retail news in context, analysis with attitude

I think we got through yesterday's MNB without a single mention of Supervalu or retention bonuses. Today, not so much.

One MNB user wrote:

I worked for SV for over twenty years.  The comment about "Trojan Horse" is right on.  It became apparent with the first quarterly meeting he held with the employees. It is interesting to note the bonuses that were handed out.  It's pretty ironic because two years ago our bonuses were taken away and it was explained to us that "studies show that bonuses don't generate any additional performance".  Stupidvalu seems to fit well.

From another reader:

It's frustrating that in America today we are more aware of corporate greed, more connected and able to share that information with one another, and yet we do little to affect any change.  Possibly because most of us feel that if we boycott Best Buy or stores in the Supervalu stores we end up hurting the frontline employees while their greedy masters in the ivory tower walk away unscathed and ready for a month long trip to an island paradise.

It's a shame that an issue that all your readers seem so consistently unified on never materializes into something we can take forward and make our voices known on.

Occupy that our only option?

And another MNB user chimed in:

It’s odd that SUPERVALU and Best Buy feel the need to maintain their top management with retention bonuses and stock options when it’s the same group of executives who got these companies where they are today.

And yet another reader offered:

One writer asked, "How do [the executives at Super Valu] sleep at night?" They sleep very well between silk their sheets. Abstract everything until all that's left is numbers. Employees, just a number, make it smaller. Work for front line employees. Just a number. Make the number of hours smaller. See it's easy.

We were singing the praises of Shake Shack the other day, and one MNB user agreed:

My Shake Shack experience last week at the 8th Ave location was extraordinary. It was 90 degrees and very humid at 2pm when I stood in a long line outside their door. An employee came outside with a tray of full sized lemonades, iced teas and half/half and handed them out to everyone in line. Besides the great food and service the buzz inside was awesome. Got to love those guys.

Yesterday, MNB took note of a Wall Street Journal report that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is saying that the "record-setting drought scorching the Midwest" is likely to result in food price increases of three to four percent next year, with poultry, beef and milk prices "expected to rise more quickly than historical averages."

I commented, with my tongue firmly in cheek:

Good thing that global warming is a myth. Because if it were real, we'd be screwed.

MNB user Jeff Reinartz responded:

Oh, brother, we have a drought one year and suddenly it's humankind's fault? Quick, bankrupt the coal industry! The only time I ever hear anybody crying "global warming!" is when circumstances conveniently support their premise. I never heard a word about it last summer. It's just the latest crisis created so our heroes in Washington can legislate a "solution," read "tax."

Can we please stop blaming every weather anomaly on global warming, or climate change, or meteorologic transformation, or whatever the lack of any evidence of human-caused warming has caused us to change its name to now?

You're right, of course. It is just the one drought. Absolutely nothing else has happened in terms of climate shifts that would suggest anything profound is happening, and mankind hasn't done anything in terms of the environment that would suggest any possible impact on the climate.

I was being silly.

And now, once more into the breach, dear friends...

Not surprisingly, we got a lot of emails responding to yesterday's story about elected officials in both Chicago and Boston saying that they would deny Chick-fil-A permits to build stores in their cities because they object to the CEO's stated opposition to gay marriage.

In the meantime, the mayor of San Francisco has essentially staked out the same position.

I have been transparent about my opinion that a) Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy was taking a calculated risk - and not a necessary one - in expressing his personal feelings, and b) I disagree with him on the issue, and would not eat at a Chick-fil-A because of it. However, when it came to the Boston and Chicago situations, I took a somewhat different position:

I've made my position clear on this issue, but I do have to say that I am uncomfortable with governments denying zoning and building permits because of the political/cultural beliefs of a private citizen and corporation. If he obeys the law, pays his taxes and follows all the rules, then he ought to be able to open fast food outlets in places where they are allowed.

If a Chicago alderman and the mayor of Chicago don't want to eat there, that's their right. If they want to organize or participate in a boycott, that's also their right. But blocking a perfectly legal business from operating because of an owner's political/cultural beliefs ... well, that's one step farther than I think they should go.

As I said above, there was a lot of email on this.

People who agreed with my original commentary disagreed with me on this one. And people who thought I was way off base originally wrote in to say things like:

I believe this might be the first time I have agreed with your views/opinions concerning Chick-fil-A. There might be hope for you after all.

Don't count on it.

I have to be honest here. I know I fueled this by posting the story, but I'm not going to post all the emails I got because many of them rehash positions already taken and explored here. But there are a few that I'd like to offer...

One MNB user wrote:

I guess since I'm one of those that Dan Cathy would bar equal rights to, I disagree with you on your views on how political leaders are reacting to his request to set up shops in their jurisdictions.

Why in the world shouldn't governmental leaders let the stated social position of a business leader be factored into the decisions they make according to how it would make their constituents feel about that business in their neighborhood?  He could've always said "no comment" when asked the question!  The fact that he's a business leader of a retail chain and feels the need to publicize his stance on a social issue means he made his own choice and should live with how it might impact his business.  Period.

Y'know, I've never been discriminated against, at least not because of my color, my gender, or my sexual orientation. At least, not that I know of. And so I think it is important for me to remember that since I don't know what it feels like to be discriminated against, to not have all the civil rights that other people have, I have to be careful about my opinions in such matters.

Your point is well taken.

MNB user Amy Longsworth wrote:

I hear you on the fact that they pay taxes, obey laws, etc.  But don't you think that as a society we should aim higher and can do better than compliance?  We have progressed from the days of bigotry and discrimination against blacks, women, etc., not merely by changing laws, but through individual and public actions of acceptance, inclusion, and symbolic leadership.  Wouldn't it feel wrong to you if Cathy said he was "guilty as charged" for being publicly anti-black?  Or would you say that's fine, as long as he pays his taxes?

No, I wouldn't. Good point.

And from another reader:

I don't see how Boston and Chicago differ from any community that decides it doesn't want a Walmart in their neighborhood -- even though Walmart follows all the laws and rules. If they simply don't want a business -- whether it's because of the traffic it generates or the bigoted views its CEO espouses -- that's their right. It's not only free speech -- it's the constitutional right to petition the government for redress of grievances. If I feel aggrieved by the chicken guy, I have the right to oppose a store in my neighborhood.

An elected public official who refuses to respect my concern (and that of my neighbors) risks losing our votes in the next election. That's our right, too.


On the other side of the ledger...

MNB user Wilson R. Naughton wrote:

You wrote the Dan Cathy has to "deal with the consequences".  I think what people are failing to realize is that there are more important things in Dan Cathy's life then profit from chicken sandwiches. He stands for absolute truth, a strong conviction and morality.  He already deals with the consequences and narrow minded in his stance to honor God and family on Sunday and not open his stores.  He doesn't care about selling you chicken, but he does care about honoring God and setting a strong moral compass for his employees. Chicken is secondary!  I do agree with you that government would be going too far to deny private citizen and corporations,  that obey the laws of the land, pays taxes and follow the rules, the right to open businesses where they are allowed.   Aren't Mayor Emanuel and Ald Moreno being discriminatory in their views? I will continue to eat at Chic-fil-A!

There were a lot of emails along these lines.

Finally, it was good to know that someone was enjoying the show, as MNB user Scott Simon wrote:

I am catching on MNBs from last week and Friday’s commentary regarding Chick fil- A is the most entertaining and thought provoking discussion I have read in some time. MNB continues to be a must read!

Can't ask for more than that.

Now, with the full knowledge that I'm unlikely to convince anybody of anything, let me address a couple of these issues...

To me, there's no comparison between Chicago and Boston denying Chick-fil-A a right to build because of what the CEO said and cities denying Walmart the right to build because they don't want big box stores. In the first case, politicians are being intolerant on a CEO's cultural/political views; in the second, they are saying that a specific kind of commercial development is not in synch with the broader view of how an area is zoned or should be developed. I think cities and towns are perfectly within their rights to do the latter. (On the other hand, if people want to deny Walmart a permit because they don't like the way it treats employees or vendors, that's a different story. It is more political/cultural, but still, I think, different from not liking the political/cultural views of the CEO.)

As for people who think that elected officials are within their rights to reflect the opinions of their citizenry, it would be my humble opinion that intolerance is unacceptable, whether from a liberal who wants to punish a conservative CEO, or a conservative who wants to deny civil rights to gay people. And that's what I believe we are talking about here - civil rights. Not religious rights, or religious freedom. Just civil rights. (Note to the writer above: See? There really isn't any hope for me.)

I don't agree with what the CEO of Chick-fil-A said about gay marriage, but let's be clear. He didn't say he would not hire gay people. He did not say he would not serve them. He just said that he - and his privately held company - oppose the notion of gay marriage because they believe in the Biblical definition of marriage.

Now, I can disagree with that. (I can say that the Bible supports a lot of things that I object to, like the subjugation of women or the putting to death of people who work on the Sabbath.) And I can decide to eat or not eat at his restaurants based on that position, or to support or not a support a boycott. But Dan Cathy's statement is only a position - he hasn't suggested anything illegal. In fact, in the case of Chicago, he is saying he is against something that is not legal in the state of Illinois. For this his company is going to be denied a building permit?

It seems to me that elected officials have a responsibility to the law, not just to the people who elect them. Sometimes those two things can be tough to balance. (I'm glad I don't have to make a decision. I just get to talk about it. Actually governing is a lot harder.) But I think the mayors of Chicago and Boston and San Francisco would have been on higher moral ground if they had said, "We profoundly disagree with Dan Cathy's position. We believe that he will find our cities inhospitable to what we view as intolerance. But precisely because we refuse to be as intolerant as he is, and because we espouse a kind of inclusion that he seems unable or unwilling to accept, he is welcome to come here and try to do business." And then, at least in the case of Illinois and California, go out and work like hell to make gay marriage legal.

As far as I'm concerned, at this moment there is a lot of pandering going on. Politicians and public figures on the right are doing it to their base, and politicians and public figures on the left are doing to their base. In doing so, and staking out positions on either side of this issue, they are all actually promoting intolerance instead of trying to find a reasonable center where people of good faith and decent values can find agreement and common ground, and at least be civil to each other in areas where they cannot. (I am really sick to death of the suggestion that people who are in favor of gay marriage don't have a strong moral compass, or want to dishonor the family, or are somehow incapable of having a relationship with God.)

I'm fed up with the whole damned argument.
KC's View: