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: May 24, 2023

    by Michael Sansolo

    In a time of such widespread polarization, it’s always hard to find any issue that seems to have near unanimous support. Yet, the current baseball season may offer one such example.

    As any baseball fan knows, the game has incorporated a number of new rules this year aimed at vastly speeding the pace of play.  Incredibly, it is working. Games that were taking in excess of three and half-hours a year ago are now finishing about 60 minutes faster.

    That might not sound like a big deal to you if you don’t care about baseball.  But to those of us who do, it means that watching baseball no longer includes endless machinations by players preparing to pitch or hit. Now they just get down to it.

    And in many ways, it returns the pace of play to something that was commonplace a few decades back.

    But as with so many great ideas, the key is in the details and that’s where we find an unintended consequence with all kinds of lessons for businesses of all types.

    A good friend of mine who is a season-ticket holder for the Baltimore Orioles laid out the problem for me as we attended a recent (and fairly speedy game.) The pace of play, he said, is terrific, but given the new speed there is no longer sufficient time to leave one’s seat to find a bathroom, and get food or a drink.

    As he explained, now you are guaranteed to miss some action no matter how quickly you run through your needs.

    My friend’s comment struck a chord with me as I sat through a recent Orioles game and noticed that his observation was dead on. Every time one of us ran off to get some type of refreshment, we missed key action on the field.

    This is where the business lesson comes in.  It isn't just that the game is faster, but also that Oriole Park at Camden Yards has failed to staff its various concessions at the levels necessary to keep people moving and minimize the time away from their seats.

    Granted, baseball stadiums are doubtlessly facing the same hiring problems as everyone else, but if the goal of the business is to improve the customer experience with a quicker game, that same business needs to consider other impacts likely from the new rules. In short, stadiums need to find ways to serve customers faster so that they don’t miss key plays while waiting in line for a hot dog and a beer.

    Given the strong reliance on the Ballpark app, perhaps stadiums need focus on remote ordering with quick pick up spots, learning from what so many retailers mastered during the pandemic. Better yet, as KC recommends, it might be an excellent place for just-walk-out technology, which is already used elsewhere in the Orioles Stadium among other places.  Yesterday we reported here on MNB that the Amazon One biometric payment system, which links one's palm to proof-of-age, currently is being used at Coors Field, with plans to roll it out elsewhere.  If staffing can't be expanded, then technologies can be used to streamline the system.

    All businesses need to think this way. There are countless changes taking place almost daily, and there needs to be careful thought given to unintended consequences of those changes.

    Consider, for example, all the recent talk of companies dumping their traditional print circulars, which seems increasingly logical given the declining readership of newspapers and the growing reliance on electronic communication.   I happen to disagree with KC on this one - he thinks that it is time to move on from print circulars, but I think there is a large enough portion of the population that likes them, or either doesn't have or doesn't want to use mobile device technology to access ads, to maintain print circulars for the foreseeable future.

    Or, consider the growth of self-scanning checkouts, which are efficient especially in a time of staffing problems. Certainly they have their attractions, but customers who don’t want them can still easily find staffed checkouts in the same store.

    The parallels to what happens in a baseball stadium or what happens with print circulars isn’t perfect, but it’s an easy reminder that every change we make - no matter how logical - may not be the perfect answer for every shopper. Or that same change may create unforeseen problems.

    Once again, it’s a reason to make certain your company has diverse voices (possibly older voices in some cases) to highlight challenges the new direction might create.

    But don’t take too long. The game continues and it’s faster than ever.

    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.

    For information about hiring Michael to speak at your next meeting or conference, click here.

    Published on: May 24, 2023

    Scott Moses, Head of Grocery, Pharmacy & Restaurants at Solomon Partners, has posted an infographic on his company's website that illustrates some basic facts about Costco's valuation, which reflects its ability to compete in a crowded and consolidating marketplace:

    You can find out more here.

    Published on: May 24, 2023

    CNet has a piece about the new vertical faming facility opened by Plenty in Compton, California, that the company believes will strengthen its ability to offer a "compelling alternative that uses less land than traditional farming."

    An excerpt:

    "Since Plenty's produce can be grown closer to where it'll be consumed, the energy-cost of transportation goes down. The company's vertical system also allows plants to be grown at times of the year when they might not otherwise be available.

    "However, growing indoors also poses some unique challenges.

    "The sun shines for free, but re-creating a comparable nourishing light source indoors requires energy (not to mention all the power-hungry robots shuttling Plenty's plant towers around). Plenty buys its power from the grid. Nate Storey, the company's chief science officer and co-founder, tells me that Plenty specifically seeks out areas where renewable power such as wind and solar are either readily available or set to become a key source for the grid in the future.

    "Storey says he sees Plenty as offering a new source of demand for the growing renewable energy sector's supply and demand equation."

    The story notes that "Plenty's goods can be bought at certain locations in partnering stores like Walmart, Bristol Farms and Whole Foods. Storey tells me they're priced similarly to other organic fare. Plenty is labeled 'pesticide free' rather than organic. The organic certification does allow for the use of some pesticides, so Plenty's reps say their greens are 'beyond organic' and don't utilize GMOs, or genetically modified organisms.

    "Next on Plenty's agenda is growing strawberries and tomatoes vertically, so keep your eyes out for that."

    KC's View:

    There is a lovely bit of poetry to the Compton location, since what is now an urban environment as recently as 60-70 years ago was largely farmland.  The folks at Plenty, as they were planning this facility, made clear that one of their goals was to be able to provide solid middle class jobs to an area that often has been lacking in them - essentially looking to offer hope to neighborhoods where there sometimes has been a dearth of optimism.

    This is part of Plenty's continuing evolution - I had a chance last year to see its South San Francisco location, which was impressive, and the folks there were enormously enthusiastic about their Compton plans.  Now, having outgrown the Northern California location, Plenty seems to be centralizing its operations 400 miles to the south.

    One other thing.  Walmart isn't just a customer for Plenty.  It also is an investor, having been part of a $400 million raise earlier this year.  If nothing else, this ought to underline Walmart's food-centric ambitions.

    Published on: May 24, 2023

    A new Washington Post-Ipsos poll is out, looking at worker attitudes and finding that "about 8 in 10 workers are satisfied with their jobs, even as over 6 in 10 say work is stressful."

    And, "While desire to work from home is a priority for some workers, pay, having a good boss or manager and other aspects of a job rank higher."

    An excerpt from the story:

    "What makes a job good? Most workers say that a variety of factors influence their experience: their pay, their boss, health and retirement benefits, amount of vacation, friendliness of co-workers, whether they’re helping people or society, options for remote work and opportunities for advancement. When asked to rank the most important factors in a job, 45 percent put pay in the top slot. Having a good boss comes in second, with 14 percent of workers ranking it as the most important.

    "Many are even willing to sacrifice flexibility for higher pay, with 65 percent of remote-capable workers reporting that they’d prefer a job that pays more but requires regular time in the office to a job that pays less but lets them work remotely (35 percent). Among fully remote workers, 55 percent say they would accept a lower-paying job to stay remote, while 45 percent would take a higher-paying job that requires them to commute some days.

    "When pay doesn’t match worker expectations, it leads to labor market churn: One in 3 workers say they’d switched roles since the pandemic began, and 44 percent of these workers made the move for better pay."

    The Post goes on:  "When it comes to what matters beyond pay, Gen Z and younger millennials (ages 27 to 34) are more likely to say opportunities for promotion and advancement are important to them compared with older workers. Gen Z workers put less emphasis on health insurance, retirement benefits and vacation time.

    "Fewer Gen Z workers prioritize the ability to work from home (29 percent say it is extremely or very important) — but that might have something to do with the fact that this age group is more likely to have jobs that can’t be done from home (67 percent), compared with 49 percent of workers ages 27 to 34.

    Having a good boss or manager is ranked as being 'extremely' or 'very' important by 89 percent of workers."

    KC's View:

    Here's a passage I found to be disquieting:

    About 6 in 10 workers (61 percent) say they work “enough to excel at their jobs and advance” in their careers, while a third (33 percent) report that they do their jobs well but don’t go beyond what they’re paid for. Just 4 percent of workers say they are working “just enough to keep their jobs.”

    That's all workers, not just one demographic.  Though, to be fair, younger workers are less focused on excellence than their older peers.

    This actually underlines the importance of a good or great boss.  When you work for someone who energizes you, inspires you, and makes you want to over-achieve, that means you feel invested in the company and your job.  That's because a good or great boss feels the same way.  I'd love to see the correlation between "mediocre bosses" and "bosses who just do their jobs." Bet it is pretty high.  You'd think more companies would put a premium of having better bosses up and down their org charts, knowing that this would result in a better, more invested workforce.

    In a broader sense, though, I would argue that it is unsustainable for a company - or even a country - to be 40 percent populated by people who aren't worried about being excellent.

    I actually did a FaceTime about this way back in August 2012:

    Published on: May 24, 2023

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that "big retailers are signaling they are nearly done paring back their excess inventories and are preparing to fill their shelves with new merchandise this fall, potentially brightening prospects for freight carriers looking for revived restocking to drive a shipping rebound.

    "Target’s inventories at the end of the last quarter were 16% lower than the same period a year ago and Walmart cut inventories in its U.S. store operations by 9% over the past year, slashing hundreds of millions of dollars of goods from their balance sheets and suggesting space is opening up in their jammed supply chains."

    Some context from the story:

    "Walmart and Target were among scores of merchants that rushed goods into U.S. distribution networks in early 2022, with some even chartering their own ships to get around port backups and get goods to consumers. McMillon said at one point last year Walmart had 100,000 shipping containers backed up at ports, waiting for transport into the retailer’s domestic supply chain.

    "U.S. consumers had boosted their purchases of goods during the Covid-19 pandemic as restrictions on many activities limited services spending. But a sharp pivot back toward services began last spring as those restrictions ended, leaving merchants’ warehouses overstuffed, and retailers pulled back on orders from overseas suppliers while they burned off excess inventory."

    Published on: May 24, 2023

    The New York Times reports that the pandemic-era practice of making menus available to restaurant patrons via the use of mobile devices to scan QR codes seems to be ending.

    "Today, even though many restaurants still have 'scan the code' cards tucked into napkin holders or pasted onto the corners of tables, customers seem to be ignoring them," the Times writes.  "And many restaurants have returned to using only paper menus.

    "MustHaveMenus, a menu management and printing platform with about 7,000 customers across the United States, has seen a falling off in the use of the QR codes it provides to restaurants, said Mark Plumlee, the senior content manager. From April 1 to May 16 of this year, the total number of scans has dropped by about 27 percent compared with the same period in 2021.

    Fewer restaurants are creating new QR menus, he said. And about 75 percent of their existing QR codes are essentially dormant, with fewer than 90 views in the last year. (Half had fewer than five.)"

    KC's View:

    I never really minded the QR codes, though there is something tactile about holding an actual menu in one's hands - in some cases, it can actually be part of the experience.  I do think that there remains a use for QR codes in such situations, like for offering nutrition information or details about daily specials.  (Though a well-informed and opinionated member of the wait staff can be invaluable in such cases.)

    I also think there is the opportunity for using QR codes for immediate feedback purposes - there is a company called that is doing this in a number of restaurants and other venues, and I think the technology has a lot of potential for supermarkets.

    Published on: May 24, 2023

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Target said it plans to remove some of the items it brought in to help customers celebrate Pride Month, and will move remaining displays to less visible parts of its stores, as it reacts to a backlash that caused some of its employees to feel unsafe.

    The story notes that Target "for over a decade has sold a selection of often rainbow-adorned clothing, décor and other items related to Pride Month, the early summer celebration of the LGBT community. The company has always received some criticism for the collection, but this month the negative reaction has taken a more aggressive turn, particularly in recent days."

    A spokesperson tells the Journal that, “Since introducing this year’s collection, we’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and well-being while at work."  In some cases, she said, "people have confronted workers in stores, knocked down Pride merchandise displays and put threatening posts on social media with video from inside stores."

    And, the Journal writes, "Target joins a growing list of companies including Walt Disney and Anheuser-Busch InBev caught in increasingly heated partisan culture wars, sometimes centered around LGBT rights."

    KC's View:

    Well, the fact that Target is getting grief for this in 2023 after having had such offerings for more than a decade proves one thing:  not everybody is capable of personal growth, and that there are some folks who would like to take this country back to good old days that weren't good for a lot of people, and that didn't say much good about qualities such as tolerance, acceptance and love.

    I don't blame Target for making this decision.  It has to protect its employees and other customers from this crap.  But the people who are confronting employees, knocking down displays and making threats online (which is what cowards do, because they find solace in anonymity and the embrace of their fellow bigots) ought to be arrested, charged and prosecuted.

    As I've said here before, I believe in a "no tolerance" policy for people (organized and not) who shoplift and commit vandalism in stores - stopping small crimes is one way to prevent larger crimes.  And stopping these kinds of hate-inspired crimes - which is what these are - also requires a no tolerance policy.

    I am reminded of the German pastor Martin Niemöller, who said after Wold War II:

    First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

    Published on: May 24, 2023

    The other day we had a piece about some manufacturers deciding to eliminate AM radio from the electric vehicles (citing "electromagnetic interference") and Ford deciding to eliminate it completely (citing, essentially, irrelevance).

    But now, the Boston Globe reports:

    "Ford Motor Co. is doing a 180 on AM radio.

    "The giant automaker on Tuesday abandoned a controversial plan to stop offering AM radio receivers in its new cars, after intense opposition from broadcasters and the US Congress.

    "'After speaking with policy leaders about the importance of AM broadcast radio as a part of the emergency alert system, we’ve decided to include it on all 2024 Ford & Lincoln vehicles,' said a statement issued by Ford chief executive Jim Farley. 'For any owners of Ford EVs (electric vehicles) without AM broadcast capability, we’ll offer a software update.'

    "It’s a major climbdown from early April, when Ford said that most of its 2024 models would be AM radio-free. In response, a bipartisan group of US senators last week proposed legislation to make AM radio a mandatory feature in cars."

    Published on: May 24, 2023

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  From Variety:

    "If you’re sharing your Netflix password with someone who doesn’t live with you, get ready to pay up — it will cost $7.99 per month extra to add another user to your account.

    "On Tuesday, Netflix said it is launching its crackdown on illicit password sharing to its biggest market, the U.S., angling to squeeze a bigger chunk of change from customers who share their logins with friends and family outside their household … As part of Netflix’s crackdown on customers sharing passwords with people outside their household, the company has said it will start blocking devices (after a certain period of time) that attempt to access a Netflix account without properly paying. However, Netflix members can continue to access the service while traveling via their personal devices or by logging in to new TV (like at a hotel or vacation rental)."

    Maybe I'm wrong about this, but isn't it a little concerning if Netflix can tell the difference between me accessing its service from a hotel room vs. one of my kids accessing it from their apartment?  I'm not really surprised that it can do that, but this policy is forcing a level of transparency that may catch some folks off guard.

    Published on: May 24, 2023

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  From Axios:

    "José Andrés, celebrity chef and founder of World Central Kitchen, and George Washington University are launching a research institute focused on the intersection of food production and climate change … The Global Food Institute (GFI), being announced today, identifies the warming planet as one of the greatest challenges facing the global food system."

    "The world we live in today is confronted by a wide range of complex crises, and the global food system sits at the heart of each of them,” Andrés tells Axios in a statement.

    Anyone who doesn't think that the climate crisis won't have an enormous impact on our food supply is either blind, or just refuses to see.

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "The Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether baby-formula makers colluded on bids for lucrative state contracts.

    "The agency, in documents posted to its website, said it is looking into whether Abbott Laboratories and other formula manufacturers have “engaged in collusion or coordination with any other market participant regarding the bidding” for state contracts.

    "The FTC is also investigating whether company coordination affected sales more broadly, outside of the Women, Infants and Children formula-supply program, FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya wrote.

    "Abbott, which sells Similac formula, said it is cooperating with the FTC’s investigation. In February, Abbott lawyers said in an email to the FTC that they weren’t aware of any evidence suggesting 'even a hint of collusion or coordination.'  The lawyers also said they didn’t understand the factual basis of the agency’s investigation."

    Published on: May 24, 2023

    Executive Suite is sponsored by Robin Russell Executive Search.

    •  BJ’s Wholesale Club announced that Scott Kessler, its Chief Information Officer since 2018, is leaving the company at the end of this week.

    No successor has yet been named.