business news in context, analysis with attitude

There has been a lot of discussion here on MNB about mandated benefits such as maternity and paternity leave, and MNB user David Livingston, for one, doesn’t want to let it go:

I was just checking over all of my support staff. It is100% women. My attorney, financial advisor, stockbroker, real estate agent, insurance agent, webmaster, and accountant. It has worked out real well. They have no sympathy with other women when it comes to equal pay, maternity benefits, or other women's issues. The true test of human worth in the business world is found among those who are self employed.

That’s where we are all apples to apples. In the clock-punch world it seems its always apples to oranges. All the top selling real estate agents in my area are women. The nearest man was way down the list. I think the women who work for me don't like seeing other women succeed. It waters down their own success and is more competition to them. It’s not an 'ol boys network, it’s an 'ol bosses network. Women business owners don't want to hand out free benefits anymore than men. My female support staff has their purses shut tighter than Tupperware. Do you think they would give any of their employees maternity or paternity benefits? No chance.

You know different women than we do.

And we have to say, we are appalled by the statement, “the women who work for me don't like seeing other women succeed…It waters down their own success and is more competition to them.”

If true, you have to start hanging around a better class of people.

If untrue, we hope that some of those women educate you about their motives and interests.

We’d also suggest that you check out the Network of Executive Women (NEW), which stands in effective and resolute opposition to your characterization of how women operate.

Furthermore, we want to say for the record that we have a 12-year-old daughter, a sweet, charming and effervescent child with a mind of her own and a spirit to match. And if in 20 years she has turned into the kind of woman you describe - - one who feels no sympathy for other women (or men for that matter) and who feels so professionally competitive that she hopes other women don’t succeed -- we will feel that we have failed miserably as a parent.

And this isn’t us being politically correct.

Just being right.

Regarding Publix’s operations in Florida, one MNB user wrote:

I have to agree with the person that wrote in about Publix being good but not great. I live in the Minneapolis, MN and usually get to south Florida every winter. I do shop Publix when I am there but as someone who has worked in the industry in the Minneapolis market for the last 30 years I have to say there is nothing remarkable about any of their stores I have shopped in. Mediocre would be my description and as far as produce and seafood departments are concerned mediocre might be generous. When I am vacationing down there I always wonder why someone is not providing an upscale shopping experience in that market?

But another MNB user disagreed:

You can have people write in all day and they can tell you all about the great things going on at Winn Dixie and the shortcomings of Publix. What no one can tell you is that Winn Dixie is gaining market share from Publix, that Winn Dixie is outperforming Publix, Winn Dixie is building more stores and expanding to more geography than Publix, or that Winn Dixie is getting a higher sales per square foot than Publix. Winn Dixie can have the best looking stores in the world and Publix can have the worst. But if Publix is running away with sales, market share, store growth, and sales per square foot, it doesn't matter at all what Winn Dixie does. I was in New Orleans recently and saw a beautiful new A&P Sav-a-Center store, quiet and clean. It was like a museum with all the shelves stocked perfectly. Just down the road was a filthy, shopworn independent half the size but doing twice the volume of A&P. All checkouts were open with customers five deep in each line. So who is really the better store? Sales per square foot is the ultimate scorekeeper. I never judge a store by how pretty it looks.

We had a story last week about a consumer poll suggesting that shoppers overwhelmingly believe that credit card companies should disclose what their interchange fees are and how they are calculated.

One MNB user responded:

These guys have a virtual monopoly-- the only way to get the interchange rates under control is for a competitor to knock them off their throne...(not likely), or for Congress to dictate lower fees, which of course is akin to price fixing and is also unlikely to succeed.

I have been responsible for that aspect of our chain's business for years, and I can tell you now, even if disclosed, looking at these interchange charts will confuse a math professor. They are terribly complicated. The average consumer will never understand them, and furthermore, what difference would it make?

The tie between the price of the goods and the interchange rates is difficult to define to an average consumer. As long as credit card companies offer the so-called rewards, and make the merchants pay for it, the rates and card use will both continue to climb. Nobody is going to pass up something they perceive as 'free', such as the rewards are depicted.

And another MNB user chimed in:

As a market researcher, I know just how easy it is to get someone to agree with a statement when phrased in a certain manner. I am sure that if I were to execute a research study asking whether or not consumers care about the fee charged by credit card associations, I am sure as many would indicate they didn't care. Looks like a spurious bit of research used to defend a position, rather than truly seek consumer opinions.

We got a number of emails last week about the decision by Masterfoods to stop advertising candy to children under 12 years of age.

One MNB user wrote:

Aren't we getting a little carried away with this whole thing of not selling candy bars to kids under 12? How many of us --- as kids--- walked to the candy store and for a nickel we bought our lunch....a Snickers or Hershey bar. And by golly it didn't hurt our health a bit. And by the way who is going to control the sale? Hmmm is he or she 12 or 13 or 11? I dare most everyone to tell me the age of any kid 11-13. And what are they going to sell and distribute during Halloween? Snack bars that look like Snickers but filled with dried apples or apricots or blueberries? And our favorite M&M's. Boy oh Boy, wait till their stock hits bottom and see who yells the loudest.

We noted last week that we were surprised by a study showing that people in the northeastern US drink more coffee than people elsewhere in the country, since we would have expected the Pacific Northwest to be the biggest coffee consumption area. One MNB user offered an explanation:

There is a what I would call the Mormon influence on coffee in the Pacific Northwest. You see it is against the Word of Wisdom to drink coffee, and alcohol also using tobacco is forbidden as well. So when you look at the Northwest consumer you would need to consider that while most people are not LDS, they may have been raised as such or had a few friends who were, and they simply grew up without using such vices in their life.

Uh-oh. If coffee and alcohol are vices, then we’re going straight to hell.

Finally, MNB user Glen Terbeek had some thoughts about a story we did not write about last week:

Did you see the interesting article in today's WSJ re: the auto industry? Some fascinating parallels to the food/CPG industry.

As example the US auto manufacturers were pushing autos to the dealers that were not equipped as the shoppers wanted. As a result large inventories at the dealers and lost sales. But as the dealers consolidated such as AutoNation, they have been pushing to change the model. From a product distribution model to a shopper driven model. Sound familiar?

Sounds like the big dealers are becoming Agents for the shoppers. It was also interesting that it appears that the manufacturers don't recognize the problem or that they think they are improving, etc. In reality, I bet their measurements don't measure real shopper demand, but autos pushed to the dealers. They obviously have plants to keep productive.

I remember several years ago (1980's) that I was deciding between a Buick and a Toyota. In either case, it had to be ordered from the manufacturer. In the case of the Buick, it was to take 2-3 months, in a plant one state over from where we were living. In the case of the Toyota, it would have been 3 weeks, manufactured in Japan. Probably not the same any more, but not much better.

KC's View: