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It's late July as I write this, but it's no time for the midsummer doldrums. There's so much going on in the convenience store industry at the moment. The warm weather means stores should be bustling with customers picking up cold beer, refreshing packaged beverages and frozen treats.
The summer tourist season is also in full swing. With gas prices running at only about 60 percent of what they were last summer, the industry is seeing a nice increase in business from motoring families.
It also appears that the months-long freeze on acquisitions is beginning to thaw a bit -- especially for acquirers willing to take on some risk and be more innovative than in the past (see cover story).
So before summer is over, I thought I'd dip into my mailbox and share some of the more interesting and insightful messages I've received from industry folk over the past few weeks.
Much of the feedback is generated by articles from our industry-leading Web site, www.csnews.com. For example, in response to the article about former BP executive Fiona MacLeod's speech in London to the Center for Human Resources and the Center for Leadership & Change Management, where she criticized the corporate world's "addiction" to serial change, K.M. wrote: "We used to call that 'management by flavor of the month.'"
I agree that new management in particular is more addicted to "making a big splash" than actually following through or even critically analyzing whether or not their new plans will work long term. Add to the list of addictions management's over-reliance on outside consultants and what I call management-speak, such as the use of terms like "cost-leadership" in place of "making difficult expense cuts." Don't get me started on all the politically correct terms human resource people have invented to say "layoffs."
Another e-mail questioned the commercial relevancy of Twitter. "I signed up for Twitter and my cell phone was inundated with nearly 100 text messages during the first 24 hours. How do you keep up with it? Seems like a waste of time to me," wrote N.J.
Our online story noted several convenience retailers such as Quick Chek, Kum & Go and Sheetz that are tapping into both Facebook and Twitter to connect with consumers. However, of the two, I think Facebook has more commercial uses. I think the so-called "Twitter revolution" has been blown way out of proportion by many in the media. A recent study by Nielsen Online found that 60 percent of the people who sign on for an account abandon the site within a month and become what is becoming known as "Twitter Quitters."
Much was made of the ways Twitter was used during the recent unrest after the Iranian elections, but perceptive New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman noted its limitations: "The mullahs have a trump card: guns. When push really comes to shove, I've a grim suspicion bang-bang beats tweet-tweet."
I wrote an item on our Spare Change blog last month questioning Starbucks' new strategy of taking its name off a few test "neighborhood" stores it was opening. J.A. wrote that I was too harsh on Starbucks. "The move makes sense if the current brand image is out-of-touch with current consumer behaviors." And C.A. wrote: "All good retailers experiment."
Maybe so. It still seems rather dumb to runaway from one of the most well-known brand names in the world. But I may be wrong. That's what makes retailing such a fun business to cover. And the convenience business is the most fun of all.