business news in context, analysis with attitude

My favorite kind of email, from MNB reader Tom Hahn:

KC, one thing I can always count on about MNB is a daily dose of your elitist point-of-view. First, you correctly offer a POV that the Inc. story on Chick-fil-A and their 3-day work week “reflects a sort of elitist view of work”. You then follow that with a story on the demise of service stations in California as a necessary outcome to the state’s foolish, virtue-signaling decision to require all vehicles sold in the state to be zero-emission by 2035.

And your comment to that story is “Progress is hard”.  But, not to worry, that surely doesn’t reflect any kind of elitist view of work.

You may think I was being elitist, and that California is "virtue signaling."  But I think it is equally fair to argue that California is trying to get ahead of an inevitable wave and in doing so, maintain its reputation as a place where trends begin.

Was I being glib?  Sure.  I'll cop to that.  Sometimes I just like to poke the bear and see what happens.  Usually, that means an email like yours, endeavoring to put me in my place.

On the same subject, one MNB reader wrote:

If “gas stations” will go away, surely drug chains will change dramatically. Look at the percentage of front end dollar sales for chain drug.  They carry thousands of skus for a very low percentage of sales.

As a salesman calling on chain drug, I was always amazed that certain categories were even carried in a drug chain.  Time, energy and personnel will be shifted to the “health” side of the business in the future.  

It should have started years ago.

The demise of one category almost always results in the creation of another.  (Hope that doesn't sound too glib.)

Another MNB reader wrote:

There is a far bigger issue. CA electric grid has insufficient size today, with blackouts common. No planned hydro, atomic, or fuel cell stations. Solar and wind have no projects announced. The grid isn’t up to more electric demand, period. All else is just rearranging Titanic deck chairs.

I would say that the state has about a decade to get its act - and its grid - together.  However, in my view the worst thing the state could do would be to go backwards.

We had a story the other day about how Southeastern Grocers (SEG) said that 375 Winn-Dixie and Harveys stores in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi now will offer "a new online shopping and delivery service" that will allow customers to "shop for their groceries online through the Winn-Dixie and Harveys Supermarket apps and websites and receive their orders in as little as two hours for only $9. In celebration of the new online shopping experience, customers purchasing $35 or more worth of groceries will automatically receive free delivery in as little as two hours, for a limited time … . It’s a Winn Win for our customers seeking quality and value with the added convenience of delivery.”

I commented:

First of all, I love the wordplay - "Winn Win" is a great turn of phrase.

Second, it seems to me that these are table stakes in 2022 - the kind of things that retailers have to do in order to remain relevant and resonant.  So good for SEG.

Third, I'd just point out that SEG should be a little careful with certain terminology.  In the press release, it calls this a "proprietary new service," but I'm not sure you can say it is "proprietary" when it is being powered by DoorDash, which has to be offering it through other retail venues.

Meredith Hurley, SEG's Director of Public Relations & Community, responded:

Thank you for your coverage of our new online shopping and delivery service. I always enjoy reading your take on retail news and appreciate your recognition of our "Winn Win" wordplay. I also wanted to give you just a little bit of added context:

We consider our unique approach of bringing together best-in-class service providers to power and fulfill our customers' needs to be proprietary in its application to the marketplace.

The online shopping platform is powered by Mercatus, and the order is then fulfilled by DoorDash Drive, DoorDash’s white label fulfillment platform.

Fair enough.  Point taken - sometimes it is the way different factors are mixed together that creates something differentiated.

Yesterday, we reported that CVS Health has released what it called The Rx Report: A New Day in Retail Pharmacy, saying that a survey conducted by Morning Consult concluded that there is a "strong consumer preference and demand for an expanded role of pharmacists."

I commented:

All of which sounds great, except that whenever CVS makes these statements about wanting to play a greater role in the health care continuum, I cannot help but think of what I saw at my local CVS pharmacy counter:

Very little about this image suggests to me that I ought to trust these folks or give them a greater role in my health care.  In fact, very little suggests any level of professionalism.

One MNB reader responded:

Your observation is spot on.  CVS pharmacies are understaffed, overworked, and just plain don’t have the time or resources to perform additional duties or services.  If you cant get into an urgent care facility you certainly will not get urgent care at the CVS.  I don’t care how much corporate speak you pour out on caring for their customers.  It doesn’t cover the current mess in the stores.  Typical example of the “headquarter disconnect”, not intellect. 

One other note.  I got an email from an MNB reader complaining that I'd used the picture a total of three times, and that maybe I ought to a) complain to customer service, and b) go back to see if they've improved things.

Well, now I've used the picture four times.  I actually was in the neighborhood yesterday, and checked - and not only was the pharmacy counter in equally bad shape, but my interaction with the folks in the pharmacy proved the point that they're understaffed and overworked;  it was just plain frustrating.

As for complaining to customer service … I think MNB is a far better soapbox, with greater visibility.  I just don't think their priorities match my expectations.

Another email on what is becoming a familiar subject:

On the Kroger/Albertsons debate…

We have both(Smiths and Albertsons banners), Winco and Walmart here in Sin City.  Comparing a simple item over the weekend - Lloyds prepackaged ribs as it was on the menu for dinner Saturday night.  Granted Albertsons and Smiths offer a cleaner and better merchandised shopping experience than both Winco and Walmart, the ribs were $18 at Walmart, $22.99 at Smiths and $24.99 at Albertsons.  As you are in the car driving home from shopping, do you want to say “Wow, what a great shopping experience at Albertsons/Smiths with my 100 items” OR “Wow, I have $54 extra in my bank account after buying my 100 items at Walmart”?

I know which one MOST of America is choosing when you look at both market basket totals and transactions per day amongst the big players here. 

This deal will fall on deaf ears for most of the country and I doubt highly that pricing will change much with Alb/Smiths being high/low advertising retailers and we have all watched what happens with Kohls/BB&B when you try to deviate from what people know you as. 

The only winners out of this are the lawyers and executive teams.  It will be neutral for the vast majority of us shoppers.  The losers will be the people getting cut as corporate office synergies start.

In yesterday's FaceTime, I expressed a few thoughts on the subject of when, where and how businesses should draw the line on taking political positions, prompted by the controversy created by the antisemitic bile generated by Kanye West.  Basically, I said that while I understand why a lot of businesses want to stay away from taking political positions, this is one of those cases where the moral, ethical thing to do is denounce the person who says the words, denounce the larger cultural sentiment behind the words, and, if there is any business relationship with that person or people, sever it.  Immediately.  I said I am tired of the ugliness, fed up for the most part with social media (which I think is about to get a lot worse), and just, in general, done.

MNB reader Robert Wheatley responded:

Interesting issue Kevin. I think there might be an adjacent frame for this conversation. In theory government exists for the greater good, to solve problems facing our society. All politics aside (parties, candidates and their agendas), every piece of research we see agrees that people, more than ever, believe corporations have a responsibility to be part of the solution for existential threats and issues such as food security, climate impact, racial equality, etc. Companies have a responsibility to weigh in and be part of the conversation on societal issues that may also be the traditional province of public policy.

This is quite different than partisan politics which is a minefield of division and separation these days. If the focus is on helping solve the global issues of climate challenges, fairness to people, racial injustice -- then you’re on the side of the angels, no matter if the issue is embraced to a greater or lesser degree by either political party. If anything, absent the politics and self-serving agendas, business may do a better job at addressing some of these challenges than other institutions.

Another MNB reader wrote:

WELL DONE…finally some logic and decency in the modern business world!! It seems absurd that civil discourse or supporting vs. undermining societal good is something that we have to strive for in this country!!

I'm not sure I'd ever want to be described as a source of logic and decency.  But I appreciate the thought.