business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from MNB reader Bob Wheatley:

If there’s one thing we’ve learned over time in marketing, it is the unstoppable creep of commoditization of anything that is successful. Book stores were once the norm and bog box versions an attempt to bring scale and scope to the concept. But like anything that gets initial traction, as technology and culture evolve, the rust of commoditization begins. Only the most astute marketers understand this and work constantly to push the outer limits of uniqueness and differentiation.

What was once special becomes less so over time. Food retail and CPG are faced with similar challenges. This is not just a balance sheet issue. It goes to the core of what the business is about, it’s higher purpose (if there is one beyond rewarding investors) and how it behaves in the marketplace. Book store and supermarkets will share the same fate if there isn’t energy placed everyday on fighting the advance of commoditizing conditions that push the exceptional back to plain vanilla. Brigham's point about third place Is an emotional reward. Hence evidence that the solutions here are not just about price and product mix.

Regarding Starbucks’ new rules about customer who don’;t buy anything, MNB reader Joe Luehrmann wrote:

Last year, I was working and eating at a Panera store in Chicagoland.  They have a meeting room that they allow groups to use that serves as additional seating during the lunch rush.  There were two days where groups of 25+ used the room and maybe TWO of the participants bought anything.  Allowing non-customers to use the restaurant as a place to hang out will eventually drive PAYING customers away.

I will say that at the Starbucks that I frequent in the Chicago suburbs, Cincinnati, and Tucson, customer counts in Starbucks (as well as staffing) appear to be down.  Places that I used to kill time with a cup of coffee where it was hard to find a seat in 2006 have not been all that busy.

Responding to yesterday’s story about a shortage of truck drivers, MNB reader Shelley des Islets wrote:

I was chatting about your article with coworkers (I’m in reverse logistics and work closely with supply chain & transportation at our company), and one brought up an anecdote from one of our third-party suppliers who complained that with the legalization of marijuana in some states, fewer people are applying for jobs with a zero-tolerance on marijuana use verified with testing.  While alcohol metabolizes relatively quickly (except for overuse), THC does not; thus recreational use results in termination when there is no real impact on the worker’s functionality.  They indicated that their company is suffering from a drug policy that is not in step with new laws.

MNB reader Kelly Dean Wiseman wrote:

I would submit that the free market can handle a shortage of drivers. Meaning: pay them more and workers will sign on.

These huge corporations should lower the crazy discrepancies between upper level management pay and workers on the front lines. We don’t need driverless trucks. We need to bring back the middle class by returning the money taken from it by the wealthiest tiny percent.

MNB reader Calvin Fujii had a different take:

The American Trucking Association has been crying about a driver shortage for the last decade. Prior to working in retail, I was in the logistic business.  We never had trouble hiring drivers because we paid a fair wage and benefits.

Why does the ATA think there are not enough drivers?  The driver market is not subject to supply and demand?  If drivers were fairly compensated, there would be no shortage! How about paying full detention fees when delayed at a shipper or receiver (grocery warehouses are the worst!)?   How about paying for empty miles? 

Believe me, the folks you see driving Mercedes and BMW's are not the folks who are delivering 95% of goods used by American families!

Also got this email from another MNB reader:

I just read this morning's Sansolo Speaks and was absolutely floored when he framed the discussion as to the potential economic impact of low retirement savings the way he did.

For years anyone who watches economic news has been hearing the drumbeats of so many people facing dramatically under funded retirement savings. Except none of the reports ever mention the overall potential economic impact all of that under funding is likely to have over the long term.

(Thanks to my high school economics teacher, Mr Graham, I have been interested in this stuff for years.)
KC's View: