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    Published on: January 13, 2015

    by Michael Sansolo

    They were just four people in a supermarket. That’s it.

    We’ll never know what they were buying, if they used coupons or private label. If they were workers we don’t know if they were full or part timers or even if they liked their jobs. Frankly, it will never matter.

    All we know is they were in a store called Hyper Cacher in Paris and they never got home. Just like that, the world of terrorism exploded into the world of supermarkets.

    This is a column I never, ever wanted to write, though I always feared it was coming. In our world of uncertainty and random violence it almost seemed like a taboo to discuss the fragility of safety in the world of supermarkets. But the jinx matters no longer.

    Four people were in a grocery store and never got home. That’s all that matters.

    I write these columns with a single purpose in mind. My hope is always that somehow I can say something that will provoke discussion and maybe action among MNB readers. It’s my way of being helpful, or at least I like to think so.

    And now I think we need to force discussion and action in reaction to what happened in Paris. I’m not talking about freedom of expression, the argument over what constitutes good and bad taste or even the global issue of radical Islam.

    We need to discuss what happened in a supermarket because it happened in a supermarket.

    There’s a powerful reality to this industry: we aren’t the world, but we are the community. Food stores are everywhere and always essential. We never hear outrage when a neighborhood loses its last movie theater, car dealership or funeral home.

    But when a rural village or urban neighborhood loses its last supermarket, it’s an issue because this industry sells the single most important item that people need every day. The industry is the most democratic element of society. Sure, we shop at different stores, but we do the chore all the same: we go to stores, buy food and take it from there.

    In so many ways our stores are the single best expression of free societies, which means that in response to what happened in France we need a plan of action.

    I’m no expert in this, but the following occurs to me right off the bat.

    Over the years I have been in countless supermarkets yet have never once encountered a safety drill or instruction. Now I know we never want to impede our shopper’s experience at all, but I think the times may have changed and now we need something that helps shoppers know what to do in the case of an emergency.

    Sure, there may be problems in doing that, but it is becoming more essential with every passing atrocity. And it makes fabulous business sense because we know personal safety is the trump card over everything else on a shopping trip. The more we do to reassure consumers, the better they’ll feel.

    To make this a reality we need to train every store level employee in emergency preparedness. Keep in mind that a single worker in Paris saved countless lives by hiding a group of shoppers in a walk-in freezer.

    Our efforts must go far beyond the stores themselves. Nearly a decade ago, a departing Cabinet official warned against terrorists attacking soft targets like the US food supply chain. Let’s make sure that whatever we’ve been doing so well so far is constantly supported so our food remains as safe as possible.

    There’s probably so much else to do that goes well beyond whatever I can propose. But there is one last request I’d make. It’s that the industry takes a moment to realize that this latest explosion of violence wasn’t remote in any way. This was a food store and people never came home.

    Let’s take a moment at company meetings, industry conventions or even just at our desks and repeat the following: Je Suis Hyper Cacher.

    "I am Hyper Cacher."

    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: January 13, 2015

    by Kevin Coupe

    In an era when flying has become generally uncivilized, kudos to Alaska Air for teaming up with my favorite chef/restaurateur, Tom Douglas, to improve the quality of their food.


    This is a great example of how a business can differentiate itself, and how it is not always necessary to aim for the lowest common denominator. And let's face it, that's generally the target used for airline food (on those rare occasions when one actually gets it, which usually involves an upgrade).

    I'm particularly impressed by the fact that Alaska Air decided to get into business with Douglas; he is very much a product of the Pacific Northwest, and his Seattle restaurants are among my favorites. (Longtime MNB readers know that I often wax rhapsodic about Etta's Seafood and Serious Pie, in particular ... and Tom Douglas restaurants actually get mentioned in two chapters of my new book, Retail Rules!. End of self-serving plug...)

    And, this is just another Eye-Opening reason that moving to the Pacific Northwest looks better and better (because Alaska Air doesn't have a lot of routes in the northeast..)...

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 13, 2015

    The Fresh Market announced yesterday that president/CEO Craig Carlock has left the company, effective immediately, and is being replaced on an interim basis by Sean Crane, the company's Executive Vice President/COO.

    A search firm has been retained to identify and evaluate candidates for the permanent CEO job.

    While founder/chairman Ray Berry praised Carlock for helping The Fresh Market transition from being a private to a public company, he also said that the chain "has a significant opportunity, through its unique and differentiated grocery shopping experience, to gain share in existing markets and expand into new markets. I further believe meaningful opportunities exist to improve profit margins through both structural and operational initiatives."
    KC's View:
    Gee, I wonder if someone like Beth Newlands Campbell, the 27-year Delhaize executive who recently left Food Lion, might be a good choice for The Fresh Market. It is a smaller chain than she is used to, but she might find the shift to specialty food retailing to be attractive. (From conversations I've had with her, I think she considers herself a foodie ... and that's what a company like The Fresh Market needs.) They certainly should talk to her if they've decided to go outside for a new CEO.

    Published on: January 13, 2015

    In what is described as the claiming of the "first scalp of the year," Reuters reports that UK retailer Morrisons CEO Dalton Philips is out, with a search being conducted for a successor that the company hopes can "return the business to growth."

    The move by the board comes after a holiday season in which Morrisons ranked fourth among the UK's big four retailers - Tesco, Sainsbury, and Walmart-owned Asda Group - with same-store sales that were down more than three percent.

    Andrew Higginson, the former Tesco finance director who will become Morrisons' new chairman next week, said in an interview that the board feels the company's business goals could be "best done under new leadership."
    KC's View:
    One of the things that the local newspapers talk about a lot in the UK is the "big four." But it seems to me that this move by Morrisons has more to do with the big four being diminished by value retailers such as Aldi and Lidl, and specialty retailers such as Waitrose and Marks & Spencer. Dalton Philips probably won't be the last squeezee.

    Published on: January 13, 2015

    Reuters reports that "some 20 state attorneys general have joined the federal antitrust investigation of competing bids by Dollar General Corp and Dollar Tree Inc to buy Family Dollar Stores Inc, a development that potentially complicates the companies' efforts to win U.S. approval for a deal.

    "The attorneys general concern focuses on the likelihood that the loss of one of the chains would lead to higher prices for discount store customers, many of whom are poor ... The presence of the state attorneys general gives the FTC additional lawyers to look at the case, much-needed knowledge of how the merging companies function in the state and how the deal would affect the state's consumers."

    Among the states involved are Florida, Iowa and Vermont.

    Dollar General has offered $9.1 billion to acquire Family Dollar, but the bid has been rejected in favor of an $8.5 billion bid from Dollar Tree; Family Dollar says that antitrust regulators will require too many store divestitures if a deal were done with Dollar General to make the deal viable.
    KC's View:
    It probably is too late for this, but it is a shame that some other company hasn't swept in to try and disrupt this deal with a bid of their own that has few if any antitrust implications. Just because it'd be fun to see even more chaos in this segment.

    Published on: January 13, 2015

    Ad Week has an interesting story about the first annual Bentonville Film Festival, which has been co-founded by actress/activist Geena Davis as a way of "celebrating female and minority filmmakers." The initial event will take place the week of May 5, and will be sponsored by Walmart, as well as by Kraft and Coca-Cola.

    Trevor Drinkwater, festival co-founder and ARC Entertainment CEO, tells Ad Week that it wasn't Walmart's idea to put the festival in Bentonville, but that it seemed like a great fit.

    "It was our idea to have it there and [Walmart] supports it, obviously, because they want to show off their town," Drinkwater says. "It's a great representation of small-town America, and it's not dissimilar to a town like [Utah-based Sundance Film Festival's] Park City ... All these brands are interested in putting their ad dollars and support on programming that is more reflective of what America looks like, as far as women and diversity goes,"

    Molly Blakeman, a spokeswoman for the retailer, says that "as the largest seller of physical movies, we are always looking for great content. The Bentonville Film Festival gives us an avenue to identify compelling films from women and minority filmmakers. In addition, we believe empowering women is the right thing to do and will make us a more successful retailer." 

    The story notes that "the festival is informed by research from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which is 'dedicated to improving the representation in gender and diversity of talent, filmmakers and business leaders by growing awareness through research, education and advocacy'."
    KC's View:
    Sounds like potentially a terrific event; I'd love to try to find my way there in May. And kudos to Walmart for seeing an opportunity and acting on it.

    Published on: January 13, 2015

    The Boston Globe reports that Louis Boston, a legendary men's clothing retailer in New England for more than eight decades, bringing high fashion and European designers to Beantown, will close its doors in July. The store currently operates at a Fan Pier location on Northern Avenue, after decades on fashionable Newbury Street.

    When Murray Pearlstein, who ran the company for decades, passed away in 2013, he was lauded as being the innovative retail peer of people like Fred Pressman, who founded Barney's, and Cliff Grodd of Paul Stuart.

    Pearlstein's daughter, Debi Greenberg, said she was closing the store because while "business is on point at our current location with steady year-over-year growth, but after 25 years of extensive travel to Paris, London and New York five months a year in search of the world’s finest clothing, it is simply time to change direction and turn my attention to projects and passions outside the retail arena."
    KC's View:
    Louis Boston, of course, is the store where (at its previous Newbury Street location) Spenser brought Paul Giacomin to buy clothes in "Early Autumn."

    Who can forget Spenser saying to Paul, "I always have the impulse to whiz in the corner when I come here. But I never do."

    If I'm not mistaken, Spenser might've been able to see the old Louis Boston location from his office window. (Now, it is a giant Restoration Hardware, which he'd probably find precious.) As always, it is sad when pieces of our past fade away.

    Published on: January 13, 2015

    I was sorry to hear about the passing of Mike Proulx, the four-decade veteran of the Basha's chain who resigned from the company's presidency in 2009. Proulx then went to USC's Food Industry Management program, where he worked with Bob Hermanns (who passed away in early 2014).

    Proulx reportedly passed away after a long illness at the way-too-young age of 66.
    KC's View:
    The last time I saw Mike probably was the last time I saw Bob ... I was at USC to guest-lecture, and they both were there ... and, as with so many executives who become academics late in their careers, they both seemed completely happy working with students and executives in an on-campus environment.

    My condolences to Mike's family and friends.

    Published on: January 13, 2015

    Yesterday, MNB took note of a City AM report that Tesco plans to close 13 of its more than 200 stores in Hungary as part of its broader moves to make the company more profitable." The story noted that "major retailers in Hungary face new legislation in the country that would enforce the closure of loss-making chains after two successive years of losses, as well as rises in food inspection costs." 

    And I commented:

    What a concept! If stores don't make money, they have to be closed...

    This prompted MNB reader Bob Warzecha to write:

    Let’s hope that Amazon doesn’t set up shop in Hungary since Amazon has not made a profit yet.

    And reader Jim DeJohn wrote:

    You had an interesting comment for the MNB’s Tales of Tesco section.  You said “What a concept! If stores don’t make money, they have to be closed” .  Would you also apply this to online areas? – since I believe Amazon has yet to post a profit – would you recommend they be closed as well?  Just food for thought…

    Is that my own petard upon which I am being hoisted?

    First, I'm not sure that countries should be passing legislation that establishes whether or not retailers should stay in business.

    Second, I would point out that Amazon makes a ton of money ... they just keep investing it in new initiatives and technologies.

    On the subject of Apple Pay, one MNB user wrote:

    I’ve beat on this drum before.  Having been hacked numerous times with retailers I shop first where Apple Pay is taken and only use credit cards elsewhere for fraud protection.  I changed from Publix to Winn Dixie for this very reason and it is no coincidence that the line I was in having multiple users of Apple Pay was breezing through checkout.  I used my debit card in this checkout with no worries of hacking.  If Whole Foods builds closer to where I live I will happily shop there using Apple Pay.  It is sad, or very short sighted and self serving as a more appropriate description, that supporters of Merchant Customer Exchange just get further behind and lose customers to those who do take Apple Pay.  By the way, my pharmaceutical business has left CVS and now goes to Walgreens……..same reason.

    We had a piece the other day about how union organizers are continuing to push for higher wages for retail employees, leading MNB reader Randall Mahon to write:

    How do you define, “Sharing the Wealth” from a Union president? I believe through progressive taxes, welfare programs, and charity that the “wealth” is shared. This week, President Obama wants to give “free” community college to every student who passes high school: “free”??? The minimum wage jobs are what they are: low skill positions. The workplace is always looking for people that sharpen their skill sets to become valuable to many employers. Working at a fast food restaurant is not a way to gain skills, unless you aspire and work towards being a manager. This type of mindset is what gives this current generation the Entitled Ones...

    For the record, I hate the phrase "share the wealth." It sends the wrong message ... the discussion about the minimum wage ought to be about how much people need to make in order to support themselves and their families. Even low-skill people need to have a roof over their heads and food on their tables; ideally, they'll also be able to clothe their children and find a way to send them to college so they can achieve the American dream. (Note that I said achieve the American dream ... not have it handed to them. Because I fervently believe that this is all most people want.)

    I do think, if I reading the coverage correctly, that you may be mischaracterizing the community college proposal. I'm not sure I understand the economics of it, but the philosophy behind it is that the US decided at a certain point in its history that it was going to make a free public education available to all its citizens, through high school ... at the time making the US the best educated nation on earth. Now, a high school education is not enough ... and the theory is that to be competitive as a nation we have to find a way to get more people a college education. (I suppose that one way to justify the cost is to say that all these people who get a free community college education hopefully will get better paying jobs, pay more taxes, and contribute more to a thriving economy.)

    I am cheered that the federal proposal is modeled on programs in Tennessee (where they have been championed by a Republican governor) and Chicago (where a Democratic mayor has led the way). Now, I understand that there will be concerns about whether such programs should be federal or state-run, and that's a perfectly legitimate debate to have. But this is not, in my opinion, about catering to an entitled generation.

    Yesterday we had an email from a Portland, Oregon, reader who lamented the fact that Dunkin' Donuts is expanding in China without doing so in the Pacific Northwest. I responded that Portland residents are lucky enough to have Voodoo doughnuts and Stumptown Coffee, and should not complain.

    Which led another MNB reader to write:

    In Portland, Voodoo doughnuts obviously has a legacy and great appeal – my favorite is the Marshall Mathers.
    However, the place is very touristy – where to go if you don’t know where else to go. At least some of the enjoyment is based on the perception of scarcity and unique designs – both great elements.

    But when you were last adjunct-ing in Portland (or during your next trip) I hope you patronized some other establishments that may surpass Voodoo – at least in the flavor/quality department 🙂

    Pip's: Tiny doughnuts with amazing glazes, like honey & sea salt. Plus the owners are very generous and involved in the community.

    Blue Star Doughnuts: Not tiny doughnuts that are just gourmet through and through (with a price to match). Choices like creme brûlée or Pistachio cheesecake with raspberry hibiscus glaze – and my favorite Apple Fritter ever, plus a maple-bacon creation that puts Voodoo to shame. These are food-porn doughnuts that taste as good as they look.

    Honestly, those are probably now well-known champions, and doughnut hipsters would balk at going somewhere so gauche and commoditized 🙂
    Wow, I just went to a lot of work to recommend doughnuts for no personal gain. I … I think I’m in love.

    I now have new places to add to my list for next summer. Though, to be honest, I have to go easy on the doughnuts these days...
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 13, 2015

    In the inaugural College Football Playoff championship game, the Ohio State Buckeyes dominated the University of Oregon Ducks, winning the game 42-20.
    KC's View: