retail news in context, analysis with attitude

In a commentary yesterday about a New York Times story on new hiring, and that focused in part on a new Fairway store in New Jersey, I described the employees at that store as being “engaged and dedicated.”

MNB user Daniel Hariton McQuade disagreed with the characterization:

Are you kidding? Apparently you haven't been to there 74th/Broadway location lately. The level of service is horrible. Especially at the front end where cashiers won’t say hi or look at you, and then tell you, not ask you, to take out the items of your hand basket. Then still without acknowledgement don’t tell you the amount you’s up to you to view the total. Then tells you to put the basket on the floor which I refused to do and told her just that. I put my hand out to receive my change and it was placed on the belt. And this is not an isolated incident. We joke about it with friends often. Order something from the deli, I dare you! Better yet ask a question about a species of fish or if the scallops are natural (Thank God, Citarella is right next there's a place that does seafood right.)

They have the fresh produce, variety is good for the city, the prices are probably the most reasonable for Manhattan (not close to prices available across the river … fortunately for me I travel to NJ twice a week and shop there), and the store is far from what I consider clean.

We and our friends, who also have shared this experience from these “highly engaged and dedicated group of employees” hate the experience, but we tolerate it like we tolerate trying to get a taxi in midtown at 5pm on a rainy day, or sweating in the subway on a hot August options! Yes, they do an incredible volume of business, and as they say “volume hides a lot of sins”...but here you don’t even have to scratch the surface to see the lack of investment in employee training and organizational development.

Hope to see you in line some Saturday on the Upper West Side to see this exceptionally skilled group, then give me a qualified opinion. (I hope you are trying the wines you recommend…)

Well, there’s no reason to get snippy about my wine recommendations. (I try every one. I promise.)

My characterization was of the New Jersey store employees. I haven't been to the Upper West Side store in a while, so it may well be that things have declined there (though that wasn't my experience).

It’s also New York. You pay a price for living in the center of the known universe.

Regarding this employment story, which pointed to increased hiring by certain kinds of companies even in recession, another MNB user wrote:

My first thought was the opportunities that were cited by Fairway Markets and Wal Mart are more than likely hourly positions and mostly part time. I have seen statistics that range from 60%-40% to as high as 75% - 25% part-time to full-time ratio for supermarkets, supercenters and specialty… so when I read comments such as “The retail sector is cited as one place where hiring is happening…both at small and big retailers” I am less inclined to be excited.

My second thought was to your point, Kevin. The recession does offer an opportunity to be choosier about the people you hire but unfortunately most times, the person being hired is not the one who was laid off. At the manager, director, or positions above this, more often than not I hear comments such as: “If he is that good, why didn't the company find something for him instead let him go?”

Which is usually followed up by, “let’s see who else is out there”. I am sometimes less tolerant of these kinds of remarks and may find myself saying …. “yes, you’re right Mr. Employer. 1,700 people were laid off and not one of them is any good” or “yes, you’re right Mr. Employer. The company closed 50+ stores and liquidated assets, and the person you just spoke to was entirely responsible.”

One of the most insightful comments I ever heard was from a Wegman’s Regional Operations Manager. When I asked if he were looking to hire a strong leader where he would look. He said that he would take someone from a company that has been struggling or not as successful. His feeling was that these individuals may have learned to be more resourceful, more aggressive, and more creative because they would have had to do more with less. In other words, he said not every unsuccessful company has unsuccessful employees and vice versa; so he would not judge a person based on the company they worked for, but would evaluate them based on their own merit. This just demonstrates another reason why this company remains so successful.

And MNB user Dave Howald chimed in:

I have always remembered something that consultant and speaker Harold Lloyd said about hiring and training people. He said many retailers tell him they don’t invest in training because they already have high turnover and it’s not worth the investment.

Harold’s response to that was, “Well, what if you don’t train them and they stay?”

That phrase has always stayed with me as I also do some produce manager seminars to educate produce personnel about avocados. The companies that invest in training their store level people are the companies that continue to rank high in customer satisfaction surveys. Loyal customers are the backbone of any successful business and those retailers who ignore this will slowly watch their customers migrate to where they will be treated well and have knowledgeable employees who can answer questions or direct you to the correct answer.

Regarding the discrepancy that sometimes exists between how healthy products are and how healthy some people think they are, one MNB user wrote:

Funny, I just hit the roof while shopping at Whole Foods this weekend over this very type of thing. I sought a no salt cracker for my mom who is hypertensive with an enlarged heart and told to eat no salt foods. She needs little snacks like crackers to take her meds with in between meals. I nearly picked up the 365 Saltine-style crackers that blitzed no salt on the top of the package, but when you read the nutritional panel, it had 125 mg of sodium! Disconnect. Closer scrutiny flipping back to the front display panel revealed, it was No Salt "tops". I fumed at how irresponsible the marketing was on this consumer product segment. Does anyone think folks buy No salt items for the flavor??? I don't think so. It is bought for health reasons and not just because some young, fit and yoga savvy consumer wants more fluffy anti-oxidants in their diets, it is because there are serious consequences to having salt for the no sodium/low sodium diet shopper.

What was in their head? Lots of folks still don't scrutinize labels and, worse, many still trust the claims on the front panel. Being tricky, misleading or complicated in the claims on the front panel is just wrong and not appreciated by those who see the lack of responsibility taken and it is really not fair to those who consume what they shouldn't when they tried hard to "be good" and end up feeling bad anyway. Or suffer serious health consequences because of it. Is it any wonder consumer confidence and trust of food manufacturers is at inauspicious levels?

And finally regarding my short obituary for Dom DeLuise, one MNB user wrote:

How could you mention “Spaceballs” and not “History of the World Part I”? Dom DeLuise didn't even appear in “Spaceballs”. He just did the voice of Pizza the Hutt.

And just what are these "lousy Burt Reynolds movies" that Dom DeLuise appeared in? If you're referring to “Cannonball Run,” you either need your head examined or you were too old in 1981 to appreciate the movie. I'm guessing it's the latter (don't forget you started the whole "I just feel old and out of touch" bit).

And another MNB user wrote:

Are you calling “Cannonball Run” a lousy Burt Reynolds movie? I don’t think I know who you are anymore…

At the risk of disenfranchising a core constituency, I have to admit that I hate “Cannonball Run.” I was a big Burt Reynolds fan – I count “Deliverance,” “Starting Over,” and “The Longest Yard” (the original, not the execrable remake) among my favorite movies, and have a soft spot for “Nickelodeon,” “Sharky’s Machine,” “Semi-Tough” and even “Gator.” But “Cannonball Run” started the long decline as far as I’m concerned – he stopped acting and started parodying himself. He could have had a career like Clint Eastwood (he’s a better actor, and he also directed), but instead he ended up having a career like..well, like Burt Reynolds.

Paul Crewe once said that “The most important thing to remember is: to protect your quarterback - ME!”

Burt Reynolds didn’t protect the quarterback.
KC's View: