retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Interesting email from an MNB user regarding our story yesterday about the competitive challenges facing Pick n Pay in South Africa:

I am working in South  Africa this week and your note on Pick n Pay is timely. Pick n Pay just announced the appointment of Mr Richard van Rensburg as deputy to Nick Badminton. Richard joined Pick n Pay last year as a non-exec. This illustrates the leadership challenge confronting Pick n Pay at the moment. They have many (perhaps too many) change initiatives underway at the moment, all designed to regain momentum.

The current challenges Pick n Pay faces have nothing to do with Wal-Mart, at least at this stage. Pick n Pay have not executed flawlessly their move to centralized distribution but have plans to continue to centralize distribution & buying across the rest of S Africa. They need to undergo a massive SKU reduction initiative, but will be challenged to do this as long as they drive trading terms that are rebate-centered. (Interestingly, they have successfully undertaken a SKU reduction initiative with their Boxer format, which has proven successful.) Their “Smart Shopper” loyalty card program is getting strong press, but is not producing actionable insights for the vendors at this stage. As I understand it, one of the metrics that is challenging Pick n Pay is an “employees / square meter” which the Unions appear to be unwilling to move from.

For Pick n Pay to “sell more”, they must make some hard choices to minimize focus on vendor income that rewards buying vs. demand creation. My sense is that vendors want to help Pick n Pay, if they will let them.

Thanks for the report.

We got a number of emails yesterday regarding the Trader Joe’s employee who took ownership of my shopping experience during a recent trip there, which I thought gives the company a real advantage over other players.

One MNB user wrote:

Right on Kevin!   This is why I will go out of my way to shop at TJ’s when I can.  It’s not first choice because we are so fortunate to have Mother’s Market closer, and easier to get to, which is the best.

The grocery chains try but they don’t have the personality that comes with TJ’s sense of humor that permeates the ranks at all levels.  And I had an experience at a Ralph’s that turned me off from a particular store, here ‘tis:  I had moved to a new area, and found to my delight there were several stores within bike riding distance!  My inner tree hugger= comes out when I can grocery shop by bike, so I hopped on to explore the new Ralph’s, right near my new bank!

I locked it to the metal trash can (no bike racks outside….and this is southern CA, I would think this ought to be considered…..) and walked in with my backpack shopping bags still on my back – no way could I shoplift with it, since it was on my shoulders.  Before I was 6 ft in the door, was pounced upon by the assistant manager of the shift, to ‘check my bag at register #(?)”.  No hello, no welcome to Ralph’s, just – pounce!  I was so turned off, but I complied, and stewed about it as I started down the aisles to obtain my list….and decided, forget it, I will get the one thing I came in for, forget perusing the store to get to know “my new neighborhood grocery option” – and decided to let the manager and asst. mgr know how I felt, and why I would never step foot in that particular location again!  They were very defensive, didn’t seem to care that they had lost a customer.  I told them I understood theft was part of their reality, but wasn’t part of mine, I complied, but it was how it was presented that was offensive.

I found other options, still bike riding distance, and they lost what could have been a regular weekly customer.  Their loss.  I know I am only one, and I shop for a small family, but  TJ’s and Mothers seem to be more concerned about my demographic than some of the huge chains...

MNB user Tom Devlin wrote:

WOW, you hit the nail on the head and if I owned a retail store I would go to Darien Trader Joe’s and steal Paulo and make him my store manager. Just the unsolicited words and him knowing about the “Experience” is something I think most store managers are struggling with today. I have called on many retailers in my career and had strong contacts with store managers and directors and I can honestly say that most of the training needs to start from the top.

I have been told many times by managers that... The retail employee only cares where they are going after work and will be gone in less than a year because we have so much turn over.... Or....  They are only working here because there were no opening at McDonalds.... Or..... I need  to concentrate on the  store numbers because my VP is coming in next week..... What I have found which is very sad when the VP does come in the store from corporate,  the store looks good but the employees are so afraid of saying anything bad that they don’t say a word... When you have a good director of store operations they will put the employee at ease  instead of the politics that the higher ups are here to criticize.

Don’t get me wrong there are some good stores with great retailer employees but a majority of them are in charge of an aisle or behind the counter in pharmacy. If the retailer wants motivated employees, make them part of the process and pride in getting the store looking good and the customers happy. Examples are the Trader Joe’s and Starbucks.  All these retailers have repeat business consumers and when a customer walks in and connects with the employees that becomes a relationship and both feel good the second they make eye contact. That is the experience and it is positive for all parties.

MNB user Larry Lyons wrote:

Exactly the difference in the Wal-Mart of today vs. Wal-Mart of the 90’s. The folks at WMT today do not have the same sense of pride nor ownership.

Until someone in a position of leadership figures that out, and fixes it, all their merchandising, environmental, and marketing, efforts will be for naught.

MNB use Suann Ingle wrote:

The president and owner of a 200MM national trial consulting company asked me once (we were in a cab in the middle of starting up his NYC location), “who do you think is the most important person in this company?” I thought, besides me? And answered, “the person who, at any given moment, is dealing directly with one of our clients.”


Not everyone was impress, though, as MNB user Steve Kneepkens wrote:

Have we descended so far down the customer service ladder that an article is written about getting a couple of extra tickets for something as benign as a drawing for a gift certificate.

Really? This is what we call filling the news cycle…. Can’t we just say nothing happened today therefore I have nothing to write about and thanks for shopping?

Good gracious – HOT AIR MAN… HOT AIR.

I would respectfully disagree.

A couple of times in recent weeks, I’ve posted Facebook-only video commentaries on Sundays, which has prompted a couple of people to ask why I’ve done this - especially because they are not allowed to access Facebook from their office computers. (I’ve mentioned and linked to the Facebook commentaries on Monday morning.)

There’s a practical reason that the videos are not on MNB - getting the coding done on Sundays is a little problematic. And there’s no “text” version because I don;t actually write them down....seeing as I write 4,000-5,000 words Monday through Friday, I try to take weekends off.

That said, sometimes a story in the weekend papers will catch my attention, and I’ll feel like saying something, but it doesn’t necessarily seem so important that it needs the full MNB treatment. So I put it on Facebook, just for the fun of it, and just when I feel like it.

I don’t mean to be leaving anyone out, but I also don’t want to create more work for myself. And I hope you won’t mind if I continue to do it from time to time, whenever whimsy strikes me....

And finally, a correction from MNB user John R. Hurguy:

In the August 10th edition of MNB, (below), a comment regarding’s business model was incorrectly attributed to me by an unnamed MNB user.   Mike Franklin actually wrote that which was published in your August 9th edition:

MNB user John R. Hurguy wrote that “’s business model is not sustainable without corporate welfare.”

Mike Franklin’s comments are not a reflection of how I view Amazon and since I, along with my company, continue to conduct business with them, would you correct this at your earliest convenience?


And apologies for it taking so long to do so. Your email got sort of lost in the pile, and I should have dealt with this immediately.
KC's View: