PROFILE

Ron Margulis

Managing Director, RAM Communications
Ronald Margulis is Managing Director of RAM Communications, a public relations firm based in Cranford, NJ. RAM Communications provides media relations counseling, trade marketing and communications support to clients in the retail, transportation, manufacturing and technology industries. Among the services offered are media relations, information sourcing, speech writing, issue research and analysis, editorial and design analysis, newsletter publishing, presentation and video scripting, marketing brochure and training manual production, focus groups and meeting planning.

With more than 1,000 articles published, Margulis is also an accredited journalist. His writings on the food, retail, tobacco, information technology and transportation industries have appeared in Canadian Business, Chicago Tribune, Cigar Magazine, Computerworld, Convenience Store News, Distribution Channels, Executive Technology, FT.com, Food Arts, Forbes, ID, Sales & Marketing, Shipping Digest, Supermarket News, Washington Times and several other newspapers and magazines. As an editor and reporter, he has interviewed more than 50 CEOs of leading global companies and dozens of government officials including four US Cabinet Secretaries, the Governor of the Bank of England and the Treasurer of Australia.

Margulis has won numerous awards for his writing, has written more than one dozen industry reports/white papers and is contributing editor of three professional reference books. He has been quoted in several leading newspapers and magazines, including The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Philadelphia Inquirer and Smart Money, on topics ranging from technology to crisis communications, and has been featured on Bloomberg Radio, Talk Canada, Westwood One and National Public Radio. He has spoken at numerous business and academic conferences, and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Public Relations Society of America.

Margulis graduated with honors from George Washington University, earned an MBA in economics from New York University and studied journalism at University of London. The son and grandson of supermarket operators, he also completed a management training internship and meat cutter’s apprenticeship at Wakefern Food Corp. (Shop-Rite Supermarkets).

Margulis is married to Patricia Paul, an artist. They live in New Jersey with their daughter Elena. His recreational activities and hobbies include fencing (President, Westfield Fencing Club), hiking, skiing, reading, cooking and map collecting
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  • Posted on: 06/22/2017

    Does Costco need to significantly undercut Amazon’s prices?

    If Costco really wants to grow digital traffic, and it’s very important that it does, the company needs to start engaging its shoppers digitally. I’ve been a Costco member for more than 20 years and I haven’t received more than a dozen emails related to product or services offered (although they were very good about the switch from Amex to Citibank). I’ve checked to make sure I’m not on some “do not contact” list, but a quick survey of acquaintances reveals I’m not alone. I get something from Amazon just about every day. I don’t open most of them, but I do open some that have interesting subject lines. I just don’t see how Costco can keep up with Amazon without a concerted digital engagement effort.
  • Posted on: 06/14/2017

    Who owns the in-store experience?

    There is a disconnect that has me more worried than any issue with in-store staff not engaging the customers. Merchandisers and marketers often seem to live in their own little world, interacting only with suppliers and other merchandisers and marketers. They’ve lost, or maybe never had, a feel for what the customer really wants. If you’re selling the wrong products and promoting them with the wrong message, you’re bound to fail regardless of the in-store engagement.
  • Posted on: 06/06/2017

    Has produce-selling Dollar General become a real threat to traditional grocers?

    I’d like to see them succeed because they often serve communities that are under-served with fresh foods, but what they’re attempting is extremely difficult. These stores currently get shipments once or twice a week, which will likely lead to out-of-stocks or big shrink numbers. There is a significant cost to servicing the stores every day which Aldi and Lidl (and supermarkets) build into their business model and the deep discounters haven’t.Stick to what you’re good at Dollar General and that doesn’t include perishables.
  • Posted on: 06/02/2017

    Can Walmart workers deliver better last mile results on their way home from work?

    This sort of flows from my frequently related opinion about the demise and potential return of the milk man (see several past comments).There are many benefits including shopper engagement, upselling potential and employee appreciation. Plus there’s no worry about the FAA regulating your drones.Timing will be the biggest issue -- Walmart has some pretty unusual schedules for its associates, most aren’t leaving work at the same time each day. I suppose they can coordinate the outbound deliveries with the time and attendance system to address this. Payment for delivery and benefits/insurance could also be an issue. And don’t forget safety and loss prevention.Also, one wonders if the employees will be picking up returns on their way to work.
  • Posted on: 05/26/2017

    Will independent grocers turn it around in 2017?

    All of grocery retailing is more difficult now than in the past. In fact, all retailing is more difficult now than in the past. More competitors, smarter customers, consolidating suppliers and much more all result in a constantly harsher operating environment. It makes me appreciate the fact that I was able to pursue interests other than my family’s supermarket business.As for the keys to success for the independent grocer in 2017 and beyond, I’ll cite the mantra of my grandfather, a ShopRite Supermarket operator for years: "My job as a retailer is to make it as easy as possible for my customers to buy from me and as hard as possible to buy from anyone else.” More specifically, large chains are trying to implement technology that emulates what single store operators have been doing for a century -- knowing the shopper. The independent grocer doesn’t need to make this investment in technology, they need to make the investment in time. Time for managers to get out on the floor and interact with the shopper and time to train front-line personnel to do the same. Time to search for products and develop promotions that will engage the shopper and time to understand their needs and aspirations. Then my grandfather’s mantra will come to fruition.
  • Posted on: 05/22/2017

    Will Hy-Vee’s grocerant strategy set it apart from rivals?

    It will be very interesting to see how restaurants, even quick-serve ones, respond to this wholly appropriate expansion by supermarket operators. Sure most restaurants have to-go or delivery menus. And there are a few chains that supplement their to-go offerings with a limited, often novelty, selection of grocery items (think Cracker Barrel). But you rarely see even a c-store style assortment of grocery items at a restaurant. In fact, I’ve only seen a few examples of restaurants with extended retail product merchandising and those I have experienced are mostly in remote locations without other food competition and feature a hodgepodge assortment more reflective of the community served.It’s easy to imagine mid-range restaurants like Applebee's and TGIF adding a small area of merchandised convenience items including milk, eggs, soda and coffee near the exit. I can also see the quick-serve folks doubling their assortment to include larger pack-size items of desserts, dairy and beverages. One thing is certain, they’re not going to lie down and accept the loss of wallet share to supermarkets when they can fight back. We’ve seen this in the supermarket -- drug store battles during the last 25+ years -- and now we’re likely to see a similar bout between supermarkets and restaurants.
  • Posted on: 05/15/2017

    Will mobile wallets replace plastic loyalty cards?

    I was just commenting to someone last week that I’m surprised this hasn’t happened more broadly already. I give plastic loyalty cards less than five years.
  • Posted on: 05/08/2017

    Can Walmart dash past Amazon with its own product replenishment system?

    This is another step closer to our Star Trek future where we talk to a computer and automatically have just about whatever we want -- a prepared meal, a bicycle seat, etc. -- appear in a portal nearby. So yes, I see a big opportunity with IoT in the home replenishment cycle. I see an even bigger and more immediate opportunity with IoT in the manufacturing, store and office replenishment cycles. All those consumable items in the workplace are ripe for a Dash-like button which could be very good or very bad for companies like Staples and Grainger, depending how they play it. It will certainly be interesting to watch.In the meantime, I’m waiting for Amazon or Walmart to announce that their efforts at teleportation are seeing positive results.
  • Posted on: 05/03/2017

    Are malls better off without department stores?

    I'm surprised there isn’t anything healthcare-related in the list of potential mall tenants. I know fitness centers are going into malls as anchors or sub-anchors all around the New York metropolitan area and beyond. And while there are certain zoning issues related to clinics, rehab centers, nursing homes and the like in many areas, these laws are bound to change in time.
  • Posted on: 04/24/2017

    What customer service lessons can be learned from United Airlines?

    A quick aside -- When I’ve conducted media training for executives over the last two decades, I used the Exxon Valdez as an example of how not to do crisis communications. I’m updating my training presentation to replace that with the United fiasco. It's important to note that I’ll still use J&J’s handling of the Tylenol scares of the 1980s as the right way to handle crisis communications.To the questions raised; ultimately good customer service -- in-store or digital -- is going to build loyalty. And probably more important, bad customer service -- in-store or digital -- is going to lead to failure. There are plenty of examples of e-commerce sites failing because of bad customer service or not being able to differentiate themselves from competitors, just like there are plenty of brick-and-mortar retailers failing because of bad customer service or not being able to differentiate themselves from competitors. In every case -- in-store or digital -- the key is to make the customer the center of the universe at all times and not give in to temptations that could lead retailers to focus on other activities that may increase short-term profits but result in long-term shopper defections.
  • Posted on: 04/14/2017

    What’s keeping shoppers away from the frozen aisle?

    They’re not avoiding the frozen aisle, they are just more attracted to the perimeter. It really comes down to the price-value-convenience-health equation. Sure shoppers have the perception that fresh food is better, but the suppliers of fresh produce, proteins, baked goods, juices -- everything that’s found in the frozen aisle -- have been working hard at the first parts of the price-value-convenience-health equation. They have been sensitive to price increases and delivering the perception of value, and they have been working hard to make fresh product offerings that are quick to prepare (think potato packages that can go straight into the microwave and chicken that’s all prepared for stir-fry).To increase traffic, suppliers and retailers need to use the price-value-convenience-health equation to their advantage. Teach shoppers how they can use select frozen sub-categories to healthfully, conveniently and cost-effectively feed their families. For instance, the fresh aisles feature full meals with every ingredient needed -- the frozen aisle can do the same thing.
  • Posted on: 03/28/2017

    Do retailers need middle men to match them up with tech startups?

    These are questions that prompt the response; “It depends.” In a lot of cases, the out-of-the-box point solutions will do just fine for the applications they are addressing. Need a POS software solution? A dozen vendors have one that will work perfectly fine. Want to automate ordering? Same thing. For applications like pricing, forecasting, loyalty and category management, which are all deployed to create a competitive advantage, the retailer is likely to want to customize the solution for its own go-to-market strategy.As for third-party consultants and systems integrators, again, it depends. Some are amazing and really have the retailer’s best interest in mind when sourcing technology. Others, not so much. They are either in bed with select vendors or try to extend the engagement well beyond the original purview to milk the retailer.
  • Posted on: 03/16/2017

    Does Neiman Marcus make sense for Hudson’s Bay?

    I’ve been impressed with what Richard Baker and the folks at NRDC have done with the banners they’ve acquired so far, so I have no reason to believe they won’t be able to revitalize Neiman Marcus. One of the hidden gems in the NRDC/Hudson’s Bay portfolio is the expanding number of digital properties they support, including the Guilt Group. Neiman will fit in very well with the other properties and synergies will occur on the digital side especially.
  • Posted on: 02/16/2017

    Lidl is ahead of schedule for U.S. store openings

    Lidl will make a big splash in the U.S. Their stores fill an important niche in Europe and they’ll do the same here. They aren’t Aldi and don’t have that deep-discount image that might inhibit a good chunk of shoppers from even trying it. They aren’t Fresh & Easy, which tried to push an unneeded and unwanted format. What they are is curious. They have taken their time to understand the marketplace and the opportunities available. I ran into Lidl researchers at trade events more than four years ago -- they didn’t identify themselves as such, but it was clear who they were.I’ve visited Lidl stores in Germany, Holland, UK, Switzerland and Ireland. They are all different, trying to appeal to specific market demographics. Even within countries, there are assortment and merchandising nuances in the stores to address regional desires. In this way, they are really like Kroger.At the recent FMI Midwinter conference, I asked the president of one of the leading supermarket operators on the East Coast about Lidl and he said they have been planning to compete head-on with them for more than a year. That’s the attitude needed to meet the challenge Lidl will present in the markets they enter. Lidl isn’t a wallflower -- grocers need to take notice and up their game.
  • Posted on: 01/26/2017

    Has eBay found its retail place online?

    eBay has a nice foothold in the heartland and hasn’t turned off the all-important Millennials, which is a real risk for Amazon. It still is one of the first ecommerce sites visited by many new internet users. The company has an amazing database of members and products, and a multi-faceted business model that customers trust won’t rip them off. I’d like to see them do a bit more advertising and get more creative with customer outreach, but overall they’re on a positive trajectory.

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