Sign up for the MNB Wake Up Call!

From The MNB Archives

Article Search:

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

  • Change Font Sizes:
  • A
  • A
  • A
  • A

Sansolo Speaks: Conan & Change

by Michael Sansolo

Truth be told, I don’t have much of a relationship with Conan O’Brien.

He’s been a talk show host on the air for nearly 25 years now and honestly, I have only watched him a handful of times. I’m sure he doesn’t miss me, but he might find this unsettling; I’ve found him far more interesting when he’s off the air than when he’s on.

For instance, when he separated from the “Tonight Show” in 2010 I was fascinated at how he and his fans mastered social media, podcasting and other then-emerging forms of communication to keep him top of mind, relevant and connected. More than most businesses he demonstrated how to use the new world of social media to connect and it worked.

Conan is off the air again right now, and is retooling his show, which has been airing on TBS. He’s reached the conclusion that the crowded late night field doesn’t need another formulaic show so he’s smashing the model, cutting the length of his show to 30 minutes, dropping his longtime band and questioning everything about the type of presentation he has successfully mastered for all these years.

The reality is that none of us have much in common with Conan O’Brien - not lifestyle, talent or paycheck. But his views on change, as reported in a New York Times story, should strike a note with every one of us.

O’Brien told the Times, “Wouldn’t it be nice not to be threatened by change? Not to be threatened by so many different talk-show hosts who are all doing things in different ways? Wouldn’t it be nice to be at peace with, this is not the world I entered in 1993.”

We hear you, Conan.

It would be great not to be threatened by change and so many competitors fighting for our business in so many different ways. It would be great to turn back the clock to a simpler time, maybe an easier time, and just enjoy.

But, and you know this is coming, it ain’t happening. The past is past and those times, which really weren’t so simple then, are over. We need to accept the present we are in accepting that it is complex, competitive and growing more so daily.

So like O’Brien, we can wax nostalgic for the past, but we need to copy his willingness to break the model of current operations and find new paths to the future. There’s no way of telling if Conan’s new show will achieve the metrics he and his network obviously desire - higher ratings, especially among younger adults, and increased ad revenues. (It also is entirely possible that Conan and TBS may need to apply different metrics to evaluate success and failure.)

Conan is demonstrating something we all need to learn and consider: our willingness to change.

So yes, we join Conan is saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice not to be threatened by change.” But like Conan, we have to know better and embrace the change, difficult as it may be.

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.

Tuesday Eye-Opener: Of Dubious Value

by Kevin Coupe

Bloomberg business columnist Sarah Halzack has a good piece out about how it is important in retail, when evaluating technology innovations, “to separate the fanciful from the legitimately useful.”

An example: Halzack recalls “a technology experiment I saw out in the shopping wilds on Black Friday at a Macy’s store. A touchscreen showed a video that helps you ‘discover your fit’ among various dress shirts. But the analog sign right next to it explained the shirts and their different fits capably. The screen wasn’t adding enough value to the customer to make it worthwhile.

“Macy’s Inc. is hardly alone. Innovation that isn’t actually an improvement is quite common in retail … Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., for instance, is touting a test of digital cooler doors that can serve targeted ads. Great, just what every shopper has always wanted: to be bombarded with ads when trying to grab a soda.”

Halzack writes that “retailers seem to place too much of a premium on showmanship when charting their innovation course. They must learn to be more strategic in how they deploy their technology budgets and talent.”

And she quotes Scott Emmon, a former Neiman Marcus Group executive who recently left his post as head of its innovation lab, who recently wrote, “Technology must actually solve a real problem or make things easier for the customer. Internal innovation teams, largely pressured to create PR moments, do not think long term and end up investing in short-sighted experiences that have no staying power and don’t really add value to the consumer.”

Couldn’t have said it better. And it is an Eye-Opener.

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

Industry Drumbeat

From the National Grocers Association...

Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

Retailers, Tech Firms Engage In Checkout-Free Arms Race

Bloomberg has a story about how a number of technology companies are racing to see if they can develop checkout-free technology to rival that used in Amazon Go stores, or at the very least technology that will allow retailers to blunt the impact of expected growth by the format.

Daryn Nakhuda, CEO of Might AI, tells Bloomberg that “Amazon Go showed ‘how far you can go.’ Very quickly, he says, the state-of-the-art went from you-scan checkout technology to Amazon’s ‘just walk out’ approach and everything in between.” Among the companies developing new store technologies “are startups like Mighty AI,” the story says, “but established giants are wading in, too. Walmart has been testing Go-style technology, and Kroger and Microsoft recently announced a joint venture to bring elements of the e-commerce shopping experience to the grocery store.”

In addition, France’s Carrefour and abka, a Polish convenience store operator, have committed to testing NanoStore technology developed by AiFi.

KC's View: This stuff isn’t easy. The Bloomberg story makes it clear that most of the companies engaged in this “arms race” are taking longer to develop the tech than they expected, and that even Amazon took longer than anticipated to open its first Go store to the public. (It now operates none stores in three cities - Seattle, San Francisco and Chicago.)

One question I keep getting when i’m doing speeches around the country is whether I think Amazon could license out the Go technology to other retailers. I suppose it is possible, but I wouldn’t bet on it … Amazon has shown that it has ambitious bricks-and-mortar plans, and it is likely to spend time and money on making it applicable to other retail formats (Whole Foods?) as opposed to taking the quick buck that a licensing deal would provide.

Unless, of course, for some reason the company needs a quick buck.

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

Corporate Drumbeat

From The Organic Produce Summit...

Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

Prime Threat Focuses On Two-Day Shipping

Business Insider writes this morning that Amazon Prime membership could lose some of its appeal this year, as unlimited two-day free shipping - cited by close to eight out of 10 members as its most important perk - as more retailers catch up and begin to offer similar deals.

The biggest threat - Walmart, which is rapidly scaling up its free shipping option, though for the moment “orders must total more than $35 to qualify … Walmart still needs to add more selection to its free two-day shipping offering to keep up with Amazon. It does offer millions of items, but not quite the 100 million items that Amazon boasts. Walmart carries only a little over half - about 55% - of Amazon's 1 million best-selling products.”

KC's View: I tend to think that unless Amazon takes its eye off the ball and starts providing less value, it is going to be okay - Walmart may expand the Prime-style universe, but it won’t erode Amazon’s market share much.

On the other hand, if Amazon’s promises exceed its ability to deliver, that could open the door to tough competition.

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

Corporate Drumbeat

From Export Solutions...

Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

Industry Drumbeat

From WAFC...

Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

Starbucks Expands Delivery Service

The Associated Press reports that Starbucks plans to expand its coffee delivery service so that it is available from almost 25 percent of its US coffee shops.

Having tested the service in 200 Miami stores, Starbucks said that it will launch delivery in San Francisco today, followed by, in short order, some stores in New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles.

The AP story reports that “Starbucks says 95 percent of its core menu will be available for order using the Uber Eats mobile app. There will be a $2.49 booking fee … Executives say delivery works best in dense urban areas where Uber Eats’ delivery fees are lower because of high demand, and customers spend more than they do in stores.”

KC's View: Still interesting to me that Starbucks ended its subscription bulk coffee business (which I loved, and once it was gone, gave me permission to look elsewhere, and I’m now really happy with City Girl coffee) but does ant to be in the per-cup coffee delivery business.

And when I say “interesting,” I mean “confounding.”

JC Penney Stares Into A Sears-Style Abyss

The Wall Street Journal reports on how at JC Penney, “sales are falling, its stores are stuck in malls and the turnaround strategy keeps changing. Now, three months after the embattled retailer hired a new chief executive, a handful of senior positions remain vacant.”

In other words, creating the perception that JC Penney is facing the possibility of a Sears-style future - cuts in people, cuts in stores, and eventual bankruptcy and liquidation in a world no longer hospitable to its version of retailing.

An excerpt from the story:

“The Plano, Texas-based chain was once the go-to apparel retailer for middle-class families. It and Sears had once dominated American retailing but lost their customers, first to discounters like Walmart , then to fast-fashion retailers and off-price chains like T.J. Maxx. The shift to online shopping hastened their decline.

“A strengthening economy brought Penney’s problems into sharper focus. It scaled back discounts and private brands, and focused on appliances at the expense of apparel. At a time when consumers have been spending, Penney posted a 3.5% decline in holiday sales and said it would close more stores, following a string of weak results.”

In addition, right now, JC Penney doesn’t have “a chief merchant, chief customer officer and head of planning and allocation. Its principal accounting officer will leave March 31, and it is looking for a successor to its chief financial officer who left in October … Penney’s new CEO, Jill Soltau, joined the company late last year after Marvin Ellison left abruptly to take a new job running Lowe’s.

Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School, evaluates the company this way: ““Penney is a broken business. They are looking at a very problematic 2019. It’s the mistakes of the past coming home to roost.”

KC's View: The story makes the point that JC Penney doesn’t have a Sears-level debt problem, so it has some breathing room … but what remains to be seen is whether it has any sort of vision, much less the bandwidth to implement it.

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

Industry Drumbeat

From Portland State University...

Here ya go!

Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

E-conomy Beat

• The Wall Street Journal repots that Amazon, Alphabet and Walmart were, in that order, the biggest spenders last year on technology.

According to the story, “ Inc. spent more than $13.6 billion on technology in 2018, making it the biggest corporate IT spender in the world, according to new research from International Data Corp. Google parent Alphabet Inc. and Walmart Inc. were in second and third place, respectively, with each spending nearly $12 billion last year on software, hardware, services, telecommunications equipment and staff, IDC says.

“Servers and other data-center infrastructure account for much of Amazon’s and Google’s spending as they build cloud services to sell to other companies often seeking to decrease their own IT budgets.”

Rounding out of top-10 spending list were JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft, Bank of America, Facebook, AT&T, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup.

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

Corporate Drumbeat

From Samuel J. Associates...

"It’s a bad time to be in the business of selling groceries, and the headlines are as bleak as you’d expect: "The Retail Apocalypse Is Coming for Grocery Stores" ... "Grocery Retail ‘Bloodbath’ Is Here" ... Conversely, it is a great time — arguably the best time ever — to buy groceries."
- New York Magazine/Grub Street

At Samuel J.Associates, we have a response to this assessment:


We think it is a great time to be selling groceries, whether you are a retailer or a supplier. That’s because a more educated and demanding consumer, no matter the demographic, will reward businesses that are innovative, disruptive, and in touch with what people need, even if they don’t know they need it.

And, we know this: Those businesses require, and are fueled by, great people.

People who don’t just get the job done, but who set the tone in an organization, establish cultural and business priorities, who build teams, and who are able to not just adapt to competitive realities, but see the future and thrive in it.

And yes, ignore dire warnings about a "retail apocalypse" and see opportunities.

At Samuel J. Associates, we have a winning record of connecting great talent and innovative businesses ... as well as innovative talent with great businesses. We exceed your expectations so that you can do the same thing for your customers.

No bull.

Click here to find out more.

Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

Corporate Drumbeat

From Webstop...

Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

Industry Drumbeat

From City of Hope...

Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

From The MNB Politics Desk

CNN reports that former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is actively exploring an independent bid for the presidency in 2020, as opposed to running for the Democratic Party nomination - he has “knocked Democrats for proposals he deemed too left-wing, including single-payer health care and guaranteed income.” But, he also has been highly critical of both the policies and style of the Trump administration, while saying that Donald Trump’s election “has given license to the fact that someone who is not a politician could potentially run for the presidency.”

KC's View: I suspect that the GOP would be ecstatic if Schultz made such a move to run as an independent, because it would have the strong potential, if it got traction, to siphon off votes from whoever gets the Democratic nomination. The Democrats, needless to say, would be apoplectic … followed closely by Starbucks, where they’ll worry about Schultz damaging the brand and alienating half its customer base.

Your Views: The Death of Retail

We took note the other day of a Barron’s piece about who is to blame for the so-called retail apocalypse. One MNB reader responded:

The death of retail can’t totally be blamed on Amazon or E-com in general. The part about spending rising on things like student loans, phones, phone bills, internet bills, rising health insurance, and restaurants rang true to me. I might add 401k savings, rising property taxes, rising home insurance, extra mortgage principal payments, and home security to the list too. Also, I agree that many companies and even churches have shifted to casual dress codes, so we don’t need fancy suits/dresses/shoes like we did 30 years ago. Some of my money goes to Amazon and occasionally to brick & mortar for groceries, but most of my money goes to basic home bills, savings and to restaurants for convenience/time. Brick & mortar retail is dying because there is not as much disposable income to go around.

So much of the much-talked-about economic recovery, which I think has benefitted a lot fewer people than some would have us believe.

And from another reader:

Interesting bit about what’s causing the weak retail sales, I can 100% attest to student loans as a major factor in our monthly spending. Without such insane loans, my husband and I would have an additional $1,100 per month to either help us save for big ticket items—like real estate  or new cars—and we would definitely shop more at retail locations rather than making our purchases at consignment stores or Good Will if we had more cash on hand. And we have another 8 years – at least- of paying off those loans.

Following up on our discussion of some men’s questionable bathroom habits, MNB reader Phil Herr wrote:

Suggesting that men are pigs may be true. However, not too long ago the head of HR of the company I used to work for printed up a sign for the women’s room: “If you sprinkle when you tinkle — wipe it up.” Seems that some women, averse to sitting on unfamiliar seats, were hovering above them and creating a mess. Just sayin’…

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

Industry Drumbeat

“RETAIL 2020: What’s The Future (WTF)?” - A New Presentation by Kevin Coupe

In this fast-paced, interactive and provocative presentation, MNB's Kevin Coupe challenges audiences to see the fast-evolving retail world through a radical new technological, demographic, competitive and cultural prism. These issues all combine to create an environment in which traditional thinking, fundamental execution, and just-good-enough strategies and tactics likely pave the path to irrelevance; Coupe lays out a road map for the future that focuses on differential advantages and disruptive mindsets, using real-world examples that can be adopted and executed by enterprising and innovative leaders.

Constantly updated to reflect the hand crafted news stories covered and commented upon daily by MorningNewsBeat, and seasoned with an irreverent sense of humor and disdain for sacred cows honed over 30 years of writing and reporting about the best retailers and retail strategies, “RETAIL 2020/WTF” will get your meeting attendees not just thinking, but asking the serious questions about business and consumers that serious times demand. See a sample at left…

Here’s what Lori Stillman, Executive Vice President - Analytics, Insights and Intelligence, Advantage Solutions, has to say about a recent appearance:

"Kevin joined us as a moderator and facilitator for a two-day client executive event we hosted. His role in the success of the event went far beyond his time presenting and sharing his great wisdom and content. From the moment our planning process began and we selected Kevin as a key part of our program, he dove in and worked with our team to review session topics, ideate on programming and help ensure our overall event delivered on the goals we had established. His quick wit, deep industry knowledge and ability to synthesize conversations into key take-aways enabled us to hit a home run!”

And, from Joe Jurich, CTO of DUMAC Business Systems:

”Kevin recently participated in and spoke at our Annual User Conference.  Our group consisted of independent retailers, wholesalers, and software vendors – a pretty broad group to challenge in a single talk.  While his energy, humor, and movie analogies kept the audience engaged, his ability to challenge them to think differently about how they go to market is what really captured them!  Based on dinner conversations afterward, he appeared to have left everyone thinking of at least one new approach to their strategy!”

Want to make your next event unique, engaging and entertaining? Contact Kevin at , or call him now at 203-253-0291.

Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

From The MNB Culture Desk

The 2019 Oscar nominations are out this morning, and here are the top categories:

Best Picture
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
A Star Is Born

Best Actress
Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Olivia Coleman, The Favourite
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Actor
Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe, "At Eternity's Gate
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, Vice
Marina de Tavira, Roma
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell, Vice

Best Director
Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Pawe Pawlikowski, Cold War
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Adam McKay, Vice

Best Original Screenplay
The Favourite
First Reformed
Green Book

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Star Is Born

Finally, a word from our sponsor...

Industry Drumbeat

A Freshly Crafted ‘Retail Tomorrow’ Podcast

Some call it BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup In Store). Some call it click-and-collect. No matter what you call it, this segment of e-commerce, while it presents challenges, also is an enormous opportunity for retailers that want their bricks-and-mortar stores to remain relevant, and who want to satisfy an established consumer need. (And when you put two things together, it can do magic, believe it or not.)

In this special Retail Tomorrow podcast, recorded at Google’s New York City offices during the recent National Retail Federation (NRF) Show, we convene a panel of experts from a wide range of fields to open our eyes to the possibilities.

This Retail Tomorrow podcast is sponsored by the Global Market Development Center (GMDC).

Pictured below are our panel members, from left:

• The Content Guy.
• Lee Peterson, EVP of Thought Leadership at WD Partners.
• Ben Conwell, Senior Managing Director & National Practice Leader of the E-commerce Fulfillment Group at Cushman Wakefield.
• Jeff Baskin, EVP, Global Partnerships at Radius Networks.
• Dror Cohen, Chief Of Staff of Waze Ads at Waze.
• Chris Lydle, Retail innovation Lead for Google.


PWS 51