retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, we had a less-than-enthusiastic review from an MNB reader of the "365 by Whole Foods" store in Lake Oswego, Oregon ... and now, we have another reader chiming in:

I live within walking distance so I can see how it’s doing. Not as much as expected.

There’s a little back story connected to that ...  It could be called "How not to make a first impression.” Prior to the store’s opening, signs were posted in the parking lot indicating the lot was intended only for customers using the mall in which 365 was located. Through the many years, nearby Starbucks’ customers parked on that lot without repercussion. Then, with the store to open shortly, security guards trailed suspected scofflaws and if they went to Starbucks their car was ticketed with a warning. Later, several cars were towed ($400.00). This made the local newspaper, with a photograph and a story. Anger resulted from this little community to be sure.

Full irony: the store’s parking lot has not been filled since 365’s opening days, and lately guards are gone and signs are down, so I suspect the Starbucks customers are back at their old parking spots. Folks will forget about this ill thought out move over time, but you wonder what the person who came up with the idea was thinking. Not public relations.

MNB yesterday took note of an Associated Press report that there is a proposal on the table in Seattle that would legislate how retail and foodservice businesses deal with hourly employees, "including requiring them to schedule shifts two weeks in advance and compensate workers for some last-minute changes." The story said that "the mayor, city officials and labor-backed groups are targeting erratic schedules and fluctuating hours they say make it difficult for people to juggle child care, school or other jobs, to count on stable income or to plan for the future.

I commented:

For me, this new proposal is definitely a bridge too far, and if Seattle goes there, it runs the risk of undoing a lot of the economic growth that it has experienced.

Such rules don't just undermine any ability for a retailer to have any flexibility, but it also actually hurts the employees who want to be more flexible because it gives them a differential advantage. It actually sounds like if someone were to cal in sick, the business would be financially penalized for calling someone else in to replace them. How does this make sense? This is just nuts, and is way too intrusive.

MNB user Chad Spiegel wrote:

I have to disagree with your take on Seattle’s push to bring some stability to the schedules of hourly workers.  Last-minute schedule changes don’t reflect employee flexibility, they reflect poor managerial practices.  Consider the costs, both to the business and the community, that come with disrupting child care, second jobs, or other responsibilities which inevitably leads to higher employee turnover.  Frankly, a business that can’t adequately plan staffing two weeks out deserves about as much sympathy as Kmart.

Listen, planning is important. No argument. But, I also think it is important to remember the old Mike Tyson line, that "everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."

From another reader:

As I recall from Econ 101 a zillion years ago, the more expensive you make labor, the easier it is to have technology and machines replace it. The example in those days was the elevator operators in New York (yes young folks, there use to be people operating elevators !). They unionized, got a big raise from building operators and were mostly gone in 3-5 years after Otis showed how easy it was now to pay out automatic elevators. Would think the tech savvy people in Seattle would know this.

There also used to be telephone operators who had to place calls for you.

Some one would argue that self-operated elevators and self-dialing telephones are inherently evil, because they are technological replacements for jobs that used to be held by people. But I'm not sure that this is a productive argument.
KC's View: