business news in context, analysis with attitude

The bankruptcy filing by Eddie Bauer this week is a cautionary take that every retailer should take seriously, since it shows what happens when a business – even one with a nine decade tradition and a rich history – loses touch with its core business imperatives. Or, to put it another way, screws up a great brand.

Eddie Bauer traditionally was known for outdoor clothing, but in recent years, under various owners, it veered severely off course – getting into the casual/dressy clothing business, the furniture business, and various other segments that moved it steadily away from its core and differentiating expertise. One analyst called Eddie Bauer “a good company with a bad balance sheet,’ and the hope is that post-bankruptcy new ownership can get the company back on track.

This is not to suggest that companies cannot expand beyond a core expertise. But there are strategies, and there are tactics. It seems to me that Eddie Bauer’s management made the mistake of mistaking tactics for strategy … and it should have been far more careful to nurture the connections that made it special.

This is a mistake, I think, that LL Bean has been careful not to make. While it certainly has expanded beyond its core competency – and, in the interest of full disclosure, I should say here that LL Bean is one of my favorite designers – that company has never lost touch with the central mission and message that distinguishes it.

Mr. Bauer, meet Mr. Bean. This may be the best role model that you could have.

Interesting piece in Forbes this week that caught my attention. It seems that while both “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report” have seen their viewership go up – eight percent for Stewart, nine percent for Colbert – all is not rosy for the Comedy Central stalwarts.

You see, viewership may be on the increase, but they are the wrong viewers.

According to the story, the median viewer’s age for both programs also is increasing – up five years to 41.4 for Stewart and up five years to 38.3 for Colbert. And, horror of horrors, the number of people older than 55 watching “The Daily Show” rose by 25 percent, 22 percent for “The Colbert Report.” (The number of people between the ages of 18 and 34 watching Stewart dropped 14 percent, according to the story, and fell 15 percent for Colbert.)

Speaking as a 54 year old who watches and loves both programs – I’d be tempted to give up MorningNewsBeat if offered a chance to work in either show’s writers room – I actually feel a little guilty about throwing off their demographics.

But not so guilty that I’m going to stop watching.

Besides, this story illustrates two things.

First of all, both Stewart and Colbert also are getting older. They’re hardly gray-hairs at age 46 and 45 respectively, but it makes sense that their audience will age as they do. (Thank goodness the jokes don’t get old and the satire stays sharp.)

Second, it highlights the need for Comedy Central to find its next big/young stars that will be relevant to a young audience. Just like a retailer, Comedy Central has to continually adjust to an evolving and changing customer/viewer.

Wait a minute. Sammy Sosa was using steroids?

Yikes! Now there’s something I never would have guessed.

The list of baseball stars revealed to be steroid users who now probably are going to have to wait a long time before being inducted into the Hall of Fame grows by one more.

Bonds. Clemens. McGwire. Tejada. Ramirez. Palmeiro. And now Sosa.

The question is not whether more names will make the list. It is which name will make the list.

My wine of the week: the 2007 Erath Pinot Noir, a versatile and delicious red wine that I enjoyed with a thick steak seasoned with Emeril’s Essence. Just great.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

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