business news in context, analysis with attitude

We got a number of responses to yesterday’s story about the Starbucks “experience.” One MNB user wrote:

If going to Starbucks is all about the ambience, then why isn't there a stronger focus on customer service. How many times must I be laughed out of the coffee shop for ordering a medium skim vanilla latte instead of the (correct) non-fat venti vanilla latte. You don't just get coffee, a big cup of pretension is also a part of the experience.

Almost makes you feel like carrying around your diploma to prove that you're educated enough to buy their lattes.

Must be your Starbucks…because we’ve never run into that kind of condescension.

MNB user Gretchen Murdock wrote:

This is a great example of a company that is strategically targeted to what their customers are looking for. Not just the coffee but the experience. Good for them.

Another MNB user had a thought about the fact that studies show that Starbucks’ coffee has a much higher caffeine content than other brands:

Maybe that's the magic secret for the success of Starbucks – not ambiance, not customer service, not taste - but a reason that customers can't quite pin point but the Wall Street Journal uncovered. It's the exaggerated "high" from intense caffeine they can't get in another cup of joe from another place..... Starbucks is legally capitalizing on people's addictions to endorphin highs & altered states of mind...

What do you think about this conspiracy theory?

We’ll have to ponder it over another cup of coffee…we’re sort of craving one at the moment.

And another MNB user chimed in:

I know it's trendy to say that what Starbucks is selling is the "experience" while ostensibly selling coffee.

Fact is, Starbucks would be a much different "experience" if the coffee itself wasn't consistently great. Take a look at the number of people in, say, an airport concourse that have numerous choices about where they can buy a coffee 'on the go' and how many will gladly queue up for a Starbucks.

I'm not knocking the great brand that Starbucks has become. I am pointing out that it's founded on a great product.

We had a piece yesterday about Albertsons pulling out of New Orleans, apparently because it wants to be either number one or two in every market it serves, or be gone.

One MNB user observed:

The parallel is stark between Albertson's actions and Ahold's. Albertson's is following lock step behind Ahold's move to consolidate and simplify. What took both of them so long?

It makes you wonder if Albertson's is trying to avoid an accounting scandal the likes of which Ahold has already experienced.

MNB user David Livingston wrote:

To me it’s idiotic just to say if you are not 1st or 2nd in market share in any given market then you will just pull out.

The actual market share is more important. In Milwaukee they are second --- a very distant second behind Pick 'N Save 58% to 11%. They are doing better in other markets where they are in third place.

The excuse for New Orleans was just a canned response. Bottom line was they were doing terrible.

And another MNB user wrote:

If Albertsons is going to be first or second in a market, they should have punted Florida long ago. Denver would get whacked too.

MNB had a piece yesterday the salaries and bonuses being paid to top Wal-Mart executives, which prompted a number of MNB users to write in.

MNB user Steve Paris observed:

It is interesting to note that Wal-Mart extends their low cost attitude to executive compensation, with top executives pulling in relatively modest packages as compared to peer companies.

Though I am not a fan of the company, I applaud their approach of aligning cost with value in all areas of their business. Perhaps some of the companies whining about labor costs and their inability to compete should take a look a little higher up in their org chart for areas to cut fat.

And MNB user Lew de Seife wrote:

They (Wal-Mart salaries) look kinda puny for the largest corporation in the world.

That provokes two thoughts:

What does that say about the outsized salaries of other corporate chieftains?

What does that say about the whole Wal-Mart pay scale from clerk on up?

Hey, like him or not, you have to figure that Lee Scott is the bargain of the century in terms of pay vs. performance.

Maybe the Disney folks should try and lure him away…

On another issue, MNB user Patrick mast wrote:

Just a quick comment on the Friday Newsbeat where you mentioned that Albertsons will now be carrying Steakhouse Choice Beef, "naturally aged, hand carved and "guaranteed twice". None of these statements speak to the quality of the beef! Looks to me like they are lowering their quality standards to try and better compete with Wal-Mart. Rather than differentiate themselves they are just further trying to assimilate themselves with Wal-Mart.

And on the subject of Netflix’s price increases, MNB user Tom Bauer observed:

Having been a loyal Netflix user for 5 years, I have already expressed my opinion of their price increase by reducing my service level from 8 movies per month to 2. It’s a great service.

We hope they don’t shoot themselves in the foot with this price increase. Yes the service is faster, but it isn’t worth $49.95 per month to us any longer.

On the issue of what we called “cultural McCarthyism” that dictates what is appropriate and proper and what is not, one MNB user wrote:

I think I'd like to be able to decide for myself what is appropriate for me to view. A group of religious zealots deciding what is acceptable for me to view is not my idea of= American culture or American civil liberties. If someone offends me with an ad campaign, I won't buy their product.

Though many of the ads today are utterly lacking in intelligence, others are quite funny/memorable. As an aside, I am less likely to be offended by the items receiving all of the current attention (Janet Jackson, etc.), than by stupidity and those that assume I am stupid. If the humor of an ad offends someone, they should not buy the product. There is nothing a company responds to more quickly than "top line" impact.

Yesterday, we posted some pretty strong criticism of MNB and our approach to news and commentary – various MNB users seem to believe quite passionately that we are elitist, biased against Wal-Mart, obsessed with Wal-Mart, and overly political in our approach.

We offered all of these emails in the spirit of healthy discourse, and tried to offer some explanations. Some of you were kind enough to bolster our self-image…

MNB user Woody Lynch wrote:

I happened to think you are right on target with your Wal-Mart coverage. It is what it is. As a taxpayer I know it's costing me for them to stay in business. It's nice to know that you are reporting it like it is.......and with no fear!!!

Keep up the good work!

Another member of the MNB community wrote:

On the Wal-Mart issue, I personally feel that drawing attention to the impact Wal-Mart is having on our economy and our communities is a critical function of journalists. The actions of the powerful are often shrouded, and the light that journalists can shine upon them helps the rest of us to make better and more informed choices. If you have exhibited a bias, it is towards being unbiased. There are times when you have been, in my opinion, overly gentle with Wal-Mart, in the interest of impartiality. I think you should call them as you see them with every company. You are providing commentary here, not just dry reporting of the news. You should have a point of view, and you should express it fearlessly. Thank you for continuing to do so.

On the elitist discussion, I want to aggressively disagree with those that depict you as an elitist. This is one of the few places on the web connected with the grocery industry that isn't utterly lacking in a sense of humor. I respect anyone who uses Monty Python and Mel Brooks as references, and it would do the majority of grocers a world of good to lighten up and enjoy the laughs. As for the food wine movie etc., reviews that are sporadically included in the column, please keep them coming, and more frequently if possible. The food and wine reviews are directly related to the industry, and for the rest, there is more to life than work.

One has to have a pantheon of heroes…and we think that including Monty Python and Mel Brooks (as well as Jimmy Buffett) is a pretty good start.

Another MNB user wrote:

I love your column. It is the email I look for first every weekday morning. I have told many of my colleagues of your site and several now quote it as an important industry news site that has the most up-to-date news.

While I do not agree with all your views, I do appreciate your perspective and thought process. After all, you do say it is news with a point of view.

Another MNB user wrote:


From Teddy Roosevelt:

"I care not what others think of what I do, but I care very much about what I think of what I do. That is character."

Keep up the good work.

Can’t do better than TR…

MNB user Richard Lowe wrote:

The story remains the same " You can never please all the people all the time!" Keep up the good work! They do not have to read it if they do not want to. Wal-Mart still owns the title as the world's largest company by a long shot and the have a lot of shortcomings to overcome. Their claim to fame is "Always low prices" does not make them the best company to do business with, the best company to work for, or the best company to have in your neighborhood. We as consumers, marketers, managers, and politicians need to stay awake and recognize this. This mantra has poisoned the retail whole world, yet their are those that succeed on the tact of quality and service. They need to be kept a good corporate citizen, too!

MNB user Gretchen Murdock wrote:

In reference to the criticism of your journalistic abilities and your supposed "elitist" attitude, I take exception. I think you do a terrific job of balancing the issues and look forward to your commentary. The nice thing is that whether you agree with your opinion or not, you are bringing these issues to all of us for review. And all in one place. That makes it a much more easily managed source of information and one that we look forward to daily.

I say, keep it up. Great job.

And yet another MNB user wrote:

We are very glad you do what you do for all of us to be able to stay informed and be able to express our points of view.

Too bad so many people are so cynical and judgmental!

That’s okay. We’re accused of being a little cynical and judgmental ourselves.

We think this all is a healthy debate. Not because it is about MNB (though we certainly appreciate all the kind notes), but because we find few things so stimulating as passion and intelligence and healthy debate.
KC's View: