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    Published on: March 20, 2023

    I have some thoughts today about the importance of public speaking as part of a set of leadership skills, prompted by the extraordinary facility demonstrated by students last week at Western Michigan University's annual Food Marketing Conference. (I was particularly impressed with Keir Gillis, the student who introduced the leadership panel I facilitated, below.)

    Published on: March 20, 2023

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Dollar General "plans to pour an additional $100 million into its stores, primarily in staffing levels, as it looks to attract more bargain-hunting shoppers from rivals.

    "Chief Executive Jeff Owen said Thursday the investment in additional labor hours looks to build on its continued sales growth and capture market share by lifting store standards and the in-store shopping experience."

    The story notes that "the discount retailer said it expects sales to continue to rise this year, despite challenges from higher levels of theft in stores, rising interest rates and mounting inventories."

    Dollar General already had said it planned to invest between $1.8 billion and $1.9 billion in the company this year.

    KC's View:

    I'm not saying that the leadership at companies like Dollar General and its dollar store brethren, as well as limited assortment retailers that are price-driven, cheered last week when the mini-banking crisis dominated the news.  But the suggestion that the collapse of a couple of banks and a lack of confidence in the banking system make a recession more likely certainly will be a boon to their sales numbers.

    All this stuff is cyclical, and the cycle right now favors companies that are able to help their shoppers navigate a tricky economy.  The retailers that will be in trouble will be then ones that occupy the mushy middle, that don't really stand for anything.

    Published on: March 20, 2023

    Them, a news site that defines itself as serving and reporting on the  LGBTQ+ community, has story saying that "in the face of increasingly draconian anti-trans legislation, some unlikely (or extremely likely, depending on how you see it) allies have emerged."

    One of them is the convenience store chain Kum & Go, which "tweeted its support of trans kids last Thursday, with a thread that began simply, 'protect trans kids. Period'."

    The story notes that "Kum & Go, which is based in Iowa, then proceeded to drop some startling statistics about LGBTQ+ youth in the state. According to Trevor Project data, 44% of queer and trans young people in Iowa seriously considered suicide in the past year, including 52% of trans and nonbinary youth."

    Kum & Go also tweeted that "we're people first and that means speaking up for our community. yesterday, we voted against SF482 and SF538 in the state of Iowa. we know that this is just the beginning, and we still have work to do to continue to advocate for the LGBTQ+ members of our community … One way we can all grow is through education.  an org we partner with is the Trevor Project, whose mission is to end suicide among LGBTQ+ youth and they provide great resources to educate yourself. Join us in continuing to learn how these issues affect our community and find ways to support inclusion across the US.”

    Them writes that "Kum & Go has long been putting its money where its mouth is. In 2021, the company collaborated with HOMOCO, a label founded by queer designer Daniel DuGoff, for a pride capsule collection. A portion of the proceeds went toward the Transgender Law Center. Not to be stopped at pride month, earlier that year, the company released shirts that read, 'Kum & Gay Rights,' with $10 from each shirt going toward the Trevor Project. What’s more, in 2020, the company donated 100% of its pride merch budget to the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice and the Transgender Law Center."

    KC's View:

    I admire this company's willingness to take a public stand that may not endear it to some segment of its customer base, but that it perceives as being "people first" and inclusive.

    The statistics underline the fact that laws targeting trans people, especially kids, and other members of the LGBTQ+ community, are at their core deeply and deliberately cruel.  I'm glad that the folks at Kum & Go is looking for ways tio stand with this community.

    Now, the company also is facing some small amount of chiding on social media, with some suggesting that now it has to bring its political donation policy into alignment with its approach to trans rights.  But progress often happens in small increments, and I suspect they'll get there eventually.

    Published on: March 20, 2023

    CNBC reports that Zipline, which has "flown more than 38 million miles with its autonomous electric delivery drones since the company was founded in 2014," last week "showed off its next-generation aircraft, which it hopes will make rapid aerial deliveries an everyday convenience for customers throughout the U.S., even in densely populated urban areas."

    According to the story, "Zipline’s new drone, dubbed the Platform 2 or P2 Zip, is capable of carrying up to eight pounds worth of cargo within a ten-mile radius, and can land a package on a space as small as a table or doorstep … While Zipline’s original drone, the P1 Zip, features a fixed wing or glider-like design, the P2 employs both lift and cruise propellers and a fixed wing. These help it maneuver precisely and quietly, even in rainy or windy weather.

    "To deliver cargo to a customer’s door, the P2 Zip hovers around 300 feet above ground level and dispatches a kind of mini-aircraft and container called the 'droid.'  The droid descends on a long thin tether, and maneuvers quietly into place with fan-like thrusters before setting down for package retrieval."  CNBC writes that "the P2 Zip can travel ten miles in ten minutes," and the company claims that it "can make a delivery approximately seven times faster than any typical service you may order from today."

    Zipline still has some work to do, the story points out:  "The startup plans to conduct more than 10,000 test flights using about 100 new P2 Zips this year. With its existing P1 drones, Zipline is already on track to complete about 1 million deliveries by the end of 2023, and by 2025 it expects to operate more flights annually than most commercial airlines."

    KC's View:

    Clearly we're getting to the point where drone deliveries to consumers will become much more commonplace.

    Axios reported just the other day that "Alphabet-owned Wing … unveiled its automated Wing Delivery Network, which is designed to deploy drones as efficiently as Uber dispatches drivers."

    The momentum is there.  What strikes me as extraordinary is that Amazon hardly is part of the conversation.

    Published on: March 20, 2023

    The Guardian reports that the John Lewis retail group in the UK, which is 100 percent employee-owned, "is in the early stages of exploring a plan" that would change the ownership structure of the company as it tries to raise the equivalent of more than $2 billion (US).

    The money, Bloomberg reports, "would go toward better technology and data analysis, as well as the Waitrose supply chain."

    The Guardian story says that "the company, which runs John Lewis department stores and supermarket Waitrose, said on Friday it would have to cut staff numbers and scrap bonuses this year, flagging an uncertain outlook as customers struggle with inflation."

    According to Bloomberg, "For more than seven decades, John Lewis has been owned by its employees or partners, now amounting to about 80,000 people. Selling a minority stake would require a change to the business’s constitution, which would be voted on by the company’s partnership council, a group of about 60 staff."

    Bloomberg also notes that Waitrose is a "major problem" for the company:  "Sales fell 3% last year as the supermarket chain was slow to cap rising prices and shoppers have decamped to cheaper rivals, including discounters Aldi and Lidl. It has also been beset with availability issues after a problematic roll out of a new tech system and a fire at a depot led to gaps on shelves."

    Published on: March 20, 2023

    The New York Times has a really good piece of journalism that looks at how homelessness, and the crime that often accompanies it, is overwhelming much of urban America, focusing on a small, family-owned sandwich shop in downtown Phoenix.

    The Times recounts how Joe Faillace, the owner of Old Station Subs, "looked out the window toward Madison Street, which had become the center of one of the largest homeless encampments in the country, with as many as 1,100 people sleeping outdoors. On this February morning, he could see a half-dozen men pressed around a roaring fire. A young woman was lying in the middle of the street, wrapped beneath a canvas advertising banner. A man was weaving down the sidewalk in the direction of Joe’s restaurant with a saw, muttering to himself and then stopping to urinate a dozen feet from Joe’s outdoor tables."

    Over the past three years, the Times writes, "an epidemic of unsheltered homelessness began to overwhelm Phoenix and many other major American downtowns. Cities across the West had been transformed by a housing crisis, a mental health crisis and an opioid epidemic, all of which landed at the doorsteps of small businesses already reaching a breaking point because of the pandemic."

    In Phoenix, "where the number of people living on the street had more than tripled since 2016, businesses had begun hiring private security firms to guard their property and lawyers to file a lawsuit against the city for failing to manage 'a great humanitarian crisis'.

    "The Faillaces had signed onto the lawsuit as plaintiffs along with about a dozen other nearby property owners. They also bought an extra mop to clean up the daily flow of human waste, replaced eight shattered windows with plexiglass, installed a wrought-iron fence around their property and continued opening their doors at exactly 8 each morning to greet the first customer of the day."

    You can read the entire story here.

    KC's View:

    This is a heartbreaking story that underlines the degree to which America's cities have to find a public policy solution that is compassionate to people in trouble and in need, but that remembers that people like Joe Faillace also are citizens with rights, and they ought to be able to run their businesses without feeling like they are trying to survive a war zone.

    I'm sure this will devolve into a political debate, but we ought to be able to find a way to take politics out of the conversation and come up with approaches that don't hasten the unraveling of the social fabric.

    Published on: March 20, 2023

    •  From the Los Angeles Times:

    "An Amazon worker at a Bakersfield warehouse alleges the company fired him last month for seeking time off to grieve his parents’ deaths, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Kern County Superior Court.

    "Scott Brock, who worked at Amazon’s BFL1 fulfillment center, lost both his parents, Mary Massengale Brock and Curtis Harold Brock, in late January, only six days apart, according to the complaint.

    "When Brock requested three additional days of bereavement leave after his father died, Amazon’s human resources department asked to see an obituary. Brock submitted the obituary for both his parents, but on Feb. 2, Amazon denied his request for time off and subsequently terminated his employment, the complaint alleges.

    "Brock is suing the company for wrongful termination and violating state laws protecting employee leave related to the care of family members and medical conditions."

    An Amazon spokesperson said only that, “While we’re very sorry for the loss of Mr. Brock’s parents, that’s unrelated to why he’s no longer working at Amazon."

    The Times writes that "the company has long been under scrutiny over allegations of harsh, algorithm-led work quotas, high injury rates and retaliatory firings — which California lawmakers aimed to crack down on in 2021 legislation, AB 701.

    "The pandemic exposed how the company’s metric-reliant employee apps resulted in erratic notifications, incorrectly revoked or delayed benefits, and haphazard terminations.

    "Amazon and Whole Foods warehouse workers received COVID exposure notifications, The Times found in 2020, through a patchy automated text and robocall system that issued notifications out of order or seemingly at random, alerting some workers but not others."

    Published on: March 20, 2023

    •  From the New York Times:

    "Frozen organic strawberries sold at Costco, Aldi, Trader Joe’s and other retailers have been recalled after the products were linked to five cases of hepatitis A in Washington State, the Food and Drug Administration said.

    "The administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in partnership with state and local agencies, are investigating the cases, which included two people who were hospitalized … Investigators found that five people who became ill and provided information about what they ate all reported having consumed the strawberries, the F.D.A. said.

    "The strain of hepatitis A is genetically identical to a strain that caused an outbreak of hepatitis A infections in 2022, which was linked to fresh organic strawberries also imported from Baja California, Mexico … The two vendors in the latest cases, California Splendor and Scenic Fruit, sold the frozen strawberries to an array of retailers under several brand names, including Kirkland Signature, Made With, PCC Community Markets, Simply Nature, Trader Joe’s and Vital Choice, the F.D.A. said."

    •  The Street reports that Chick-fil-A is changing its loyalty program to make it more expensive to redeem points for sandwiches, and predicts that this is "something that's not likely to be well-received by customers."

    That prediction is based on the hostile reaction to Starbucks' decision to do much the same thing - requiring more stars to get free items.

    "Messing with rewards programs can undermine the point of those offers in the first place. Making it more expensive to earn free food puts customer trust at risk, but Chick-fil-A has followed Starbucks' lead in doing it anyway," The Street writes.

    Chick-fil-A justified the changes this way:  "“There are also changes coming based on feedback from Chick-fil-A One members that we hope our guests will be excited about.  We’re adding the ability to redeem entire meals and more menu items to the rewards store.”