retail news in context, analysis with attitude

On Monday, MNB reported that Whole Foods has said that it is establishing a new language policy for its employees, responding to criticisms that came after two New Mexico employees said they were suspended for speaking Spanish to each other on the job. (The company said that it had suspended the employees for poor behavior.)

My comment:

I'm willing to go with the Whole Foods' assertion that this was a misunderstanding based on lack of clarity, as opposed to an assiduously anti-Spanish policy.

Here's my feeling. I don't give a damn what language employees use to talk to each other ... as long as they are not talking to each other in front of me when I am the customer, believing that their conversation is more important than taking care of the shopper.

One MNB user responded:

This is a case of ass backward political correctness.  As a native Spanish speaker, born abroad but naturalized 40 years ago yet still with an accent, I strongly believe speaking a foreign language in the presence of others is easily the greatest act of EXCLUSION I can think of.   if only the two speakers understand each other, everyone else is by definition excluded from the dialogue.  ENGLISH is the inclusionary language.  not only in the US, but frankly, increasingly, abroad!

So if Whole Foods really wants to be inclusionary, English is the choice, not the language du jour in any one location or another.   This post makes me want to go off on acronyms, too, which are probably the second most exclusionary thing people do in business situations, often without a second thought.  But that’s for a different day….

From another reader:

When I worked in the garment industry, a couple of moons ago, my department was a mix of Chinese, Filipino, American and Latinos.

As manager I had a department policy: if it is just you and someone else who speaks your language, feel free to communicate in it. The second there is someone with you, who does not speak it, you must revert to English.

The reason was simply because it is rude to exclude your coworker in a conversation. You could simply be discussing the weather but they cannot understand you.

If you wished to discuss something else in your language that was more private, that is why you had breaks, lunch and after work. If team was what we were then you respected your coworkers. If someone from another dept had come into our area, they were our customer and treated as such.

There is never room for being rude at work.

From yet another reader:

To add clarity to your point; two of our female employees were pointing and making a comment about a customers shoes to each other. The customer in question’s mother was checking out 2 lanes over and witnessed the exchange though not hearing what they were saying to each other. She called to complain after she left the store, chastising our manager for their behavior. The truth of the story is the two female employees were pointing to the shoes because they LIKED them and thought they were cute! The sad fact is the mother interrupted that they were making fun, not knowing the complete story. By the way the two female checkers are two of our best. Just shows how actions can be misinterpreted and place two really good teammates in a bad situation, they both felt horrible about it also.

Regarding assertions from the USDA that the rogue field of GM wheat in oregon is just an isolated case, one MNB user had a terrific observation:

Let’s see: The very same folks who told us this field did not exist are now telling us no other field exists.  Can we get them to make a list of what they don’t know, why they don’t know it, and at exactly what time they failed to know it?  It might just help the rest of us confused folks.


MNB took note the other day of a Yahoo! Sports story about how a federal court judge stood up to basketball legend Michael Jordan last week, taking a dim view of a lawsuit that Jordan filed in 2009 against Safeway-owned Dominick's in Chicago.

The suit was filed when Jordan was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame, and Dominick's took out an ad in local newspapers congratulating him - and, saying that he was "a cut above" other players, offered a coupon good for a discount on its Rancher's Reserve steaks. Jordan, apparently annoyed that his image and name had been used without permission, sued Dominick's for $5 million.

While U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur has ruled that Dominick's has some liability for using Jordan's likeness without permission, he also said last week that Jordan's $5 million price tag was "greedy," and that he was making a "legal mountain" from a "legal molehill."

I commented:

What was intriguing about this is that in reading some of the other coverage of this lawsuit, the general consensus seemed to be that while Jordan may think he's being the best defender of his own image and brand equity, in fact he's managed to reinforce the image of him as being a great basketball player but often poor excuse for a human being. (I did not remember, for example, his petty and vindictive speech at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies ... but the stories about this lawsuit brought those up again.) Imagine how different the case would be if Jordan had argued that, in exchange for the use of his image, Dominick's should be required to supply steaks to Chicago's homeless shelters for a set period of time.

Brand equity is, for most businesses, the most important thing they have. And it is interesting to consider what the best ways are to sustain and grow that equity. The suggestion from stories about this case suggest that Jordan, in defending what he views as his rights, is actually hurting the broader case.

One MNB user responded:

One of the unfortunate aspects of the USPTO is that if you own certain properties, trademarks, service marks or patents…it is your responsibility to protect them…any known use that goes without protection could result in the loss of some protections to the mark holder. This article was evidently written by an individual that does not know much about trademark regulations and was trying to make a point about brand equity. While he was writing his article, let’s remember that the Jordan brand equity is quite sound and profitable, and Jordan himself has fairly high Q-ratings…still…even though there are those that try to raise their own brand equity at the expense of others’ brand equity. It came from Yahoo Sports…consider the source…
However, having said all that…the lesson is a good one to remember.  All decisions and actions need to be considered from your brand equity and brand strength position.

I agree that people and companies have to protect their brands and trademarks. I have no problem with that. My argument is that there are ways to do it that actually help your brand rather than damage it.

Got a nice note from MNB user Deb Faragher about the customer service piece I wrote for

Great piece on what you learned at the movies, Kevin.  Of course, the unspoken here is that you sharing that experience will make a lot of folks think twice, given a choice, of which theater they’ll choose.  And if they’re like I am, once you’ve inconvenienced me or made me have an unpleasant experience, I won’t return for more and I let my friends know.  They just don’t get it.

Which is, just FYI, a point that I'll be making again tomorrow in FaceTime.

BTW...if you're interested, you can read the column here.

We had a story the other day about a study saying that global retailers think that getting back-to-basics is more important than investing in new trends. My argument is that retailers not already executing the basics on a daily basis already are at a disadvantage from which they may not be able to recover - the basics are the foundation on which investing in trends like social media and e-commerce are built. If you have to get back to them, then you've already lost.

To which one MNB user responded:

I agree that back to basics is way over used.  However, one of the basics is giving the customers what they want. If the customer wants online/mobile sales, social media and app development then it has turned into a basic.

I wrote about going to the driving range with my son on Father's Day, and my poor but enthusiastic performance there.

Which led one MNB user to wrote:


Going to the driving range is a gateway process that leads to getting hooked on golf; sort of like how marijuana is a gateway to 'hard' drugs.  A few good shots here and there and the next thing you know, you find yourself going back, and starting to associate with fellow golf addicts.  It starts out slowly a few Saturday games here and there; the next thing you know, you have a regular Saturday morning tee time, and are trying to play 9 holes in late afternoons for 'practice'.

Golf becomes an addicting, stop now; before its too late!

And from another:

See, you really have baseball in your blood, you hit about a .333 average – not bad if you were swinging at those balls with a bat instead of a club...
KC's View: