retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Got a number of emails yesterday regarding our Chick-fil-A story. The privately held fast food chicken chain, well-known for a conservative religious culture that goes so far as to close its stores on Sundays, has come under fire from some gay rights groups for having contributed food to an anti-gay marriage group. The company says it is not anti-gay, though it does believe in the “biblical view of marriage.” And analysts say that the company’s culture may make it difficult to expand to national proportions, where its beliefs will be seen as unacceptable by some.

Here’s what I wrote in my commentary:

The simple truth, it seems to me, is that companies - especially private ones - have the right to support whatever groups they want. In doing so, they have to face the possibility that they will be criticized by those who disagree with them, and who have the right to air their grievances. And, they’ll have to face the possibility that their ability to grow and make more money may be limited by their political positions.

It will strike some of us as disingenuous to say “we love and respect gay people,” and then support the denial of equal rights to them. Not my definition of love and respect ... and I suspect that there are a lot of gay people who don’t feel the love and respect, who won’t feel that the words match the actions.

And by the way, I’m not a Biblical scholar by any means, but it always has been my impression that Bible sanctions a lot of things in various contexts that we likely would find to be abhorrent today. So I’m always a little uneasy with that whole “Biblical definition” thing.

But that’s just me. Chick-fil-A can do what it wants. And live with the consequences.

MNB user Steven Barry wrote:

Liberals are so good at preaching understanding…..  But now since they don’t agree with someone, there must be a “price to pay”.   They have a belief and just proclaimed their love for people for whom they disagree.  What more do you want?  Quit attacking them!!! Where’s your understanding????   What did they do……other than disagree with you!!

Read my commentary again. I did not attack them. I just said since everybody has a right to their opinions and to support whatever groups they choose, Chick-fil-A will have to live with the consequences of its actions.

And I suppose that people who decide not to eat at Chick-fil-A because of its positions will have to live with the consequences of their decision as well, and eat burgers or inferior chicken products.

Isn’t that the essence of free speech?

MNB user Glenn Cantor wrote:

How many more customers does Chick-fil-A attract with their faith-based culture than do they repel?  In positioning their brand, they have chosen their target market.  Consumers that don’t agree are free to select any of the myriad of other fast food choices.  A letter writing campaign to the contrary is merely an attempt to generate attention. 

Personally, I make my lunch choices based on the quality of the food and of the dining experience.  Chick-fil-A provides an unusually friendly and attentive fast-food dining experience.  They offer relatively healthy options that taste pretty good, and their employees greet customers as they are eating to ensure satisfaction.  In my local Chick-fil-A, they offer to carry my food tray to my table for me, and an employee circles the restaurant to offer drink refills.  For fast-food, it is quite pleasant.  Besides, who doesn’t love a giant cow that waves to passersby the highway in front of the restaurant?

You’re right. In fact, this position could help Chick-fil-A more than hurt it, especially with certain demographics.

And you’re right, a letter writing campaign is meant to generate attention. That’s the point. If that means supporters of gay rights will now have more information with which to make their dining choices, that strikes me as okay.

And I, too, make most of my dining choices based on the quality of the food. But, if I view a company as not being supportive of something I view as a basic civil right, I’ll factor that into my decision-making as well. (Just like I had the right to not go to Denny’s based on stories I’d read about some of its restaurants practicing a kind of racial discrimination.)

Another MNB user wrote:

I applaud Chick-fil-A for standing behind their beliefs and corporate culture. Does everyone have to agree? Of course not. But, every company does not need to bow to the politically correct pressures they are constantly assaulted with by groups advocating everything under the sun. In today's pc climate, the only crime is intolerance, unless of course you disagree with the pc advocacy groups. If you dare to do that, you and your company will not be tolerated, but protested and boycotted. Interesting double standard.

Most companies give money to causes, charities, political parties, etc. If all consumers research and study the donation habits of all the companies they patronize, they will probably discover things with which they disagree. In the end, each person is free to choose where to spend his or her paycheck, and the criteria with which they make those choices.

By the way, anybody who believes anything or lives any lifestyle is perfectly welcome to purchase and enjoy the food at Chick-fil-A. There is no discrimination taking place there. In fact, it is one of the friendliest, customer-centric restaurants I've ever seen. The customer service practiced there is well beyond the other chain restaurants in their price range and speed of service.

MNB user Don Kirkley wrote:

I find it interesting that tolerance only goes one way.  Why could these groups not tolerate a contribution to an “anti gay marriage group”?

Again, I agree with the notion that the folks at Chick-fil-A have the right to believe anything they want, and stand behind those beliefs. In one sense, it is admirable of the company if management says that it cares less about expansion and more about its spiritual culture.

And you’re right that sometimes the people who most preach tolerance are the least tolerant of other people’s opinions. But there are cases where this is understandable. If a company practices institutional racism, for example, one could fairly argue that the company should be more tolerant...and one would be morally justified in being intolerant toward that company.

So it’s not, if you’ll excuse the pun, all black and white.

Another MNB user wrote:

You're confusing political views with spiritual conviction. Chick-fil-A's view's on gay marriage, is based on their spiritual conviction that gay marriage goes against Biblical teaching. Their love and respect for anyone who disagrees is based on their spiritual conviction that the Bible teaches us to love and respect everybody. Standing up for your convictions and loving and respecting those that disagree with them are not mutually exclusive. Chick-fil-A, in my opinion is masterfully positioning itself to serve its target market.

MNB user Jeff Folloder chimed in:

I find this to be one of the most interesting happenings in food retailing today.  CFA makes absolutely no bones about its conservative Christian stance.  And one would have to be at nearly room temp to not be aware of this stance.  From the notices about being closed on Sunday to the bible-centric literature and moral lessons included with kids meals, there is nothing thinly veiled about the stance.  They are privately held and bound by their faith and, as such, have the "right" to take any stance that they want and enjoy/suffer the consequences.  And this is what they are doing.  I can understand the difference between love/respect and unconditional support.  A Christian can love a murderer because he/she is a child of God but not be a supporter of murder.  Too, CFA can honestly say that they love and respect those that disagree with them.  There is no disconnect that needs mending for them.

And all of the angry protesters can rail as they like.  CFA will likely quite gladly take on that burden.  It emphatically underscores the CFA culture and creates a huge amount of publicity for the company and their beliefs.  I don't shop at Citgo because I do not like supporting Hugo Chavez.  Still, Hugo gladly sells gasoline in staggering amounts, so who wins?  We both do.  In this country it is the fact that we can have the disagreement that separates us from the rest of the pack.  I applaud CFA for sticking to their stance and I applaud The Human Rights Campaign for publicly stating that they disagree with the CFA position.  But mostly, I applaud the donation of food to any pantry because, unfortunately, people are hungry.  And I suspect that the Pennsylvania organization that distributed the food did not decide who got the food based on sexual orientation.

MNB user Tim Korosec wrote:

Living in Atlanta, I am quite familiar with Chick-fil-A.  They are an important part of our city and state as well as many other cities in America.  What is lost in this controversy with Chick-fil-A is that they provide many free lunches for plenty of groups:  local schools, local police departments, local fire departments, churches, etc..  They do an incredible job supporting the local community.  In most of their restaurants, they have marketing managers who concentrate on supporting local communities/events.  Sure, they donated food to an organization opposed to gay marriage.  They also donate food to local schools who, by the way,  teach views about subjects opposed to a Christian worldview (evolution, gay marriage and premarital sex to name a few.)  

The bottom-line is we need to encourage local businesses to become involved with the local community.  We must keep in mind that our local communities are made up of many different types of people -- some of whom we agree with, others we don't.  And, this is one of the things that makes our country great - the diversity of the people that are Americans.  If we protest business every time we feel they "step out of line,"  they will shrink away from involvement.  No one wins in that situation.

And, from another MNB user:

It strikes many of us as genuine when one can “love and respect gay people” and yet not support their lifestyle. This was not a company demonizing gays. People differ on their opinion about gay marriage and we know where Chick-fil-A stands on the issue. I think that their clarity is refreshing (try to get that clarity from any of our elected officials!). Chick-fil-A is based on solid Christian principles and lives them in their business model. Choose to buy their products or not, but let’s not let a minority interest group use this as a battering ram to taint Chick-fil-A’s success and purpose because they disagree with them.

As I said yesterday, I suspect that maybe gay people aren’t feeling the love.

And again, Chick-fil-A has the right to its opinions and to express them in any way it wishes. But people who disagree with them certainly have the same right, and to publicize those views that they perceive as intolerant.

Onto another subject...and one perhaps a less less controversial - marketing to aging baby boomers, which was discussed in yesterday’s Eye-Opener.

MNB user Kathleen Whelan wrote:

Count me among the boomers who do not want to be old!  When I was in high school, my girlfriends and I planned to form a motorcycle gang when we became little old ladies.  We would move to a town in the Midwest and cruise around the town square at midnight, terrorizing the inhabitants.  I guess it's almost time for 'The Wombats' to get our colors together.  But not yellow and blue, I guess.

(Yellow and blue, according to the original story, are colors that aging eyes have trouble seeing...just FYI.)

MNB user David Bernstein wrote:

Every time I read an article about marketing to older customers, I get very conflicted.  First, my emotions tell me that CPG companies should not only make their products user friendly for this demographic, but should in fact go out of their way to cater to these folks.  As the Journal noted, this group already accounts for about half of all consumer spending in the US, and most of them just want to remain loyal to the products they've used all their lives.  Tylenol is a good example, with Tylenol Arthritis speaking to a very specific group of customers.

But it's not that easy in every category, and as harsh as this sounds, I can't help but think of the phrase "fish where the fish are" as I continue pondering the idea.  The cold hard fact is that younger shoppers are a more lucrative target for most marketers.  They typically have more disposable income, they shop more frequently, they are more willing to try new things, and their overall pace of life makes the entire selling process go quicker, allowing us to get more return for our time and effort.

So like you said, there clearly needs to be a balance in there somewhere.  And it will likely have to be all different types of balances for different items (I can't imagine we'll ever see Tide Arthritis laundry detergent).  But how do we figure it out?  Maybe some of our friends in the Silver Fox Club can chime in 🙂

As was pointed out in the piece yesterday, that makes striking the balance even harder is that a lot of aging baby boomers don’t want to think of themselves that way. For example, I refuse to join AARP simply because I don’t want to think of myself that way. Maybe I’m losing out on some discounts, but at this point I’m simply unwilling to concede that I’m old enough to be part of that group. On the other hand, I have no problem consuming so-called “silver” vitamins each day that are said to be good for guys of a certain age.

I have no idea how you market to that kind of consumer schizophrenia / insecurity.

Got the following email about the HEB culture, where they believe in “restless dissatisfaction:

Yes, It’s always good to be working at getting better. For retailers, their survival may depend upon it.

However, I remember hearing something similar from a supervisor at what was then the Albertson’s Utah Division (now defunct) back in 1984. The statement was that they wanted to be “continually dissatisfied”. Unfortunately,  to them this seemed to mean that supervisors needed to come  into the stores knowing that they would be dissatisfied and with the goal of nitpicking and criticizing instead of teaching, coaching and encouraging. End result, poor morale, a class-action “off the clock” lawsuit, and employees who were “continually dissatisfied” with their jobs. You can imagine the effect this had on employee interaction with the customer.

My point is that you can be “continually dissatisfied” or can have “restless dissatisfaction” forever but if you don’t create an empowered workforce with buy-in to the plan, you’re facing a losing proposition. Employees may be motivated by fear for only so long and maybe more so in an abundant labor market. And this may not be what H-E-B  means at all with wanting to be “restlessly dissatisfied”. The key is to make this a positive thing and to recognize and reward those who are taking the initiative to become better because they’ve been empowered to do so.

On another subject, MNB user Bob Foisy wrote:

Please continue to try to get people to watch “Fringe,” it is the best show on TV now. I went back on DVD to catch up with the first season and it was worth it. Keep up the good work. Thanks.

Finally, I got chided by one MNB user for complaining about all the ice and snow we’ve had in New England this year:

Remember, you live in Connecticut. You have good grocery stores nearby plus you have the train, which can take you to Boston (north) and D.C. (south).

When I lived in New York, I enjoyed winter because I always get on the train. In about 90 minutes (at most), I was in Manhattan and could do anything the city offered. Or, I could drive across the Hudson River, and walk or hike even in the winter.

Of all the places I have lived (New York, Texas, Iowa, etc.), I minded the weather the least in New York because, like Connecticut, there was so much to do and enjoy.

I appreciate your enthusiasm.  I've lived here all my life.  I'm done.
KC's View: