retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from an MNB reader about our story about start-up companies looking to disrupt the death-and-dying industry:

Reading your statement on “death, dying, and disruption” reminded me of an observation made this summer at Arlington National Cemetery.  They are completing a huge Columbarium, or crematorium, for the inurnment of ashes. (Inurnment appears to be a new word for internment.)  In the past few years, I have attended several funerals, or memorial services, at which the deceased was cremated instead of buried.  I think much of this decision is based on cost.  In planning for final arrangements, people don’t want to place the heavy cost (normally well over $10,000) on their loved ones.  The funeral industry has long thrived on emotions to profit from caskets, grave sites, memorial stones, and other features.

In fact, friends recently purchased an urn for their deceased father on!  It cost much less than the price quoted by the funeral home.  The point is that if there is business involved, disruption is inevitable when competitors see an opportunity to profit from changes.

Commenting on a story last week, I suggested that Kroger may have more work to do with the Mariano's format than many might've expected - I've been in several lately, and was less impressed than expected.

One MNB user responded:

If you had been touring the early versions of this concept, you would have found an entirely different experience. Most impressive to me was the early-in store on Randolph street in the heart of the loop. One time I went there to have coffee with Bob and tour the store with him. I arrived early to get a feel for it, and was just amazed at the level of staff engagement — people looking to help me in virtually every corner of the store, right down to the frozen aisle.

When Bob and I toured, he knew most of the staff by name. The retail environment was electric, clean, fun — people with silver trays running all over the place providing samples from bakery, pastry, prepared foods and product samples. Food was good!

As it scaled ... I’m not sure you can scale Bob, but at least his priorities and objectives were served. A store opened near me in Lincoln Park and initially it was a similar experience. Now it is a shadow of its former self. No engagement in the aisles. Poorly trained people in all depts with public context like Deli and meat. Boring old-world supermarket food. Dirty. And perhaps most important, stuck. No further innovations to keep it fresh.

Bob is gone; you can tell. Having him retire? Mistake in my book.

From another reader:

I agree with your assessment of Mariano’s.  I live in Chicago and have noticed a change in assortment not for the better and higher prices on a number of items.  A lot more out of stocks than I’m used to as well.   The brand transition is also kind of a mess, in some cases they’ve got Roundy’s and Kroger labels of the same product with different pricing.  Seems like they should have a better strategy to run out inventory of Roundy’s and Topco brands before moving into Kroger.   And their organic produce is just not priced well and quality is just not there.   In a market so saturated with amazing independents and plenty of Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods they’ll need really focus on putting Mariano’s back in the spotlight as a premium shopping destination.
KC's View: