retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Got a number of emails last week responding to my piece about Kroger's single-store test, Main & Vine, which disappointed me when I returned to see it a year after it opened.

One MNB reader wrote:

This was a great observation of what I believe is a systemic opportunity in the grocery industry (any retail business). What you observed at Main and Vine is any grocery store USA…with rare exception. The Ted Williams analogy is perfect, Ted still had to practice every day. I believe everyone from executive to store personnel can see the in store opportunities, the first retailer that fixes it will win ALL the business.

Kroger has sustained for over 100 years, they need to dig deep to see how/ why that happened. The answer is people customers, associates and suppliers. With associates being the most controllable, they touch both the customers and the suppliers. I would argue that what has sustained The Kroger Company has been the releasing of the entrepreneurship of the individual divisions. Ten years of trying to be Walmart is catching up…they need to go back to being The Kroger Company. Just look back anyone that tries to be Wal-Mart is where, Albertsons, Winn Dixie, Safeway and Target…they are all limping along trying to figure out how to sustain their grocery business.

From another reader:

I too visited the store in April 2016.  I found that perishables and perimeter departments excellent.  However a store employee told me the sales volume and it really wasn't much higher than when it was a QFC.

Later I visited a large Kroger owned QFC store next to the University of Washington campus.  This was much more impressive than Main & Vine.  It had everything Main & Vine had and more.  The parking lot was solidly packed.  I was told the store does well over a million per week and that was obvious.  I was more impressed with this store than Mariano's.  This store was not implementing anything from Mariano's, Harris Teeter, or Main & Vine.  This was all Kroger right from the beginning.  Kroger does not need to copy ideas, they have always had t he ability to pull off an impressive format when they want to.  My suggestion to Kroger is to turn Main & Vine back into a QFC.  Forget trying to copy Whole Foods in the center store.  Just be who you are.

For the record ... it is my understanding that the QFC next to the University of Washington may be the single best performing QFC in the fleet - it is a terrific store with really, really high volume. So it may not be fair to compare it to other stores.

MNB reader Bob Wheatley chimed in:

What’s happened to Mariano’s?

Ask Bill Kies the same question and you’ll get a similar review: Since Chairman Bob has left the scene, decline has set in as the once shining jewel of Chicagoland food retail that starts to look increasingly like a mainstream Jewel. When Bob was around the stores were pristine, service levels and consumer contact in the aisles was extraordinary and merchandising was in top form.

Now you find messed up shelves, out-of-stock conditions, virtually no customer contact outside the Deli of any kind, dirty and disheveled aisles. Bob looked at Mariano’s as his opportunity to remake the definition of a supermarket from the ground up. In every new store opening he would experiment with interesting additions in the perimeter from oyster bars to vegan prepared food counters.

At the Mariano’s near me, right in front of a special custom spices area and in the midst of a specialty tea bar was a 7 foot tall stack ‘em high and watch ‘em fly pile of detergent and toilet paper on deal. It was so inconsistent with the vision and retail experience Bob was working to create. The store management lapses are hard to fathom. Would Wegmans ever allow this kind of thing to happen? I think not. Bob is missed, you can see it the moment you walk in. Another bit of evidence that leadership and vision, once removed, can commoditize even the greatest of retailing ideas.

MNB reader Ken Wagar wrote:

I agree with virtually everything you reported regarding Main and Vine except for this statement:
"I'd find two or three great people from Harris Teeter and Lucky's, and I'd parachute them into Gig Harbor to spend 4-5 days getting Main & Vine into shape ... doing a forensic analysis of what isn't working, and setting out the tasks that need to be done to make it a more effective and compelling experience. And I'd make the store's personnel accountable for living up to expectations. No excuses."
No offense intended but this statement shows a remarkable lack of understanding of what it takes to create and maintain a great supermarket presentation. I have the deepest respect for Wegmans and for Dorothy Lane Markets and other great retailers but even they couldn't send 2 or 3 people into a poorly run store and turn it around for the long term in 4 or 5 days. I have been part of such teams many times in the past 40 years in many different formats and with many different retailers. Just doesn't happen. Now, moving 2 or 3 high qualified people into that unit for the long term with training and development time and hiring and firing authority may well do the trick. Just sayin' it's tougher than you suggest by a long ways. Could a small team make the store look great in 4 or 5 days? Probably. Would it then be maintained that way long term when they left? Very doubtful.

And from another reader:

The out of stocks you showed in your pictures were all perishable items and could be a sign that it is not doing enough volume to support filling the shelves.  I visited the store 2 times within a month of its opening.  It was busy then but I heard the volume wasn’t as high as they hoped.  Kroger hired someone from King Soopers to manage it, which I never understood.  The focus at M&V is very much on “local items” so why didn’t they hire someone local from QFC to manage it?  A local manager would know the local DSD and perishable vendors and the products that sell locally without there being a learning curve.
KC's View: