business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from an MNB reader responding to last week’s piece about LL Bean is reinvigorating its competitive positioning:

I might love my LL Bean duffle bags purchased decades ago as they're awesome for traveling across the region and the world.

That said, LL Bean is not a shopping destination for me given their public display of affection for a certain incumbent president.

Companies and individuals should have donation limits so that they cannot buy influence no matter how deep their pockets or the obtuse goals of their CEOs, CFOs and others who are too far removed from the normal stream of human consciousness.

This email illustrates a continuing problem that LL Bean has … but, with all due respect, it also betrays ignorance about the facts.

Yes, it is true that Linda Bean - a member of the founding family and the board of directors - was public in her support of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and even raised money for it.

But it is equally true that she was on her own when she did that - her efforts did not reflect the views of her fellow family members, nor those of the company that bears her name. I have it on great authority that the company does not support Trump, and never did.

Linda Bean has been an outspoken conservative who, for the record, has lost every time she’s run for public office.

I think it is fair to say that her statements put LL Bean - and its executive team - in an awkward position, because a sizable percentage of their customers do not hold views similar to those of Trump, especially on issues like the environment.

If you don’t like Trump and feel it is important not to patronize businesses or people that support his agenda, I think you can continue to use your duffle bag with a clear conscience. You can even order another one.

Starbucks announced last week that it is selling its Tazo tea brand to Unilever and plans to launch a credit card with Chase, as it looks to compensate for a fiscal quarter that was disappointing.

One MNB reader wrote about Starbucks:

Incredible company and a superb leader.  27,000 locations is a mark so few can even dream; a very nice job of “flag planting” to be certain.

Going forward the rule of large numbers works against Wall Street expectations. 

Starbucks needs to develop the "community" inside the stores to build sales.  They have the products and service.  The central question now is “How to make the store a community?” if they are to sell more.

In my view, they should work special events, guests, and community interests to build sales.  (And, renew the subscription coffee service to which you often refer.)

And, down the road, perhaps former CEO Schultz will mobilize the Starbucks locations for his presidential campaign?  (Though today, I’m not sure if that’s a strength or weakness…)

I’d be careful about that if I were Schultz, especially in view of the conversation above about LL Bean. It may be a launching pad, but his stores could also lose one-third of its customers.

From another reader about Starbucks:

I’ve just been noticing that they don’t have much of a selection, really, for the coffees they should have in their stores. And what they have is haphazard in assortment, and placement around the store and behind the counter.

You’d think that each store would offer 100% of the bags of coffee they offer at supermarkets, but they do not.

And another issue I have is that if you decide to buy the coffee, fine, have some in bean form and ask someone to grind it for you, but have “ground” options ready to grab, pay for, and go.

And, for each kind of coffee they want to retail in their stores . . .have a decaf option.

They can only get so far with the beverage, and the little side case they have for food and bottle drinks.

Devote a 12’ section of wall to stocking bags of coffee. If they’re not going to have online options, then at a minimum, they should have those offerings in their stores, 100%.
To see your news today about carrying out the lofty stuff of selling the Tazo Brand, or creating a credit card/gift card etc. is the wrong approach.

I learned a long time ago in retail, you start from the product and shelf, then work out. Do that right, build loyalty on that, and then complement with the “fluff”. But don’t push “fluff” and not execute at store level.

Their stores should be all about access to “coffee” in all its’ forms.

I think you have a point, in that some Starbucks stores have begun to resemble factories, without the “third place” charm that they used to have.

We had a story the other day about potential health problems that could be created by excessive consumption of black licorice, which prompted me to express relief that I’m only addicted to Strawberry Twizzlers. And I added, “No other flavors, and certainly not Red Vines, which are just a pale imitation.”

Prompting one MNB reader to write:

With all due respect, sir, you are dead wrong. Red Vines are far superior to those wretched Twizzlers.

We’ll have to agree to disagree on that.
KC's View: