retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

They were just four people in a supermarket. That’s it.

We’ll never know what they were buying, if they used coupons or private label. If they were workers we don’t know if they were full or part timers or even if they liked their jobs. Frankly, it will never matter.

All we know is they were in a store called Hyper Cacher in Paris and they never got home. Just like that, the world of terrorism exploded into the world of supermarkets.

This is a column I never, ever wanted to write, though I always feared it was coming. In our world of uncertainty and random violence it almost seemed like a taboo to discuss the fragility of safety in the world of supermarkets. But the jinx matters no longer.

Four people were in a grocery store and never got home. That’s all that matters.

I write these columns with a single purpose in mind. My hope is always that somehow I can say something that will provoke discussion and maybe action among MNB readers. It’s my way of being helpful, or at least I like to think so.

And now I think we need to force discussion and action in reaction to what happened in Paris. I’m not talking about freedom of expression, the argument over what constitutes good and bad taste or even the global issue of radical Islam.

We need to discuss what happened in a supermarket because it happened in a supermarket.

There’s a powerful reality to this industry: we aren’t the world, but we are the community. Food stores are everywhere and always essential. We never hear outrage when a neighborhood loses its last movie theater, car dealership or funeral home.

But when a rural village or urban neighborhood loses its last supermarket, it’s an issue because this industry sells the single most important item that people need every day. The industry is the most democratic element of society. Sure, we shop at different stores, but we do the chore all the same: we go to stores, buy food and take it from there.

In so many ways our stores are the single best expression of free societies, which means that in response to what happened in France we need a plan of action.

I’m no expert in this, but the following occurs to me right off the bat.

Over the years I have been in countless supermarkets yet have never once encountered a safety drill or instruction. Now I know we never want to impede our shopper’s experience at all, but I think the times may have changed and now we need something that helps shoppers know what to do in the case of an emergency.

Sure, there may be problems in doing that, but it is becoming more essential with every passing atrocity. And it makes fabulous business sense because we know personal safety is the trump card over everything else on a shopping trip. The more we do to reassure consumers, the better they’ll feel.

To make this a reality we need to train every store level employee in emergency preparedness. Keep in mind that a single worker in Paris saved countless lives by hiding a group of shoppers in a walk-in freezer.

Our efforts must go far beyond the stores themselves. Nearly a decade ago, a departing Cabinet official warned against terrorists attacking soft targets like the US food supply chain. Let’s make sure that whatever we’ve been doing so well so far is constantly supported so our food remains as safe as possible.

There’s probably so much else to do that goes well beyond whatever I can propose. But there is one last request I’d make. It’s that the industry takes a moment to realize that this latest explosion of violence wasn’t remote in any way. This was a food store and people never came home.

Let’s take a moment at company meetings, industry conventions or even just at our desks and repeat the following: Je Suis Hyper Cacher.

"I am Hyper Cacher."

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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