business news in context, analysis with attitude

Responding to our comments last week about how “average” actually means “mediocre,” but has managed to become acceptable to certain chains (not to mention other parts of the country), one MNB user wrote:

I once heard a Division Manager say he couldn't understand how a Store Manager could be satisfied when his reports equaled District or Division Average.

He said if you really look at where you are on this list, it's just a little above the worst operations.

It reflects the dumbing down of culture, business, education, and society in general. Don’t get us started…

On the subject of Coke’s recent travails, one MNB user observed:

As someone who follows all 3 major soft drink companies (Coke, Pepsi, and DP/SU), I think Coke really stopped innovating with the advent of the Fridge Pack.

Pepsi learned with Pepsi Blue to make things limited time offers (eg, Holiday Spice and Pitch Black), whereas Coke has done what? They put a product like C2 out (which is clearly tanking, and we mean clearly), and keep try to fix it. Pepsi was at least smart enough to give up on ideas like Pepsi Blue when they saw it was not doing well. (It’s also reported that Pepsi is considering yanking Edge or allowing bottlers to scale it back, a-la-Pepsi One)

Coke lives off the idea that people will buy their product no matter what. Now, Coke execs, if you're listening, you should be fighting Mexican Coke importing by offering the same product in the USA at a premium. We all know that a small Dr Pepper bottler in Texas makes a killing off selling their
product with real sugar, and stores like HEB carry it in Texas (and make a killing on it too!). Coke can too! When Kosher Coke comes out, you bet I buy as much of it as I can! Its worth the price. Many of us would pay for higher quality products that don't cut corners, but Coke refuses to listen. The consumer is the boss, and if Coke realizes that they need to be more responsive to customer needs. (and they can make more money doing it!)

DPSU, for example, uses Diet Rite as one of its lead products and markets it in many flavors. They also learned to market a product that is NOT a cola, however diet. While Pepsi and Coke mess around with new names for their lemon-limes, DPSU has no problems marketing diet beverages. Look at the stable of DPSU diets (Dr Pepper, 7up/7up Plus, Diet Rite). They're all solid performers. Not to mention Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper, which they also market in diet. DPSU has a very wayward distribution system, compared to Coke and Pepsi's, but they seem to be able to be able to market their product so much better than Coke and Pepsi can.

All Coke seems to push out (and Pepsi is just as guilty of this) are cola extensions. That's not really innovation, that's a classic sign of lack of innovation. (I give Pepsi credit for milking Mt Dew for all they can get, it's a powerful tool). Coke's latest brainchild? A Pepsi One knockoff. That's NOT innovation!!!! Its more of the same. When is Coke going to learn consumers want totally new things?

Maybe its time to bring New Coke back to life.

We noted on Friday that there was a wonderful little piece in Rodale’s excellent new magazine, Best Life, profiling polar explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes (who also has done things like running seven full marathons on six continents in seven consecutive days – just four months after suffering a massive heart attack and undergoing double bypass surgery).

Asked what rule he never breaks when putting together an expedition, Fiennes says, “When putting together a team, take people who have the right character even if they don’t have the skills. You can teach skills, but you can’t change character.”

We think this is a rule that more retailers ought to embrace, and use to evaluate everyone on the organizational chart – from top leadership to the people working at checkout.

MNB user Jim Conroy wrote:

Your mention of Sir Ranulph Fiennes regarding choosing people with character reminds me of a meeting I was at in the mid-90's.

We stayed at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, which is always rated very highly in the hotel industry.

After three days in the hotel, all of us at the meeting were commenting about the staff of the hotel. There was not a moment that they did not greet you with a smile, and ask to help you in any way that they could. Half the time, they addressed you by name. This involved every hotel employee. I remember one afternoon, we were able to play golf at a nearby course. The shuttle driver overheard my golf partner lament that he forgot his golf shoes. Without our knowing, the shuttle driver called back to the hotel and the shoes were delivered to my partner on the third hole of the golf course.

As our meeting was coming to an end, I stopped in the manager's office to compliment them on their staff. I also asked them, "How do you hire people to be so good in their job?" The manager commented that they do not hire based on a person's qualifications. "We do not care if a person is a great housekeeper, bellman, bartender, etc." We look for someone with a great attitude, and we can train them to do the job." "We just can't teach attitude."

Whenever I see someone with this type of attitude, whether it's at the grocery store, the movie theater, or a restaurant, I think of what this manager of the Ritz told me. Companies where this attitude is most prevalent are: Publix, Costco, USAA, HEB, Harris Teeter, and when we had small children, the employees of McDonalds always went out of their way to help with heating bottles, etc., something I will always remember. Generally, these companies also treat their employees very well.

And another MNB user chimed in:

I loved the quote from Sir Ranulph Fiennes in today's MNB.

I was watching "This Old House Hour" on PBS just last night. There was a profile piece about Roger Cook, the landscaping guru of the show. When talking about hiring people for his crew, he said basically the same thing as Sir Ranulph. He endeavors to hire "nice" people because he can teach the skills needed to do the landscaping work. He went on to explain that having a crew of "nice guys" who are friendly and easy to get along with makes the difference in what can be accomplished on the job.

MNB user Gerry Good wrote:

This is spot on. When I started Super Fresh for A&P in 1982 we spent a lot of time picking good people and making sure they understood what our customer service standards were. I vividly remember taking one of our first store managers into the parking lot for a talk after I discovered (on a surprise visit) a customer service problem and “reinforcing” our standards. He said to me “you are really serious about this aren’t you”. I told him I was and he needed to be as well. Management has to lead by example and if you are not involved in customer service it will not happen, particularly in a large organization.

Finally, two of our favorite things to write about are wine and movies; in our next life, we’ll come back as either a wine writer or a movie critic (unless, of course, someone offers us the opportunity to do either in this life). So it warms our heart when we get emails like this one, responding to our Friday critique:

Took my twelve year old daughter to see "The Incredibles" last night. I think I laughed more than she did. The theater was packed with both families and groups of childless adults. Your review was right on target!

Just think of MNB as a full-service website…
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