business news in context, analysis with attitude

My FaceTime commentary yesterday was prompted by a New York Times story suggesting that some students who have been learning remotely may not in fact go back to the classroom - they've actually thrived in their new circumstances.  I said that this is a lesson to retailers - not all customers are served by the same kinds of stores, which is why format and channel diversification is so important.

MNB reader Amy O’Neil wasn't buying the metaphor:

The thought that school districts/states are considering not having kids go back into schools is terrifying to me as a career-long educator and trainer of retail workers. I absolutely agree that you have to teach (lead, market, etc.) people differently to be successful, but in this day and age, in-person social skills are also paramount to the growth of our next generation of workforce.

It is already a challenge to have effective and respectful discourse when it is so easy for people to hide behind an anonymous user name, just send a chat message, or turn off the camera. This translates to what we see every day in the news when people are reactionary and turn to violence rather than use intellect to face an issue and work toward a solution. And, it also translates to the discussion from last week with John Grant about the violence and other challenges workers have faced during the pandemic in how to deal with both customers and employees during these times. I know this veers a bit away from the message of learning how to be essential to customers, but eventually, if you can’t learn to relate to people during your formative years, then you may not be able to do it in the workplace.

One of the things I said yesterday was that I learned a lot from Mrs. Content Guy, who came to teaching as a second profession and who believed that you have to teach the student, not the subject.

MNB reader Allen F. Wysocki responded:

God bless your wife for her attitude and approach to teaching. We face the same “opportunities” in higher education and many of our faculty have discovered new ways of teaching and of reaching our students as a result of being forced to teach online as a result of Covid.

We have long promoted the idea of encouraging our faculty to be mindful of the different learning styles of students and to adapt their teaching to them when possible. Covid has reminded us that some students can thrive in a remote teaching context. I am hopeful that our faculty will continue to evolve with our students as we continue to move beyond the traditional model of 120 credit hour degree programs and towards more micro-credentials, certificates, etc. to stay engaged with students as a life-long process.

MNB reader George Denman (of Graeter's ice cream) had a comment on yesterday's Kroger CFC story:

I had the opportunity two months ago to tour the new Monroe facility just 20 minutes from our home in Lebanon. Impressive work of technology and massive operation. I am not an engineer and cannot imagine the brain power required to develop this infrastructure but Kroger is all committed behind the investment. The key point that Rodney McMullen shared explains why Kroger is all in. “CFCs need to be seen as a part of a broader ecosystem - in which stores remain the lynchpin - that "will be able to serve customers however they want to be served."  

Our company has significant distribution in both the Monroe and Groveland facilities. One of the Kroger friends and families associates shared that they ordered 4 pints of Graeter’s this week-end from the Monroe facility and it arrived in perfect condition along with (4) watermelons also ordered.

I love the idea of Graeter’s being in the Groveland facility in FL. Think of all those Ohio, KY, and IN snowbirds spending their winters in FL can now find Cincinnati favorites like Graeter’s, UDF Homemade Ice Cream and SkyLine Chili products that they have grown to love. I just got back from FL vacation on the west coast of FL last week and it seemed nearly 50% of the guests at our Marriott were from OH or MI. This customer base now has a new way to shop groceries and have them delivered to their home or hotel. I’m in…..

From another reader:

I’ve been in the food industry for over 30 years and share a mutual passion for food, food retailing, and food preparation.  Our family members have fast adapted to, Amazon Prime, and Instacart as means of experiencing the ecommerce medium, and as practical fulfillment options in a pandemic environment.  As convenient as these options are, they are a far cry from the experiential aspect made by some of the best grocery retailers like; Wegmans, Stew Leonards, Dorothy Lane, and Marianos (pre acquisition).

These retailers have been some of the most innovative, experiential, customer satisfying purveyors of culinary artistry that have ever curated customer meal solutions.  All I can say to the bots is “danger danger Will Robinson”.....may we never forget the service of the customer and the personal connection that a creative grocery merchant can deliver.  Sears Roebuck had a very interesting and efficient direct to consumer catalog program, a precursor to, that excited school age children every July/August (BTS) & October (Holiday) in the 1970’s........where are they today?

I get your point, but I think there is a vast difference between Sears and Amazon … not least of which is that Amazon is steadfastly determined not to be Sears.

MNB reader and Portland State University professor Tom Gillpatrick weighed in on some of our Amazon coverage:

Is Amazon losing its way?  We talked in class, many students think of Amazon as the new Walmart......

And regarding accusations that Amazon is bullying its vendors, one MNB reader wrote:

Geez, I wonder where they learned that tactic.  Traditional retailers have been doing it for decades.

Responding to our story about Walmart moving to a higher percentage of full-time store employees, one MNB reader wrote:

It is a good move for Walmart for sure, but there are other factors involved in the decision as well.  The turnover rate of part time associates is extremely costly, and in some roles it is fairly high.  Training new associates, losing experienced associates, and building consistency in operations are also driving factors.  Operational challenges of running a SuperCenter is huge and having to constantly fill roles is time consuming and inefficient.  

The interesting piece is with more full time associates, there will be higher benefit costs associated with it as they will be eligible for full benefits.  I am sure Walmart will not want to raise prices to the consumer to offset, so suppliers will be squeezed again.  The premise of Walmart being a low cost operator to suppliers is diminishing as charges and fines are increasing.

Interesting times at the big W.

From another reader:

I think it is interesting that Walmart is reversing its position from years ago, that they were downgrading the positions to part time in order to “employ more associates”.  I always felt that this direction never enhanced empowerment of its employees.  I feel, it has always been, that an empowered associate is a powerful force for your business.

They have a much greater knowledge of the company.  They have greater knowledge of products. They become empowered through pride in their workplace.  The food industry, as a whole, went in the direction of more part-time associates to save money.  Maybe now, they are realizing that the lost so much more.   I think this is a good direction for Walmart, as long as they can maintain or increase customer interaction, and truly provide a path to a future for its associates and not just a paycheck.

And from another:

When you compare the cost of 2 part timers to the cost of one full timer, it almost is equal.  But then when you include turnover of 20 % for full per year vs over 100% per year for part time, they are making a smart move.  Overall much better customer service and greatly reduced new hire training cost.  I will add that it is much harder decision in a unionized company that has full time scheduling restrictions. 

On another subject, from another reader:

Regarding your perception on the Taylor Swift situation 

1. Big Machine is TS former managers company known as Scooter Braun

2. TS never owned her masters she  negotiated them away to Scooter and he sold they were his 

3. TS could have bought her masters but did not

4. She even could have bought Big Machine but did not

5. She could have exercised her termination rights under existing copyright laws she did not 

6.This is only about licensing and who owns what

7. TS still retains and received  all royalties on past albums 

8.lets not forget litigation TS never sought litigation because she did not have a leg to stand on 

Know your facts withhold your innuendos.  Stay in the grocery aisle where you won’t get your helmet dented.

Been doing this 20 years.  My helmet has more than a few dents. I'm good with that.

But you are still missing my point - and I went out of my way that I wasn't really commenting on business ethics in the music industry.  I was making the point that Taylor Swift has created a sense of solidarity with her fan base that seems to transcend that of many other artists, and has cultivated a stick-it-to-the-man image that appeals to many people.

That's not innuendo.

And finally, a note from an MNB reader about last week's review of The Father:

I saw the trailer and was intrigued, certainly by your commentary about the acting. And Anthony Hopkins is certainly worth the visit.

Now this was our first time going to the theatre since Covid so well over a year if not longer. I am a big fan of taking in a movie late Friday afternoons to end the work week and start the weekend so I surely missed going. Plus, I was totally surprised that the cost was just $5 per person??!! What a way for Harkin's to get their consumers back.

I found the movie to be very intriguing and moving. The different phases of his life even had me confused about what was real or not. And the interaction of his daughter and caregivers was impressive too.

Thanks for passing this very impactful movie along.

My wife, of 38 years, was diagnosed with Dementia/Alzheimers nearly 4 years ago at 56 years old. We have had many tests and confirmed markers on her DNA confirm that. She is roughly stage 2, currently in a Clinical Trial which is very hopeful (phase 3 trial awaiting FDA approval - the first potential drug to actually improve cognitive capabilities by 6-10%). We have an incredible Neurologist who has been able to get her into these trials primarily because she is so young. I work from home so she is able to be around me in my office during the day as we both listen to the radio. If and when I travel, I have a daughter who lives 20 minutes away that can come and stay, so far it's working out but I might contemplate early retirement so that I can take care of her better (hence my association with Anne in the movie). 

I am writing this so that you can understand how we had a very specific interpretation of the movie

My heart goes out to you and your wife, and I cannot express enough my appreciation of your willingness to share.