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    Published on: January 8, 2013

    by Michael Sansolo

    Although I’ve been fortunate to have many wonderful moments in my life, it’s possible I just had one of the best. And strangely enough it came courtesy of a company I love to hate.

    Longtime readers of this column know I have a love-hate relationship with United Airlines. Because it is the primary carrier in my home market, United flies me often and frequently with issues. I’ve complained about delays, cancelled flights, lost luggage and even the company’s president making appearance on pre-flight videos that I consider pointless.

    I take it all back. United Airlines, I love you!

    Why the change? It’s all about something called TSA Pre-Screening Pre, which may well be the best thing since sliced bread. Essentially, it allows heavy and heavily screened travelers to move through expedited security. Having just topped one million miles on United, I suddenly and unexpectedly qualified for this benefit and celebrated by hugging multiple TSA agents.

    In truth, I should have known about this service for two reasons. First, it’s actually not all that new and is offered by many other airlines at specific airports. In fact, Kevin earned this benefit a few months ago and raved about it endlessly. (Of course, I didn’t pay attention.)

    But here’s the business lesson. This was quite possibly the best frequent flyer benefit United has ever provided me. It greatly improved my travel experience and got me talking in high praise to business colleagues and, obviously, to you here on MNB. In so many ways this single benefit elevates my relationship with United and ensures my loyalty.

    So here’s the question: why didn’t United tell me and, likely, the many other frequent flyers who now qualify, all about this? Surely they had a strong sense from their countless surveys that the security process is an endless hassle and headache. Surely they knew the glee that would come with this benefit.

    So tell us.

    But they didn’t or they did it so subtly that I never noticed. And I don’t think that’s an uncommon problem.

    I’ve had the good fortune of working with many companies who are nothing short of corporate heroes. No matter what the company size, I consistently find the food industry at the forefront of all manner of charitable events. From the smallest efforts such as posting signs or providing space for PTA and scouting fund raisers to rushing in needed ice and water to devastated areas—the food industry is always there. And too often, no one talks about it.

    Admittedly there is a fine line between talking too much and too little, especially in the current era of social media and spam. Companies need to set clear disciplines that ensure messages have merit and don’t get drowned in a sea of chatter. If not your customers will tune you out and getting them back will be near impossible.

    At the same time, the line between humility and bragging is a line companies need to actively find. It’s so easy today for advocacy groups to find causes to rally anger against companies that it’s more important than ever to remind your customers and community that you do care.

    Because when you delight them—and you do—it’s good to remind them why their loyalty matters.

    Just ask me, the guy with the big grin at TSA.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 8, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    I've been thinking about the notion of personal mortality lately.

    There is the old saying, "Nothing sharpens the mind like the sight of the hangman's noose," and I think that's probably a good thing. We all face the noose, whether natural or unnatural, at some time or another and in some way or another, and it is good to keep it in mind ... not because we want to become obsessed with death, but because it can make us think more about life.

    It is like the line from The Shawshank Redemption: "Get busy living, or get busy dying."

    I'm thinking about it this morning because 26 years ago today, a friend of mine died.

    His name was Vic Magnotta.

    I first met Vic at Iona Prep, where I was a student (in the loosest possible definition of that word) and he was taught both gym and communications. I wasn't all that great in gym, but I loved his communications class. He taught film and TV production, and I took to it like a duck to water. Vic had worked in the film and television business, following up a stint with the Special Forces in Vietnam with a brief career as a stuntman; he then turned to teaching, as he looked (I think) for some other level of fulfillment in his life.

    Vic was the closest thing I've ever had to a mentor. Despite some personal tragedies in his life, he was the most consistently cheerful and optimistic person I've ever met. He wouldn't accept second-best work from me, and after I graduated from Iona and went off to film school, we stayed in touch. He eventually returned to the film business, working as a stuntman, stunt coordinator, producer and second unit director. (If you've ever seen Taxi Driver, you've seen Vic - he plays one of the Secret Service agents in the film, taught Robert DeNiro everything he needed to know about being a veteran, and coordinated all of the stunts.) Among his other credits were Raging Bull, Fort Apache, The Bronx, and The World According to Garp (he played Garp's wrestling coach at the beginning of the film).

    Vic and I even tried to develop a couple of film and television projects together, which, even though none of them ever went into production, was enormously fun and satisfying. (He also, in addition to being the stunt coordinator on the film, was head of security for a film called Somebody Killed Her Husband, which was the first feature film for an actress named Farrah Fawcett after she left "Charlie's Angels." He hired me to work on the security detail for the film, thus providing me with a credit that works as a conversation starter even to this day.)

    Twenty-six years ago, Vic was doing what should have been a minor stunt in a forgettable movie called The Squeeze. (You have to pay the mortgage, y'know.) He was supposed to drive a car off a pier in Hoboken, New Jersey, into the Hudson River.

    Vic used to say that stuntmen are the farthest thing in the world from daredevils, because they believe in meticulous planning for every possible eventuality. In this case, the car was carefully rigged. Vic was strapped in so that he'd be safe. The car frame was reinforced, and the windshield was set so that once the car was submerged, he'd be able to kick it out, unstrap himself and swim to the surface. There was a team of divers in the water, waiting for him, just in case.

    Except that, despite all the preparations, something happened when the car hit the water. The windshield immediately gave, slamming in against Vic, instantly breaking his neck and killing him.

    He was 43.

    Twenty-six years ago, I woke up to the all-news radio station and heard a report that "a stuntman has been killed doing a stunt by the Hudson River." Somehow, even though I did not know that Vic was working on the film or that he was doing a stunt that night, I knew it was him.

    A few days later, the funeral took place in a church that was packed to the rafters with people who knew Vic from all walks of his life. From the film business. From his time as a teacher. From when he'd considered the priesthood. There were former football players he'd coached. And there were people who'd worked with him in various charitable pursuits. There were dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people just like me, who were better men because they'd known Vic, and because he'd challenged us to try new things, to embrace life no matter what curves it would throw at us.

    I suspect that more than a few people who were in the church that day, or who had known Vic during the four decades into which he packed an amazing amount of living, did what I did - in 1989, when my second son was born, we named him Brian Victor. It seemed like the least we could do.

    In the New York Times obituary, Vic was described as "the consummate movie stunt man. He drove cars off bridges, turned flips on horseback, rappelled down the sides of burning buildings and scrambled up 100-foot masts on tall ships. He was known as 'the Bear.'."

    To this day, on my dresser, there is a small stuffed bear that he owned, and that his mom gave me after he died. And on my office wall is the picture that you see, above.

    I have no idea whether Vic ever thought about the metaphorical hangman's noose, though I suspect that having served in Vietnam and then being in the business he was in, it had to cross his mind from time to time. But he certainly lived his life and conducted his business as if he knew it were there, lurking in the shadows, and that the time we are given is to be savored and exploited - in the best possible sense of that word - to the fullest.

    That's today's lesson, and today's Eye-Opener.

    To get busy living, like there is no tomorrow.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 8, 2013

    Fascinating story on about how Apple Inc. has filed a patent application for what it calls a "system and method for planning layout of a retail store," including "a number of interactive features, like dynamic product displays and floor plan blocking, with a centralized management system, ensuring customers have a consistent experience when visiting any Apple Stores in the world. The inclusive application brings together dynamic signage creation and management, customer experience services, floor maps and other details to form a cohesive worldwide retail system."

    The story goes on: "At the heart of the invention is a central server that is responsible for providing Apple Stores with floor information, including dimensions and orientation of the floor space, product data, dynamic signage information, organization of fixtures, an interactive map and more. This server sends current information to in store servers which then mete the data out to dynamic product signage.

    "The filing notes that conventional retail stores are largely designed individually or locally, with different geological locations setting up displays according to the region's demographic. Apple's system provides an efficient way to roll out new products, display sale items and manage operations to offer customers around the globe uniform shopping experiences."

    One of the approaches cited in the Apple application is the utilization of "iPads as the informational kiosks, allowing customers to browse devices on their own or as ask for help from an in-store representative. Because the system is fed by a central server, updates can be pushed out to quickly coordinate changes in pricing or promotions."
    KC's View:
    Pretty much from their inception, the Apple Stores have been about pushing the envelope, about challenging traditional ways of doing business. Every part of the experience seems to be keyed to the notion that a great store can be a resource for consumers, not just a source of product. And, it is a store format that makes someone feel smarter just for walking in.

    That's not to say that there haven't been glitches. There have been some concerns expressed here on MNB, by me and others, that perhaps the chain was getting a little too big, that it was losing the consumer-focus that defined it, and that as the chain expanded, the culture was being diluted. And I think it is fair to suggest that this is something about which Apple will have to continue to be vigilant.

    Just FYI ... in "FaceTime" on Thursday, I'll have some thoughts about yet another innovation that I recently discovered at the Apple Store. Stay tuned...

    Published on: January 8, 2013

    Apple Inc. said yesterday that its iTunes Store has recorded more than 40 billion downloads since July 2008, when the store opened.

    That's 40 billion. With a "b."

    Half those downloads, the company says, came in 2012.

    Compare that to the first year of the iTunes Store;s existence, when there were just one billion downloads.
    KC's View:
    And the real irony is that I just wrote a sentence using the phrase "just one billion downloads.

    Imagine that.

    BTW...the 40 billion downloads do not include re-downloads or updates.

    Published on: January 8, 2013

    The Hartman Group is out with new research about Americans' snacking habits, revealing that:

    • 52 percent of all US eating occasions is snacking, compared to 49 percent in 2010.

    • Americans consumer 2.35 snacks per day, with more than half of Americans snacking between 2 and 5 p.m.

    • About a third of Americans do their snacking at home, with just 12 percent of people snacking at work and seven percent snacking "on the go."

    • While more than half Americans say that healthy snacking is important, the two most-consumed snacks are chips and soda.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 8, 2013

    ...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary...

    • Interesting story on CNBC about the previously announced $500 million acquisition of carsharing company Zipcar by Avis Budget, which suggests that the deal may mean that Zipcar may expand a no-annual-fee plan designed to entice new users.

    Currently, the no-fee plan is only being tested in Toronto and Vancouver, and only on weekdays, when Zipcar tends to be slower.

    However, Zipcar CEO Scott Griffith tells CNBC that there are no plans to do away with the fee structure completely.

    According to the story, Griffith is convinced that Avis will "leave Zipcar as a standalone subsidiary, and that pricing and practices will remain largely unchanged. 'I believe we'll get to call our own shots,' he said."

    As a dedicated and generally satisfied Zipcar user, I hope he's right ... but I fear that Avis will start messing around with the business model at some point just because it can. It be typical; that happens to a lot of companies and brands when bigger players - convinced of their own superiority - buy them.

    USA Today reports that "for the second consecutive year, Anheuser-Busch InBev will serve up a new brew to Super Bowl viewers.

    "The beer giant will tout its just-out Budweiser Black Crown brand during the Feb. 3 Super Bowl XLVII. The new beer is scheduled to be on sale nationwide by Jan. 21. Last year, A-B introduced another new brand, Bud Light Platinum, to the massive audience watching the Big Game."

    • The Associated Press reports that "Target is pushing its food, laundry detergent and other groceries in a national ad campaign that pokes fun at high-fashion advertising by featuring models interacting with everyday products ... The campaign is part of a larger move by Target, better known for its cheap-chic clothing and home goods, to focus more on its grocery-store aisle. Walmart and other Target competitors also have been expanding their selection of groceries to lure more customers into stores."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 8, 2013

    • Whole Foods Market announced that it has hired Jason J. Buechel as Global Vice President and Chief Information Officer.

    Buechel comes to Whole Foods Market from Accenture, where he served most recently as a Senior Executive and Managing Director within the Retail Operations Practice.

    Spartan Stores announced that Jerry Jones, the company's vice president of human resources, has been promoted to senior vice president, human resources.

    • Sears Holdings announced that Louis J. D’Ambrosio is stepping down from the CEO job there, citing "family health matters." He will be succeeded - at least for the time being - by Edward S. Lampert, chairman of the company.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 8, 2013

    • Richard Ben Kramer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who wrote "What It Takes," a 1,000-page, finely detailed book about the 1988 US presidential race that initially was not widely read but later evolved into being seen as one of the best examples of political writing and reporting, died yesterday. He was 62, and had lung cancer.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 8, 2013

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 8, 2013

    In the BCS college football national championship game, the University of Alabama delivered a convincing thumping of Notre Game, winning 42-14.
    KC's View: