business news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday’s FaceTime focused on the Retail Feedback Group’s annual Supermarket Experience Study, specifically focusing on what retailers need to do in order to create a compelling in-store experience. They had four recommendations and MNB reader Paul Schlossberg wrote:

Excellent write-up on a very important subject. 

Those "tools" will work in almost any business. Just have to be shrewd enough to understand how to adapt it and apply it. Loved the "time of day" point.

MNB reader Norm Myhr responded:

I’d add one more…

Food stores have no idea how important the food they sell, the meaning it has, or the place it holds in the Customer’s life. That cake could be baby’s first birthday, grandpa’s last birthday, a meaningful celebration like graduation or citizenship. Food is central to a family’s celebrations.

Yes, lots of customers buy on price, and for most food stores that’s the easiest way to sell, so food stores sell that way.

Believe me it’s not that hard to dignify your customer’s life, by understanding what it means to them.

I’m with you. In fact, let me repeat a story I’ve told often over the years, but that may be fresh to new MNB readers.

Every summer for the past seven years I’ve taught marketing at Portland State University in Oregon, where they’ve been kind enough to make me a member of the adjunct faculty. It is one of the great experiences of my life, for which I thank the kind and generous Prof. Tom Gillpatrick, who team-teaches the class with me.

The first thing I ask each of the students to do each summer is to write a short essay on the subject of their most memorable meal. I have a bias, long on display here on MNB, that too many people in the food business think only in terms of category management, sales lift and profit margins, and don't think enough about food. So I want the students, to use a familiar phrase, to think different.

The essays are almost always good, and sometimes brilliant. They have ranged from meals eaten in a four-star restaurant in Beirut to quieter, more intimate dinners shared at home with family and friends.

One of my favorites was written by a man who said that his most memorable meal consisted of Minute Rice and A-1 steak sauce consumed on Christmas Day; he was serving in Afghanistan, had just returned from patrol, and, he said, it was memorable because he was with his brothers, all of whom he would have died for, and each of whom would have died for him. (Puts things in perspective, doesn't it?)

The lesson from this essay is exactly what Norm Myhr is making - that every product in the supermarket may be special to some shopper, and that retailers should not minimize this importance. In fact, they should celebrate it.

(Full disclosure: I stole the idea for this essay from the novelist and journalist Bob Morris, who uses the same idea with his creative writing classes at Rollins College in Florida. My class was full of business majors, but it had the same impact - it got people to write with passion about a subject easy to feel strongly about. So thanks to Bob for that.)

On another subject, from MNB reader Renée A. Vassilos:

Kevin, thank you for your awesome newsletter … without fail, you make my head churn a little each morning on something new.

This morning it was on UnitedHealth Care's reasons behind trying to stop a former exec joining the new health care venture being started up by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase.

It made me churn on how non-competes are outdated and, I believe, no longer recognized in California. Also, it helped me recognize how vulnerable the incumbents must feel with someone else coming into their lucrative industry! I see the same happening in the food & ag space!


Got the following email from MNB reader Greg Kerr, commenting on something I said in an MNB Politics Desk entry:

Agree with your position on all aisles coming to the table with how they'll lead and stances on policy, domestic and foreign.  The fact that the Democrats are talking about Schultz' siphoning off support, just tells me they do not have a strong enough candidate that can codify the votes necessary.  It also should be telling of the two parties that many Americans are fed up with the political wrangling of both the Democrats and Republicans.  I changed my affiliation nearly 20 years ago to Independent because of the seeming idiocracy of both parties. 

Democrats should focus their attention on getting the strongest candidate that will can defeat Trump and Schultz (if he runs).  Democrats are creating their own distractions versus focusing on the potentials within their own party.

I offered some question yesterday that I would pose to candidates for the presidency, prompting MNB reader Tim Phillips to add another one:

Have you paid your fair share in taxes the last decade - at your income level that should be something around 40% - is that the case?”

As a person who is nowhere near a Billionaire and pays close to 40% every year I would find it difficult to vote for anyone who makes that kind of money and doesn’t pay taxes.

In all fairness, you never used to have to ask that question when candidates released their income taxes.

An interesting note along these lines, by the way … Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat has written a piece noting that as former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz positions himself as an un-politician, he also at times has been an un-voter:

“State and county election records show that going back to 2005, Schultz has cast a ballot in just 11 of 38 elections. This isn’t the worst voting record I’ve seen in a political candidate. But neither does it suggest someone actively involved in ballot-box democracy over the years.

“Schultz has at least voted in every election for the office he’s now seeking, the presidency. He also voted in the most recent midterms, in 2018. But he has skipped most of the state and local elections over the years, as well as some of the big midterms (like in 2014, when Republicans retook the U.S. Senate, and 2006, when Democrats “blue-waved” the Bush administration).
He also passed up voting in Seattle municipal elections for mayor and city council most years, including in 2005 — right when he was petitioning City Hall for money to rebuild a basketball arena for the Sonics, which he co-owned. In fact, he sat out all the municipal elections in the period he owned the Sonics — 2001, 2003 and 2005.

“He also didn’t vote during an election that featured a measure targeting him. Initiative 91, which passed in Seattle in 2006, sought to bar public subsidies for sports arenas. Schultz had sold the Sonics a few months before the vote, so maybe he didn’t care anymore at that point.

“This is all a little awkward, because a couple years ago, when Starbucks rolled out a voter participation drive, Schultz said this: ’It’s not just about who will be the next occupant of the White House. More Americans should participate in all elections, even those for city councils and school boards’.”

Schultz’s voting history, Westneat writes, suggests “a certain trope - the business executive who’s above the messy political fray, but also somehow most qualified to swoop in and fix it.”

So maybe that’s something else we should require of our elected officials - that they’ve actually voted in every election in which they’ve been qualified to do so.

Just a thought.
KC's View: