business news in context, analysis with attitude

We had a story the other day about Best Buy testing new, targeted formats that will offer product selections geared to specific demographic groups. Which prompted industry guru and MNB user Glen Terbeek to write:

Best Buy's new store approach is a step in the right direction. After all, God Created each store's market (shoppers and competitors) differently and then changes it continuously. Accordingly, a retailer needs to alter each store's offering.

The reason that the Best Buy approach won't happen in the supermarket industry is that the organizations, measurements, labor practices, suppliers, financial analyst and related business practices won't let it happen.

First step might be to think of market share in terms of each store's market potential, and then redefine the business practices from that point "backwards."

On the ongoing subject of Wal-Mart’s pay scales, one MNB user wrote:

Let's face it -it's all about the perception that Wal-Mart pays less and is non-union. My son works as a cashier at Kroger and is their #1 ranked cashier (yes, they do have weekly rankings on the speed of these people). He gets paid a whopping $5.50 an hour with NO premium pay for late nights, NO extra pay for Sundays and NO extra holiday pay. He worked Easter and received, yep, you guessed it, $5.50 an hour !! Wal-Mart pays $7.50 an hour in this same large city. (As my son is part time he would not get medical benefits with either company). By the way, I don't like shopping at W-M but, as long as prices are 20-30% less, I'm obligated to do so. Please, none of this crap about other retailers trying to keep higher paying jobs so employees can have a decent standard of living (see above).

And on the subject of Wal-Mart’s labor troubles in Canada, another MNB user wrote:

Wal-Mart's threatening to close a Montreal store with union activity is ugly, but not unprecedented. A couple years ago, a McDonald’s in Montreal was going to be the first in North America to get union certification (there's a big union movement in Montreal, obviously). It's illegal for McDonalds to fire employees for firing a union, but McDonalds found a way around it by closing down the whole restaurant, under claims that it wasn't making money (something virtually no other McDonalds restaurant has done).

Wal-Mart claiming that the act of unionization makes it unprofitable pushes this a step further. It sets a precedent (if Wal-Mart can get away with it) to close down any store just before a union forms, neatly skirting the don't-fire-if-you're-forming-a-union law. Wal-Mart might even have the chutzpah to try to get community support against the union. "If they unionize, then we HAVE to shut the store down. You've got no place else to shop, since, uh, we put everyone else out of business. So really, the union just wants to take away your freedom!"

I don't know if Wal-Mart can legally get away with this. But this is the sort of thing behemoths are good at, unfortunately.

MNB user Bill Thornton had some thoughts about Ahold’s legal troubles:

I recently lost my job with Ahold two years before I was scheduled to retire. Like others who shared my fate, I am also upset with executive shenanigans across the pond, but I am much more upset by the ethical miasma at U. S. Foods. It was USF's actions more than anything else that caused my retirement to be an ordeal rather than a reward. I long to see those people called to account. Unfortunately, even vigorous prosecution will not restore the value of my Ahold stock nest egg.

We wrote with some skepticism about Pizza Hut bringing out a new Full House XL Pizza, which is 30 percent bigger than the chain’s large pie, noting that apparently Pizza Hut didn’t get the “supersizing causes obesity” memo.

To which one MNB user responded:

I’m sure I won’t be the only one to point out to you that Pizza is designed as a communal food, not an individual serving. Which would make a difference in the positioning of the offering. As one of my cubicle neighbors pointed out after reading your remark - “now I can order one ex-large instead of one large and one medium to feed my family.”

True. However, we’d be willing to bet that a lot of folks will shift from the large to the extra large pizza, and will eat just as many slices.

On the other hand, maybe it’s just us.

But your point is well taken.

On a related subject, we made fun of Starbucks for bringing out a new calorie-and-fat-laden drink at a time when there are so many concerns about the nation’s obesity levels. Which led one MNB user to observe:

I think it's fine to make a food item based on taste instead of following the diet craze. Believe it or not, there are still people out there that enjoy a drink for the sake of the taste. If all food retailers followed suit we would end up with products like:

The All New Starbucks Health Drink, Carmel & Coffee Flavored Air
0 carbs 0 calories 0 fat only $2.99

1) Put cup to mouth
2) Breathe in fumes

Satisfying and healthy for you!

Regarding our recent story about Albertsons deciding that its Shaws division should develop an online presence, MNB user Kenneth K. Boyer wrote:

It is interesting that Larry Johnston explicitly says that going online is primarily a relationship-building device. This has been one of the central findings of our research at Michigan State University. Getting closer to the customer helps strengthen their loyalty and get a greater share of their wallet overall. Good for Albertsons, which has quietly and systematically built the first (almost) national network for grocery home delivery. If you live in a top 50 market anywhere in the U.S., it is coming to you.

On the subject of wine bottles bearing screw tops, one MNB user wrote:

I was at a wine store recently and found one of my favorite bottles of wine had switched to a screw-on cap, and my initial thought was that this was not the same bottle of wine.

I talked to the store owner and she assured me that it was the same product. She said that many wine makers are switching, not because of supply the supply of corks, but because of the costs of using corks. She mentioned that up to 10% of wine inventory is ruined because of bad corks. If a bottle has a bad cork, molds and bacteria will get in and ruin the wine, costing the wine maker more money.

I agree that the sound of a freshly corked bottle of wine is part of the appeal. I don't believe that the entire industry will move to screw-on caps. Some makers will, and some won't. I think the issue of corking will become another cue of quality and prestige, allowing those who use a cork to demand a higher price, possibly offsetting the potential cost of losing up to 10% of its revenue.

We were castigated yesterday by a number of MNB users for out piece on Wal-Mart and Jon Stewart. To recap, we wrote that “Wal-Mart has decided not to carry the best selling America (The Book) by Jon Stewart and the writers of ‘The Daily Show’ because page 99 shows the justices of the Supreme Court in ‘full-frontal, sagging nudity.’ The book also has cutouts of the justices' robes and urges readers to ‘restore their dignity by matching each justice with his or her respective robe.’

“The photos are obviously doctored, and the message clearly satiric. But Wal-Mart spokeswoman Karen Burk said, ‘We felt a majority of our customers would not be comfortable with the image’ of the naked justices. And the publisher, Warner Books, said the book didn’t meet Wal-Mart’s criteria on potentially offensive material.

We commented that the only thing that we find offensive is when people don’t have a sense of humor.

And as Jon Stewart showed when he went on CNN’s “Crossfire” and smacked around Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson with a combination of wit and moral outrage at both political parties, he’s both one of the funniest and smartest guys on TV.

We suspect that Wal-Mart is a gold mine for great satire, and Stewart is just the guy to deliver it.

And by the way, if Wal-Mart is concerned that the book will offend its customers, that could speak volumes about how well the company knows its shoppers. After all, the book is a best seller, and the TV show is a hit. So somebody must be reading and watching…

One MNB user responded:

Regarding Wal-Mart discontinuing John Stewart’s best selling book, I applaud Wal-Mart’s decision to not show nudity in their stores. No matter what you think, Wal-Mart has common beliefs about what they provide to
their customers and I applaud their decision to keep with their beliefs even with a popular item. If only more retailers had the guts to speak with their heart and not (bow to) public pressure this country would be better off.

Just because the book is a best seller doesn't mean many parents want their children looking at page 99.

We figure that if we haven’t taught our kids that William Rehnquist nude is inherently funny and probably satiric, then we haven’t done a very good job.

Another MNB user wrote:

I suspect that Wal-Mart knows their shoppers very well and will be just fine without Jon Stewart's book. I am sure that they are fully prepared to accept whatever backlash (if any) their stance might generate.

Don't you think that its possible to possess a sense of humor and think that "full frontal sagging nudity" isn't funny?

Actually, as long as the word “sagging” is in the sentence, our answer would be “no.”’

MNB user Ed Nalley wrote:

It's great that Wal-Mart will not sell porno products--America needs more Executives and Citizens to support what is left of our country's morals.

Its no wonder we have so many negative messages going out to our citizens—I believed your daily information and most comments to be positive--but your comment on this Topic is very disappointing and I would hope you will be supportive of any company trying to support a positive moral program.

We’re guessing that Ed didn’t laugh at our “sagging” joke above…

For the record, we’re not pro-porn…but we also think that the Stewart book is a long way from being porn. We also think we are being positive…not just toward Wal-Mart’s position in this particular case. We’re pro-Jon Stewart and pro-satire…and we don’t think that makes us particularly immoral.

MNB user Glen L. Rose wrote:

I love the fact that Wal-Mart is taking the high road. Not too many people or companies today are willing to do so. While you may think it is funny, I feel that too many of us have let our guard down on what our children can read, watch or view in a book or magazine. Jon Stewart could have achieved the same results with the Justices dressed in underwear.

There is no reason Mr. Stewart had to make them completely nude, except to be even more crude and vulgar, as this seems to be the only way comedians today can get the laughs. True comedy is rare today, and I applaud Wal-Mart for understanding that not all people find vulgarity funny.

If more companies and people would take the type of stand that Wal-Mart has, we would have fewer social problems. Is there any wonder drug abuse, sexual addiction and crime rates are up substantially in this country over the past ten or twenty years? This has come about because too few of us are willing to stand up for crude, obscene and vulgar behavior. If we continue to act this way, there will come a day when we will "accept" those things that today we hold as being wrong (remember, there was a time not too long ago that this book would have been found only "behind the counter").

I have not been a big fan of Wal-Mart only because I see them "taking over the industry" but today they just made one huge leap in my book.

Another MNB user wrote:

Your take is interesting on the idea that Jon Stewart 'smacked around' the CNN political pundits. Clearly, every news operation and report that I have seen indicate that it was actually Jon Stewart who lost his cool and moved to the profane, and that his disdain was only one sided due to his own left leaning political views. Jon Stewart recently let the world know that he will be voting for John Kerry as well.

I never thought I would hear myself say this, but GOOD FOR WALMART!! Just ask Bill Maher what happens when you cross the line. It has taken him a few years now to attempt to gain back his credibility. And he had to do it with a much smaller HBO audience. Jon Stewart is definitely headed in the same direction.

Actually, if you read the transcript carefully, you see that what Jon Stewart was railing against was the lack of real and civil political discourse in this country, the tendency to demonize the opposition, and the unwillingness of the media to move beyond the surface attacks launched by both parties. He also was both amused and outraged by the tendency of the media to attack him for not being tough enough in interviews, noting that his show is on Comedy Central and maybe shouldn’t be held up as a paradigm of political journalism.

In the closest thing to an email that was remotely supportive of us, MNB user James F. Curley wrote:

There’s no such thing as bad publicity. Wal-Mart’s decision to ban John Stewart’s book just made him a lot more money.

Another MNB user wrote:

Just when you were about to convince me that Wal-Mart was part of "the problem" and out-of-touch with America, they go and do something decent! It must have something to do with their Southern, Midwest roots.

With the media always pushing the limits of poor taste and loose morals, I'm glad somebody with a little clout is willing to draw the line. A truly great sense of humor can rely on intellect and wit without stooping to what is crass and disgusting. Any baboon can do that. Whatever happened to civility anyway?

Way to go, Wal-Mart!

Maybe George S. Kaufman was right when he said, “Satire is what closes on Saturday night.”

There was a related story about how companies like Tyson and Lowe’s Home Improvement had decided to pull their ads from ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” because of content concerns. One MNB user noted yesterday that viewers of that show were actually these companies’ target consumers, and questioned the wisdom of pulling the ads.

Another MNB user responded:

These companies are making principle based decisions based on the content their advertising dollars support, not out of a fear of association by the viewer. Doing what is right, admittedly a debatable issue, is not the same thing as "old fashioned" and often times will fly in the face of what might be best for business. What is popular is not always right and what is right is not always popular.

MNB user Steve Haubner wrote:

In response to your ad on "Desperate Housewives" and companies who no longer advertise there, I have to reply just to set the record straight on whether or not anyone follows who runs what ads where. There are still some of us who pay attention and who boycott and/or support responsible advertising. I applaud those companies boycotting this show!
And another MNB user wrote:

Hooray for Lowe's and Tyson! Maybe I am just old fashioned, but decided to check out “Desperate Housewives” the other night and turned it off in disgust. Anyone watching this junk needs their heads examined. It is not fit for human consumption, least wise anyone with a brain.

if you didn’t see the first couple of episodes, we can understand why you didn’t get the joke…but we would agree that it is not for everyone. But we still think it is a hoot…and we think we have a brain. (Though not all of you would necessarily agree…)

Maybe not everyone feels this way, but we find discussions like these to be fascinating and strangely energizing. We don’t think, by the way, that Wal-Mart or Tyson don’t have the right to make these marketing decisions. Of course they do. Just as we have the right to question their decisions, and you have the right (some would say obligation) to challenge us.

(We might ask whether if is Wal-Mart’s intention only to stock products suitable for consumption by a child…and point out that there may be a few other products carried by the Bentonville Behemoth that are potentially more harmful to children than a bit of political satire…)

We keep reminding ourselves that when, a few years ago, MNB users had a drawn-out and very funny discussion about the best sports movie ever made, there were an awful lot of you who voted for “Caddyshack.” (While we would vote for “Bull Durham,” we’re proud to have the kind of user base that reveres a movie like “Caddyshack.”)
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