business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got several emails about yesterday's FaceTime video with Terrence Boyd, the kind of Instacart shopper who would make any employer proud.

MNB reader Karen Labenz wrote:

Terrence from Instacart made me smile!  Pride in your work and delivering excellence every day never goes out of style.  Well done!

MNB reader Thomas Parkinson wrote:

Your video today with the Instacart shopper reminded me of Jack, Peapod's first produce shopper.  He only shopped the produce section of a customer order as if he was shopping for himself.  From then on, all produce sections of a Peapod order were shopped by a produce expert.

Here, FYI, is a picture of Jack:

On Friday I did a FaceTime referring to " Jar Jar Binks Syndrome," in which business leaders (in the case of The Phantom Menace, George Lucas) are so powerful and so isolated that nobody is able to tell them when something is a bad idea (in this case, creating a character, Jar Jar Binks, that ended up being universally and justifiably loathed).

One MNB reader wrote:

I have been working in the CPG business for over 35 years.  Rarely, if ever, do managers really, truly want to hear someone tell them their idea is a bad idea.  They may state that they welcome this feedback, they don’t really.   BTW, when I started, we called new products “new items.”  At some point, we changed this to “innovation.”  ChatGPT is innovation; Tesla is innovation.  Shampoo with new kinds of chemicals is not.

Regarding the state of and predictions about the economy, as reported by the New York Times, MNB reader Doug Madenberg wrote:

With all due respect to the Times, at some point the cautionary prediction will prove true.  What’s the saying, Economists have predicted nine of the last five recessions.  It doesn’t help the consumer mindset, that’s for sure.  Maybe a silver lining of this ride is we’ll act a bit more rationally on what’s actually happening.

MNB reader Mike Overschmidt wrote:

Hey KC, I haven’t felt compelled to write for some time but the segment on the economic resilience struck on something that’s been on my mind for some time. 

Student loan debt and possible forgiveness.  I do have some reservations about just wiping it all out from the stand point of “fairness”.  Personally I’d rather see interest set to 0% on the loans and maybe some sort of credit for interest paid to date.  However, when that discussion first came up, many on the right declared that it would be inflationary.  I disagreed then as I do now because forgiveness wasn’t money being put into the economy in the form of direct payments. 

But here’s my point, the pause on payments allowed people to not spend money on the loans for 3 years now.  That money is now baked into our economy; the “new normal” if you will.  The restart of payments (averaging $503/month/borrower) is, IMHO, an immediate risk to the economy because it will, unquestionably, take spending power out of the economy.  Servicing that $1.8T debt may do the job the Fed has been unable to do, slow the economy.

We'll see.

I agree with Scott Galloway about student debt forgiveness - it attacked the symptoms but not the disease, which is out of control college costs and a system that discourages people from going to college, not encourage them.

MNB reader Craig Espelien weighed in on our story about the factors driving labor unrest:

I think there is much more of a combo platter going on here…

COVID definitely had an impact…

On companies, at first, it was execute, execute, execute to simply survive.

On workers it was remote or essential - a simple split that is now having HUGE consequences (see below).

As the impact of COVID began to wane, folks who were called essential wanted a shot at remote and wanted to feel essential in ways other than just showing up day after day to take abuse and make the same $$ they were making (remember - the bonus rates evaporated in most places).

The remote folks began to feel that remote was owed to them (see the various struggles companies have had getting folks back into the office.  But, lets dig into WHY:

• Work/life balance - way easier with remote

• Commute - eliminate = better

• Office job = wasting time (from a certain point of view) - an eight hour office job translates to a five or six hour at home job once the frivolous meetings and time-wasters are eliminated. People got used to flexibility in their lives that went beyond the office

• Add to this the point above where the “elite” feeling of being able to be remote made folks feel better that they weren’t “essential” - do not read that as “not needed” but essential workers had to go to work (not a benefit in the remote worker’s mind)

Now, add back leadership that is clearly too focused on the way things used to be and we get what we currently have.

Workers who are frustrated for reasons that may not always be reasonable. Leadership focused on managing tomorrow like it is just like yesterday and we get the perfect storm of quiet quitting and overall job dissatisfaction.

Work has changed - and has to continue to change. Neither group will get everything and if everyone focuses on the Customer Experience (whether B2C or B2B) then things will likely work out.

Your example of the UPS issue with A/C is interesting - as no A/C means better MPG (a huge cost) at the expense of driver comfort. Now add the sauce of strong relationships built with customers and there is not a lot of sympathy for UPS leadership and there is for the “essential” driver that fulfilled our remote purchases. Add A/C and you will likely see cost increases to offset lost mileage (and when your business is built on a fleet of trucks, that cost is more than measurable). Rarely is there a one-dimensional or easy answer.

MNB reader Doug Larsen wrote:

I believe your take on Mgmt taking eye off the ball at UPS is spot on. Is like UPS Mgmt said "Hey, we're paying these people $93K a year so who cares if they are driving dark brown trucks in Phoenix  in 115 degree heat."  Just letting them wear white  shirts with a UPS logo would be big. I am an ex Mgmt employee now retired, but believed in walking the front lines to understand  & appreciate  what employees  were dealing with.

MNB reader Tim Callahan chimed in about McDonald's opening stores without seating:

I’m an old guy. In the beginning, McDonald’s did NOT have seating in their original restaurants!

I'm an old guy, too.  I remember those.  We had one in Mamaroneck, New York, built next door to an enormous burger place called Cook's, which had a game room in the back.  Cook's is long gone, but the McDonald's is still there - though it has been remodeled to offer seating.  (Burgers were 15 cents back in the day.  They cost more now, I'm told.

Writing about a new Wegmans going into Astor Place in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, I waxed rhapsodic about a place I loved nearby, McSorley's Old Ale House, where "a fair amount of my misspent youth took place," drinking dark ale and eating cheese plates.

MNB reader Matt Hautau wrote:

“A fair amount of my misspent youth took place there, drinking dark beer and enjoying the cheese plates.”??


That is a youth well spent, sir.  The stuff from which (albeit sometimes blurry) memories are made.

I was joking.  The time I spent there was wonderful.

From MNB reader Carl Henninger:

Kevin … cheese plates with beer???? Our younger years drinking outings in the Chicago area were accompanied by the 3 P’s … peanuts, popcorn or pizza (famous Chicago tavern style). Cheese plates????

Trust me.  They weren't fancy cheese plates.

Basically, they consisted of a sleeve of Saltines, a hunk of sliced cheddar cheese, some raw onion and a beefsteak tomato, served with horseradish.  Nouvelle cuisine it wasn't - but it was delicious with dark ale.

MNB reader Deborah Faragher weighed in with a recommendation to supplement my OffBeat choices:

As if you need more to watch, don’t know if you’d be tuning into Jim Gaffigan’s latest on Prime but think you’d enjoy his piece on Starbucks/Dunkin’ (roughly 15-20 minutes in) and a short piece on Taco Bell a little further on.

I loved that special, and especially his take on Starbucks and Dunkin', as well as on religion and funerals.  Great stuff.

And, from another reader:

Loved your final comment re: "Barbie:"

Relax.  Go get some ice cream.

I can think of hundreds of times I can use that with all kinds of people.

Thanks for the inspiration.

My pleasure.  

Responding to yesterday's piece about how a Dorothy Lane Markets ad celebrates the poetry and beauty of a BLT - in the process, making the reader extremely hungry - one MNB reader wrote:

Great promotion and yes, I am now craving a BLT and one of the best aspects of this communications is THERE ARE NO PRICES! Imagine that, a promotion with no pricing!

There is almost nothing better than a great BLT.  Except, of course, love.  And, a nice MLT - a mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is lean and the tomato is ripe.