retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Responding to all the coverage of Supervalu's issues, one MNB user wrote:

I remember well when the Jewel Food Stores and the people that worked and shopped there had almost the same "fanatical cult following," at least in my eyes, as one reader recently described Wegmans as having.

Of course that was before American Stores, Larry Johnston, Albertson’s etc.

Jewel owned the Chicago land market and still does, I believe, but is heading in the wrong direction from all I’ve heard & read.

Getting the business upright again with a dedicated, energized team of hard charging people will not be an easy accomplishment.

Maybe if Jewel-Osco and the other Supervalu brands are sold off and they rid themselves of Supervalu overhead it might be the best option for all involved.

Another reader wrote:

Over the last 10-15 years I have seen several high ranking executives leave Walmart to accept CEO and President positions in so many companies. I believe many these persons have not done well in the new companies they have joined for a few reasons which will seem too basic.

They can not duplicate the Walmart culture.

Walmart has the second largest IT Center in the world and only surpassed by the US Government from what I have read.

These two areas are the life blood of many business's today and in the future.

I am not trying to say many of the executives are not qualified, but the experience they had gained while at Walmart can not be duplicated in any manner that I can see.

Sort of like former GE executives who seemed unable to function once they got out of Jack Welch's shadow?

On the subject of WinCo's expansion into Texas, one MNB user wrote:

Congratulations to WinCo on their success!!!  They grew out of Boise, across the northwest and then down the west coast and are now poised to enter Texas and the Dallas market.  The rest of the country should be put on notice that sooner or later they will have a WinCo competing against them.

It is interesting to compare WinCo’s fortunes over the past 10 years to those of Supervalu.  The WinCo format was built upon Supervalu’s Cub Foods format of the late 80’s/early 90’s.  A warehouse format that focused on providing value to families.  Management at WinCo built upon the format, religiously kept to its price/value underpinnings, perfected it, but really did little to change it over the years.  Up until 2005, Supervalu owned a 25% stake in WinCo and took pride in watching the company grow.  However, Supervalu sold their stake in WinCo and put the money toward the Albertson’s acquisition. What a contrast in outcomes.  Today Supervalu’s stock value is just 7% of what it was in 2005, and the company can’t seem to find success in any of the markets it operates in across the US.  WinCo is a financially successful ESOP, that is seeing success in all of their markets and is strategically entering new ones.

The really sad part of this WinCo story is that Supervalu still owns the Cub format, has many of the Cub pioneers still working for the company,  and has expertise with many other successful formats (Bristol Farms is another format that is seeing far more success since being sold by Supervalu, than they had under Supervalu’s ownership); but the management at the company over the past few years focused solely on their small bore neighborhood conventional format, accepted 5-7% comp store decreases and has driven the company to the edge of a cliff.  While Supervalu’s fate is unfortunate, the inevitable break-up of the company should put many of the divisions in a place with new management and leadership that will allow those banners and formats to thrive once more.

On another subject, one MNB user wrote:

Wanted to comment on your piece about Shake Shack. It is clear that they really live by the tenets described by their CEO, as illustrated by the following story.

On a recent visit to NYC, my husband & I were very excited to go to Shake Shack – I had read about it on Chowhound (indispensable online tool for on-the-road foodies!) and our plan was to go after the theater since they are open until midnight. We waited on line at the 8th Ave & 44th St location for over 15 minutes at 10:00pm on a Tuesday (the wait during the afternoon was 4x that) and let me tell was worth every second! Great staff was only topped by awesome food! Their burger is what you always wish a fast food burger would be but never is...thick, hot, juicy, tasty, fresh soft a word: delicious. Crisp crinkle cut fries tasted like real potato. And don’t even get me started on the chocolate was pure heaven.

It was by far the least expensive meal we ate during our entire trip, but probably the most has been nearly 3 weeks and I still cannot stop thinking about Shake Shack, telling my friends about it, and wondering when I can get to another one because I am dying for another burger & shake there. And that’s the point...I had a great, memorable experience that made me a brand ambassador (of sorts) and left me wanting more. Isn’t that the holy grail of our business?

You bet.

I made a comment the other day about how, if people want their kids to read email, they have to send them a text message telling them to do so. Which led one MNB user to write:

When we send our son a package to his out of state college address (typically from Amazon, but that’s another story), we have get his attention through a text or email and remind him to go to the mailbox, or “campus package pickup point,” to retrieve it; otherwise, the package languishes forever in postal purgatory.   He merely explains: “I don’t check the post office mail”.


MNB user Russell Thomas wrote:

My colleague Jim Tebay told me there are two kinds of people:  Social Media Natives like my kids who have grown up with it and Social Media Immigrants like me who have reached these foreign shores with wonder and bewilderment.  My youngest son, the 12-year old, got his first email address last year.  I asked if he liked the address.  He said “Well, it doesn’t really matter, Dad, because you are the only one that still uses email”.  Now that was an eye opener!

Been there, done that.

And, from another reader:

The only time I use e-mail to contact my twenty something daughters is when I need to send an attachment. Text is the communication of choice except in an emotional crisis, than Mom’s voice is needed (and quite honestly for long conversations, I am too slow when texting).

Regarding the decision by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to officially ban the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups, MNB user Curt Lindy wrote:

Finally the FDA took action to protect the public however I give the real credit for this action to Wal-Mart and their refusal to have BPA products in their stores, which created the change by the manufactures making the FDA action mute.

Respond to our recent story about hiring issues, one MNB user wrote:

Right now, here in the rust belt, we are continually looking for good help - from part time store clerks to director positions. A person who was recently hired for a full time administrative office position quit the day they were to start. We have trouble getting people to show up for interviews or even sometimes staying through orientation. Just about every single one of our departments across all store locations is understaffed right now and we're looking. We usually have at least 25 positions available. And we're having trouble finding food service managers.

We offer decent pay, excellent benefits including insurance for part time work, good hours, nice working conditions and every location offers parking and is on a bus line. Plus we were just named one of the best places to work in our area. Our turnover is at a record low as well.

We are experiencing record sales and sales growth and we just opened a 4th location.

I have no idea what's going on with economy or jobs, but we're definitely not feeling a slow down here. I do know is that our growth is quickly being hampered by lack of qualified candidates. Hell, sometimes any candidates at all.

Of course, we don't actively poach people from competitors but believe me, we're thinking about it! 

I'd love to know if other small to mid size independently owned grocers are experiencing the same thing... and why.

We had a story last week about how the state of Washington is registering people to vote via Facebook, which led one MNB user to write:

Good luck with that in Wisconsin (voter DIScouragement).  Next step is DNA swabs, if the Gov. gets his way.   Pretty sure that’s all he left out of his voter ID bill probably because he didn’t think of it.  Lots of debate still going on about the subject prior to the fall election.

From another reader:

Sigh! This makes me even sadder that I live in Florida where the governor is doing everything he can to purge voter lists and hinder registration, even prosecuting teachers for registering students and not turning in their names within the new 48-hour rule. The League of Women Voters pulled out of Florida, saying the new rules and their accompanying fines were too onerous.

If I ever get to retire, I'm leaving Florida!

I did think that there was an interesting difference between what is happening in Washington and what seems to be happening in other states.

On another subject - a piece I did last week on my enthusiasm for teaching this summer at Portland State University - MNB user Bob Hermanns wrote:

I read with keen interest your “FaceTime” post today where you describe the teaching experience as “wonderful on steroids”.  You not only described the experience well, you also pointed out the level of interest and ability these young people bring to the classroom.  It is my never-ending goal to spread the gospel of educating our future leaders and it is a most satisfying activity.

Hopefully, the vast audience of industry executives who are unaware, or do not have an appreciation for the abilities and character of tomorrow’s leaders will open their eyes as they read posts like yours today.

MNB user Mary Manning wrote:

I really enjoyed your article about your experiences with students at Portland State. I'm lucky enough to get to teach them too, and you captured so well how lively and creative they are. The Food Industry Leadership Center gives them the experience of a small cohort in a huge university, and it's amazing how much poise and confidence they gain from that. At the end of the term I wish I could hire all of them.

MNB user Dave Dec wrote:

I wanted to thank you for your "FaceTime" story. Being the lead technical trainer I share your passion for learning and being in the classroom. I agree with your comment about food marketers forgetting about how important the food experience is to people. The assignment you gave your students confirmed that. Thank you for sharing your experience as a teacher as well as a student; referring to your morgue experience. I love it when people ask me the tough questions. And though sometimes when we ask the tough questions we may not be perceived in the best light, being brave enough to do so makes us all better learners and better people.

From another reader:

You are totally right, teaching in the food industry is a great experience. I co-teach a Casino Management Class at Kent State University in the Hospitality Management Program. I find our class is very conservative with their questions. Our class travels to Las Vegas for first hand tours of the world’s best casinos but it is like pulling teeth to have the class ask questions of the industry leaders. We have addressed this issue in class and cannot find any answers to this questions of no questions.

Please share your thoughts.

I'm probably the wrong guy to ask about this stuff ... my teaching experience is limited to this July. (Except for the one-shots I've done over the years, of course.) Mrs. Content Guy, who teaches third grade, believes that no matter what the age, the best way to get kids to learn is to have them teach each other ...

One thing I've done, when I've brought in industry folks (who have been exceptionally generous with their time), is to not have them give presentations, but rather chat with them interview-style ... make it a relaxed conversation that is easy for the students to join in on. It saves the experts from having to make a speech, and keeps everything casual.

But as I say, I'm no expert. I just like talking to people...and listening to their answers.

MNB user Bill Smillie wrote:

Reading your “FaceTime” article, I took myself back to my college “nights” where I got most of my college credits in “night” school and guys like you and me that had years of real-time experience taught classes on labor law, marketing, salesmanship, personnel management (Hey, it was the 70’s) and brought the real world into the classroom.  It was a better education than day school where a well-educated smart guy with a teaching degree recited theories and axioms from someone older than them to younger people who cared less and were there only because they had to be to beat the draft.  Congratulations to you for taking the time to share some of your “wisdom” with others.

Well, I was a film student at Loyola Marymount University ... so I wasn't seeing the kind of people you were seeing. On the other hand .... I have vivid memories of classes like the one where Burt Lancaster showed up after we screened one of his films - dressed in a button down shirt, jeans, sandals and a Mexican poncho, smoking Camels. He talked with the class for hours, and then hung out with a bunch of us until he finally had to leave to catch an early flight to NY.

I had a lot of nights like that. It was totally cool.

So, you're probably saying to yourself .... What? No more email about gay marriage?

To be honest, there was a lot of it. And continues to be.

I'm making a command decision here not to post it all, simply because I don't want it to dominate the proceedings.

Let me just say a couple of things.

To the few of you who suggested that the discussion has no place on a site such as MNB, I respectfully disagree. It might not have a place on a lot of other sites, but MNB has evolved into the kind of place where precisely this kind of conversation can and should take place, when warranted. It was not random ... it all was within the context of decision made by a business CEO to stake out a position, and my response to it, and then your response to me.

I recognize that this can be a tough subject for a lot of folks, and no matter how many emails I run here, it is unlikely that their minds will be changed. (Just like mine won't. We have that in common.) So at some point, I think I have to cut off the discussion ... though, to be honest, it could all come up again, if some story prompts me to focus on it. I also think that for those of us who feel one way on the issue, there is a suspicion that we have time on our side ... that 10 or 20 years from now, people will wonder what all the controversy was about. "Patience is a virtue," my mom used to say to me. We'll see.

I was glad that, within the context of my comments last week, I got a bunch of people to laugh by referencing movies as diverse as In & Out and Blazing Saddles. Ultimately, I must concede, I'm happiest when people write in to say I made them laugh. (I'm also pretty happy when people say I got them to think...)

And with these movie references in mind, I'd finally like to tip my hat to the MNB user who seemed so happy with my comments that he wrote:

If I weren’t already married, I’d “gay marry” you! 

Thanks for being willing to bring up the tough topics. I have been reading your MorningNewsBeat for years and it has been one of the very best vehicles I have found to help educate our work teams about the retail industry.

I appreciate the thought ... I can honestly say that in more than 10 years of doing this, it is the first time anyone has expressed their appreciation in quite that way.

You made my day.
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