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    Published on: November 11, 2014

    by Michael Sansolo

    S. Donald Stookey was a name I had never heard before last week and now I doubt I’ll forget it. Because of a mistake he made on the job one day, Stookey changed all our lives, created countless jobs and reminds us once again that sometimes the best laid plans aren’t the path to follow.

    In the 1950s, Stookey, who just passed away at age 99, accidentally created a synthetic ceramic glass that eventually ended up on dining room tables as Corning Ware. The story, contained in his obituary, is that Stookey left a plate of photosensitive glass in a furnace heated to 900 degrees Celsius, or 300 degrees hotter than he intended. A veteran scientist, Stookey fully expected to find a pool of molten glass in the oven.

    Instead he found the glass intact, but now milky white and about to deliver an amazing discovery. Stookey removed it with a pair of tongs only to drop the new creation. Instead of shattering when it hit the floor the glass bounced.

    Just like that, Corning Ware was born.

    As Stookey began testing the product he found it was harder than steel, lighter than aluminum and nine times stronger than glass. It could go from the over the freezer and, of course, on to the table. It became a fixture in kitchens and the source of millions in sales and thousand of jobs for years to come. And it all happened because of a mistake.

    Now the reality is that none of us works diligently to make mistakes. As Stookey’s obituary recalled, the scientist at first cursed when he realized his furnace was set to the wrong temperature. I’m sure we’ve all experienced that moment when we or one of our colleagues lets something go array.

    But mistakes don’t always lead to bad outcomes because serendipity doesn’t allow it. Sometimes we stumble into great things when we least expect or plan it.

    It occurs to me that we’d all be a lot better if we behaved like scientists and explorers a little more albeit without working in laboratories. Our lives and jobs are so busy that we too frequently forget to take time to break our routines and see what’s out there. Wandering Facebook is interesting, but it’s hardly a voyage of discovery.

    In the retail industry discovery can simply mean visiting stores far and wide from your business and regular habits. It means trying new foods, viewing different television channels or even reading a non-business book. It’s simply about going where you don’t usually go.

    In many ways, this week is a great time to pause and think about things larger than our daily grind. After all, today is Veterans’ Day, a time when we pause to honor those who gave so much to preserve freedoms for all of us. But let’s not forget the holiday originally commemorated the armistice that ended the “war to end all wars.” That was World War I, which, as we painfully know, was hardly mankind’s last war.

    Remember also that two days ago we marked the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, a moment that altered the world’s geopolitics in ways we are still comprehending. If that’s not enough, yesterday was the 45th anniversary of Sesame Street’s first airing. All great moments from the sublime to the rhyme.

    One has to believe that the Muppets would find a really great way to sing about the power of discover and mistakes and remind us that sometimes our journeys take all kinds of strange twists and turns that somehow lead to great outcomes. Sometimes ordinary people become heroes and sometimes people power topples empires.

    And sometimes an incorrect setting on an oven gets us Corning Ware.

    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 on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 11, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    Thanks to the MNB user who sent me the picture at left, taken at Kahului Airport in Hawaii, saying that it was one of those great cases in which a picture actually is worth a thousand words … illustrating a stark example of how change affects us all.

    It is, in fact, the definition of an Eye-Opener.

    KC's View:

    Published on: November 11, 2014

    President Barack Obama yesterday came out firmly in favor of net neutrality, saying that cable companies ought not be able to create so-called "fast lanes" for certain companies willing to pay more so that their customers can access content more easily.

    ""We cannot allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas," Obama said in a statement released by the White House. "I believe the FCC should create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online."

    Essentially, the Obama argument - which is only an opinion, since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which currently is tasked with making a decision about the issue, does not take orders from the White House - is that internet access should be treated like electricity or water, and not like cable television. Net neutrality, as the New York Times writes, has been the center of "a long-simmering battle between telecommunications and tech lobbyists," as cable companies have been flexing significant lobbying dollars to ensure that that they are able to exercise greater control - and generate more revenue - when it comes to internet access.

    The Times frames the case this way:

    "One theory of the case, and the one that the Obama administration embraced Monday, is that the Internet is like electricity. It is fundamental to the 21st century economy, as essential to functioning in modern society as electricity. It is a public utility … In the president’s logic, and that of the Internet content companies that are the most aggressive supporters of net neutrality, just as your electric utility has no say in how you use the electricity they sell you, the Internet should be a reliable way to access content produced by anyone, regardless of whether they have any special business arrangement with the utility.

    "Those arguing against net neutrality, most significantly the cable companies, say the Internet will be a richer experience if the profit motive applies, if they can negotiate deals with major content providers (the equivalent of cable channels) so that Netflix or Hulu or other streaming services that use huge bandwidth have to pay for the privilege."

    Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), immediately blasted the Obama position, saying on Twitter that "'Net Neutrality' is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government."
    KC's View:

    While the FCC was expected to issue a Net Neutrality ruling by the end of the year, indications now are that it plans to take more time deliberating, in part because what was originally seen as a boring, procedural question has been cast in a far more populist light and has been getting a lot more attention.

    At least part of the credit goes to John Oliver, who used his "Last Week Tonight" show on HBO to train a spotlight on net neutrality, explaining it is clear, non-boring terms … a video rant that went viral and generated enough outrage that the FCC's online comment site crashed. You can see the video by clicking here or on the window at right … and it remains, to my mind, one of the best explanations of net neutrality that I've seen.

    I'm completely on board with the net neutrality partisans. While the cable companies like to say that they'll only be charging companies like Netflix or Amazon more money, we all know that these costs will be passed onto consumers … and I think that we have to be careful about a allowing a handful of companies that essentially have legal monopolies to have so much power over how the internet works.

    (BTW…if you are a small retailer competing with much bigger e-commerce companies, you should totally be in favor of net neutrality. Otherwise, access to your sites could be slowed while access to Amazon or Walmart or Alibaba could be much faster, because they've got the deep pockets to make it so.)

    I don't have a lot of confidence that the FCC will do the right thing, largely because they guy running it - ironically named to the post by Obama - is a former telecom executive. But I have a lot of confidence that net neutrality is the right thing to do.

    Published on: November 11, 2014

    The BBC reports that Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce behemoth, says that it generated the equivalent of almost $7 billion (US) in sales in just the first 17 hours of its annual "Single's Day" shopping promotion, described by the news service as "an obscure holiday devoted to single people, a kind of anti-Valentine's Day" on which people without romantic attachments buy things for themselves.

    The estimates were that Alibaba could generate more than $8 billion in sales for the day when everything is tallied up. Last year, the "Single's Day" promotion resulted in $5.75 billion (US)_ in sales, with more than 150 million packages shipped.

    The "Single's Day" promotion is said to be the world's biggest online sales day.
    KC's View:

    This speaks volumes about the power of Chinese consumers, the reach of Alibaba, and the potential threat that Alibaba poses as it expands in the US.

    Published on: November 11, 2014

    The Wall Street Journal reports that a possible hacking of the US Postal Service (USPS) may have put at risk the names, addresses and Social Security numbers of more than 800,000 people who work for the Postal Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Postal Service Office of Inspector General.

    Some customers also may have been affected, but the extent to which consumer data was breached is unknown at this time.

    The USPS says that there is no evidence that payment systems, which would have put credit card and debit card numbers at risk, have been breached. There also is no indication at this time that there has been any misuse of the data that was stolen.
    KC's View:
    I guess as the USPS attempts to be more competitive, instituting Sunday service, getting into the food delivery business, etc… - we can expect that it also will be targeted by the same sorts of criminals that go after companies like Home Depot and Target. Hopefully, the USPS will work hard to be up to the task.

    Published on: November 11, 2014

    The Financial Times reports this morning that Congressional Republicans have indicated "that a bill to end tax-free internet shopping was doomed," and will not be acted upon during the lame-duck session taking place before the new GOP-led Congress takes over next year.

    According to the story, "The announcement is a blow to retailers which had calculated that the bill had a better chance of passing this year – with control split between Republicans and Democrats – than in a new Congress controlled by Republicans. Although the Republican party is close to business and has policy priorities that closely match those of the US’s biggest companies, the internet sales tax is one area where retailers garner more support from Democrats … Many conservatives – who exert a powerful influence on House Republican leaders – have complained that the bill amounts to a new tax and would expand states’ authority by enabling them to collect tax via online businesses in other jurisdictions."
    KC's View:
    I think we can expect that the new Congress will focus more on eliminating taxes, not adding new ones. This probably is a dead issue.

    Published on: November 11, 2014

    Bloomberg reports that RadioShack plans to open most of its stores all-day on Thanksgiving, a first-time move that it hopes will help "lure shoppers at a time of still-shaky consumer spending."

    CEO Joe Magnacca says that the decision is a response to "a consumer demand for more flexible shopping."

    "More than 3,000 of RadioShack’s stores will be open on Nov. 27 from 8 a.m. to midnight," Bloomberg writes, noting that "in previous years, the company operated only a limited number of locations on Thanksgiving."
    KC's View:
    I hate to be cynical, but it doesn't matter if RadioShack is open all day if its stores and offerings are largely seen as irrelevant.

    Published on: November 11, 2014

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Whole Foods is saying that its new e-commerce initiative seems to be showing positive results: "Now in 15 cities, Whole Foods’ partnership with grocery delivery app Instacart has resulted in digital shopping carts 2.5 times the size of their brick-and-mortar counterparts."

    According to the story, CIO Jason Buechel says that "the partnership, which brings groceries to someone’s door in as little as an hour, has also helped surface new customers who may have shopped at other stores out of convenience, or didn’t see the immediate value of Whole Foods’ products.

    "The digital initiatives come amid increasing competition from technology companies like Inc. and Google Inc., who have been making inroads into the grocery business through their delivery services."

    The story also says that "alongside the Instacart partnership, Whole Foods is also one of the first companies to participate in Apple Inc.’s Apple Pay program. Mr. Buechel said the firm has processed more than 150,000 transactions using the service since Apple Pay went live last month, and is using feedback to enhance its own mobile and tablet experience."
    KC's View:
    If you are a retailer and not figuring out how to compete in this space, you risk being left behind. I'm not a big Instacart fan … but I think you have to play.

    Published on: November 11, 2014

    • The Des Moines Register reports that 10-store, Iowa-based Dahl's Foods has filed a $41 million bankruptcy petition, "asking that it be allowed to reorganize and sell its stores … Dahl's said Monday that Kansas City, Kan.-based Associated Wholesale Grocers Inc. plans to buy Dahl's assets and rebrand the stores … Court filings show that AWG has offered to buy the chain's assets for a base price of $4.8 million, which could be adjusted depending on the value of inventory and other items. Under one scenario, one of AWG's co-op members could own the stores, with AWG funding the acquisition."

    • The New York Times reports that Unilever, maker of Hellman's and Best Foods mayonnaise, "is suing Hampton Creek, a start-up company making an eggless spread that tastes like mayonnaise, accusing it of false advertising and fraud." The Just Mayo spread "replaces eggs with yellow peas," the story says, and Unilever claims that it is hurting the sale of its traditional mayonnaise products while not meeting the federal standard for mayonnaise.

    "Unilever said that Just Mayo failed to meet the Food and Drug Administration’s definition of mayonnaise as an emulsion of vegetable oil, an acid like vinegar or lemon juice and an ingredient containing egg yolks. Thus, Miracle Whip, made by Kraft Foods, calls itself a spread or salad dressing."
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 11, 2014

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Neiman Marcus Group Inc. has named Sarah Hendrickson as its first chief information security officer. Hendrickson comes to the retailer from Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, where she held the same position. She previously played IT roles at Dell Inc. and JC Penney.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 11, 2014

    Yesterday, MNB took note of a Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal report that a nonprofit organization called the Cancer Nutrition Consortium is teaming with Hormel for a new line of foods designed for the fatigue and nausea often experienced by cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatments. According to the story, they have worked with chefs and nutritionists to create "a line of nutritionally balanced, high-calorie comfort foods like mac 'n cheese" that will be "sealed in a vacuum pack that stays on throughout the cooking process to cut down on food odors. Funkier foods like fish will be masked with odors like apple or pumpkin, which patient focus groups found pleasant."

    My comment: I just think this is great. I hope it gets real traction among the many families that are dealing with this terrible disease, and that it is a big success for everybody.

    One MNB user chimed in:

    As one that suffers from cancer I applaud the effort to increase nutrition for those suffering from the symptoms of the cancer and the related chemotherapy.  You have no idea what it is like to be weak and sick from the cancer and the chemotherapy but still repulsed by the thought of eating anything.  Any effort in this area should be praised as an effort to assist the community less than that of securing increased profits.  Simply put…THANK YOU.

    But, from another reader:

    With the greatest respect for those who are suffering and struggling with such a horrific disease…

    Shouldn’t we praise Hormel if they were modifying or adding products that had no association with any of the possible causes of cancer?   To some degree, this seems like double dipping at the expense of innocent consumers.

    Just seems to me that if all of the resources going toward their new initiative were shifted to a longer-term solution they might get 5 gold stars from consumers, investors and the world at large.

    MNB user Buffy Braun had a great idea:

    I hope when they set up online purchasing they think of doing a registry for patients, like a gift registry.  Often people would like to do something to help a friend going through treatment, what a better way than to send them food!

    I trust my Hormel readers will take note. This is an excellent proposal, and Hormel should embrace it when it releases the new line next year.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 11, 2014

    In Monday Night Football, the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Carolina Panthers 45-21.
    KC's View: