business news in context, analysis with attitude

Responding to yesterday's Jimmy Buffett tribute, MNB reader Mark Heckman wrote:

Nice tribute to Jimmy Buffet this morning.  One could tell that you were touched by his music and his loss.   His insistence on keeping his properties under his control is an appropriate theme for retailers who are struggling to know what to own and what to out-source.  Good Stuff.  

From another reader:

I’m growing older, but not up!

Me, too.

MNB reader Marty Jarvis wrote:

Thanks for the Jimmy Buffett Facetime this morning.

I was lucky enough to be at the iconic Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, IA over the weekend at a trop rock music festival. There were hundreds of Parrot Heads from various Parrot Head clubs from around the country in attendance. When the news broke on Saturday morning everyone was devastated. Many of the trop rock artists there knew Jimmy Buffett personally. Saturday morning as the concerts were to begin, all of the trop rock artists took to the stage to sing a couple songs and tell a few stories about Jimmy. Surf Ballroom is associated with the day the music died, but, it’s the place where the music lives on.

RIP, Jimmy Buffett, rest in paradise.

And finally, from another MNB reader:

I figured after Thursday’s post you’d be weighing in again, I know you’ve quoted Jimmy Buffet’s lyrics so many times in the past.

Back in my stand-up management training days one of the concepts we discussed was Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. You may remember the pyramid…

We would discuss each level from the bottom moving upwards giving definition and examples for each. Of course when we got to “Self-actualization” the default example was indeed, Jimmy Buffet, who had found a way to get people to pay him to do what he loved to do, where he loved to do it while enjoying his beverage of choice.

We’ll mourn and remember, but come Monday, it’ll be alright.

If finding a way to make a living while doing what you love, where you love to do it and how you love to do it while enjoying a beverage of choice, then I may be more self-actualized than I realized.

Who knew?

On another subject, one MNB reader wrote:

When I read your comment about false advertising in fast food restaurants, I had to watch Michael Douglas in the fast food restaurant scene in Falling Down.

I'd forgotten:

MNB reader Bob Thomas wrote:

With the exception of one trip to KFC, I have not been to a fast feeder in the past two years.  I’m hooked on the rotisserie chickens at my local supermarket.

I'm pretty much with you.  Except when I'm in LA and can hear the siren call of In-N-Out.

Responding to yesterday's piece about how there is nothing so rare as a great shopping experience, one MNB reader wrote:

This article reminds me of my home town Grocery Store called Jungle Jim’s. These stores have a large footprint and over index on the experience. Ever been? You  should check it out.

Not only have I been to Jungle Jim's, but I've written several articles and produced a couple of videos about the company over the years - and have interviewed Jungle Jim Bonaminio.  (Best bathrooms I've ever been in at a retail establishment.  Bar none.)

On the subject of food deserts, one MNB reader wrote:

As someone who got his start in the grocery business working in a family-owned grocery store in my hometown of 750 people, I am proud to tell you that one of the key organizations that is working on this initiative is my alma mater, Western Illinois University.    WIU is the home of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) and the director of the institute is Dr. Chris Merrett, who also serves as the Dean for Innovation and Economic Development at the university.    Dr. Merrett has been instrumental in working with communities throughout Illinois that are food deserts and his staff has provided resources and grocery store management experience to help those towns attract or open their own food stores. 

The IIRA worked with a local group of supporters to find a location for a food cooperative in Cairo, Illinois, giving them a store that sold fresh food for the first time in seven years.  With the assistance of Dr. Merrett and his staff, small communities in Illinois have a fighting chance to not dry up and blow away after the loss of a local grocery store.

One of Dr. Merrett’s staff members, Sean Park, coined the phrase, “food swamp”.  In his words, “You do have access to food, but the food that you have access to is at the local gas station or the dollar store,” Park said. “What you're getting isn't healthy, fresh foods; it's usually beef jerky or chips or soda."  Park said they've been seeing similar trends like this happen across the Midwest and into the South.  "We usually have a dollar store come in, they take just enough sales that makes the grocery store not able to function anymore, and they close up."

I hope that more states can develop similar programs to allow small towns access to fresh food as a way to slow the exodus of our population to larger towns and cities.   

Responding to the story from Fast Company about how Disney World has become hell in many ways, which I talked about in one of my vacation videos, one MNB reader wrote:

While I don’t disagree with the story from FC regarding the loss of luster to Walt Disney World, I think it takes a very complex situation out of context and only has the perspective of recent history as a snap-shot in time.

You see, I know WDW very well. Five years ago my wife and I decided to downsize as empty-nesters and relocate from Cincinnati to the Orlando FL area. I now live five miles from the backdoor of the Magic Kingdom. Shortly after we moved, my wife joined the Disney cast as an educator at The Seas at EPCOT, and I became an annual passholder. We look at Disney not from the perspective of a single visit, or a couple visits years apart, but from the perspective of week after week visits as well as cast and guest interactions.

Does some of the “magic” felt in 2019 and before seem to be missing? Yes. Are the parks a much better place to visit today than they were after first reopening in November 2020 after vaccines became available? Also, yes.

When WDW first reopened, it seemed that the only guests coming from out of state were only those unconcerned by covid. You tended to see a lot of red hats with a faux-patriotic blurb… you know what I mean. These first guests were more than just entitled and rude to other guests as well as to cast members. These guests were actually being mean. Parents seemingly forgot that their children were still their responsibility. Behavior was often unsafe and destructive.

As the country reopened, there was an absolute deluge of guests in a wave of pent-up US-based demand. The parks were completely over-loaded. Where the Magic Kingdom might hit capacity a few times a year, it was becoming a regular occurrence. It got to a point that cast and passholders couldn’t even get into the Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios.

Like in so many other industries, many great, seasoned cast members had often left and not returned. Disney couldn’t hire and train people fast enough. Many cast members jumped from role to role inside Disney, as the chaos created new opportunities. Managing all the properties that make up WDW in an area the size of Manhattan was always a daunting challenge, made worse by all the accelerated changes that everybody everywhere has been learning to adapt to.

All those things being true, I can see the light ahead. The parks are getting nicer and nicer each week, including the kindness of the guests to each other and the cast members. Cast members seem to be getting happier.

Things that hadn’t opened since covid are almost all open now. Cast members are getting the experience they need to find their place, allowing them to be happier in their roles and in their lives. While the cost of living in the area has sky-rocketed (my house has appreciated by over 50% since I purchased it 5 years ago), there is only so much that Disney should be expected to do to make things easier. They didn’t change the housing market where people from up north no longer had to go to city offices and have moved in-mass to places like Florida. They are a for-profit corporation.

That said, it does have a cast store where certain basic food items, including fresh meat, dairy and produce can be purchased at a discount, and it is building company subsidized housing (about 3,000 units, I believe) that should help cast member be able to live more reasonably, and closer to where they work.

As an individual I am enjoying going to the parks and resorts again. Now that the demand has died down a bit it has become possible again for guests to be a bit more spontaneous, as most parks can be visited most days.

While you can more easily visit the parks these days, it is still incredibly hard to get onsite dinning reservations without planning weeks in advance. Many restaurants book solid 60 days out. That doesn’t sound like a place that is falling on hard times. I am reminded of Yogi Berra-ism, “nobody goes there anymore, because it is too crowded.”

In another vacation video, I criticized Amazon's unwillingness or inability to use data to justify its return-to-office policy, but rather stressing that the office is someplace where serendipity can lead to great things.

One MNB reader responded:

The same argument can be applied to Starbucks - poor or non-existent dialogue between headquarters and Frontline staff.  That's why they are considering unionizing, to have at least some representation of their issues with management.  I fear for the future of these tone-deaf companies, it doesn't look good for their abilities to change in our fast moving, ever-changing world we now live in.  We may be seeing some of the future's failures happening before our eyes .

My sister has enjoyed a successful 10 year career at Amazon working in the corporate offices in Seattle.  Her first 5 years she commuted from the South Sound to Downtown 4 days a week which took anywhere from 1.5 to 2+ hours each way, extending her work week hours to 50 to 60 hours.  Along her career path, she received numerous promotions and her compensation grew as well.

When Covid-19 restrictions took place, she worked at home the last 4 years successfully meeting and exceeding her job performance expectations.  She enjoyed two major promotions to an executive level position.  She still worked the same amount of time but from the convenience of her home office.

She was informed she needed to work in the Downtown offices 3 to 4 days per week. She appealed this new mandate and was denied an exception.  She showed up to the office and found she was the only person there on her floor.  After meeting with her boss and the HR managers, she elected to resign.

This smells to me of a cloaked attempt to create a mass number of layoffs without calling it a layoff.  My sister will be replaced, but by an employee making much less. After successfully managing her assignments and being a top contributor to her team for the past 4 years, why else would they implement this new mandate with no exceptions?  Amazons bottom line may show an improvement, but the moral of the remaining employees could be greatly impacted.

We had a story not long ago about how Chick-fil-A is developing new concepts designed to cater to take-out customers in new ways.  I commented:

The Chick-fil-A tests show a real commitment to meeting customers where they are.  Except, of course, on Sunday.)

One MNB reader responded:

I admit I snort-laughed at your Sunday jab. Well-played. As an avowed agnostic and firm believer in separation of church and state (and old enough to remember when a lot of places were closed on Sundays) what would our country be if we still did have a day of the week that most things were closed? I hadn’t considered it until I went to Switzerland where essentially everything was closed except for museums, restaurants and the retail in train stations. It was wonderful. I feel like our country needs a break from the relentless go-go-go and frankly our gross overconsumption and capitalism. 

Or maybe I’ve become jaded after a lifetime of working in retail and marketing? Our incessant need for more and more, and 24 hour access to everything is killing our planet. 

Being closed on Sundays hasn’t hurt the ‘Chik’ and either has my refusal to eat there because of their politics. Ah well…