C.O. Bigelow: Retail Magic Since 1838

The New York Times: “At a time when chain drugstores are seemingly colonizing every block of New York City, the family-owned C.O. Bigelow, on the Avenue of the Americas between West Eighth and Ninth Streets, has managed not only to survive but to flourish.”

“The store was opened in 1838 by Dr. Galen Hunter as the Village Apothecary Shop at 102 Sixth Avenue, and he eventually sold it to an employee, Clarence Otis Bigelow, in 1880. Mr. Bigelow moved it two doors north, to the current location in 1902, where the original brass finishes, including the gas chandeliers, are still intact.”

“If you count the original store … C.O. Bigelow claims it is the oldest pharmacy in the United States. It has had a devoted following for much of its existence, and was said to be favored by Mark Twain, Thomas Edison and Eleanor Roosevelt. Today, with an inventory of nearly 500 beauty brands, both mainstream and boutique, it is a destination for beauty-product junkies.”


Small Rivals Trip Big Brands

The Economist: “For a time, size gave CPG companies a staggering advantage. Centralising decisions and consolidating manufacturing helped firms expand margins. Deep pockets meant companies could spend millions on a flashy television advertisement, then see sales rise. Firms distributed goods to a vast network of stores, paying for prominent placement on shelves.”

“Yet these advantages are not what they once were. Consolidating factories has made companies more vulnerable to the swing of a particular currency … The impact of television adverts is fading … At the same time, barriers to entry are falling for small firms … Distribution is getting easier, too: a young brand may prove itself with online sales, then move into big stores.”

“Most troublesome, the lumbering giants are finding it hard to keep up with fast-changing consumer markets … As their economies grew, local players often proved more attuned to shoppers’ needs. In America and Europe” shoppers “can choose from cheap, store-brand goods … But if a customer wants to pay more for a product, it may not be for a traditional big brand. This may be because shoppers trust little brands more than established ones.”

“EY, a consultancy, recently surveyed CPG executives. Eight in ten doubted their company could adapt to customer demand.”


Intelligent X: Robo-Beer on Tap

Alphr: “IntelligentX’s AI might not actually drink beer, but it is learning how to brew it thanks to machine-learning algorithms.It works like this: IntelligentX has made four different types of beer. People that drink the beer give their feedback to a bot on Facebook Messenger. The company’s algorithm – called Automated Brewing Intelligence (ABI) – uses a mix of reinforcement learning and Bayesian optimisation to tell a human brewer how to push a beer’s recipe in one direction or another.”

“To stop things ending up in a tepid middle ground of taste, ABI is being fitted with ‘wildcard’ ingredients such as certain fruits … IntelligentX insists its method allows brewers to respond to customers’ changing tastes faster than ever before … There does, however, seem to be a fundamental incongruence between the fetishisation of traditional, local brewing at the heart of the current vogue for craft beer, and the impersonal use of an AI to crowdsource the most popular tastes. Then again, if the beer’s good, who cares?”


Edge Strategy: The Antidote to Disruption?

The Economist: “Companies often search for ways to disrupt their industries lest a rival or new entrant does the same and pulls the rug from beneath them … Sometimes being cautious, incremental and pragmatic when others are gambling on bold and visionary thinking is more sensible … That is the argument of ‘Edge Strategy,’ a new book by Alan Lewis and Dan McKone … They argue that before turning themselves upside down firms should think harder about profiting from the “edges” of existing businesses.”

“The authors focus on three such edges. The first is products: how can you stretch merchandise so that it generates more income or appeals to more people? An obvious way is to make accessories … The second edge is the ‘customer journey.’ This sounds nebulous but is, in fact, simple. Customers usually buy goods and services to solve a problem … The authors argue that firms have lots of opportunities to make money if they walk in customers’ shoes and keep their eyes open.”

“The third edge is exploiting underused parts of the enterprise. One example would be farmers renting out marginal land to energy companies for wind turbines: the farmer stays in the business of agriculture but also boosts income by finding a new use for some of his acres … The authors say that firms risk forgetting about long-established sources of growth in the pursuit of disruption. Rather than obsessing about the new, firms need to make the most of their existing businesses … their priority should be squeezing more money out of their existing assets, not taking a leap into the unknown.”


The Future of Futurism: Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo: “In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, as the American government began to spend huge sums in the Cold War, futurists became the high priests of the coming age … But since the 1980s, futurism has fallen from grace. For one thing, it was taken over by marketers … Futurism’s reputation for hucksterism became self-fulfilling as people who called themselves futurists made and sold predictions about products, and went on the conference circuit to push them … Futurism became a joke, not a science.”


B-Dubs Wants to Eat Chipotle’s Lunch

Business Insider: Buffalo Wild Wings has introduced “a 15-minute lunch guarantee. Starting now, when customers order a meal off the ‘B-Dubs Fast Break’ lunch menu, servers need to bring the dish to the table within 15 minutes, or the entire meal is free … The company said the decision to debut the 15-minute guarantee is rooted in research that many customers only have 30 to 40 minutes to eat lunch, from the time they enter the restaurant until the time that they leave.”

“With the rise of fast-casual chains like Panera Bread and Chipotle, a number of casual dining chains have struggled to keep up with the speedier rivals.”

“The 15-minute guarantee is part of a bigger plan at Buffalo Wild Wings to boost its quick-service lunch business. In February, the company announced it was investing in growing its take-out business in 2016 … Meanwhile, competitors with speedier service are thriving. Takeaway accounts for 75% of business at Buffalo Wild Wing’s rival Wingstop — something that Wingstop has said to be key to growing sales for the last 12 years.”


Women, Men & Storytelling

The Wall Street Journal: “New research … shows that women find men who are good storytellers more appealing … Psychologists believe this is because the man is showing that he knows how to connect, to share emotions and, possibly, to be vulnerable. He also is indicating that he is interesting and articulate and can gain resources and provide support … The men didn’t care whether the women were good storytellers, the research showed.”


Quote of the Day: Ralph Pini

Inside Blackberry: “Sometimes it can be very tough to let go. For BlackBerry, and more importantly for our customers, the hardest part in letting go is accepting that change makes way for new and better experiences.” – Ralph Pini, Chief Operating Officer and General Manager for Devices at BlackBerry, on the company’s decision to discontinue the Blackberry Classic and its tactile keyboard.


Coming Soon: Robo-Burgers

Popular Mechanics: “In 2012, robotics start up Momentum Machines invented a machine that can make a burger from start to finish. This impressive feat will soon be put to use with a robot-run burger restaurant in the South of Market area in San Francisco … Every aspect of the burger is customizable, from thickness and cook time to condiments. The machine will take up about 24 square feet and the tech blog Xconomy predicted it could save a restaurant $90,000 a year in training and salaries.”

“Many people worry that the use of work-saving robotic technology like this machine will put vast numbers of people out of work … Momentum Machines says that their project will actually create jobs by providing opportunities in restaurant management and technology development. That probably isn’t too comforting to your average line cook.”