business news in context, analysis with attitude

I wrote about McDonald's last week, and in what I concede was a gratuitous shot, wrote:

I actually went to a bunch of McDonald's last week while driving cross-country; we could count of them having clean bathrooms. Which, when I think about it, is about all that they're really good for.

One MNB user wrote:

As the son of a man that had his hands in expanding the (very successful) McDonald's network, I am continuously offended by your one-sided, opinionated, down-right rude representation of them.  When will you learn that it is each individual’s choice what they put in their body, and until individuals take responsibility for it, nothing will change.  Unless of course you think you can degrade everything that you think is not good for you on your website and bring down the likes of every fast food restaurant, every beer/wine establishment, every bakery, every donut shop, etc. it is all about responsibility and moderation. McDonald’s is one of, if not the most, successful franchises in this country’s history for a reason.  People like what they get.  Is it average?  Probably.  But it is consistently average and people like to get what they expect. 
I used to look forward to your daily content, often disappointed when the new day’s edition was not up when I sat at my desk for coffee, but lately it is less about the industry trends and new products and more about your opinion.  With all due respect, I enjoy your take on the retail business, but could care less about what you think of McDonalds. My Dad and many Americans have raised good families working for a successful company that does a tremendous amount of charity work, both local and nationally.  How dare you say that McDonalds is only good for clean restrooms.  Do you have any idea the amount of good they do through the Ronald McDonald House charity? 
Shame on you.

I'm not sure that MNB has changed in the way that this reader suggests, but I think he makes a legitimate point. My comment was a little gratuitous, and even a little mean. I do this once or twice a year when writing about Mickey D's, get smacked down, and then don't do it again until I do it again.

To be fair, I've been meaner to Taco Bell over the years, though probably not as often. I've just become more and more anti-fast food as I get older, and the bile sort of pops up from time to time. "Consistently average," to me, isn't a compliment. I understand what this reader is saying, but we may have to disagree on this one.

But I hope you'll respect that as much as I express my opinion, I also provide a forum in which you can express yours.

We got a number of responses last week to Kate McMahon's column about how Bed, Bath & Beyond was establishing outposts at colleges.

One MNB user wrote:

I don’t know how many years ago they started, but I can remember Target and Wal-Mart having “pop up” shops on campuses back before my son started college in 2000.  Back in the day they were semi-trailers parked on or near campus, but that was the state of the art then. The days before QR codes, Square credit card readers, etc. etc.   BB&B has certainly offered refinements to the genre, but they didn’t invent it.

I've taken three kids to a total of five different colleges (so far) and never have had the experience that Kate described. It may have existed, but it hardly was widespread.

From another reader:

OMG..has college changed since I attended.. I am 69!

Thanks for BBB coupon comment! I was thinking only store here in No Dartmouth MA accepted out of date coupons! Every time I get one in mail (VERY frequently…) I throw it my car so I have one when I need one. Have even given them to other customers! I probably have 20 in my car currently.

And from MNB reader Michael A. Litvak:

Loved your article this morning.  We are quite experienced having put five of six (so far) through university.  BB&B has only been in Canada for a few years and we have taken as much advantage of their offerings as we can.  Our only daughter (number five), the sophomore, loves it and I was quite impressed with their “Shop Here.  Pick Up There” option.  We didn’t need to use it as her school is only 60 miles away but we did purchase a memory foam mattress earlier this summer, which was out of stock and showed up within days via courier.
If they can beat Amazon, then they may have found the magic bullet.  Now that she is ensconced in her new apartment (with four other roommates), I must say that her room is pretty much a BB&B masterpiece.  Even her bathroom is outfitted from there; there are two but hers is the nicer one!
The only thing that really bugs me about them is that they will NOT accept expired coupons like they do in the US.  We have to be really careful about using them.  We actually signed up to receive them under two e-mail addresses.  That, at least, guarantees that we always have a couple when we need them.

Good line from MNB user Steve Rash, who had a thought about what Procter & Gamble ought to call its new, bargain version of Tide:

Perhaps a better name would be "Low Tide".

Ba-da-boom. But seriously, folks...

Regarding the management changes at Delhaize and the seeming instability that exists at a company that long seemed to be a model of stability and strong leadership, one MNB user wrote:

Forget about it. Walmart Neighborhood Markets will finish them off.

It certainly would seem to be an opportunity for companies like Walmart, Family Dollar, Dollar General and even Harris Teeter and Publix to take advantage of Delhaize's weakness, especially going into the holidays. (And that's just at Food Lion. Hannaford is seen as less vulnerable in the northeast, but still ripe for attack by competitors such as Price Chopper.)

I've talked to several folks who have told me that if you are a Delhaize employee in the US, are good at your job, and don't have an employment contract/non-compete agreement, it is extremely likely these days that you are getting a phone call from some of these competitors.

I wouldn't write Delhaize's obituary just yet. But the company certainly is facing nine miles of bad road, and having a CEO in Belgium with limited experience as a merchant - arguably the quality that is most important for the company's new CEO - won't make the ride any easier.

One MNB user wrote:

It is very interesting that the press release says nothing about Muller's sales & merchandising experience or skill set.

Just more emphasis by the Delhaize leadership on the supply chain and procurement piece of their business. Unless your business is wholesaling, I do not believe that there are any cash registers in your DC's or customers in your DC's who are looking for product to buy to feed their families.

With about 1300 retail locations, should not their emphasis be on improving their merchandising and driving profitable sales? When will they have, if ever,  a Senior VP of Merchandising whose job it is to provide the right product and the right plan for each market that will enable their retail locations to drive profitable sales.?
Lastly, isn't doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results called something?
Just my 2 cents.

If Delhaize thinks it can fix its problems by focusing on the buy, instead of on the sell, then maybe we'll be writing its obituary sooner than expected.

MNB reader Bruce Daman offers this report from the field:

How in the name of (pick your deity)do companies not get delivering a good customer experience.

Was in the market for a wireless speaker for my camp. Went online but I felt I needed to put my hands on some product. Went to the local Best Buy to compare all the brands.

I was there over 30 minuets looking and was neither approached by nor could I find an associate to help me. Yes, it's Wednesday night at 7:30 PM but??!!

Finally make a decision and I wanted it for that weekend, so I decide to purchase it in-store.

The check-out gentleman was friendly enough but proceeded to try and up-sell me an extended warranty, Best Buy card and Geek Squad support.

I am done with Best Buy and if this represents there customer service levels, Stick a Fork in them.

And, prompted by a reader's comments about Lexus customer service last week, MNB user Brian Blank wrote:

I don’t really mean to pile on Lexus, and I love my Lexus CT200h (the entry level hybrid hatchback), but here I go….  My Lexus dealer has always treated me well since I bought my car (my first Lexus) in spring of 2012.  This past spring, my spouse bought our first Audi, a Certified Pre-Owned 2011 for which we paid about $10k less than my brand new off the boat Lexus a year earlier.  The sales experience for the Audi was good also, but in the months after is where the differences have shown up.

While I am always treated well when having my Lexus serviced at the dealer, there is just always a little feeling that the folks at the Audi dealer are going just that little bit further (both franchises are part of the same dealer group, so we can rule out differences in dealer ownership culture).  The real kicker was the catalog we received from Audi corporate, with a certificate good on any piece of Audi merchandise in the catalog—and remember this was on a USED car.  I have never received anything like that from Lexus.  It’s not that I NEED a free hat, or coffee mug, or what have you, but it would be nice to be acknowledged.  That can be applied to all nature of businesses, but let’s take store ‘loyalty’ programs:  You’re  scanning my purchases, you see what I buy, you see my Big Shops and my little fill-ins, you can figure out if I’m a loyal customer or someone who cherry-picks just the hottest sale prices on a handful of items, you know/can figure out my household situation.  (As Suzanne Sugarbaker put it, “Two men, one cart, fresh pasta…figure it out!”)

Reward me with relevant offers!  It’s OK to try to get me down your household aisle when you notice I always by-pass it…but when you see I buy a cart load of Fancy Feast when it goes on sale, don’t send me a coupon for dog food.  And for heaven’s sake, don’t send me an offer for feminine hygiene products!!!   
Rant over.  Thank you.

I'm with you. But you may have dated yourself a bit with the Suzanne Sugarbaker reference...

I wrote last week about a Kroger pop-up store at the Richmond International Raceway, prompting one MNB user to respond:

You obviously are not an auto racing fan. Regarding the Kroger tent at Richmond Raceway -- you would never say: "And they're off..." In this case a more appropriate thing to say would be: "And they're grilling!!" Ha!

You're right. I know nothing about NASCAR. Though I have taken racing classes at the Skip Barber school in Lime Rock, CT, and am looking forward to seeing Rush the new movie about Formula One racing.

Responding to last week's Eye-Opener which offered a video that looked critically at people's cell phone habits, one MNB user wrote:

People who know me know better than to look at their phone, text, or take a call in my presence.  Clients can get away with it but when it comes to dating,  if a woman texts or gets a call from her kids while with me, its a total deal breaker.  Phones are to be turned off at all times in my presence.  And vice versa.  At family gatherings, dinners, meeting, phones are to be put away and turned off.  Not even vibrate is acceptable.

Wow. You actually get dates?

Now, I haven't gone out on a date with anyone other than the woman to whom I am now related by marriage since 1979 - well before the cell phone explosion - so I grant you that I may be out of touch on this issue.

But if I were going out on a date with someone, I'm not sure I would make pronouncements like "people who know me know better than to look at their phone, text, or take a call in my presence," and "phones are to be turned off at all times in my presence." I agree that common courtesy ought to be observed, but last time I checked, relationships are hard to develop when one person dictates and the other person has to obey. And one other thing. If I were going out with a woman who had kids, I certainly would never suggest that she not take calls or texts from them ... it strikes me that the wrong place to be would be between a parent and his/her kids.

But maybe that's just me.

MNB user Mike Franklin wrote:

I’m not a demographer, but I play one at work. Every generation has its cultural context and we have survived so far. When I hear older generations  discussing younger generations, I remember the quote about the younger generation by either Socrates or Plato, "Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”
Awesome video…

From another reader:

Looks to me like technology is managing our lives, instead of our lives managing technology. Kind of sad to me. And it gives even more meaning and credence to the old adage, “take time to stop and smell the roses”. Even more disheartening, it’s going to get worse, not better.

BTW....if you missed the video, you can access it here.

On another subject, MNB user Elizabeth Archerd wrote:

Twin Cities area grocers are all grieving the loss of Jim Kowalski. His stores provided benchmarks for quality retailing and outstanding service.

Finally, I want to thank all the folks who wrote in about the OffBeat piece I wrote on Friday about my cross-country trip with my son. (You can read it here.) I apparently got more than a few people to cry at their desks on Friday, which wasn't exactly my intention, but the outpouring of affection from the MNB community was amazing.

I'm not going to run all the emails, but I did want to run a few. One was from MNB reader Gary Taylor, which made my heart ache a bit:

After reading your story about your cross country drive with your son, I was overcome with happiness and sadness at the same time. Happiness that you had that opportunity, and more importantly, that you took advantage of that opportunity to spend such quality time with your son. Sadness that I will be unable to experience that with my oldest son.

We lost our son to cancer at age 15 just over 6 years ago. Spencer was an incredible kid whom I regrettably neglected to take advantage of spending “quality” time with until he was diagnosed. Career goals and other pursuits always seemed to take priority. The last year of his illness was both incredibly joyous and incredibly sad. Joyous over the amazing things our family experienced “together” that year and sad over the inevitability of what was to come.

So many people spend so much of their lives focused on things that our family discovered were virtually irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, rather than focusing on the things that truly matter.

The week you had with your son will be a memory you, and he, will have for the rest of your lives and I urge all of your readers to take stock of their lives and ambitions and ensure that they line up with what is truly important. Spend all the time you can with your family, as the time you have available may be interrupted abruptly, and without warning. As I discovered the hard way, when that opportunity to spend time with your kids is taken from you, you can’t go back in time for a do over.

Thank you so much for being willing to share your story and for understanding that your Morning News Beat is not just for educating and informing us about our industry, but also for helping to educate us about the importance of family and personal endeavors as well…

And thanks for sharing your story, and the lesson learned.

From another reader:

Kevin, you gave me a great gift today.  Made me realize how precious that grown man who was once my little boy is to me.  Gave me some perspective.  We’re on good terms, but not great.  Our busy lives have put more distance between us than I realized.  I have some ground to make up.  Starting today.

Now I'm going to cry. Good luck. I'm glad I could help.
And, there was one email last Friday that made me laugh, regarding the pictures that ran with the story:

Kevin, how many black Ts do you own?  Same shirt every picture...

You sound like my wife. I'm sort of going through a minimalist phase ... just makes life simpler. I can concentrate on the important stuff...
KC's View: