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The debate continues about the wisdom of carrying restaurant-branded products in supermarkets. (I think it is a mistake because it gives visibility to competitors in the battle for share of stomach; virtually the whole world disagrees with me.)

MNB user Chuck Lungstrom weighed in with his opinion:

Have you ever considered the voice of the consumer on the question of 'share of the stomach'? What does the consumer want? and what is the retailer willing to supply? Basic supply and demand. If the consumer wants to acquire Taco Bell salsa or Starbucks coffee, or whatever else the consumer wants to purchase in the way of branded products, why not supply it at the local grocery store instead of forcing the consumer to go to the competition? It boils down to the basic question of customer service and how much is the individual retailer going to service the needs of the consumer. I believe you to be off base on the question of the retailer carrying branded products. Sure the retailer is promoting the competitor in the share of stomach question, but the consumer is going to acquire the branded product anyway...why not from the retailer in question?

As good a quality as the 'own brand' may be, a good share of the consumers out there are reluctant to purchase own brand products due to the perceived notion that own brand is inferior or that branded products are better. We all know that reality takes a back seat to perception. Why not capture the sale of these hesitant consumers by carrying the name brand products?

In the name of competing with the 'big box' stores, many retailers fall into the trap of 'I must be different' and only offer products that the big box stores do not offer. True, you must differentiate yourself from the big box retailer, but you do not need to put yourself in the position that you no longer offer variety, which is where many retailers are turning these days, to their own detriment. The result being lost sales.

Differentiation is defined in many ways, primarily in customer service. Customer service is defined in many ways also. It all boils down to the 'experience'. A retailer can provide a wonderful shopping experience and still provide the products that the consumer is looking for. Focus on the experience and you will be much farther ahead.

I have been in the grocery retail business for many years now and find on a daily basis that the consumer is very unhappy with the trend that many traditional retailers are heading in the name of differentiation. Most customers that I talk to just want a few basic things. Have the products that they are looking for on the shelf and check them out quickly at the registers.

It doesn't get much easier or simpler than that. Just supply what they want and get them on their way as quickly as possible. When considering the question of whether to carry name brand competitor products, just ask the question, is this what the customer wants? If so, provide it for them. Make the sale and move on.

Don't over think the question.

MNB user Tony Kiser wrote:

I understand your point, I think.

However I believe it is hard to achieve this kind of retailer differentiation by getting into the donut business (or whatever), if that has not been your business already. In the new world is flat paradigm I want it all! The specialization I desire at the retail store level is not so much a differentiated line of products (the in store private label donut), but rather clean and spiffy premises, nice people at checkout, sweet smelling air (not antiseptic cleaning fluid commingled with old fish odor), and an otherwise pleasant and navigable environment. I have really had it with these stores where the aisles are not labeled with good signage and the merchandizing looks like it's been undertaken by sophomores high on pot!

Give me the good store and the good shopping atmosphere and I'll take that over the place that has more product selection.....retail service should not bum me out, man!

Another MNB user wrote:

Here's my 2 cents…

The decision has already been made on where to eat, long before the customer enters the store, BUT, in a few rare cases, the sight of a "restaurant" product will trigger a response of "Hey, let', just pick this up here & take it home, then we don't have to stop at so & so's."

THIS I think is where the true benefit cones in; the grocery retailer gets a piece of the action, for little or no investment, AND he actually may keep the customer from visiting the "other venue". Just a thought.

MNB user Jack Flanagan wrote:

Enjoyed today's chapter in the ongoing saga of competitor's branded goods being sold in supermarkets. The donut example is an exquisite example.

That said, the implication always seems to be that efficiency and effectiveness are always at odds. They don't have to be and, generally speaking, ought not be. A great and enduring example is our friends at Toyota who, for decades now, have proven that you can be both efficient and effective.

Good point. I never would suggest that efficiency and effectiveness can’t co-exist. In fact, they have to. What happens, I think, is that often companies sacrifice effectiveness at the altar of efficiency…and this can be a critical error.

And yet another MNB user wrote, responding to the claim in one email yesterday that supermarkets simply are unable to make a decent doughnut, which is why they have to carry brands such as Krispy Kreme or Dunkin’ Donuts:

I have to jump in on this argument. “Somewhat decent donuts made by somewhat decent donut makers” is a crock. Here’s a news flash…Tim Horton’s doesn’t “make” any donuts. They buy pre-fried frozen “shells” and ice/fill them at the store. Just like your local supermarket.

For the moment, Dunkin Donuts has central processing facilities that make the shells fresh every day and ship them to the stores for finishing. But their expansion plans will eliminate that and they will begin using a system like Tim Horton’s. So product quality is really going to be identical to the donuts found at the supermarket. (Krispy Kreme is a different model, but they have their own issues).

As for labor, it takes less than 1 minute to transform a dozen frozen shells to a dozen chocolate frosted donuts. These products were designed to be fast and easy and taste great.

So given that labor is a non-factor and quality is equal…Can someone please explain why it makes sense to help your competition gain market recognition?

Another MNB user wrote:

Seems to me that some of these folks are missing the point about Dunkin Donuts plan to sell coffee through retailers in the northwest. Dunkin Donuts currently has NO market presence in the region and want to use the coffee to familiarize the region’s consumers with the brand. If a retailer refuses to carry the coffee, they are protecting their long-term interests.

Think of it in these terms: a future competitor is asking you to help them build brand equity so they can take your business later. Seems reasonable…I’m sure that when Unilever has a new Dove skin care product they call P&G and ask them to co-brand with Oil of Olay. Or maybe Burger King will decide to carry the Big Mac?

Dunkin Donuts is planning to open about 5,000 new locations in that area by 2010. Imagine the size of the prize that Dunkin wants to win…

And MNB user Frank Stallings wrote:

In a society that is increasingly displaying "my opinion is the only one that counts," I am both pleased and encouraged to see that we can have disagreement without nasty labels, and name-calling for those who don't share our own opinions.

On a much higher level than a specific issue's debate, you are reminding your subscribers about the need to have an open mind (even if we disagree) that there is rarely a single, "right" answer to any of the topics we struggle with. The shades of gray are what stimulate our own neurons and ultimately lead to better products, a better world, etc.

I'm not suggesting that there are no absolutes; there are. I offer that a few of these are safety from harm by our products, corporate and personal accountability for our actions, and non-exploitation of customers. Naturally, this will be labeled as Pollyanna-ish by some, but the message is that there are certain, enduring rules of professional ethics/etiquette that transcend global boundaries, cultures, and religious beliefs.

Thanks for helping keep those rules alive and kicking !!

Just trying to keep things lively…

Responding to yesterday’s piece about Netflix replacing its online help desk with a real live call center – based in Oregon, and not outsourced to some foreign country, MNB user Brian Polk wrote:

Outsourcing is having a significant negative impact on customer service. If only the computer companies would take a page from Netflix approach to customer service and have a call center in Oregon…. I would be willing to spend more for a product if I knew issues could be handled easier through better communications.


And, writing about our story concerning Hy-Vee’s getting its employees so sign a girder in a newly expanded store so they feel a part of the company in a tangible and intangible way, MNB user Ted File wrote:

It's a mark of differentiation that separates Hy-Vee from the competition. Perhaps it all goes back to their founder Dwight Vredenberg, who set the stage and the example for all of his employees at that time and TRUE to the statement "employees are our most important asset." And of course the leadership since, with Ron Pearson and his successor, Ric Jurgens, will continue to enhance the founder's philosophy and creativity.

Agreed. Hy-Vee is a remarkable company run by many remarkable people.

MNB user Jeff Davis had some thoughts about Michael Sansolo’s column earlier this week:

Michael Sansolo's column may not have been about Macs but it definitely says a lot about the way they run their Apple Stores. I say this because I had a very similar experience at the Apple Store in Atlanta. I went there a couple of weeks ago during the "tax free holiday" for getting school supplies. I went to get my daughter a Macbook for her freshman year in college.

I dreaded going because I knew the mall in general and Apple in particular was going to be crazy. Sure enough when we got within sight of Apple we could see a line outside the store! It certainly looked like we were in for a long day. Amazingly, we moved through the line, made our purchases (Macbook, Ipod, printer and accessories) and exited the store in about 30 minutes!

When it was our turn to enter the store, we were met by a bright, personable and knowledgeable salesperson named Chris whose only focus was serving us. He answered our questions and offered his expert insight in helping decide what we needed. As far as I could tell, the other customers were getting the same level of attention and service.

It was a shining example in how to run a store and serve your customers. Like Mr. Sansolo, my next computer will be a Mac and I will get it at The Apple Store.

Good decision.

Finally, I wrote a brief piece the other day about the passing of Phil Rizzuto, noting how his was a voice that accompanied me through my youth. I didn’t think I was alone in that memory, but I was amazed by the dozens of heartfelt emails I received about baseball, growing up, and the man best known as “Scooter.”

MNB user Harry Daughtry wrote:

Phil Rizzuto and my Dad played professional baseball together in the old Bi-State League which was made up of teams from the numerous small towns along the Virginia North Carolina border just north of Greensboro, NC.

Dad took me with him to a sports for businesses convention in Detroit when I was about 12-14 and the highlight of the trip was meeting Phil when we attended a Twins Yankee game. Never before, or after, was I so impressed by a person and especially when he took me up to his broadcast booth. He later said that he mentioned playing against my father during his broadcast of the game.

What a man and what a baseball player. The Yankees were my favorite team growing up and remain so today, some 60 years later.

MNB user Mark P. O'Brien wrote:

Grieving for the days gone by or fondly remembering the days of our youth which were much simpler times. I don't pay near as much attention to baseball now as compared to the days of my youth. We played ball all the time and listened to Bob Prince broadcast the Pirates. Roberto Clemente was and still is my all time baseball hero. Great memories!

Another MNB user wrote:

You are spot on accurate with your assessment. Many a childhood night was spent falling asleep to the sounds of Rizutto in the summer and Marv Albert in the winter. A time when anything seemed possible, dreams were blurred with reality (did Reggie REALLY just hit 3 consecutive home runs on 3 pitches??), and it seemed as if the most important concern was the next game. I thought at the time that the fate of the world hung on whether Walt Frazier could outscore Jo Jo White of the Celtics or if Graig Nettles could snag a line drive heading down the line for what would surely be a double…

MNB user Peter T. Wolf wrote:

We must be the same age – young. You summed up well the feelings I have hearing the news of Rizzuto’ passing. I found myself yesterday drawn to the Sports Illustrated web site listening to his speeches and some of his more famous broadcasting calls. (Isn’t the internet wonderful!) Brought me right back to my bedroom, in our house, in the Bronx. Transistor radio stuck under my pillow so my parents would not hear me listening!

Another MNB user chimed in:

Phil Rizutto will always be the voice that got me home from LaGuardia to Connecticut late at night. After inevitable flight delays and the out-of-date design and weather challenges, of the Merritt Parkway, Phil made it tolerable. Scooter on the radio was a refreshing voice with child like wonder at the fun of the game of baseball. It always sounded like he was really enjoying the game...even though he probably done 1000’s of broadcasts by then. Even his stories about “huckleberries” he has met along the way made sometimes boring Yankee games come to life. He was at his best when he had Bill White as a foil. White ! seemed to play the Bud Abbott to The Scooter’s Lou Costello ( your younger readers can Google those allusions). Bill White would always draw out the story for a few more laughs or encourage Phil to really prove that some long forgotten minor leaguer was indeed a huckleberry. Sometimes he even got The Scooter to finish the story before heading off to New Jersey in the 7th inning. I still make the drive, but it certainly is not the same without Phil Rizutto.

And still another MNB user opined:

When Scooter did not show up for Old Timers' Day this year, I was truly worried. I grew up listening to Scooter, and what I remember most is the team of Rizzuto and White. The summer of '86 my best friend and I would go to the stadium 2 to 3 times a week and pay $4 general admission to sit in the upper deck. As we watched the game we would call the plays. I would imitate Scooter and my friend would imitate Bill White. We had fans around us practically rolling in the aisles. Those are memories I will never forget. Scooter's love of the game, the players, family and friends is something that I rarely hear from sports announcers anymore…

These are just a few of the emails I received, which strikes me as a remarkable testament to the kind of impact one man – who played ball for a living and then talked about this game that he loved for more than 40 years – can have on generations of people.

Holy cow…
KC's View: