business news in context, analysis with attitude

We wrote yesterday about the unexpected resignation of FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford after two months in office, and suggested that it seems likely that another shoe will drop at some point.

To which one MNB user observed:

Maybe, sometimes, people just get tired of all the BS associated with doing their job and are of an age where they can safely say, To HELL with it!

Maybe. But people don’t generally go through an agonizing confirmation process only to resign because they feel like it is time to go fishing.

There seems to be a sense of disarray in the Bush administration at the moment, and this could be part of it. The world is too dangerous a place these days – these folks have to get their act together both in terms of execution and communication.

One MNB user did have one possible rationale for Crawford’s resignation:

Not sure if it is skepticism or experience that leads me to ask one question: 'Does he get a better retirement benefits package as a result of his last position with the government'?

Good question.

More email about the decision by Federated to take down the Marshall Field’s banner and replace it with Macy’s.

One MNB user wrote:

It never ceases to amaze me the number of times I have seen, and in several instances been involved in business take-overs where the company buying the chain or brand that had enough success to attract the buyer in the first place, is decimated by the purchaser . Little or no attempt is made to grow the business and learn about it first along the way it was growing in the first place. Big changes are made and in the end, the thing collapses -- or at the very least, as in the case of the Dominick’s chain, quickly becomes a shadow of what it was -- and it definitely is not a successful venture or turns out to be a poor investment after the purchase.

Among the reasons so many new products fail is the lack of research, misreading the research, or just ignoring the research that might lead in another direction. After all, if the research doesn't ask the right questions, the answers will be wrong. And I would be willing to bet the decision to fold the two together was made before any research was finely tuned to get the real answer Field consumers would make if they had been questioned correctly.

Good bet.

And another member of the MNB community wrote:

It's funny, but Hecht's (the East coast version of May Company) learned, or failed to learn, this lesson twice. In Richmond, they took over the Thalhimers chain which was loved by everyone. They quickly changed the name to Hecht's and saw a huge sales drop-off. Later, they did the same thing in Philadelphia, when they took over the Strawbridge's chain. They re-branded all of the mall stores, including replacing the outside signs. That move was so reviled that they restored the name about 6 months later, including all new signs for the outside of the buildings. Imagine what that cost.

As for the lagging sales, the larger problem with department stores is not the branding, but the fact that no one really NEEDS anything that is sold there. With the possible exception of cosmetics and the great wedding/industrial complex, every other product sold in department stores is available at either a category killing big box or at a big box discounter. Plus they pay a higher cost per square foot to anchor shopping malls than their competitors do in a free-standing big box.

And another MNB user wrote:

Marshall Fields is far from being the first name rolled over in the homogenization of the department store scene.

Abraham & Straus, F&R Lazarus, Shillito's and Filene's of Boston were the founding stores of Federated Department Stores when it was formed in 1929—None of those names were deemed of sufficient weight to carry the banner forward. It seems that every city loves their old name local department store, just not enough to shop there with the frequency needed to keep them alive.

We also have been getting email about Safeway’s strategic decisions in the US, as one MNB user wrote:

Safeway has never made it simple.

They "had" a good thing when they acquired (Dominick’s) but had to change it to fit their idea of what a successful grocery chain should look like or be.

The stores in the Chicago area that are doing well are the stores located in more affluent areas.

Stores where the average "JOE" or "Jane" shops are suffering because the stores are simply too over priced compared to our competitors and offer limited choices.

Safeway has had years to repair any mistakes they have made but nothing has been done.

MNB user Richard Lowe wrote:

We have a local Safeway store on Illinois St which is in an ideal captive market location where they could cater to an upper middle class clientele. Instead we all go to other places for our main shopping trips like Wild Oats, Trader Joe’s, Marsh, or Kroger which are miles away and use this store for emergency convenience. This weekend we needed more pasta for a pesto party. They had no whole grain pasta of any formation. The image of the store resembles the 1950’s. Though sometimes we are truly amazed by what they do carry and we find, like mint jelly or crushed cherry peppers! Their weekly advertising circular look like it is designed for the bottom of the market, even Aldi’s does a much better presentation with a single sheet. So Safeway has a long way and a lot of room to go. Marsh will be opening a new Arthur’s Market a mile away in a year so we will see what that does to wake them up.

And MNB user Dale R. Ohman wrote:

I truly hope Dominick's keeps doing what they do. The chain is a shell of what they were 15 to 20 years ago - I know, I formerly worked there!

You cannot and will not be a local Retailer when you run your Business from 2500 miles away. Local Leadership and Management, people who care about their customers and great employees are the key to any successful business. You cannot try to be local. Thanks to Safeway and their Leadership, Independent grocers are gaining back our fair share of the Market. Its not that difficult, we are all in the people Business - no business!

Finally, we can’t quite believe we’re returning to this subject, but…

We joked last Friday about being in Seattle and seeing an ad for Stefanie Powers starring in “The King & I”…and wondering how she could play the role since by now she must be in her nineties. One MNB user wrote in to express disappointment in our humor, saying that she thought that it was a cheap shot taken against someone who is in her sixties, not nineties.

To which we responded:

You’re right. It was a cheap shot, and probably not at funny as we thought it was.

But as for age discrimination, we think the only time it is acceptable is when you are casting a part. In “The King & I,” Anna is supposed to be the mother of a six-year-old son…which seems at best unlikely for a woman who is 63 years old.

You’re right, though. Just because Stefanie Powers is 63 doesn’t mean she can’t play a woman who is, say, 33. (In the ad, she was looking pretty good…)

Our favorite case of weird age casting is “North by Northwest,” the 1959 Alfred Hitchcock movie starring Cary Grant, who was born in January 1904. His mother was played by Jessie Royce Landis…who was born in November 1904.

Talk about “at best unlikely…”

This response wasn’t nearly enough for another MNB user, who wrote:

Well this is the second or third time you have made a joke out of you having an age bias.

Your MO is at least consistent. Expose your true feelings regarding older people, then when you are confronted you attempt to make a lame joke.

Sorry, pal, it doesn't fly anymore.

You never apologize either, which makes you arrogant to boot.

We’re sorry if we have somehow suggested that we are biased against people of a certain age.

And if somehow our diatribes and rants have communicated a certain arrogance…well, we’re sorry if you find that offensive.

On the other hand, the fact is that to sit down every day and write what essentially is a 4,000-word opinion column requires a certain arrogance (self-delusional though it may be). We just hope that it is tempered by a sense of fun and a respect for other people’s opinions.

As for lame jokes…well, we offer no apologies.

Because lame jokes is what we do.
KC's View: