business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB had a story the other day about a study saying how much business was going to go through self-service kiosks and checkouts this year, and what the growth curve looks like. Which prompted MNB user Travis Magoulias to write:

It’s unfortunate that businesses are going to lose out on that many transactions with the consumer. $525 billion dollars being spent without a touch of personal contact seems like a lot of opportunity to be gambling away. I don’t see this as a positive sign at all considering that I only use the self-check lanes at the supermarket when I realize that the two check lanes they have open are backed up, and that the level of discontent I believe I have waiting in line there out-weighs the discontent I believe I will have going through the self-check lanes. I’d much rather have that interaction with the cashier, but most stores don’t have enough people on hand to expedite that transaction. It’s unfortunate that somewhere along the line, businesses felt that they have done a good enough job of selling their experience prior to the checkout. Unfortunately, I live in a very small market city and there aren’t a lot of options. If there were, you can bet I’d be shopping elsewhere, where the checkout experience would be personal and quick and a guarantee that I would spend more of my money there.

This reflects a concern I’ve often voiced here on MNB - that too many companies use self-checkout as a way to save money on labor, and that they may be commoditizing and depersonalizing the store experience to the point where there will be little difference between many stores, no matter who owns them.

We had a story yesterday that talked about how some companies are bypassing government testing laboratories for imported food products, which led one MNB user – who asked to be described as “anonymous and thankful that I’m allergic tuna” – to write:

I must have missed the geography class that explains how a company in China ships seafood directly to Las Vegas…in the desert?

Air freight is outrageous which means it comes by land via a sea-port. Why is there no inspection as soon as imported food hits US borders?

Is it possible that the FDA only requires declaration of the final destination so that imported goods can go anywhere in the US without a mandatory stop at our borders? Someone with expertise, please tell me that I’m wrong, because that thought is terrifying to me…

Another MNB user wrote:

All the hand-wringing about FDA not having the manpower to protect our food supply makes me wonder why the crocodile tears. Who controls the purse strings for the FDA budget and who has the veto power over the FDA budget? Where would the money being thrown at Homeland Security be going if that bureaucratic vacuum cleaner were being run efficiently? Is it possible that politics is interfering with science and the ability of dedicated people to actually protect the public?

On the subject of the FDA proposing a shutdown of half its testing labs, MNB user Andy Casey wrote:

Look, far be it from me to defend the FDA on anything, but I can't help wondering if this isn't a little like trying to close military bases. Every time the Pentagon tries to do anything in that regard, the local congressman gets excited, trying to make the case that the case that the base in their district has "special programs that weren't available elsewhere" or some other such nonsense. This discussion should not be about whether specific locations should be shut down but rather about how the FDA can better achieve their mission. I don't know if they need more resources or simply need to redeploy the ones they have more intelligently but here is a memo to both the FDA and Congress: FIGURE IT OUT BECAUSE WHAT YOU ARE DOING NOW JUST ISN’T GETTING IT DONE!

On the subject of Save Mart using the Lucky name in Northern California, MNB user Ben Ueda wrote:

This should be a huge win for Save Mart and the employees. I used to work for Lucky's and I know that when Albertsons screwed it up, our competitors were so happy that Albertsons didn't use the Lucky name. Sales and market share shifted overnight to Safeway and other food markets in the bay area. If anything, the former Lucky managers and employees will be happy to pull out their old name badges and uniforms and use them again.

And MNB user Robert Dyer wrote:

Bringing refreshed competition to Northern California will drive prices to the consumer down where public national supermarkets have kept them high to meet stockholder expectations. Lucky is owned by a private company, which does not have those restrictions in challenging the status quo of high margins and prices. Look for a heated competitive landscape...

We got several responses to yesterday’s story about John Mackey apologizing for his blogging antics under an alias.

One MNB user wrote:

This apology has all the earmarks of a crafted PR response. I highly doubt these were Mackey's 'heartfelt' words.

That's not to say that it's wrong - in fact, WFM needs to be carefully crafting their messages right now in hopes they can put this behind them...Or should I say corralling the loose cannon in their midst?

MNB user Robert J. Wheaton wrote:

Shareholders could be asking the questions: "who was running the company when he was blogging and what are we paying him for?" At the very least a poor use of time. What a goof ball.

Another MNB user wrote:

Mackey is toast…. He has lost credibility and his bulb is now at 20 watts and failing. Pity…. he is such an innovative retailer in an industry that lacks innovation.

And still another MNB user wrote:

Maybe in addition to being a real tragedy of leadership, John Mackey just handed us a new vocabulary reference:

A “Vandevelde” is the description for falling apart in golf, a reference to Jon Vandevelde blowing a 3 shot lead on the last hole in the 1999 British Open.

Monica Lewinsky gave us a new name for….well never mind.

Maybe we’ll refer to CEO’s that engage in “what the hell was he/she thinking?” behavior as having a “Mackey Moment”, or “Mackeyavellian”.

Probably lots of other possibilities.

I like Mackeyavellian…

I criticized IHOP the other day for being irrelevant to a 21st century consumer…but one MNB user thinks it is me who is out of touch:

My children and I go to IHOP every weekend for great pancakes at a great price and the best coffee that can be had anywhere! The old fashioned waitresses provide service with a healthy dash of "hon" and "sweetie" that we find endearing and unheard of in this day of fast food and high prices. We used to be fans of Applebee's but their prices kept going up and the quality of food and service kept going DOWN, so it has been many, many months since we visited one. You have to give it to IHOP, it has been around for decades in an environment where most businesses have a lifespan of months if not shorter.

And another MNB user wrote:

IHOP was on the verge or even past it, but new management has re-vitalized the company, several years back. If you want breakfast, with a wide variety of choices, served fast and hot, then IHOP is for you. They offer other things than breakfast as well. Their servers are tops, not a dud in the crowd.

They practice what we preach, if you offer good food and good service in a clean environment and staff it right, they will come.

Maybe it is time for a return visit…

We also had a story yesterday about voluntary restrictions on marketing of certain foods to kids, and I noted in my commentary that as a parent, I have the ultimate responsibility about what to buy and feed my children.

One MNB user responded:

At what point did "no" stop meaning "no"! When I went grocery shopping with my parents and I wanted something, I had to ask, if my mom said no, it was the final word. I didn't get to pout, cry, whine, throw myself on the floor and act like an idiot. My mom did a novel thing, she scooped me up, left the cart and walked out of the store. Boy was I in trouble then, not only did I waste my mom's time but I also embarrassed her to boot and that meant no TV, no 4-Wheeler, no Nintendo - it's a novel idea called "being grounded from things that matter to a kid". It may be more trouble for the parents who now have to go back to the grocery store on their own and actually spend time reading a book with their kid or playing a board game since TV is out, but I had a
better relationship with my mom because of it and I learned the value of respectful behavior very early in life. The problem isn't in the advertising, it's in the idea we have
to give our kids everything they want because we didn't have it. Let's start getting back to making the tough choices as parents, it's hard to tell your kids no, but boundaries go a long way; when we start using TRIX cereal as a treat for behaving well when we go to the store, maybe I won't have to listen to the latest 5 year old tantrum ringing through the whole store the next time I am there!

Another MNB user wrote:

Kevin, am I missing something here?

I have an 8-year-old -- smack in the middle of the demographics that your piece this morning is focused on. He watches SpongeBob (albeit not every day, and not for hours at a time). He is by any account a normal, red-blooded American kid.

There has not ever been a box of Trix or Frankenberry or Cocoa Puffs in our house. Not once. He has asked for them, to be sure, but we read the label together and talk about the fact that the first ingredient on most of these types of cereal is sugar, and why that's not a good idea. We then look at the label for Honey Nut Cheerios or Frosted Mini Wheats and talk about why those still have sugar, but are still better for you (fiber, vitamins, whole grains, etc) He pretty soon realizes that the sugary junk is neither a good value for the money, nor a good deal for our bodies.

I'm not the perfect parent, and am not trying to portray myself as any better than anybody else, but in our house, whining isn't tolerated, nor is asking after Mom or Dad say "no." We're not infallible by any stretch, nor even completely immune to it, but if I'm the one doing the cooking and paying for the groceries, then in this case there is no democracy....when Mom (or Dad, to be fair) says no, then the answer is no. Now, the next time you ask, and tomorrow. Don't ask again.

Where are the backbones of American parents? I realize that older kids work/have allowances/etc -- and that if Mom and Dad aren't with them, then contraband shows up. some point parents need to be parents -- and that doesn't always include doing everything our kids want us to do.

I’ve told this story here before…when I was growing up (back in the late fifties and early sixties), my parents made it clear to me and my six younger brothers and sisters at Christmastime that Santa Claus did not bring “TV toys.” In other words, if we saw it advertised, don’t ask for it, because it wasn’t coming. No argument, no discussion. (To be fair, I probably shot off my mouth once or twice because that’s what I tend to do…and I probably got hit with the belt as a reminder that this simply wasn’t going to be tolerated.)

Parenting isn’t a popularity contest. There have been a number of stories in recent weeks about an entire generation of people that feels “entitled,” and how Mister Rogers may have contributed to it. But I think it is parents who didn’t know how to draw lines – thick, unambiguous lines - who have created the problem…
KC's View: