Toblerone & Trademark Triangulation

The New York Times: “When the makers of the distinctive Swiss confection Toblerone reconfigured their triangular treat last year to slim down its hallmark summits and widen the valleys between them, a potential rival — Britain’s Poundland discount chain — saw a niche in the market … while the classic Toblerone bars had become lighter in weight in the reconfiguring — though their price remained the same — Poundland’s bar would be chunkier and cheaper, at one pound, or about $1.35, each.”

“Not, of course, that this was some crude copycat. If, as some contend, Toblerone was modeled on the soaring pyramid of a mountain — the Matterhorn on the Italian-Swiss border, which is about 14,690 feet high — Poundland’s bar was said to have been inspired by two less vertiginous hills in the English county of Shropshire near the border with Wales — the Ercall, at 460 feet, and the Wrekin, at 1,335 feet. Hence the shape of the Poundland bar, with a double set of summits between each valley. And hence its name: Twin Peaks, with what Poundland called ‘a distinctive British flavor compared to Toblerone’s Swiss chocolate nougat’.”

After some legal wrangling, Poundland “was permitted to begin selling in its nearly 900 stores the 500,000 bars already in production — provided it changed the background color of their wrappers from gold to blue. And the lettering was changed: to gold, from the original red. Once the initial 500,000 bars have been sold, Poundland said in a news release, it will ‘revise the shape’ so that the bar ‘better represents the outline of the Wrekin and Ercall hills’.”

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AC Store: The World’s Priciest Grocery?

Boing-Boing: “Barrow, Alaska (pop. 4,335) sits on the northernmost tip of the state. Because of its remote location, groceries are expensive — really expensive … A bag of Tostitos tortilla chips here are ‘on sale’ for $10.74. A single roll of toilet paper is $2.60. A box of Froot Loops is $9.73 …”

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Dollar General & Rural Retail: Ka-Ching!

The Wall Street Journal: “Dollar General is expanding because rural America is struggling. With its convenient locations for frugal shoppers, it has become one of the most profitable retailers in the U.S. and a lifeline for lower-income customers bypassed by other major chains.Dollar General Corp.’s 14,000 stores yielded more than double the profit of Macy’s Inc. on less revenue during its most recent fiscal year. And its $22 billion market value eclipses the largest U.S. grocery chain, Kroger Co., which has five times the revenue.”

“While many large retailers are closing locations, Dollar General executives said they planned to build thousands more stores, mostly in small communities that have otherwise shown few signs of the U.S. economic recovery … This lower-end market is better protected from Amazon and competitors that target wealthier shoppers.”

“For decades, Dollar General prices have been marked in 5-cent increments, making it easier for shoppers to estimate the total price of their purchases … Many popular brands are packaged in small quantities to keep prices under $10—generally yielding higher profits per item than bulk goods at such warehouse chains as Costco … The founders of Dollar General lived in small-town Kentucky and started the company there in 1955, making the store’s rural locations a natural fit. When Wal-Mart Stores Inc. grew past 3,000 stores in the early 2000s, a strategy surfaced: ‘We went where they ain’t,’ said David Perdue, Dollar General’s chief executive from 2003 to 2007.”

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How CVS & Aetna Could Change Healthcare

Business Insider: “CVS Pharmacy’s $69 billion deal to acquire the health insurer Aetna — the second-biggest deal of the year — is different. It could actually make treatment simpler and easier for Americans, and it catches a bunch of trends in the market that push costs down. There are two big streamlining ideas at work here. First … Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) are the gatekeepers between insurers and a patient’s medical treatment, and CVS already has one. Ideally it ensures that the PBM is incentivized to keep costs for the insurer as low as possible.”

“For the most part, though, this doesn’t fundamentally change Americans’ experience when they get sick. PBMs are faceless entities, and insurance is a foreign language to a lot of people. This is where the second streamlining idea in this CVS acquisition comes into play … the company will be ‘promoting lower-cost sites of care’ after this acquisition. That means turning brick-and-mortar stores into treatment centers and hiring medical staff. That’s expensive, but it will keep sick people out of more expensive hospitals, which keeps costs down for insurers and ultimately customers.”

“And unlike a lot of new urgent-care facilities hitting the market to do this very thing (keep people out of hospitals), CVS comes with a ton of brand familiarity. Plus, quarter after quarter CVS has seen that its other businesses are outperforming sales in its retail channel. Turning brick-and-mortar stores into healthcare facilities is one way to make good use of them.”

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How Sephora Blends Community & Commerce

Retail Dive: “With so many digitally-enabled processes in place, Sephora’s members-only social platform, dubbed the Beauty Insider Community, fits right in with the brand’s tech-focused image … The first of Sephora’s experiential concepts, the Beauty TIP workshops are focused on three core concepts: teach, inspire and play … A customer conversion isn’t front-and-center in these stores and that’s probably for good reason. Sephora needs sales like anyone else, but the focus of these workshops is on customer interaction and experience.”

Sephora Studio meanwhile offers “a pair of beauty studios at the center of the store which offer up eight seats for customers to explore and interact with Sephora’s beauty advisors … The hope is that a given customer will have more than one consultation with the same beauty advisor, forming a connection that lasts over the weeks and months to come, rather than a simple one-time experience.”

“With so many digitally-enabled processes in place, Sephora’s members-only social platform, dubbed the Beauty Insider Community, fits right in with the brand’s tech-focused image … Among other things, members of the social platform can build a public profile, update their favorite looks and personal interests, join a variety of groups that discuss beauty-related topics, swap beauty tips in real time and browse the looks and videos of other clients.”

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Gyms at Malls: From Pariah to Savior

The Wall Street Journal: “Retailers have closed hundreds of stores across the country amid increasing competition from online shopping, leaving mall owners to grapple with declining foot traffic and rising vacancies. At the same time, fitness centers have boomed and diversified, and a proliferation of smaller, boutique gyms that draw higher-end customers have created more attractive tenants that are easier to accommodate. The result is that health clubs that were once pariahs at malls are helping transform them into hubs of living, working and playing.”

“Many of the new tenants at shopping centers are gyms and specialty fitness studios that in some cases are barely bigger than a Starbucks store. But owners of regional malls also are welcoming sprawling, full-service health clubs as anchor tenants, sometimes replacing the stores that once excluded them … Gyms fit into a broader push by mall owners to reinvent themselves as centers of entertainment at a time when so much of apparel sales have moved online. Landlords are adding restaurants, ice-skating rinks, pools and other recreational options to boost sagging foot traffic.”

“Owners of grocery-anchored shopping centers see fitness as a way to fend off competition from Amazon … Christa Pelc says she often jumps on an elliptical machine at Anytime Fitness in Hoffman Estates, Ill., then picks up dinner ingredients at Mariano’s, a natural-foods grocery store next door … A SoulCycle studio is scheduled to open early next year at Westfield’s UTC outdoor mall in San Diego. It will nestle beside two restaurants that serve organic and locally sourced foods, and a short walk from several cosmetics stores—also hot-sellers.” David Ruddick of Westfield comments: “We’re thinking of this as an ecosystem. It’s not just a workout.”

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‘Unboxing’ is the Holiday’s Hottest ‘Toy’

The Wall Street Journal: “Taking a cue from the YouTube phenomenon known as unboxing—viral videos in which people theatrically unpack hot new products— companies are churning out tiny charms, stickers and golf-ball-size critters, all tucked away inside layers of plastic. The mystery objects have become one of the hottest categories of toys this season.”

“Unboxing videos, also big with technology and fashion reviewers, have become a key way children learn about new toys, and their popularity has grown exponentially in recent years. A recent search for “toy unboxing” on YouTube, a unit of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, brought up more than 12 million results.”

“Australia-based Moose Toys, maker of the popular Shopkins grocery-store figurines, launched its Pikmi Pops in September. The toy, a plastic lollipop-shaped container, hides ‘mystery items’ such as stickers, lanyards and charms … Each of Spin Master Corp.’s Hatchimals Surprise, released in October, holds plush twin critters in a single egg that cracks open after being cuddled.”

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