business news in context, analysis with attitude

Lots of reaction to yesterday’s story about how, at Home Depot stores out west, thousands of Hispanic day workers stand around their parking lots hoping to pick up some casual, off-the-books work. While Home Depot isn’t thrilled with this development, we thought that there might be some benefit for Home Depot to institutionalize the concept, providing a pool of day workers inside the store available to shoppers on a moment’s notice. (We thought that supermarkets could even come up with their own version of the same idea for harried shoppers needing a hand at home.)

MNB user George Morrow thought we were being a trifle naïve:

“Sorry, but as usual, east coast does not get west coast. Home Depot would
have to confirm their green cards, pay them etc. etc. These folks almost always work for less then minimum wage and no Company wants anything to do with this situation.

“Here in California it is an ongoing problem. To show you clearly our differences in thinking, there is a hilarious joke making the rounds out here in California - George Bush and Jesse Jackson riding the elevator to heaven discussing the merits of God being white or black, when they get there they are greeted with a voice that says, ‘Buenos dias, Senors!’

“I told that joke to my buddy in Chicago and he absolutely saw no
humor in it, yet everyone out here laughs a lot.”

We thought it was a funny joke, even though we live in New England. (Maybe it’s because we went to college in California…)

We’re not saying that Home Depot could replicate exactly what the Hispanic day workers are offering, but we still think there would be some value in a service like this.

Give you an example. Our bathroom doorknob is broken. We need a new one, so we go to Home Depot to buy one. But we have no idea how to install it. If there were a guy on the premises that we could hire on the spot to come fix the doorknob at a reasonable cost -- sort of like an instant handyman service -- we think that could be a huge differential advantage for Home Depot.

(Please no comments about us not being able to fix a doorknob. We take enough abuse on this issue from Mrs. Content Guy, who does know how to do such things…)

Another member of the MNB community wrote about the Hispanic day workers:

“They're available here in Atlanta too. Not at the local Home Depot in Roswell, but in a strip center parking lot near an apartment development that's highly Mexican inhabited. For $10/hour, you can find and get good work out of them; skilled I don't know about, but I bet that if you ask around you might find some of them too. However, the labor market for those with any bit of skill is still tight enough that they can find work paying more than $10 an hour and eight hours of steady work; not an hour or two here and then.”

On the subject of buying goods to prepare for a terrorist attack, MNB user Scott Schnell wrote:

“From what I've been hearing, we have a larger risk of being harmed personally in a car or an airplane than in a terrorist attack. A larger risk of heart attack from being over-weight than harm from a terrorist. A better chance of smoking induced illness than terrorist attack.

“Riding in a car all belted up and air bag protected may be unavoidable in this modern world and we have done a lot to make it safe, but people still are hurt and die every day - many through careless and negligence (too fast for conditions, drinking and driving, etc.). Fast food and excess calories lead to heart attacks and we can control that. Smoking is ours to control (sort of) and still we do it.

“Terrorists are not under our direct control, there is little that we can do to prevent someone from terrorizing us. Why don't we concentrate on the things that we can control. Would seem to be more rewarding in the long run. And short run too.”

We generally agree. Still, we have a feeling that when we next go to the store we’ll probably buy some extra water and canned food. Just in case.

On the subject of Wal-Mart’s ascension to near market dominance in Dallas, MNB user Chris Hendricks wrote:

“What seems to be overlooked here is the demise of the once great Tom Thumb.

Having been raised in Dallas, and shopped Tom Thumb many years, it's sad to see this decline. When you spoke of community specific distribution, knowing your customer, and engaging them as they come through the doors, this was their strength in the market. Simon David on Inwood road was the Central Market of North Dallas, now it is a shell of what it once was. There was a time when supermarkets were concerned with consumer complaints, now it is all about the bottom line, and no frills, no special orders.

“Consumer complaints have declined in majority of supermarkets. Why? Perhaps it goes back to the lack of time the average consumer has to shop, fix a meal, and get the kids to practice. Consumers complain with their feet and dollars, by walking out and shopping another channel, Channel blurring at its best. Why haven't supermarkets figured this out? When we look at the rise of Wal-Mart and the demise of supermarkets, we might go back to the supermarket and say "Supermarkets tried to emulate Supercenters", instead of getting back to the basics and what won them the place in the market they had 5 years ago, Customer Service, Quick Checkouts, and a Value in Shopping. (Value meaning the entire shopping experience, not just price). Yes, Wal-Mart is the one that swings the big stick, but supermarkets like Tom Thumb can compete. It's getting them to believe that's the problem...”

Boy, do you have that right!

Another MNB user wrote:

“I have two Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets within a mile of my home. Kroger is the only other supermarket within that distance (it's across the street of one of the Neighborhood Markets). The Wal-Mart stores are always fairly crowded, while the Kroger (which is better stocked) never seems too busy.

“I spoke with one of the Kroger managers a couple of weeks ago regarding a couple of items I wanted to see them carry. He didn't think the buyer would authorize those items, although Kroger in Houston carries those items. If this Kroger, and other DFW grocers want to compete with Wal-Mart, the buyers need to listen to what the shoppers want.

“My employer has used census data and demographic studies to show to buyers why they should carry certain items in certain areas. Doesn't anybody else do this? Grocers, are you listening to your shoppers?”

In response to our story about the c-store vending concept that is being tested in the DC market, one MNB user wrote:

“So, this is the magic pill…the answer to how to best serve our clientele…the chosen direction to set us apart from our competition…

Whodda’ thought…the answer to poor and lacking customer service is a vending machine? They work 24/7 without union representation. Wal-Mart would be proud.”

In response to our recent story about Wal-Mart being battered around by the unions, and our own surprise at how long it reportedly takes for employees there to qualify for health insurance, one MNB user (who happens to work for Wal-Mart) wrote:

“Learned today that WMT has started an in-between medical coverage program for newly hired associates. Could have been introduced late last year when associates sign up for the next year's coverage, although it could have started anytime and I probably wouldn't have heard about it; being for the newly hired.

“It's called "Starbridge" and costs $29.88 a month for full-time or peak time(working only during peak hours I think). For single associate, $65.16 with one dependent, $100.44 with two dependents. Begins on date of hire. Maximum benefit of $1000 for each covered person. Ends on termination of employment or end of eligibility waiting period for regular insurance.”

Look, we just think that one way that companies can cut down on employee turnover is to provide better benefits, especially in the health insurance arena. We’re painfully aware of how much it costs to get health insurance for a family of five, even to get just catastrophic coverage…and we think that companies that are serious about their employees need to invest in them.

That said, we think the Wal-Mart plan, on the face of it, sounds like a good one for entry-level personnel.

And we got another email from a member of the MNB community that put into words something we’d been thinking:

“I seem to remember a week or so ago that you mentioned something about the Boston Market new campaign and the "4 o'clock meal solution." I saw the commercial on TV tonight and can't imagine how this will reach consumers. Dad calls Mom from work. Kids screaming in the background, she's going crazy and all he has to say is, "have you thought about what dinner?" Now I'm not married and I don't have kids... but I would surely kill that man if he lived with me. The better of the Boston Market commercials is mom walking through the door, putting the Boston Market take out bag on the stove and saying "dinner's ready" as she goes about her home business. A much better take on the situation than the insulting husband/wife relationship.”

We agree – that commercial is insulting.

When Mrs. Content Guy took a decade off from work to stay home and take care of the kids, we used to walk in the door at the end of a long workday, and she’d say to us, “What’s for dinner?” (How’s that for a commercial?)

Now, in her defense, she’d been playing with the kids all day, not goofing off. And we cook better than she does.

So, we made dinner.
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