‘Round The Trade
Perhaps the biggest story of early 2018 is the significant cash infusion that retailers will enjoy due to the new federal tax plan that began on January 1. With the corporate tax rate reduced from 35 percent to 22 percent all retailers (both “C” corporations and pass-through businesses), should benefit. I chatted with about six merchants (chains and independents) who all told me they would indeed benefit from the tax break. All added that they plan to utilize the additional funds to bolster cap-ex spending or related infrastructure needs. As mentioned earlier in this column, Walmart, the planet’s largest retailer, said that beginning next month it will raise its starting minimum wage to $11 an hour. “Tax reform gives us the opportunity to be more competitive globally and to accelerate plans for the U.S.,” said CEO Doug McMillon. Marc Lore, chief executive at the Behemoth’s dot com unit, updated high tech magazine Fast Company on the company’s digital progress while offering up a few predictions. The former jet.com CEO noted that customers who utilize both Walmart’s stores and digital platform double their overall purchases. He believes that “digitally native brands,” those products that “have a direct connection to the customer is very important. Millennial shoppers want to not only buy the product, but know where it’s made, the environmental position of the company and the social impact the company’s making.” And on the topic of the next “big” thing, the 45-year old entrepreneur predicted that “in the next 10 years, you’ll be able to put on a pair of glasses and be immersed into experiences that display products in their native environment. So, you can put on the glasses and say, ‘I’m interested in going camping’ and be transported to a campsite and be able to walk the site…it’s going to completely change the game.” Dude, that’s some wild stuff! As we went to press, the Behemoth named current executive VP and COO of its U. S. stores Judith McKenna to president and CEO of Walmart International, the company’s second-largest operating segment. She will be succeeding David Cheesewright, who has been in that role since 2014 and is retiring…Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market is acting more like a conventional, process-driven retailer every day. After announcing last year that it will be centralizing most of its merchandising functions from its Austin, TX headquarters, several suppliers and media sources have confirmed that the natural/organics chain will be charging suppliers for the privilege of having their products appear on WFM’s store shelves. Vendors that sell more than $300,000 of products annually for groceries will be required to discount their products by 3 percent. For HBC/GM suppliers the discount will be 5 percent. Additionally, national suppliers will be charged $165 per hour for each four-hour demonstration ($110 per hour for local vendors). These moves seem to be orchestrated in conjunction with retail services firm Daymon Associates and its SAS merchandising subsidiary… Albertsons, which also has been racing to play catch up in the fast-paced and evolving world of e-commerce, announced that it has signed a deal with Instacart which will provide same-day deliveries to more than 1,800 Albertsons’ stores beginning mid-2018. Earlier this year, the Boise, ID-based supermarket chain acquired meal-kit provider Plated, which this month unveiled its first national TV campaign. And just before presstime, Instacart, which has been on quite an impressive run over the past six months, announced that it acquired Canadian digital solutions provider Unata for a reported $65 million. Unata’s strength is developing and tracking digital circulars and coupons. There certainly seems a place for that in Instacart’s fast growing delivery service business…Wawa, which is exploding in Florida with more than 125 stores since its 2012 debut in the Sunshine State, has now added Washington, DC, as its newest marketing area. The dominant c-store player in the Delaware Valley last month opened its largest store to date – 9,200 square feet – in the Farragut Square area of our nation’s capital. The Wawa, PA-based merchant said its has further expansion plans for the District including a new store upcoming in Georgetown. And having been to the new 19th Street NW unit several times, I can attest that business has been extremely brisk…Dollar General plans to open more than 900 stores this year, and if achieved, it would be the second consecutive year the Goodlettsville, TN discounter would reach that mark. Dollar General currently operates more than 14,000 stores in 44 states and over the past five years has increased its store count by 35 percent…Peapod’s second annual meal planning forecast is out and among the nuggets than can be found in its national survey are: 73 percent of adults currently prepare dinner at home at least four nights a week and 31 percent are planning to cook dinner at home this year (that number jumps to 50 percent for millennials). Additionally, the survey, conducted by ORC International for the e-commerce delivery unit of Ahold Delhaize USA, noted that respondents listed cook mixes/meal kits (41 percent); pre-chopped produce (38 percent); pre-measured ingredients (34 percent); and grocery delivery (25 percent) as factors that would make it easier to cook at home…in the “almost dead” (Sears Holdings) monthly news, the impotent mass merchant announced it will be closing another 103 stores by April (that doesn’t include the list of 63 other units that will be closed by the end of this month). Of those soon to be shuttered stores, 64 are Kmarts and 39 are Sears units. Kmarts closing in the Mid-Atlantic include stores in Crofton, MD; Salisbury, MD; Bridgeville, PA; Sayre, PA; Enola, PA; Harrisburg, PA; Hazleton, PA; Pittston, PA; Hermitage, PA; Franklin, PA; Philadelphia, PA; and Honesdale, PA. Soon to be shuttered Sears stores are located in Wilmington, DE; Toms River, NJ; Pittsburgh, PA; and Philadelphia, PA. Meanwhile to keep the company afloat Sears Holdings CEO “Slow” Eddie Lampert has secured $100 million in new financing and is eyeing an additional $200 million in additional cost cuts in 2018. I can almost smell the scent of death…speaking of deaths, we have a few obits to report this month. Two of the finest TV comic actors have passed on. Jerry Van Dyke, whose show business career encompassed nearly 55 years, died earlier this month at the age of 86. Van Dyke appeared in 50 television and film roles. His first starring role was on the sit-com “My Mother, The Car” (1965), one of the least funny TV shows of all time. It was cancelled after one season. As bad as that show was, that’s how good “Coach” was in the nine seasons that it ran, and Van Dyke, as assistant coach Luther Van Dam, was one of the best supporting characters on any TV comedy in the 1990s. He was the younger brother of comic actor Dick Van Dyke, who also is connected to our next obituary. Rose Marie, who played caustic comedy writer Sally Rogers on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” (1961-1966) – one of the greatest TV shows of all time – died last month at the age of 94 (she was also funny as a regular on “The Hollywood Squares”). Rose Marie’s career spanned an incredible 90 years (she started as an infant in vaudeville in the 1920s). All told, she appeared in more than 75 film and TV roles…one of the unsung, great music executives has also has also passed away. Rick Hall, who turned a small music studio in Muscle Shoals, AL into a shrine for R&B and rock, is dead at the age of 85. Hall’s FAME Studios, which he founded in 1959, recorded such greats as Aretha Franklin, Etta James, The Rolling Stones and Wilson Pickett. FAME Studios’ house band included great players like Duane Allman (guitar), Barry Beckett (keyboards), David Hood (bass) and Roger Hawkins (drums). Gregg Allman, Duane’s younger brother, recorded his superb final album, “Southern Blood” at FAME Studios last year. If you are interested in learning more about Hall and the Muscle Shoals sound, watch the excellent documentary “Muscle Shoals” (2013)…if you like to read and enjoy the ambience of book stores, you will be saddened by the passing of Fred Bass, 89, long-time owner of Manhattan book emporium Strand Book Store. Bass, whose father opened his first book store in 1927, began working for his dad in 1941 and moved the store to its current location (Broadway & 12th Street) in 1957. The book store’s slogan “18 Miles of Books” aptly described Fred Bass’ mission. The 55,000 square foot “book shrine” houses more than $2.5 million in new and used books. “It’s a disease,” he once told New York magazine in describing his book fetish. “I get an attack, something like a panic, of book-buying. I simply must keep fresh used books flowing over my shelves.” If you’re visiting New York City, and have never been to The Strand, go down to Union Square and take the 18-mile journey. You’ll be mesmerized… two of the greatest sportscasters of the past 50 years will now be broadcasting from a higher booth. Dick Enberg will be “Touching “Em All” on a different playing field. The legendary announcer died last month at the age of 82. His career began in 1956 while he was still in college in Michigan. Enberg was a sensational broadcaster whose vast sports knowledge, versatility (he called Super Bowls, Olympics, Final Four basketball games and World Series games) and humility not only made him a fan favorite, but also made him tremendously popular among his peers. “Oh my!” And Keith Jackson, who like Enberg, called NFL, World Series and Olympic games, has left us, too, at the age of 89. While Enberg’s versatility was his calling card, Jackson will be forever known as arguably the greatest college football announcer of all time. He covered college pigskin contests for more than 50 years with his sweet, southern cadence and unique lingo. His resume included broadcasting 15 Rose Bowls (“The Granddaddy Of Them All”) and 16 Sugar Bowls. “Whoa, Nellie,” the “Big House” awaits you with open arms.