business news in context, analysis with attitude

I love getting emails like this one, from MNB user Karyn Chenoweth, because it is so upbeat (and unsolicited):

I look forward to reading your column every day, thanks for all you do. I often read stories about poor service, but just had to share one about good service that impressed me immensely.

I am pregnant, and as such only drinking decaf coffee. I have a hard time finding flavors I like in my local stores in NJ. My in-laws live near a Ukrops, at which I can find great flavors and great tasting coffee. Only problem is that it is 7 hours away in Virginia.

When my Mother in law called the store to ask if there was any delivery service, the Manager said no, but offered to help her out and ship me the coffee. It seems to me there are few retailers these days that would go out of their way to special order the coffee and ship it out of state. It sounds like a little thing, but its a little thing that goes a long way towards cementing my good impression of Ukrops.

It is what makes one chain special. And whoever that store manager is, he is clearly someone who feels like he has a stake in the business.

Before this morning’s story about cork was filed, MNB user David J. Rigg weighed in on the subject as a response to something I wrote last week:

It might not be as romantic, but the screw top is superior to cork. I’m sure you’ve had the displeasure of eagerly opening what you thought was going to be a great wine only to find it tainted. Not all technology is to be shunned! New Zealand is leading the way, but some day even the French will come around.

An MNB user last week expressed skepticism about Wal-Mart’s new slogan, which is aimed at attracting more affluent shoppers; he said that Wal-Mart chose its sites to attract lower end customers, and that he couldn’t imagine driving 10 miles to park his BMW next to a 1972 Pinto.

MNB user David White had some thoughts about that:

(You’re) kind’a hard on what type of vehicles Wal-Mart customers drive. I guess you never get a ding in your door at the affluent retail stores you shop. I have a 2001 Santa Fe and a 1991 S-10 - both are "ding less" - both bought new - I shop at Wal-Mart. I noticed you did not mention the year of your BMW. If it’s a fairly new, then it may have been assembled at the BMW plant in South Carolina – I bet the employees who assembled your car there are Wal-Mart shoppers. And as a former driver of a Pinto in my High School days, a 72 would be very rare and may be worth more than your BMW.

Wal-Mart serves a need – and not all their customers are as you described. What if Wal-Mart started selling BMW’s at a lower price than any dealer? Would you drive 10 miles to save some serious cash? Or are you like the “Content Guy” when it comes to TV’s – you'd rather pay more to listen to salesman spate useless knowledge? The choice is yours – pay more for prestige – or pay less and save money.

Sure, you had to take a shot at me in that rejoinder.

MNB user Glenn A. Cantor also had some thoughts about Wal-Mart’s slogan:

When you view Wal-Mart's new slogan, "Save Money, Live Better" from the perspective of their target shoppers, it offers them an expanded promise from the old, "Always Low Prices! Always." It is aspirational for their shoppers by saying that in addition to saving money, you can also take a step up in lifestyle with their affordable product assortment. To me, they are trying to inform shoppers that they offer more than merely low prices on everyday necessities; they also offer low prices on the "American life-style" products that many feel they need to get a piece of what America offers- wide-screen TV's, jewelry, cool clothing, etc.

It is a smart slogan when you look at it from the view of a customer, rather than from the outside as a business person that doesn't regularly shop at Wal-Mart.

I argued last week for complete transparency when it comes to food and milk from the offspring of cloned food, saying that the consumer deserves it. Well, at least one MNB user disagreed with me:

Where do you draw the line on kowtowing to pathetic ignorance? If mankind had allowed "transparency" to lead to majority rule, we'd still be living on a flat planet at the center of the universe hypnotized by an entire religion premised on the concept of an imaginary man living in the clouds with his half-human son.

I have no idea what this means. But I’m pretty sure that at this point in the technology curve, wanting to know whether something comes from cloned animals isn’t the same thing as pathetic ignorance.

Then again, this itself could be ignorance…in which case, nobody should pay any attention to me.

We had a story last week about how Tesco CEO Terry Leahy was bemoaning the lack of basic life/work skills being taught by schools on the other side of the pond, and we racked wise about how we figured that he was in for a rude shock here in the US.

To which one MNB user responded:

Obviously you’ve noticed the complete drop off in quality of education. I’m not an English expert but I’m amazed at how many people in business today cannot put together a sentence, let alone a paragraph or letter.

I guess the positive side of the education mess is that the baby boomers (of which I’m on the trailing end) should be able to stay gainfully employed as long as we desire based on the competition from the current crop of newbies…

I wouldn’t count on that. We know some stuff…but these young people know a lot of other stuff about which we have no clue. For example, MNB had a story last week about how Auchan is recruiting on Second Life, which prompted MNB user Phyllis Palmer to write:

I’ve had extended conversations with Second Life players and I DO have to tell you that they think, live, and exist differently that the common Joe. Exactly what perhaps MORE employers should look at for fresh ideas…. people who aren’t embedded in the status quo!


MNB user Michael Griffith wanted to put the issue in a broader context:

I read the brief article in MNB today, discussing the possibility that the education system may not be providing the basic skills necessary for our youth to cope with life and hold down a job. Perhaps there's some truth here, and I can't comment on the UK's schools, but I think that this may be a narrow view of a complex issue.

I attended school in Ontario, Canada, and have heard similar debates about our education system over the years. I'm not suggesting that the system is without its flaws or that ongoing review of and improvements to the standard curriculum is not necessary in order to meet the changing educational needs of our society...obviously, there is always room for improvement. But I do take issue with the view that our schools may be primarily responsible for the lack of basic skills and competency demonstrated by many of today's youth. I think that we need to take a step back here. Is the education system the problem here, or should we look at the's families?

I have two young children, and I trust that the curriculum established by our local school board is being taught to them by qualified professionals. However, I place the responsibility for ensuring that my children are doing their part firmly on my shoulders. Many of today's parents, and society in general, are so preoccupied with the pursuit of the almighty dollar that they have forgotten about family...the core of society. Raising our children to be productive members of society has been delegated far too often to
educators, day care providers and baby sitters. When a child fails to succeed in school, we blame the school. In extreme cases, when one of our youth becomes involved with crime, we blame the school system, lax security policies, or our local police and government. Yet, the erosion of the family seems to carry on with little notice or blame.

Parents need to be the first, most active investors in their children. They need to take an active roll in ensuring that their children are getting the most out of the education that is freely available to them. They need to go beyond that to teaching and reinforcing those necessary skills in the home, guiding and mentoring their children on a daily basis. Don't wait for a bad report card or worse...the police to show up at your door. Invest now, keep on top of your investment and it will pay dividends. Family is the most valuable resource of any society, and the well is running dry.

No argument here.

Finally, I waxed rhapsodic last Friday in OffBeat about Apple and its CEO, Steve Jobs…even in the face of the controversy about the iPhone…and the piece generated some feedback.

MNB user Kevin McKamey wrote:

I fully agree with your assessment of Apple. I bought my first iPod in 2005 and have owned every generation since then including the new iPhone. I paid the “introductory price” for my iPhone the third day they were available and have never regretted purchasing it (even after the price reduction of a couple weeks ago). I will enjoy using the $100.00 store credit though. The only problem will be deciding whether to buy a new iMac or new Mac Book.

I purchased my first iMac in December of 2005 and since then have replaced two computers with other varieties of Macs. Do you remember that commercial Apple ran earlier this year with the four guys representing PC’s sitting on an audio visual “roll cart”? One of my PC’s had just signaled that it was experiencing a “fatal error”. I looked around the room and saw another computer on a desk, which no longer worked due to a virus and two others sitting on the floor, which appeared to be grave stones.

The picture of those 4 broken PC’s suddenly came to my mind, and I went directly to the Apple store and replaced the new fatality with a Mac mini.

Keep a seat for me on the Mac Bus to paradise or at least Cupertino.

MNB user Phil Censky wrote:

I'm a huge Apple head as well. A month ago, I made "The Switch". I bought the latest generation iMac. Everyone that sees it looks under the desk for "the computer". To my delight, it performs as well as it looks. I just wish the iPod Touch was available a few months ago when I made the long trip to India...

And finally, this email from MNB user Bill Jensen:

As one who still keeps his 128K Mac in the house despite the objections of my spouse, I enjoyed your column about Jobs, apple, and its vision. I think they have done quite a lot in the last few years to change from selling "hardware" or "software" to making it easier for their customers to obtain and enjoy music, movies, and yes, even data in the form of email and the web. Delivering on its focus of simplicity, which after all, was the vision that prompted that wonderful look and feel of the Mac system 1.0 that was demonstrated so clearly by the script "Hello" on the screen.

Thanks for provocative opinions (some that I don't share) and news about the retail industry, which some of my clients live each day. Knowing them, and their world, helps me do a better job. And with your column, I am able to do it with a smile, or a growl. But I am thinking about it, and their needs.

Two things. One is that retailers should pay close attention to the comment above about how Mac doesn’t sell hardware or software, but rather makes it easier for customers to enjoy music or email or any other kind of data. That’s a critical difference, and one that more retailers ought to take to heart.

Second, I have to say that I am lucky enough to get more positive reinforcement about my work than any human being has a right to expect…and when you folks are kind enough to include such sentiments in our emails, I generally edit them out because I don't want to be self-aggrandizing.

But I had to include Bill Jensen’s line about making him both smile and growl…because that’s about the closest thing to a perfect endorsement of what MNB is about that I can imagine.

Thanks, Bill.
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