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    Published on: October 28, 2021

    Hotels around the country seem to be reducing their services, though it isn't always clear whether it is because of Covid-oriented restrictions or the lack of staff.  It also is inconsistent, though one thing that does seem consistent is a lack of transparency.  Not to mention customer-centricity.  KC has some thoughts.

    Published on: October 28, 2021

    by Kevin Coupe

    We've had some discussion here on MNB lately about the use of automation to replace flesh-and-blood employees.  And the beat goes on.

    The New York Times had a story the other day about how there is "a growing number of restaurant and hotel owners who are turning to robotics during this labor shortage. Robots don’t call in sick, don’t request raises and do jobs, like frying and cleaning, that workers don’t like.

    "Indeed, many robotics companies, like Miso Robotics, Bear Robotics, Peanut Robotics, Knightscope, SoftBank Robotics and Makr Shakr, say they’ve seen huge spikes in inquiries for their robots since the pandemic hit."

    And the Boston Globe has a piece this morning about Sweetgreen's $50 million acquisition of Spyce, the Boston restaurant startup that uses automation to prepare meals.  Sweetgreen's goal is "to integrate the Spyce’s technology in its restaurants so that it can 'serve its food with even better quality, consistency and efficiency'."

    And yesterday, an MNB reader sent me a link to this video, which highlights a new technology that would replace that most customer-facing of all professions - the bartender.

    The company says that it is "leading the self-pour revolution with a superior guest experience."

    Maybe it'll work in some situations, like in theaters, ballparks and other, similar venues.

    But I hope it doesn't get too much traction.  For me, the connection to a great bartender - I am, of course, talking about Morgan, the bartender at Etta's in Seattle, about whom I have frequently written here and in both my books - is one of the world's greatest and most Eye-Opening pleasures.  

    Published on: October 28, 2021

    Dorothy Lane Market, one of the best retail food stores in the world, announced yesterday that it will open its fourth store - and its first new store in almost two decades - in Mason, Ohio, a Cincinnati suburb about 20 miles northwest of the city.  The new store will be about 35 miles south of Dayton, Dorothy Lane's hometown.

    The Dayton Daily News reports that the new DLM store will be "part of a new $150 million mixed-use planned community … The mixed-use development where the grocer will sit will feature five lakes, a waterfront boardwalk and walking paths with a central green connecting DLM, restaurants and retail shops to a boutique hotel and residential lifestyle community on the site, as well as nearby neighborhoods, according to plans released by DLM."

    The Cincinnati Enquirer writes that "developers plan to break ground on the project in the spring of 2022, according to Tom Humes, president of Sharonville-based Traditions Building & Development Group, which is co-developing the mixed-use project with Western Row Land Developers.

    "Dorothy Lane, which is known for its trademark 'Killer Brownies' and gourmet foods, is expected to open sometime in early 2023, Humes said."

    In a prepared statement, DLM owner Norman Mayne said, "“We’re very excited by the prospect of joining the Mason community.  For over 70 years, we’ve been serving customers in Dayton, but also many who come to us from the Greater Cincinnati area. We’ve been searching for years for the right place for a store there. We feel fortunate to have found this excellent location in Mason. It’s been great to work with the City of Mason and we already feel at home there."

    KC's View:

    This is a big deal, in that it represents a major expansion for a food retailer that, I think it is fair to say, has achieved iconic status in the supermarket industry for its relentless focus on culinary excellence and innovative approach to customer service.

    Any retailer who visits a DLM can get a master class in food-centric marketing and merchandising, but I've always thought that the most important thing that the company does is create a culture in which, as Norman Mayne likes to say, a great reputation is what they had yesterday - today and tomorrow, they have to earn it all over again.

    Published on: October 28, 2021

    Costco has raised its minimum starting wage to $17/hour, while Starbucks has raised its to $15/hour.

    Business Insider reports that Costco "last raised its minimum wage to $16 in February 2021, from $15 that it had been since 2019. Costco CEO W. Craig Jelinek called the last raise 'good business,' saying higher wages reduce turnover.

    "'We're certainly not perfect, but we try to take care of our employees, because they play such a significant role in our success,' Jelinek said.

    Meanwhile, The Hill reports that "Starbucks said that hourly wages would start at $15 and could be as high as $23 for baristas by next summer depending on tenure and market … average hourly wages for employees are currently $14 an hour."

    Business Insider offers some context:  "As the retail industry is hit with a continuing labor shortage, higher wages have been one way businesses have kept workers on the job. Amazon and Target have both raised minimum wages to $15 in recent years after pressure from workers and the organization Fight for $15. Experts and analysts have called the labor shortage a misnomer, implying that there aren't enough workers instead of that there aren't enough good jobs, and many people are no longer willing to work for low pay in difficult and sometimes dangerous positions.

    "Business owners across the industry say they're unable to find staff and in some cases even cite a lack of desire to work, while workers say they can demand better pay and benefits in the tight labor market. Retail and restaurant workers have left the industry en masse to get away from low pay and difficult customers, and a growing number of openings in the labor market is making it easier to transition to new careers."

    And, The Hill notes, "The news comes as Starbucks employees at several stores in the Buffalo, New York area are seeking to unionize."

    KC's View:

    I think higher wages are important.  But it seems to me that if businesses want a sustainable response to staffing issues, they need to invest in creating cultures that value these employees and make them feel as if they are part of the solution, n to part of the problem.  You know, assets, not costs.

    This circles back to a discussion we were having here yesterday, about how the people taking these jobs often are the core interface between businesses and customers.  They're on the front lines.  They ought to be valued as such, as being part of the retailer's value proposition.

    Published on: October 28, 2021

    Bloomberg has an interview with Instacart CEO Fidji Simo in which she says that the company is contending with "unique challenges emerging from a post-pandemic world. Instacart, which is vying to build a sizable advertising operation, is depending on that higher-margin revenue stream to keep prices on the marketplace from rising. However, recent supply-chain disruptions complicate Simo’s balancing act: Advertisers are scaling back ad budgets and consumers are seeing more items out of stock.

    "While prices on the app haven’t increased substantially, Simo said, Instacart is highlighting more deals from brands to offset of the rise in food costs. But that lever comes with the trade-off of crowding the app with promotions. Over the long term, Simo said the company is developing more products to take prices down and it’s 'definitely something that we’re keeping an eye on'."

    Simo also tells Bloomberg that Instacart will eventually go public … that she expects e-grocery to grow from the current 10 percent of total food shopping now to 30 percent in just a few years … and that " Instacart is focusing on the battle to acquire more customers by boosting membership in its subscription service, Instacart Express, which sees higher rates of customer retention."

    “I see Instacart as the platform that grocery retailers are going to turn to in the fight against Amazon,” Simo tells Bloomberg, which writes that "before it can establish itself as supermarkets’ savior, Instacart has to convince grocery partners that it has no plans of becoming a competitor."

    KC's View:

    The problem is, as Instacart goes to manufacturers for deals and promotions that exist separately from those that suppliers are offering retailers, and as it brings together customer data from retailers, it positions Instacart to create a competitive entity … or, at the very least, disintermediate traditional retailers from their shoppers.

    And, we know that Instacart has weaponized shopper data against former client retailers, because it has done so.

    Retailers are beginning to get the message, and I'm beginning to hear from retailers who suddenly are expressing skepticism about Instacart.  But, to be fair, retailers also keep signing on, because Instacart has positioned itself effectively as being an easy solution to retailers' e-commerce needs.  

    But these retailers potentially are selling their souls.

    Published on: October 28, 2021

    From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Retail giants like Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp. think they have found a way to boost their e-commerce operations and save money: Own the warehouses where they stack piles of products.

    "While most retailers still tend to lease the shops where they sell products, more firms are calculating that they will save money in the long run and have more control by owning the warehouse where they store and distribute their goods to online customers.

    "The 25 largest U.S. retailers acquired about 38 million rentable square feet in new industrial space last year, up from 18.8 million square feet the previous year, according to commercial-real-estate data provider CoStar Group Inc. That is the highest total for at least the past 10 years.

    "Amazon is the largest corporate owner of U.S. industrial space, with 78 buildings spanning 83.6 million square feet, according to data and research firm Real Capital Analytics. Walmart Inc., Target Corp. , Kroger Co. and Dollar General Corp. have also purchased industrial space over the past year.

    "Some businesses are buying this space in an effort to counter an inventory squeeze caused by supply-chain bottlenecks. Companies want as much inventory in their stores and facilities as they can get, creating a greater need for industrial storage space to support it."

    KC's View:

    One of things that big retailers are learning, and that pus smaller retailers at a disadvantage, is that the more control they can exert over their supply chains, the better off they are.  That's why Amazon not only owns many of its facilities, but also has invested in trucks, ships, and planes - it is all about self-determination, to the greatest degree possible.

    Published on: October 28, 2021

    Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and how businesses and various business sectors are trying to recover from it, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  In the US, there now have been 46,597,003 total Covid-19 coronavirus cases, resulting in 761,856 deaths and 36,476,756 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 245,946,308 total cases, with 4,991,006 resultant fatalities and 222,896,245 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 77.8 percent of the US population age 12 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 67.3 percent of that group being fully vaccinated.   The CDC says that 66.5 percent of the total US population has received one dose of vaccine, with 57.5 percent being fully vaccinated.

    And, the CDC says, 19.2 percent of the US population age 65 and older has received a vaccine booster dose.

    •  From the Washington Post this morning:

    "At least 59,000 workers at Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, JBS, Cargill and National Beef — companies that control the lion’s share of the U.S. meat market — were infected with the coronavirus during the pandemic’s first year," according to a report from a House of Representatives select subcommittee.  "At least 269 workers across these companies died of covid-19 between March 1, 2020, and Feb.1.

    "The report, which stems from an investigation the subcommittee launched in February, alleges that the country’s top meatpackers failed to protect workers, allowing the virus to spread quickly in the close quarters of processing and packing plants. Workers were pushed to show up while ill, the Washington Post has reported, turning many facilities into covid hot spots. Dozens of plants were forced to close during the pandemic’s first wave, throttling production and sending ripples across the supply chain."

    The story notes that all of the companies have responded to the report by pointing to changes they've made to their safety procedures in response to the pandemic.

    Published on: October 28, 2021

    •  The New York Times reports that "with food prices surging, many Americans have found their household budgets upended, forcing difficult choices at the supermarket and putting new demands on programs intended to help.

    "Food banks and pantries, too, are struggling with the increase in costs, substituting or pulling the most expensive products, like beef, from offerings. What’s more, donations of food are down, even as the number of people seeking help remains elevated.

    "Even well-off Americans have noticed that many items are commanding higher prices, but they can still manage. It’s different for people with limited means."

    •  The Lakeland Ledger reports that "Publix Pharmacy has installed drug-disposal kiosks in select pharmacies  in five states for customers to dispose of leftover or expired prescription medications.  Publix is the latest among pharmacy retailers and health care providers to encourage consumers to properly dispose of medicines to prevent misuse or abuse as well as to reduce the environmental impact."

    Published on: October 28, 2021

    In Game Two of the World Series, the Houston Astros defeated the Atlanta Braves 7-2, tying the best-of-seven series at one game apiece.  Game Three is scheduled to be played in Atlanta on Friday night.