retail news in context, analysis with attitude

SeekingAlpha.com, which usually trades in financial analysis, had a piece by jeff Bailey over the weekend in which he looked at the mess in which Supervalu finds itself, with sales and profits that don't seem likely to cover its debt load, which led management to put the company on the sales block as a whole or in pieces.

Excerpts:

• "Supervalu brought in a Wal-Mart guy, Craig Herkert, in 2009, as CEO. He was formerly president and CEO of the Americas for Wal-Mart, in other words he was the guy who had been crushing Supervalu and other traditional grocery chains. But was he the right guy for Supervalu?"

• "Mulling Supervalu's decline, one reflects on personal experience at a Supervalu-owned Jewel store in the city of Chicago, where Jewel enjoys a commanding market share and has the very best locations locked up: the store seems almost unmanaged. I didn't notice 'our listless workers' among the business risks in the Supervalu 10-K, but the lawyers might consider adding it in next time.

"Its checkers, drawn from the same labor pool that produces polite and helpful servers at McDonald's and Starbucks, often don't speak to customers at all, instead carrying on personal conversations with the co-worker bagging your groceries. No eye contact, either, often. Shelves holding some popular items (yogurt, for one) are often poorly stocked and missing what you're looking for. The manager, a fellow who looks beleaguered, is willing to be drawn into conversation on these failings, but his response runs along the lines of, 'It's hard'."

• "Supervalu has been too stretched financially to invest hugely in remodeling its stores. But there's nothing keeping Herkert and the people below him from demanding of store managers and front-line employees that they do their jobs reasonably well. With the location advantages traditional chains have, they pretty much have to chase customers away to fail; seems that's what Supervalu has been doing in my neighborhood for years."
KC's View:
I opened this story expecting to read a dry financial analysis, but instead got this. it can be tough when they guy looking at the numbers finds that not only are they lousy, but there's not much going on at store level to suggest that improvement is anywhere in sight.

Now, let's be clear. There are plenty of great people working at Supervalu, and they've been beaten down over time; it is tough to walk away from all the meetings and internal memos and press stories and say, "Wow! I can't wait to go to work today."

Sure, it is hard. But, as Tom Hanks says in A League of Their Own, "It is the hard that makes it worth doing."

If Supervalu cannot keep the folks are store level focused and motivated and engaged with the shopping experience and the customers, then all the number juggling in the world won't matter. It really will be "dead company walking."