retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, MNB took note of an Ohio story reported by the Business Journal saying that a local company, in announcing the fact that it would open three Save-A-Lot franchises there, took a pot shot at Delhaize-owned Bottom Dollar, seemed to criticize it for being owned by a Belgian company.

According to the story, the Cafaro Company’s “announcement noted that in recently praising the intentions of the Belgium company to open grocery stores in Youngstown's Fosterville and Midloathian neighborhoods, some public officials ‘made disparaging remarks regarding the service and the quality of products that local retailers have provided to the Valley. The operators of Save-A-Lot find those remarks disappointing and shockingly inaccurate’.” "Save-A-Lot/Horizon Management will proudly serve the Mahoning Valley long after foreign operators have left the area," the Cafaro Company stated in its announcement.

I commented:

This kind of stuff makes me nuts. Compete by being better. Not by making cracks about “foreign operators.” Didn’t you get the memo about globalization? Don;t you realize that there are a lot of American companies that make a ton of money bringing products and services to other countries, and that would find it hard to grow without those markets? Delhaize has been operating in the US a long time. It pays taxes, has local management, hires local people, and invests in local economies. To me, as a consumer, it is more about the products and services that you provide being relevant to how I live my life, to your values being in synch with mine. I repeat. You want to compete, do it by being better than the other guy. And cut out the jingoistic stuff.

One MNB user responded:

Kevin, how about compete any way that works, (including in Ohio where outsourcing may be a hot button), not *just* by being better? It is not mutually exclusive to be better and to be based/owned in the USA, with profits being directed for the most part back to this country. That would be especially true for a franchise operator.

The article noted that the Sav a Lot stores would utilize local suppliers, and would be opening in some vacant store locations as well. I think the message may resonate with those customers who want to return the Youngstown area to a higher employment level. It also may remind local officials that people working at those local suppliers of the Sav a Lot stores vote.

Since the Delhaize stores are opening in an inner city location(s), which may be the source of the criticism of the local officials, reflecting service that may be happening in tougher neighborhoods.

At any rate, I would use all the tools at my disposal to increase my competitive advantage, including making the new franchise locations a welcoming environment for customers, and highlighting the Made in Ohio and owned in the US/Ohio area as part of my marketing push. I see nothing wrong with using both.

For the record, I don't live in Ohio, and have only seen the Youngstown exit signs on the Ohio turnpike, when on my way to the Midwest.

Another MNB user wrote:

I see your point of view as well as the Save A Lot operators.  I will point out that our abject lack of jingoism or "local" protectionism, be it clouded for ignorance or greed, has gotten us into a much, much larger mess on many fronts.  As you sip your nightly carefully selected wine at night over a nice meal at home or on the road or you sip a glass while you read from your Kindle, there are a lot of Americans not so comfortable anymore. So ease up on the condemnation - there is a lot more emotion going on in that pitch than there is a reliance on it being a retailer success model.

A personal shot at the Content Guy’s drinking and reading habits. I love it.

And from MNB user Steve Brackett:


Your reply is incredible.  If you think that things like that do not matter to customers, then YOU, Mr. Kevin, have simply lost touch with reality.

I'm not saying one should key in on that aspect and let that be their only torch, but customers definitely care about issues like this.

Maybe not in your world in Connecticut, but here in Maine they do.

MNB user Bob Vereen made a different point:

Do the Save-A-Lot people have the guts to say the same thing about Aldi?

Got a number of responses to my piece the other day about why McDonald’s - hardly my favorite company - should resist calls to retire Ronald McDonald because of the clown’s alleged outsize influence over kids’ decision making. I said that parents should exert some control, and that McDonald’s should only be forthright and transparent about calories, fat, etc... on its menu boards.

MNB user Brian Anderson wrote:

I’m with you on the McDonald’s piece!  Their menu boards now have the calorie count on each item in font at least as big and clear as the price of the item.  This is no “buyer beware” situation but rather “buyer be aware” … and stop blaming someone else! 

MNB user Robert Dyer wrote:

Great comments, Kevin.  I applaud the investors and management for standing up to the ‘no personal responsibility/nanny state” folks.  I have seen the new menu boards at McDonald's, and they communicate calorie counts very well, and do impact your decisions at the counter. 

MNB user Bill Welch wrote:

As a long time reader who perceives your “Views” as typically slightly left of center, I was encouraged on your take of the McDonald’s article.  I too am frustrated by the unwillingness of people to take responsibility for their own choices and those of their children.   But then you go and back track by your non-committal opinion on the Four Loko story.   Kevin, these are parents who are trying to score a payday off of their son’s illegal actions.  It still comes back to people unwilling to take responsibility for their own choices and those of their children.

The Four Loko story, just to be clear, was about how the family of a 15-year-old boy who was fatally struck by a car after he drank two Four Loko beverages filed a wrongful death suit against Phusion Projects, the Chicago-based maker of the party drink.” The family maintains that the company was “careless and negligent” in manufacturing a beverage with alcohol and caffeine that “desensitizes users to the symptoms of intoxication and increases the potential for alcohol-related harm."

I wrote:

Look, I hate these guys. Even though they now are taking the stimulants out of these drinks, I do think they created something that had real potential for disaster. And this kid’s death is a tragedy. That said ... he was a 15-year-old kid drinking alcohol. If it hadn’t been Four Loko, it might have been something else. I don’t know how he got the product, but I’m not sure that Four Loko can be held responsible legally for something that happened when this kid was breaking the law. Morally responsible? Sure. I’ll buy that. But much as I’d like them to take the heat legally, I’m not sure it is entirely fair.

So I’m not sure there is as much difference in our opinions as you suggest.

Another MNB user weighed in:

Since when has personal responsibility been forgotten by our society?! Now, we have people telling us that we can’t drink what we want, eat what we want, and that we have to wear our seat belts! If I die or am injured in a car accident where I am not wearing my seatbelt, my insurance company will not pay my damages on the grounds that I was negligent. This reckless teenager was not only illegally imbibing alcohol, but he was also doing so in public. That would give him at least two criminal counts of minor consumption and public intoxication.

Furthermore, if we really want to get crazy, the driver of the SUV that struck him could also sue the family of the intoxicated minor for severe emotional distress, as a result of killing the minor. Seeing that the “victim” was a minor, his parents are ultimately responsible and should also face charges for extreme negligence. If they kept an eye on their child, this would have never occurred. Four Loko is designed for adults, not children. Furthermore, if a minor illegally acquires alcohol, they are breaking the law, and the company should not be held responsible. That is tantamount to suing Four Loko is NOT at fault, the parents are.

I think it is time to get over the seatbelt laws.

Besides, while I understand the whole “government intrusion” argument, I’ve got kids. I think legally mandating seat belts is probably a good thing., just like outlawing the use of handheld cell phones while driving.

Responding to our various pieces about the Rapture that was supposed to happen - but didn’t - last weekend, one MNB user wrote:

Just my opinion, but this whole judgement day thing seemed like an opportunity for people to poke fun at Christians as if most of them were on board with this. I live in the southeast, AKA the bible belt, and I didn't know of a single person who gave this any credence. The media turned this into a WAY bigger story than it really was.

Maybe it is because I'm in the media, but I would respectfully disagree. 

Was the media supposed to ignore all the road signs and people handing out pamphlets all over the place? (I saw them almost everywhere I went.)

I've read a lot of the coverage, and I found it to be generally respectful even if incredulous.  And I'd also be willing to bet - though I have absolutely nothing to base this on - that a sizable percentage of the people who wrote those stories probably are Christians.  And I know that I went out of my way to be respectful in what I wrote.
KC's View: