Archive for March, 2015


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The Wall Street Journal reports Mercedes-Benz is considering bringing a luxury pickup truck to the U.S. If the vehicle comes here (it’s a definite ‘go’ for Europe) it would compete in the midsize segment with models such as the Toyota Tacoma, Chevy Colorado, GMC Canyon, and Nissan Frontier……Winnebago sales rose, but some labor issues and higher expenses caused a decline in profit for the quarter that ended in February. Motorhome revenue was up 2.4%, and sales of towable units were up 12%. Bookings of motorized unit jumped 59% contributing to a healthy backlog……Belk department stores had a strong holiday quarter with same-store sales up 2.4% and online sales up 42%, helping bring about an 8.4% increase in profit. Belk will open two new stores this year, in Bristol, TN and Jacksonville ……GameStop will open 350-550 stores for its technology brands segment under the banners of Simply Mac, Cricket, and Spring Mobile, while closing about 200 of its 6000 GameStop locations. The company had mixed results in the latest quarter: mobile, consumer electronics and new software were all up, but a decrease in new hardware sales brought about an overall 1.8% same-store sales decrease……Five Below is also in the mood to grow. It expects to open about 70 new stores this year, up from 62 last year. Fiscal fourth quarter same-store sales were up 3.2% (which was actually a bit behind the previous nine months) and full year comps ended up at plus 3.4%. But counting the new stores, full year revenue was up an impressive 27% and profit grew 31%……Upscale retailer Restoration Hardware has been working on replacing mall stores with larger showrooms, and had a very strong quarter. Both same-store sales and total sales were up 24%, and the company felt the West Coast port problems were a factor then, and still will be a factor in the current quarter……With the food business now being closely watched for any more possible consolidations, ConAgra had better-than-expected results even though it took a large writedown on the Ralcorp private-label manufacturing business it bought two years ago. Marketwatch says the manufacturer of brands such as Chef Boyardee, Hebrew National, and Pam has been improving market share while contending with weak consumer demand……Aldi has completed the deal to take over 66 Bottom Dollar food stores that had been owned by Delhaize. About half of them will be converted to the Aldi banner with the remaining locations to be evaluated for a possible sale or sublease……Fortune reports Walmart is offering $10 off the first $50 order for people who try its online food ordering system, in test in a few markets. Orders are not delivered—customers have to go to a store to pick up what they have bought.


Based on a study of 10,000 U.S consumers, PublixAldi and H-E-B earned the highest scores in the 2015 Temkin Experience Ratings that ranks 293 companies across 20 industries. Joining those firms in the top 12 spots are Chick-fil-APetSmart, Amazon.comTrader Joe’sUSAAcredit unionsPapa John’sWalgreens, and Hannaford’s.

While supermarket chains, fast food chains, and retailers dominate the latest annual survey by Temkin Group, Internet service providers, cable TV providers and health plans earn the dubious distinction of defining poor performance, as none of those companies earned a “good” rating.

For the second straight year, Coventry Health Care earned the lowest spot in the ratings, followed by Fox Rent A CarComcast (for both TV service and Internet service), FujitsuHealth NetSpirit AirlinesHitachiDollarBCBS of FLTime Warner Cable, Blackboard, and Con Edison of NY.

“Customer experience drives loyalty, so it’s a growing area of focus for most businesses. Unfortunately, we still see chronically poor customer experience across TV service providers, Internet service providers, and health plans,” said Bruce Temkin, managing partner of Temkin Group.

Of the 19 industries that appeared in both the 2014 and the 2015 Temkin Experience Ratings, the scores of 14 of them declined between last year and this year. The hotel industry’s average increased the most over the past year, going up by 6.2 percentage points. Meanwhile, Internet service providers dropped the most, decreasing by 4.3 points between.

Of the 247 companies in both the 2014 and 2015 Temkin Experience Ratings, 89 firms improved their scores by at least one point. Residence Inn and US Cellular improved their scores the most, each increasing their rating by 16 percentage points from 2014. Five additional firms improved by more than 10 points: JetBlue AirlinesHyattWestinSuper 8, and Marriott.

With a drop of 16 points, Subaru dealers led the 109 firms that declined by at least one point between 2014 and 2015. Five other firms dropped by 10 or more points: TD AmeritradeBuick dealers, Audi dealers, Fujitsu, and Blue Shield of California.

In its fifth year of publication, the 2015 Temkin Experience Ratings examines customer experience across 20 industries: airlines, auto dealers, banks, computer and tablet makers, credit card issuers, fast food chains, health plans, hotel chains, insurance carriers, Internet service providers, investment firms, major appliance makers, parcel delivery services, rental car agencies, retailers, software firms, supermarket chains, TV service providers, utilities, and wireless carriers.


A couple of new reports show that American small business owners have a generally optimistic view of the U.S. economy for this year—and for how their own businesses are going to do as well.

The annual Small Business Economic Survey by Union Bank, based in San Francisco, found that nearly a third of entrepreneurs hired staff in 2014 and significantly fewer reported layoffs. For the first time since 2012, the survey found that the majority of small business owners believe the overall economy is heading in the right direction, with an all-time high of 90% believing their business is headed in the right direction.

61% of the business owners worked longer hours last year due to increased business, up six points from 2013. But they are still cautious. Most of the business owners are planning to maintain the same capital spending and staffing levels this year as in 2014. 82% plan to keep staffing levels flat this year.

Among the industries surveyed, 100% of owners from the personal services sector (auto repair, salons, dry cleaning, etc.) believe their business is headed in the right direction (up 10 points); more owners from this sector also expressed optimism about the direction of the national economy (70%, up 42 points). Retail store owners expressed the most pessimism about the economy—half believe the national economy is heading in the wrong direction. Strangely, though, 32% of small retailers added staff in 2014, which was more than the 30% tally overall.

Since Union Bank is a major U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) lender, the survey looked closely at small business owners’ credit needs. While the rate of business owners (13%) who applied for loans or access to credit in 2014 dropped 6 points from 2013, loan approval rates held fairly steady with slightly fewer owners (76%, down 2 points) receiving loan approvals in 2014.

In 2014, more minority business owners (25%) applied for a loan or access to credit compared with respondents overall (13%). Of those who applied, more minority business owners (81%) were approved compared with 76% overall. Among those denied for loans, significantly more owners overall (58%) were able to find alternative financing in 2014 (up 20 points) than the previous year.

A separate survey by Barlow Research, a financial industry research company based in Minneapolis, also found increased optimism among both small- and middle-market businesses about both the future condition of their business and the U.S. economy. “However, optimistic expectations still haven’t translated into additional credit demand,” noted Ray Johns, Managing Partner, Barlow Research.

The percentage of small businesses and middle market companies that applied for additional credit diverged in the first quarter of 2015, with fewer small businesses and more middle-market companies applying for additional credit. Much of the decrease in demand for additional credit among small business can be linked to the increased percentage of small businesses that say they have no current need for credit or do not borrow.