business news in context, analysis with attitude

As noted in detail above, MNB reported last week about Wal-Mart being called on to fire the consultant who was linked to the provocative – and some would say racist – political ad that was run supporting GOP Senate candidate Bob Corker, and attacking Democratic candidate Harold Ford Jr. We commented that in our view, the ad was disgusting, and said that it “had nothing to do with legitimate and mature political discourse.”

One MNB user responded:

In regards to this article you have not seen or heard the whole story. The campaign has been very ugly & muddy for a long time now with the first volley fired by Ford. His commercials are also very polarizing. There are no racial overtones & there are other blacks featured in this particular ad.

And another MNB user wrote:

White women can't want, have anything to do with black men, or anyone of a different color, race, or whatever?

It seems to me, while I don't condone mixing of the races, it is a common occurrence in the world today.

If the candidate did attend the Playboy party and did accept contributions from porn producers he shouldn't be very uncomfortable with the ad. All he needs to do is tell it like it is.

MNB user Rick Moore wrote:

In my opinion this is not a racist ad. But is shows what a Slime Ball Harold Ford is.

We would disagree.

And MNB user Mark Heckman wrote:

“Legitimate, mature, political discourse………. that ended with LBJ’s nuke ad (against Barry Goldwater) back in 1964! The good news is that we still have more than a week to go for more October surprises…from both sides of the fray. Despite the efforts of folks like Jesse Jackson, who makes a living out of making mountains out of political mole hills, this will have the shelf life of milk left out in the sun to spoil.

We would agree that both sides of the aisle seem equally capable of being disgusting. Just watching the political ads on television over the weekend seemed to demonstrate amply that nobody on either side is willing to campaign on ideas or philosophy, but would rather sling mud, make unsubstantiated allegations, and generally demean the whole process and, in doing so, insult the intelligence of voters.

Someone once said that the problem with voting is that it just encourages the politicians. We’re not to that point yet. But we’re slowly getting there.

As for the shelf life of the controversy…it seems that Wal-Mart wanted to cut off the infected limb before the disease spread. Which it did, and faster than we expected.

Would that we could so the same for the vile politicians who put such trash on the airwaves and insult our intelligence.

On to another subject…an MNB user had some thoughts about a different story posted on Friday:

KC, I am surprised you did not have any comments on this article about the FMI's report on improved supermarket profits. Sure, supermarket profits are up...just look at what they are charging vendors! So many grocery retailers have gotten out of the business of selling food - their profit centers are slotting & ad fees. This is nothing new, but the increases in these areas in the last few years - coupled with out of control margin creep - are crippling small & mid-sized vendors who just cannot afford to pay $40k + for an ad & then deliver 40% margin on top of that.

Now, to be fair, there are still some retailers out there in the business to sell groceries - Publix & Heinens are two that come to mind. However it seems that instead of building a better mousetrap to entice customers to their stores (thereby growing sales and profits), most brick & mortar grocery retailers continue to rely on increasing vendor costs to meet their profit requirements. And it's not just the vendors that suffer – consumers suffer as well. There are retailers out there making upwards of 50% margin every day on a lot of categories - how is this good for the consumer? If this trend of escalating retailer costs does not ebb, consumers will have a lot fewer choices when they step into that grocery store, because the vendors that provide variety & innovation will either be out of business, or selling their products exclusively on the web (there's that "long tail" model again). And by then, the consumer may just not even bother stepping into that grocery store at all.

On the subject of Roundy’s and it strategic moves, MNB user David Livingston wrote:

Roundy’s has been doing an excellent job of upgrading and replacing older stores in Milwaukee. Even squeezing in a few new stores to fill some cracks. What scares me is they say they will be selling the company in 2007. It’s no secret that Wal-Mart, Woodmans, Costco, and Whole Foods are moving in Milwaukee for the first time. What if Roundy's falls into the wrong hands? Ahold, Safeway, A&P. This makes me nervous. Very nervous.

We repeat: Could there be worse news than coming to work one day and finding out that A&P has bought the company?

On the subject of Wild Oats’ changes at the top, one MNB user wrote:

Wild Oats opportunity for success is going to depend on a CEO who understands more than brand marketing. Taking nothing away from Perry Odak (the just-departed CEO), but what they need is someone knows supply chain, merchandising, marketing and how to get it done at store level, the type of CEO who knows how to "lead" people not "manage" them and one who understands and has experience in diverse markets across the US. OH! Did anyone notice they recently hired Roger Davidson? hmmm... maybe timing is everything!

Writing about the court ruling saying that Target could be sued for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) because its website is not accessible to the blind, one MNB user wrote:

Call me politically incorrect, but that seems absurd.

If I should ever have the misfortune of going blind I am going to sue Playboy Magazine!

Go for it. We’re happy to keep you abreast of current legal decisions.

Responding to last week’s piece about Jim Sinegal and Costco, one MNB user wrote:

The folks at Costco are successful because unlike most traditional retailers, they believe their key to success is moving goods through the front door. The traditional retailers have forgotten this and are using their vendors to try to make their profits with slotting, higher ad costs, less pass through on allowances and squeezing more ads into their weekly ad sheets. Plus, most of them continue to push their margins to the 40% level. Add to that their continuing effort to reduce service and selection. No wonder the continued growth at Costco, Wal-Mart and the specialty retailers like Whole Foods.

As one of those vendors I do not want my name published if you include this in your daily update.

No problem.

MNB user Philip Herr had one problem with the Costco coverage:

Everything that describes Costco's business approach is indeed a well thought-out and executed marketing strategy. It is commercial theatre -- the signage, the floors the deliberate lack of ambience are all designed to communicate bargains.

As a marketing practitioner I admire what Sinegal has built. But to suggest it was despite marketing is a bit unfair.

MNB user Janet Murphy wrote:

Reading your excerpts from the Fortune article this morning about Jim Sinegal, and your own comments...especially your thought about combining the "(bleep) 'em" with discipline...I thought I'd share my own musings on the subject, which are very much along those same lines. In fact, much of our work - the research we do with NRF, especially, as well as our client work – is exactly centered on this point: go for the big insights, the inspired bits of vision about what you, uniquely, can bring to your customers. This means, in a sense, liberating your right brain to do what it will naturally do (as in Blink) and use analytics to optimize your vision and drive process improvement. With that balance as a grounding point of management philosophy, you can both inspire a culture of innovation, where new ideas can and do spring up anywhere in the organization, and implement processes for systematic testing and validation so the very best ideas are selected for implementation.

Finally, we were astounded recently by school districts banning the playing of tag on playgrounds because they were afraid someone would get hurt and the parents would sue, and because they were afraid that the kids who lose would suffer a loss of self-esteem.

To which MNB user Jackie Lembke replied:

Worrying about kid's lack of self-esteem is the reason we have teenagers who believe the world and their parents owe them. Personal responsibility goes out the window because the little darlings aren't responsible for the graffiti or vandalism, after all they have low self-esteem. One of the first things cut with "No Child Left Behind" is physical education. Test scores don't improve (supposedly) when the kids learn sportsmanship and how to lose gracefully. Balance seems to have left the building and with it overweight kids who take no responsibility for their action have settled in.

If you wanted to watch someone who knew both how to win and how to lose, you had to go no farther than the daily press conferences held by Detroit Tiger manager Jim Leyland during the World Series. It was a series during which his team fell apart, but he dealt with the inevitable questions showing class, dignity, intelligence and a sense of humor.

In baseball, even the most successful team loses more than a third of its games, and the best hitters are only successful 35 percent of the time. The class acts understand that there is losing, and there is being beaten…and that one has to know the difference and accept both the successes and the failures with equanimity while never giving up, never surrendering, never losing the belief in self that allows one to persist and dream and to work.

KC's View: