You Can Eat It Raw

In August, in Michigan, the bi-colored sweet corn is so good you can eat it raw right off the cob. No boiling water, nor grill, no butter, no salt, no pepper needed. Just strip the husk, rinse it with fresh water and dig your teeth right into the sweetness.

This is not big kernel bright yellow corn. Michigan sweet corn is baby fresh, with pearly white and pale yellow kernels no bigger than a petite young pea. When raw, its milky sweetness coats the tongue like creamed corn.

You Can Eat it Raw

Pair that corn it with homegrown heirloom tomatoes and an ice cold Bell’s Oberon beer and you’ve got yourself a treat that is truly Pure Michigan.

My sister in Florida and my daughter in South Carolina are begging me to ship them corn overnight via Fed Ex Custom Critical, must get delivery the next day before 9:00 am, that’s how much they miss it.

Makes me think here’s a business model in that corny August desire felt by millions of ex-pat Michiganders.

Packaging is the silent salesman, whispering in the shopper’s ear.

The role of packaging is to be the silent salesman, according to Vickie VanHurley, Ph.D. and Package Design Team Supervisor for Meijer.  Being a regular Meijer shopper, I recently reached out to Vickie to engage her in a packaging methodology dialogue.  Frankly, I wanted to know why they made the private label potato chip bag dark green. What was the insight?

But Vickie works in general merchandise, and while my question on chip insights goes unanswered for now, we had a great discussion on the role of insights in packaging.

Meijer moves fast in private brand product development, and Vickie’s team rarely has the luxury time to complete in-store testing. The company relies on the prowess of the entire team and its ability to write an insightful branding statement as the creative direction for any private brand packaging in the general merchandise area.

Vickie’s job is to interpret an emotional connection to desire for the product and translate it to the shopper via packaging as if she were the sales associate telling you the story at the point of purchase.  She wants you to feel something visceral, but she doesn’t get as much space as the ad and display designers. But working as a team gives her the opportunity to “nail it” on packaging, sometimes using just a wrapper.

So I journeyed to the aisles of Meijer to see what examples I could find of Vickie’s craft in action. And find them I did.  Although the temp outside was only 38 chilly degrees, I felt The Summer of Color connection in an warm and sunny manner. The silent salesman spoke to my desire to update my kitchen and linen closets with fresh, fun items to add pops of excitement to my summer entertaining. The entire concept was visually stimulating, from display to packaging to the products themselves. Even the beach towels were inspiring. Take a look at how integrated all of the elements are!

Well-balanced and so pretty!


Pretty enough to be a serving board.


The quality is really nice!


The package tag is as nice as a notecard inviting you to the beach house!


Ahh, yes, time to plan the vacation trip! I want this experience for my family.


Vickie’s team is doing a great job with the Katie Brown line of home accessories as well. The display and packaging instantly conveys a sort of stylized, rustic yet approachable vibe. “Simply at Meijer” and what look to be an updated version: “Keeping it simple at Meijer” is a nice packaging tagline that assures the shopper she’s going to get it right without too much fuss and distress. I also loved the cutout towel wrapper, allowing just one more hint of saturated color to peep through the cutout. That silent salesman is telling me that the up-market design cues are an important part of feeling good about buying home furnishings at Meijer.

This all but says “come on over to my home”


Wrap up and enjoy movie night in style!


Doing dishes is now a style statement. Sign me up!


I can’t wait to see more of what this team is up to. Vickie and her crew obviously get it when it comes to arming the silent salesman with what to say to shoppers without uttering one spoken word. They’ll show us more at the Shopper Insights conference in July. I hope they bring some sample products of the new DRINK line for the cocktail party!


Say Yes to the Dress – Girls Party Weekend

One would think by the time we get to the wedding shower phase of the year-long bridal journey, we’d be off the “dress theme” for at least a few months. But no, we are all about the dress. You see, the bride-to-be is addicted to For good reasons.

She looks adorable in just about every dress she ever rents, especially the well-cut designer duds! Plus, she works 60+ hours a week and travels non-stop. So the RentTheRunway business model suits her lifestyle very well. Literally she gets off a plane on Friday evenings, picks up the box on the doorstep of wherever she’s landed for the weekend, and after a 5 minute stint with an iron, is on her way out for fun. Sometime she rents the jewelry to accessorize as well! Her TravelPro “consultant luggage” is full of suits and workout clothes and of course, party shoes.

Last weekend a bunch of her girlfriends came into Detroit for a Saturday night party and a Sunday brunch wedding shower. After singing the praises of to her friends for months on end, the unthinkable almost happened. We stroll into the Saturday party to find her good friend Sarah had rented and was wearing the identical dress bride-to-be had rented for the Sunday shower!

A few “weddding cake shots” later, the two girls agreed to rent identical dresses for a party in the near future just for laughs. They’re saying yes to the dress. They’re also saying yes to and actively promoting a business model that is identically matched to their lives!


Shopping Bags worth Toting!

This group of pictures of notable and noticeable shopping bags is just for holiday enjoyment, courtesy of an e-mail sent to me by someone who knows my enthusiasm for shopping all too well! Thanks dear hubby! I’m adding just an idea or a quick thought on each bag just to keep our collective shopper marketer brain juices flowing. I’d love to have you post any comments or ideas as well!

In the ubiquitous grocery category, now shopped more often by males,, there is little to no brand language or emotion attached to bringing the bag of goodies home. But I’ll bet this guy is jazzed and proud of his purchases!! Kudos to Wheaties for creativity. Imagine the impact on male shoppers if a key retailer co-branded this and actually used it when male shoppers were at the register!

Guys Will Ask to Make the Grocery Run!

Imagine the “case of beer” or the “case of Coke” trip we all take whenever there’s an event or party in the works. Now picture the bag below with Corona bottles and label or the classic red and white Coca Cola glass bottles and logo. What a nice option for specialty beverage stores to offer their regular customers. Who wouldn’t re-use them for toting around stuff you pack up and take to any party? Especially if the bag was extra-durable!

Best Party Bag on the Block!

In the category of Cause Marketing, there’s a huge opportunity for shoppers who care enough about their causes to be advocates on the streets. What better way to show your  badges than to carry the bags that declare your care! Especially when the need is so great and you’re committed to solving the problem.

Other humans NEED your blood!
Give Me Your Hand, and a Donation!

In the fitness category, nothing says “I’m committed” more than displaying your passion for the activity that keeps you buff! My personal bag would show a big whopping Calloway driver making perfect contact with a Nike Karma golf ball with a background of hole #15 at Augusta National. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

This is how I stay Buff and Tuff!

And no shopping bag review would be complete without a mention of the unmentionables.. intimate apparel! This bags suggests the shopper might be broadcasting “willing and available” for conversation. Guys, I dare you not to look twice at anyone carrying this bag! Victoria’s Secret – you missed the obvious opportunity on this one!

Maybe I'm available for dinner...and dessert!

Merry Christmas to All and to All a good shopping trip!

Unwrapping Victoria’s Secret – Holiday Merchandising

This is post #4 in a series of ShopperAnnie reviews on holiday merchandising/display from a range of different retailers!

If there’s one thing Victoria’s Secret does best, it’s merchandising. What male with a pulse doesn’t want this window display to come to life in his abode over the holidays? I give this window display a Better rating, because it’s sexy, creates anticipation and is NOT in poor taste unless you’re a real prude. My only shopper marketing advice for this effort is that it should have been visible in the department, (or “room” as VS staffers call it). When the merchandise is this cute, it’s a bit of a missed opportunity not to display it where the actual buying decision takes place.

Jingle Bells!!

This next photo is one of at least ten I could post, and it represents a very recognizable, visceral understanding of “product as merchandising” strategy. VS is masterful at suggesting intimate fun. I give Victoria’s Secret a BEST rating for this overall form of retail merchandising, and especially like this nightshirt below as a representative sample. Did I buy this? Never you mind….

Unwrap Me!

And finally, Victoria’s Secret makes it pretty painless for the shy, with this rack of Gift Cards. Choosing this option can get shoppers in and out of the store in minutes, before that “pink” flush of  embarrassment spreads visibly. This display was one of many like it I found in the store, and I rated it Good because it represents a fairly ubiquitous tactic in retail promotion.

Grab and Go PINK.

My final comments about the visit to Victoria’s Secret are personal. One, I thank my sales associate sister for her attentiveness in the fitting room. She’s a part-time holiday associate, but her former nursing “care nature” makes her an excellent personal sales star. Our only difference of opinion is this….I believe no woman over 40, regardless of size or shape, should EVER wear pants with words on the tushy! Not LOVE PINK, not JUICY, not ANYTHING. EVER. She wears it and I cringe.

Happy Holidays. Go Shopping and have some fun this year!

PacSun posts SEASON’S GREEDY on the window!

This is the third post in a series of Good, Better, Best (and Missed Opportunities) in retail merchandising for the Holiday 2010 season. If you’ve ever had to shop for a teen, enjoy this one!

Last weekend, PacSun in Tampa, FL had “Season’s Greedy” spray-painted on the store windows. Oh my! I laughed out loud and immediately gave them an A+ for understanding the mindset of their core shopper. Put yourself in the teen mindset – “it’s all about ME”  – how clever to translate the thought so appropriately! While it might be offensive to some, it gets a BEST holiday merchandising in my opinion.

Season's Greedy

In the Better merchandising category, again on the mall-facing window, were a series of posters, (which could have been bigger), of brand-sponsored athletes wearing select merchandise. Brand logos were evident and the posters made it much simpler for clueless parents to start somewhere when picking out a gift for the oh-so-discerning teen. Nice effort all around.

Celebrity Gift Suggestions

Not to be out-done by clever and cool, the window dressers at PacSun also delivered on the classic Buy, Get promotion in a unique way that is sure to appeal to the shopper who pays the bills and is seeking a reasonable price on all the coolness their teen might enjoy from PacSun’s overflowing racks. The graphic is well-designed to read “Free Tee’s” at first glance, and not mis-leading as it does identify for the would-be shopper that the official offer is “Buy Three, Get One Free.” I give this window cling a Better rating as well, mainly for the effective graphic design.

Tee's Free - Buy Three Get One Free

All things being equal, I would have entered the store and taken a look around for something my 21 year old son might like. But, the store was closing and the jail gates were dropping down at 9:15pm on a Saturday night. Probably better, since I had already dropped about $200 at Victoria’s Secret. But that’s another story.

CVS Holiday Merchandising Review

This is the second post in a series of ShopperAnnie reviews of holiday merchandising from tours around the stores. I’m pointing out things I see that are Good, Better, Best or Missed Opportunities.

The other day  I spent 30 minutes waiting on an Rx at CVS. They forgot to announce when my script was ready, but that’s another story. The wait gave me plenty of time to explore the holiday aisles, many of which looked like they were literally over-stuffed with merchandise. One stray elbow and it could all come crashing down!

I’ll start this review with a Missed Opportunity. In one aisle I found hundreds of packages of twinkly lights, all colors, all sizes, at good price points. Opposite these were hundreds of sparkly gift bags and tissue paper. On the gift bag side was a nice big aisle sign calling attention to the twinkly lights. Duh.

On the wrong side of the aisle!

That was such an easy opportunity to fix that I almost did it for them. Instead, I called it to the attention of the only person I actually spoke to, a pharmacy clerk. She at least looked me in the eye when I made the suggestion that she point out the mistake to the appropriate staffer.

I rated the overall holiday merchandising scheme, including the signage to be Better. I did that because I thought the effort did a nice job addressing the economy and the shopping patterns typical for drugstore shoppers. The intent of the signage in the holiday area was clearly to deliver a price point strategy to browsing shoppers. Given most shoppers have some level of budget stress and don’t visit CVS specifically to decorate their homes or buy gifts,, I think CVS did a nice job of sorting this seasonal merchandise into sensible price points.

There’s an end-cap of stocking-stuffers and candy for $.99. Moving in the aisle reveals an entire aisle of boxed gifts at $10, $20 and $25 dollar prices that are easily identified by big, bold aisle violators that are notably visible. Overhead signage in the area supports the thematic. It’s clear CVS wants shoppers to perceive the area is an opportunity to capitalize on savings while browsing.

The holiday aisles did have some traffic, but in my fifteen minute tour of the holiday aisles at 4:00 PM, I never saw anyone actually pull anything from the holiday shelves.  Besides me. I’m a good shopper and found some very sparkly gift tags and wrapping paper that I just could not resist. It was my spoonful of glitter to help the medicine go down!

Holiday Merchandising – Good, Better and Missed Opportunity

Throughout the next few weeks I’m going to be on the lookout for examples of holiday retail merchandising, providing photos and comments about what I think qualifies as good, better, best and what I will call the missed opportunities. Here’s what I found at Meijer this afternoon.

Let’s start with Better. I loved this all-in-one Bottle Banter display, it’s eye-catching and contains a lot of useful items for party hoppers like me! One bottle bag says “Nothing says Holiday like Booze in a Bag” but I bought the tamer “Let it Flow” version and some wine glass charms that say “naughty” and “nice” to add in the gift bag. Too bad this display was buried on a bottom shelf of a random holiday aisle. I’d have put it in the Best category if it was placed on a visible end cap at eye level.

Perfect for the Party Hopper

Next, let’s move to Good. I found a series of end aisle displays with themed signage that included “with prices starting at $xx.99” copy. One was just candles starting at $7.99 but this one below included some nice seasonal home decor and tableware with the theme “Serve. Dine. Entertain.” Not exceptionally clever, but effective. Nice quality for opening price points of $14.99 as well.

Dress up your table without spending a fortune!

And finally, a missed opportunity. Ganz stuffed animals are exceptionally soft and super cute. When you touch them the first instinct is to put them near your face and cuddle. Yet these perfect kid gifts are tossed in a shipper stack with no messaging at all. The cardboard is red, that is all. I wanted to get some posterboard and a marker and write headline copy on the spot. How Ganz could miss the chance to deliver a clear brand benefit is beyond my shopper marketing comprehension.

Christmas Cuddles in Every Stocking!

Meijer is a regional mass retailer with great prices. They do a good job organizing a big area for the holiday, but could benefit from a more refined sense of design in merchandising. I did manage to spend about $50 overall on holiday stuff before I wandered over to the grocery side of the store!

CyberMonday shopping reveals 3 faces of Core Values

As you can tell from my previous post, I’m not a big fan of Black Friday. But I shop on Cyber Monday, not really seeking the “offers” but enjoying the hassle-free convenience.

Cyber Monday 2010 was different. I encountered three amazing examples of brand culture in action at It’s no wonder they broke a sales record (over $10M) yesterday. They “get” shopping and shoppers better than most.

Meet Renna. Otherwsie known as @pirate_razz on Twitter. I happen to know she’s a Zappo’s Zealot, which is the internal term for employees who are authorized to tweet out discounts in order to generate business and more Zealots. She and I met on Twitter a few years back after I met her boss (former COO Alfred Lin) at a conference. She delivered a discount offer Alfred extended to me at the conference. We still chat on Twitter sometimes. When I saw her tweeted offer for a discount code, I responded. She acted on Core Value #2 – Embrace and Drive Change.

When her tweet came in around 1:00 P.M. I had a cart full of socks, exercise pants, golf shorts and more on I changed to to determine if I could replace everything I had in the REI cart, which I did, realizing I was saving money already. At 2:14 P.M. her email arrived with the 20% discount code. Of course I continued to browse and add things to the cart.

Meet Josh. It’s now after 5:00 P.M. He’s a “Live Help” guy. I was browsing for roasting pans and couldn’t info about compatibility with glass cooktops, so I jumped on.  The help he provided was only a link to the manufacturer website, but during our chat, which included queries about his job and the day’s business, he took action on Core Value #8 – Do More with Less.

He surprised my with a text saying he had upgraded my account to the VIP version of He gave me a special link and when I logged in, my cart was still there. Below is the VIP benefit, which I pulled right off the site!

Welcome VIP! Guaranteed FREE OVERNIGHT SHIPPING Until The Cows Come Home!

This team rocks!

Meet David M. . He’s another LiveHelp guy. It’s now after 9:00 P.M. and I’ve let my 21 year old son shop for boots and a peacoat. My cart total is nearly $500.00. But I blew the checkout procedure and closed out the order WITHOUT entering my 20% discount code. And that’s when David M. put into action Core Value #1 – Deliver WOW through service.

He fixed it. I had to verify my e-mail, and provide the code Renna had sent. That is all. Took him about a minute. He also profusely apologized for the one minute wait time for an agent. He said they were on their way to a sales record. No kidding.

Tuesday morning I popped onto the site to refresh myself on the core values. Underneath is a link that allowed me to see random tweets from Zappos employees. Here’s one that says it all!

Gotta love a company that sponsors an impromptu downtown pub crawl on a Monday night to celebrate a record sales day.

teeves 12:18 AM Pacific – Tue 11/30/10

Rolling Homegrown

I know what you’re thinking. But you’re wrong. This post is about cooking. And love.

The cooking part is just how we roll, especially when I have my oldest daughter in the kitchen. We scratch cook often, turning to recipes only for inspiration and cooking times and temps. Otherwise, we improvise.

But last night was about love. We decided to make Grandma’s grape leaves. We are Irish, German, French and English. She is Lebanese, and has graced our family with love and fabulous food for over 27 years, after she married my husband’s father and took on another seven children! Eating her food is the ultimate expression of love. Making her premiere recipe without her fussing about the kitchen in an apron is probably a sin, but we weren’t going to let a little thing like guilt get in our way.

Good lamb is the essential ingredient; ours came not from Meijer or Kroger, (sorry chain grocery retailers) but from a local market where the butcher happily ground the meat just for us. Wine glasses and scissors in hand, we foraged my back fence for our “special homegrown” snipping just the large grape leaves that weren’t full of bug holes. Then, the mixology commenced, by adding pinches of cinnamon, allspice, toasted pine nuts and brown rice to the lamb, ever-testing with nibbles off the potato masher until we agreed it was “just like” Grandma’s.

Rolling the mixture into just the right size “Lincoln logs” for each leaf, and then rolling up our homegrowns until we had a platter of grape leaves left us worn out, mainly from laughing and sharing stories about dinners at Grandma’s, where a huge pot of grape leaves would be half empty by dinner time thanks to dozens of “quality control samples” the cousins would pilfer when Grandma was occupied elsewhere.

Of course we called Grandma while we feasted to share the love. And the grape leaves were good. But next time, we’re going to Grandma’s kitchen, where there’s always extra aprons and grape leaves always have and always will mean love.