retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, in FaceTime, I mentioned that one reader largely dismissive of women in business had written in after I reported that Larree Renda was leaving Safeway after it is acquired by Albertsons, to suggest that her role as head of the Safeway Foundation was a "make work job" developed to allow Safeway to fill some quotas.

I said I thought he was an idiot, though hardly the only person who might feel that way.

Thank goodness someone wrote in to address the issue more eloquently - Larree Renda:

After reading today’s "FaceTime with the Content Guy: Heart and Soul," I decided; now it’s personal. When I read what the “moron” said about women in our industry in general I thought the same as you and countless others, what an idiot. Now that I know he mentioned my work with The Safeway Foundation as a “make work job developed to allow Safeway to fill some quotas”, I don’t just KNOW he is a moron, now I want to kick his ass (ok, butt app).  He did what many morons do (which accurately earns them the right to be called morons). He minimized the job of a woman because he is so sure that her gender means she doesn’t deserve credit for having a real job with real responsibilities.

I am proud of the fact that I founded The Safeway Foundation in 2001 and with my amazing (but tiny) team grew it to where it is today, the envy of our industry providing help to hundreds of thousands of people in need each and every day. It’s the same Foundation that motivates our employees to volunteer over 1 million hours of their personal time each and every year. This “work” itself is much more than a “make work job” with a quota in mind. It has meaning, purpose and makes our company better.

But for the record, although The Safeway Foundation is the work I’m most passionate about and proudest of, I also have responsibility for other considerable areas including IT, Real Estate, HR, GR, PR, Labor Relations, Retail Strategy, Health & Wellness, Communications, and I am responsible for our wholly owned subsidiary companies, Property Development Centers, Inc. and Safeway Health Inc.   So much for a token female in a “make work job” to fill a quota. We don’t need quotas at Safeway. We have smart, innovative, visionary women who manage with their heads and their hearts and all we have to do is open the doors, remove the ceilings and let ‘em run! And that’s exactly what we have done. That’s what I will miss the most when I leave.

I think we can declare this particular bout to be a knock-out, with only one participant left standing.

Let's move on.

Earlier this week, MNB reported that Golub Corporation-owned Price Chopper announced that it plans to convert the entire chain to a new banner concept dubbed Market 32, which incorporates learnings from the Market Bistro concept store opened earlier this year in Latham, New York. The Market 32 stores will have "expanded food service options, an enhanced product mix and a re-emphasis on customer service," according to the company.

The move generated lots of email.

One MNB user wrote:

Rebranding the company is a brave move but it does occur to me that it may not have the intended success. The Price Chopper brand and heritage used to mean something to its shoppers. It stood for fresh, convenience and value. The theatre and entertainment in the stores was as good companies we all recognize (Wegmans, HEB). When I went into a store it was evident how invested the employees were in the company, how happy the customers were to shop there and how ingrained the company was in the communities it serviced.

Over the past several years we have seen this company struggle to compete. Customers that are no longer happy with quality, selection, price or store execution. Vendors that feel the company is too difficult to deal with. Decisions being made corporately that don't make sustainable sales achievable. Store employees that are noticeably unhappy, that no longer believe in the company. A corporate culture that has often been described as too political and unnecessarily bureaucratic especially considering the size and "family".

This company failed to compete because it failed to continue to keep its customers and employees happy. Is the Market 32 rebranding initiative going to change that? If the experience inside the store and the employee morale and corporate culture doesn't change, the rebranding is an exercise in futility. Over the years there have been a number of executive changes. Certain roles within the organization remain revolving doors… I don't disagree that bringing in new executives can bring fresh ideas and a new perspective, however, allowing those new approaches to chip away at the DNA that made the company successful originally is and has proven to by a colossal mistake.

Companies that evolve to stay relevant are smart. I don't think this rebranding is an evolution. Companies that  have successfully evolved - Wegmans, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Kroger, Amazon. I think it's an attempt at a revolution.

But, another MNB user wrote:

I'm fascinated to hear about the Price Chopper re-vamp. Up in our neck of the woods (which you and Michael like to refer to as "the North Pole"), Price Chopper is my main supermarket. I go there at least once or twice a week, and I know I'm a great customer of the local store. They could really use a re-do! Of course, on their timeline, they won't be updating the St. Johnsbury store until the end of their program -- we'll no doubt be the 135th store completed! Possibly not in my lifetime, I'm afraid. Anyway, it's still a good move for the Price Chopper organization.

From still another MNB user:

I think this is a major mistake by Golub. The Price Chopper brand is well established in its marketplace.

Golub’s focus should be on competing against Hannaford, Wegman’s and ShopRite, all of which have sharper prices and have taken market share from Price Chopper through the years.

I used to shop Price Chopper but compared to its competitors it has much higher retail prices. Going to a new concept such as ‘Market 32’ just throws out all the hard work that the Patriarchs of the Golub family have done.

MNB reader Mike Julian chimed in:

Kevin, for me the saddest part of the Price Chopper story is that the Price Chopper name was a change from Central Market 40 years ago and I was there….boy, am I getting old.

More importantly … about the layoffs, there is never a way to trim employee cost that makes those who lose their jobs feel good about it. Sometimes you can reduce cost through attrition but usually it requires a lot of advanced planning. Then to hear that the company that could not afford you is making a many multi-million dollar investment it is that much more painful.
I am not sure about the new “Brand” but I think I understand why. When Price Chopper came into existence Central Markets was a local neighborhood store. Price Chopper was introduced as having lowered prices and in industry terms EDLP today Golub is something entirely different and needs a new “Brand."

Good luck, Neil.

KC's View: