business news in context, analysis with attitude

Regarding the growing number of autonomous delivery robots that seem to be popping up, MNB reader John Rand wrote:

Call me a cynic but my frequent reading of dystopic science fiction just ran away with this thought in mind:
Stay alert for the story of the first of these being hijacked on the street, kidnapped and broken open, scavenged for parts (which may be more valuable than the contents.
Then the arms race will ensure. Better tracking and monitoring, countered by monitor blocking techniques. Alarms and locks versus crowbars and hackers.
A dark landscape with hovering drones standing in for vultures.
Sorry, I couldn’t help it.

Okay, you’re a cynic. Doesn’t mean you’re wrong, though.

I’ve written here about the importance of, as retailers adopt robotic technology in-store, making sure that it isn’t about just replacing people and reducing labor costs; I think it is important to redeploy those people to positions in which they can provide critical connections to the shoppers.

One MNB reader agreed:

You are dead on here. I worked at The Home Depot for 11 years in the 90's and early 2000's. In the late 90's is when GE Bob (Nardelli) took over for Arthur Blank. As we added more and more tech, hours to the sales floor decreased. Customer service took a big hit and it has taken a very long time for HD to recover. Companies need to walk that fine line of adding tech and removing store hours.

Responding to last week’s piece about the annual Consumer Reports survey of Americans’ favorite supermarkets, one MNB reader wrote:

It’s so cool to see my local grocery store growing up, Market Basket (also known by the family name DeMoulas), punching above its regional weight class to land on the Consumer Reports Best Food Stores list. Yes they are the local, family-owned place, but they also really do have great prices and I miss them every time I shop for groceries in northern NJ where I live now. Everyone here is obsessed with the recently arrived Wegmans, which feels like a cross between an amusement park, zoo, and labyrinth and is almost completely unappealing to me for those reasons.

I do have to admit that I had a great customer service experience at Wegmans when I left feedback that I was disappointed in their lack of free-range eggs and sustainability information in their seafood department: I got a very polite voicemail from someone saying that they were adding signage, etc, which I appreciated. Interesting to see them both on the same list (repeatedly! In 2017 Wegmans was #1 and Market Basket #2) when they are so different.

Also got the following email regarding Michael Sansolo’s column last week:

When I was in college in the late 70's I was a night attendant at a local mortuary. There was a bedroom where I would sleep at night, I answered the phone and called a mortician when needed. Yes, it was creepy at times but it was a good job when you are going to college.

One of the first things I was told by Paul, one of the morticians, funerals are for the living not for the dead, I have yet had a dead person complain about their funeral.  Some year's ago I went to a friends funeral at an Art Museum, it was because he was a huge supporter of the local art scene.  Maybe because of that and I worked at a mortuary 40 years ago, I like the idea of having a more uplifting event than solemn. in any case Morticians are going to give funerals, visitations, parties(?) that the living want.

Got a lot of email about my FaceTime piece about Record Store Day, including this one from MNB reader Callie Martin:

I LOVE Record Store Day! As a millennial collector of the vinyl, I spent the majority of my 20’s volunteering on a weekly shift at a collectively-run record store and serving on their board of directors.

This store heavily relies on RSD, and the occasion is supported in store with live music, free coffee and treats, a raffle, and other little perks. While I no longer am active in the store, I did help run the register at open this past Saturday because I love watching the line form in front of the door and down the block, and getting to nerd out with fellow collectors. For the first two hours open, a steady stream of customers flowed through the store, buying not only the special RSD releases, but also picking up tons of new and used records from the regular stock.

This event is really important to the large concentration of record stores here in the Twin Cities, and is even supported by a bus that transports customers from store to store, each location offering unique events and incentives to the heavy flow of collectors traversing across town. This particular store sells as much in the one day event as they normally do in almost a month! The event gets people, for at least one day, to not buy their vinyl online, but to hit the brick and mortars, and support the local record shops, food trucks, and musical acts. Those in-person perks do something that online can never do- offer live experiences and camaraderie around the shared passion for the analog!

PS: if you’re looking for a turntable recommendation, I do favor the Audio Technica brand. I cannot stress the importance of also owning some quality record cleaning and dust removing supplies!

From MNB reader Frank Fay:

I own 4 turntables and just bought a Jensen all around device with another turntable.  My 1961 Fischer cabinet provides stereophonic music that cannot compare to today’s Bluetooth speakers, but boy does it echo in our A frame home!  I also have an Ion that allows me to take cassettes and vinyl and download them onto my I-phone for travel.  You just can’t get every song from 1950-2019 digitally…and really who would want to?  Love album art and occasionally I like to hear the skip of a record I’ve scratched!  All good, now time’s a wasting, GET IN LINE…some interesting audiophiles on that line that might have even been to the original Woodstock!  Got your 50th anniversary tickets yet?

From another reader:

Buy a an Album...turn the volume to 11…Same thrill as dropping the clutch at a red light...well almost…

And another:

Great coverage and acknowledgement of Record Store Day.  You should get yourself a “turntable” as I think you’ll find it a lot of fun to go analog with music as a change of pace.  Pick up a copy of  Living and Dying in ¾ Time on vinyl and give it a try.  We live in a world of highly compressed music that gives us a very sterile rendition of the original recording.  While hardly perfect, vinyl provides a listening experience, and helps you concentrate on what you enjoyed about the music or the artist in the first place.

The business lesson here is built around the nostalgia and alternative enjoyment that analog gives us.   Trends move forward, but they don’t always provide us “quality” experiences.  Moving faster and more efficiently, sometimes can leave the best part of the experience behind.

And still another:

Kevin, so glad you finally became hip to this. I know about it because my son has worked at Amoeba Records in Hollywood for years and this is one of their craziest days of the year. Huge resurgence in Vinyl and Turntables.

Another MNB reader chimed in:

Just a note on this topic….as an avid record collector for most of my life (I suspect that records are as important to me as movies are to you!) (seriously, I started my collection with the Beach Boys 45 rpm/When I Grow Up [To Be A Man] when I was about 5) I was pleased to see that you included some words about Record Store Day (RSD to record geeks like me).  I waited in line at different Tulsa, OK retailers (different opening times) last week with scads of other collectors and exchanged text messages with a friend in St. Louis who was waiting in a line at Vintage Vinyl.  To collectors like me, this is a BIG DEAL!  Why?  Cause many re-issues or 1st issue rare records come out on this day and the retailers are celebrating the day in ways totally unimagined 5 yrs ago.

You know why?  Cause one store employee (not the owner) at 1 independent record store thought it was a good idea, began to promote the idea, and now there are hundreds of unrelated stores and 100’s of new pieces that were released and SOLD OUT in hours across the country.  The trend will no doubt continue…

The “eye opener”?  Its retail – and it was an employee who started the concept.  So ask yourself about your company….what can you do to promote your retail establishment??  Could there be a “Grocery Store Day” movement to promote (for example) locally grown products brought to market, what about Organics?  What about the Certified Angus Beef with no pink slime….I’m not saying, I’m just sayin’!

From MNB reader Tom Redwine:

May I humbly suggest a Crosley record player? I don't work for 'em and won't get anything by recommending 'em; my wife and I have had a Crosley for many years and it's worked great - even used it to convert some out-of-print LPs into MP3 files for listening on my phone & laptop.

Yeah, the kids these days are into vinyl. Whodathunk?

From MNB reader Alan Finta:

You often note how the aroma of a store can bring you back to great memories…I found the same thing recently with music, after purchasing a turntable for my 17 year old daughter.  As I researched different options, I found that turntables have indeed returned to the marketplace.  I didn’t go big, and ended up buying the $100 special at Best Buy, thinking my daughter would be enthused for a couple months and then move on to the next “thing.”

What I had forgotten about, was the box of old albums I had sitting in the garage, that is now roughly 37 years old.  Some of the albums were mine…Van Halen, Queen, and Rush among others.  The rest were my sister’s, who passed away at 22 (when I was 14)…Pablo Cruise, The Eagles, The Doobie Bros, and Billy Joel to name a few.  Needless to say, her musical interests influenced me greatly…

As I set up my daughter’s “surprise” birthday gift, I was amazed at how the simple act of holding the album cover in my hands could take me back to my youth.  Let’s not forget the pictures and lyrics printed on the inside, or in a “special” insert.  Lifting the needle to put it on the album was the final “mind blown” moment.

It is not easy for a dad to connect with a 17-year-old daughter on most days.  But that turntable, and those old albums brought us together.  I hadn’t heard Billy Joel’s “Vienna” for years and years, but it’s now a song that will cement memories with my daughter in my mind for life (we can knock out a pretty solid duet with “air piano” thrown in at the end of the song).  I get a few precious memories, and my daughter gets to know her Auntie just a little bit.

For you, get the turntable…for your millennial readers they can find Vienna on You Tube…get the version with the lyrics…lots of good stuff that stands the test of time

I wrote last week about the passing of Jane Golub, which prompted a number of emails.

MNB reader Maureen Rowan Murphy wrote:

Your beautifully expressed tribute captured the remarkable woman that Jane Golub was. Her zest for life, tireless energy, (I often said she reminded me of the Energizer Bunny), her extraordinary ability to make everyone feel special, and her unwavering commitment to making the lives of others better and brighter is being remembered as we mourn her passing.  As a member of the Price Chopper Market 32 family, I have been blessed to have known and worked with Jane for more than 30 years. She left her handprint on my heart, and the hearts of many. Her leadership, mentorship and friendship will be forever missed!

From another reader:

A beautiful piece about a beautiful person. Truly one of a kind.

From MNB reader Angie Criswell:

As a former store manager with Price Chopper, I was deeply saddened to hear of Jane’s passing.  Jane was all you said, and more.  When she visited a store, she made a point to meet and shake hands with everyone who worked there.  Baggers, cashiers, cart retrievers, meat cutters, deli clerks, plus the customers.  Every single soul working got a personal greeting and handshake from Jane, and Neil as well.  They are real people.   They love the business they have made into a legacy, and it shows.  Hopefully the next generation will follow in their footsteps.

From MNB reader David Orgel:

Great piece on Jane Golub. I was very sorry to hear of her passing. I enjoyed spending time at FMI Midwinter this year talking to Jane, and we discovered we are both alumni of the same high school: Bronx High School of Science (different graduation years!). I totally agree with your comments about the twinkle in her eyes. The industry has always been better off because of the leadership and good works of Jane and Neil. There is nothing else like it!

And from MNB reader Dagmar Farr:

I just read your wonderful piece on Janie Golub. You are so right, she made everybody feel important – truly a very rare quality. She was my FMI “Jewish” mother and we would laugh about it all the time.

I know Neil and Mona will miss her terribly, as will many of us.

I know I join many in thanking you for noting her passing.

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