comes to giving negative feedback and doing so in a way that leads to understanding and improvement. 

    Like many people, I both received and gave performance reviews and quite honestly I hated the process and probably did it badly for most of my career. Luckily, I had a co-worker at one point who was a master of performance reviews, making them factual, clear and free of emotion. Watching him I learned how to better discuss even the most difficult of situations in a way that could lead to improvement, so I fully believe this is a skill that can be taught.

    Here again, companies need take time to train new managers in how to give feedback in constructive ways. Hopefully there is someone in your company who is actually good at this and should be put in charge of this piece of mentoring.

    Fourth, managers must learn how to handle pushback, something else that is guaranteed to happen. Managers, especially new ones, are going to be challenged on their decisions and have to learn how to welcome and deal with that feedback because it should help lead to better decisions. Getting defensive leads nowhere.

    I know from personal experience that managing people takes much more than these four steps, but all four should be viewed as essential tools to help managers at all levels improve their skills and the performance of their teams. With luck, that will lead to an improved workplace, which in turn could lead to a reduction in turnover.

    And while that might not solve all your labor woes, it seems like a pretty good place to start.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@mnb.grocerywebsite.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 7, 2022

    Today, a conversation with MatthewLee Sawyer, author of "Make it In America: How International Companies & Entrepreneurs Can Successfully Enter & Scale in US Markets."  I was interested to talk to Sawyer because I've had a chance to cover a number of failed attempts over the years - from Tesco to Carrefour to Auchan - as well as some successes.  And I was wondering what American entrepreneurs looking to start and scale businesses might be able to learn from all of these scenarios.

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

    "Make it In America: How International Companies & Entrepreneurs Can Successfully Enter & Scale in US Markets," is available on Amazon, at the iconic Portland independent bookstore Powell's, on Bookshop.org, and wherever books are sold.

    Published on: December 7, 2022

    The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) yesterday sent what is called "a second request" for additional information on the proposed $24.6 billion acquisition by Kroger of Albertsons, a deal that would, if approved, combine the second and fourth ranked US supermarket chains.

    Bloomberg writes that "such a request lengthens a transaction’s antitrust review by months or years, depending on the complexity of the agreement."

    In a statement, Kroger said:  "Kroger looks forward to realizing the compelling benefits this merger will offer, including enhancing competition, lowering prices for customers, improving access to fresh food, creating opportunities to continue investing in our associates and securing the long-term future of union jobs. We will continue to work cooperatively with the Federal Trade Commission as it conducts its review of the merger, including developing a thoughtful divestiture plan. Kroger continues to expect to complete the merger in early 2024."

    Bloomberg writes that "together, the companies operate a combined total of almost 5,000 stores, though they have agreed to divest as many as 375 to win regulatory approval and Kroger suggested in a federal filing that 650 was the upper limit.

    "The merger has sparked opposition from lawmakers, labor unions and consumer groups over concerns that it will increase food prices already under pressure from inflation. At a Senate hearing in November, nearly a dozen lawmakers pressed the CEOs of Kroger and Albertsons on the deal.

    KC's View:

    It became clearer today with a piece in the New York Times the evolving environment in which the Kroger-Albertsons deal is seeking approval.

    The Biden administration's FTC, the story says, has "been bringing risky cases that use novel legal arguments to stop corporate mergers and nurture competition. Their goal is to stretch the uses of antitrust law beyond the ways it has been applied for decades, including against the biggest tech companies."

    In a case that will be hard in court this week, the FTC will argue that Meta should not buy a virtual reality start-up called Within on the grounds that the "deal would hurt potential competition in a market for virtual reality products that could be robust in the future. In contrast, most antitrust cases have traditionally focused on how a deal would hinder competition in an area that is already mature."

    The FTC is employing this strategy even though it knows it could lose.  Part of the goal is to test the outer limits of current antitrust law, as well as to signal to lawmakers the degree to which existing legislation needs to be updated.

    The Times notes that "under the Biden administration, the Justice Department has sued to block eight mergers and an alliance between American Airlines and JetBlue without announcing a settlement, while the F.T.C. has filed eight lawsuits challenging corporate mergers, including Meta’s virtual reality deal.  A couple of those already have failed in court, but are under appeal.

    The larger point, I think, is that Kroger and Albertsons could face tougher headwinds than expected, with the companies forced to answer questions that might never have been asked in years past.

    Published on: December 7, 2022

    CNBC reports on an interview with Walmart CEO Doug McMillon in which he says that theft at Walmart stores is "higher than what it has historically been … We’ve got safety measures, security measures that we’ve put in place by store location. I think local law enforcement being staffed and being a good partner is part of that equation, and that’s normally how we approach it."

    Nevertheless, McMillon tells CNBC, "a lax approach from prosecutors could impact prices and lead to store closures down the line.  'If that’s not corrected over time, prices will be higher, and/or stores will close,' McMillon said."

    The story notes that "Walmart isn’t the only big-box retailer dealing with an uptick in theft. Last month, Target Chief Financial Officer Michael Fiddelke said shoplifting has jumped about 50% year over and year, leading to more than $400 million in losses in this fiscal year alone.   Most of the shoplifting is organized retail theft, rather than petty theft, Fiddelke said."

    KC's View:

    While I recognize that there are logistical issues at play here, I generally tend to be a fan of the approach that William Bratton took when he was the New York City Police Commissioner - he proved that a quality-of-life approach to policing that focuses on stopping and prosecuting small crimes can go a long way toward reducing major and violent crimes.

    This approach goes back to the Old West.  In the 1880s, Smithsonian Magazine tells us, "the laws of Tombstone at the time required visitors, upon entering town to disarm, either at a hotel or a lawman's office."  Vigilant policing, the argument went, would reduce violent behavior.  (Of course, it didn't always work.  The lawmen in charge in Tombstone were named Earp, and it was resistance to that law that led to the fabled Gunfight at the OK Corral.  Oops.)

    Published on: December 7, 2022

    GeekWire reports that Amazon has made a deal with Staples that will have the office supply retailer taking Amazon returns at select locations.

    The deal is similar to one that Amazon made with Kohl's back in 2017.

    According to the story, Staples believes "the partnership may help increase foot traffic in its stores. Kohl’s said it added 2 million new customers in 2020 thanks to its Amazon partnership."

    KC's View:

    In some ways, this deal drips with irony.

    When Staples wanted to merge with Office Depot, one of the cited reasons was that Amazon was such a strong competitor that the two companies needed to merge in order to survive.  Now, admittedly under new ownership, Staples is hoping that Amazon will offer it a lifeline of sorts.  (Wonder if this is what the government had in mind when it blocked the merger.)

    Inevitably, at some point, speculation will begin to circulate that Amazon is going to buy Staples, just have there have been regular rumors that Amazon would buy Kohl's.  Not likely.

    Published on: December 7, 2022

    From the New York Times:

    "The Food and Drug Administration’s food division has no clear leadership, avoids bold policy or enforcement actions, and fosters a culture that doesn’t adequately protect public health, according to a report issued on Tuesday by an agency-related group.

    "Experts with the group, the Reagan-Udall Foundation, which was asked to examine the food division after widespread criticism stemming from the infant formula crisis, concluded in the report that the division’s management structure and mission should be overhauled.

    "Dr. Robert Califf, the agency commissioner, released a statement Tuesday saying he would form a group to advise him on the findings and on how to put the recommendations in place. The infant formula crisis was the first major challenge that Dr. Califf confronted this year as commissioner, although the agency has also faced criticism over the regulation of vaping and tobacco products, which prompted a similar review of its tobacco division."

    The story goes on:

    "Congressional lawmakers and others have long called for strengthening the authority and influence of the agency’s food division, given the effects of foods like added sugar and salt on deadly chronic diseases and the toll of food-borne illnesses that account for an estimated 128,000 U.S. hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year.

    "The report followed years of complaints that the food unit was toothless, a criticism that was amplified by what critics viewed as the agency’s plodding and disorganized response to reports of infant illness and death and unsanitary conditions at the Abbott Nutrition infant formula plant in Michigan. The agency’s shutdown of the factory in February aggravated an infant formula shortage that left parents scrambling to feed their babies for months earlier this year."

    Published on: December 7, 2022

    The Wall Street Journal has a story about how "for decades, one of the hardest problems for robot developers to crack has been something seemingly mundane: how to replicate the human hand’s ability to pick up stuff.

    "Amazon.com has just come a lot closer to achieving this elusive goal, with a leap in its automation prowess that promises far-reaching effects for its huge workforce and its future growth ambitions.

    "The tech giant last month unveiled a collection of new robots, one of which is suited to replacing humans in the most common job at Amazon – picking up items and placing them elsewhere. The linchpin of this new kind of automation is a robot arm – appropriately named Sparrow after the tenacious, pervasive bird – that combines advanced artificial intelligence, a variety of grippers, and the speed and precision that is now standard in off-the-shelf industrial robotic arms."

    The Journal makes the point that the unveiling happened even as Amazon was announcing layoffs and cost-cutting … but that the advances that Amazon is making when it comes to robotics may actually be instrumental in helping it reduce head counts and save money in the long term.

    You can read the Journal piece here.

    Published on: December 7, 2022

    •  From CNBC:

    "EU antitrust regulators have reached a final deal with Amazon, three years after officials in Brussels opened a probe into whether the company uses data to engage in anti-competitive practices … Amazon has agreed to give rival products more visibility in its “buy box,” which spurs the majority of the site’s purchases … And consumers will reportedly see an additional featured offer in cases where the speed of their delivery is not as important.

    "Sellers who use Amazon’s Prime membership won’t be locked into Amazon’s logistics services, according to the report, and can negotiate terms with different services directly."

    Published on: December 7, 2022

    •  From the Cincinnati Enquirer:

    "The largest Amazon Air Hub in the world can process over a million packages per day and has over 2,000 full-time employees.

    "Now, workers at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport location in Hebron are demanding better pay and labor conditions as they push for a union."

    According to the story, "Last year, workers received a $2 per hour raise as compensation for working mandatory overtime to meet high demand throughout the holiday season. But managers told workers holiday pay might not happen this year.

    "Almost 400 workers signed a petition demanding the raise but still have not gotten the pay increase."

    The Enquirer writes that "Unionize Amazon Northern Kentucky KCVG was founded in early November by a group of about two dozen employees. Workers are demanding a $30-an-hour starting wage, 180 hours of paid time off annually with no cap on accrued time, and union representation against discipline."

    Published on: December 7, 2022

    •  FMI–The Food Industry Association has released its inaugural Power of In-Store Bakery 2022 report, "revealing that consumer engagement with in-store bakery items remained high with virtually all shoppers (95%) eating them at least occasionally and 63% doing so weekly."

    The report suggests that "shoppers spend their bakery dollars at a variety of locations, with the majority (78%) purchasing functional bakery items, such as bread, buns, bagels and rolls, at the same store they purchase most of their groceries. However, only about half of shoppers (51%) say their primary grocery store is their main destination for in-store bakery items. For indulgent items like cakes, pies, and store-made desserts, shoppers look to specialty bakeries (24%), grocery stores other than their primary store (11%) and even online options (6%)."

    The report also notes that "the in-store bakery department has performed well in the past year with strong unit (+7.4%) and dollar (+14.4%) sales. The biggest winners in the bakery this year are muffins (+24.2%), cupcakes (+23.6%) and cookies (+21.7%) in terms of dollar sales increases. Cakes, followed by cookies, ranked among the biggest sellers in the grocery in-store bakery department."