Published on: September 27, 2021
Responding to Friday's coverage and commentary about the Kroger mass shooting, one MNB reader wrote:
Kevin, I agree with on the additional stress this is putting on retailers. However, you and the media continue to focus on the gun being the issue and not the person behind the gun. We have a serious mental health issue that has to be addressed in this country. The people behind the mass shootings have had and/or exhibited behavioral issues that if properly treated may have prevented these shootings.
Each time these events occur the discussion in the media and congress is we need to get guns off the street. There is little mention on trying to solve the issue as to why someone would want to go into a populated area and kill people. We have to find a humane way to help those with debilitating mental health issues.
I don't think I said we "need to get guns of the streets." In fact, what I said about addressing the issue was:
Metal detectors in stores? More armed, trained security guards? A total ban on customers carrying weapons into stores? Personally, I am comfortable with all of this, but I know that these kinds of rules would be politically and culturally untenable in places around the country where I do not live.
I have always said when discussing gun control - especially here on MNB, where the issue has come up more than I would like - that I recognize that not being from a gun culture, I have to be careful not to simply dismiss people who feel differently than I do. (I would hope that the folks who feel differently than I do about this issue would do me the same courtesy, but, alas, this is not always the case.)
I was very careful to spend the bulk of my commentary last week focusing on one specific side of the issue - the potential culpability of the retailer in these situations. In the end, whether we as a culture deal with mass shootings by getting guns off the street, enacting stricter gun control laws, doing a better job enforcing current gun control laws, dealing with the mental health crisis, or some combination of all of these, it does not affect the core argument I was making - if someone I love goes into a store and is shot by some idiot/troubled person with a gun, I am going to in part hold the retailer responsible. (I am not by nature. litigious person. But I might make an exception this this case.)
And, since the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) protects firearms manufacturers from being sued when the products they make are used in such a manner, it seems to me that this makes the retailer where the act took place even more vulnerable. (Though, having said that, it seems at least possible that trade associations will start seeking legislation that will protect the retailers, because that is always easier than addressing the problem.)
Again, let's be clear. I am not making a cultural argument here. Simply an economic one. Retailers have a fiduciary responsibility to their owners and shareholders, and not addressing this problem in a comprehensive manner puts them at risk.
On the same subject, MNB reader Matt Nitzberg wrote:
Regarding the mass shooting at the Memphis-area Kroger, the 517th mass shooting in the US so far this year, you posed the following: “I'm not sure what all this means. Metal detectors in stores? More armed, trained security guards? A total ban on customers carrying weapons into stores? Personally, I am comfortable with all of this, but I know that these kinds of rules would be politically and culturally untenable in places around the country where I do not live.”
For your readers who are concerned about our epidemic of gun violence and the needless tragedies it causes, it might be worth highlighting the very effective, people-driven work of Moms Demand Action to reduce gun violence with common sense solutions.
Let’s never forget that we don’t have to live like this.
Last week MNB took note of a New York Times report that the New York City Council took "aggressive steps" to improve the working conditions and wages of delivery workers there.
The Times wrote:
"On Thursday, the city became the first in the nation to take aggressive steps to improve those employees’ working conditions, approving a groundbreaking package of legislation that will set minimum pay and address the plight of couriers employed by app-based food delivery services like Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats."
Will this result in higher rates and charges? Sure.
But to be honest, there's nothing really wrong with that.
I've been making the argument here on MNB for a long time that in this country, nobody really knows what things cost. It is all sort of hidden, obscured by promotions and sales and clutter. Maybe customers who want the convenience of having food delivered ought to pay for the privilege … it is simply not fair that one group of people should be able to enjoy one standard of living at the expense of another.
One MNB reader responded:
Nope it is not. Life can be and is brutally unfair. We would all love to have positive sum outcomes in all things that life brings to us. But that is not the world that has been created.
Ok - so what do you propose? What is the alternative? State mandated salaries? Guaranteed employment? Collectivism? What maybe fair to you may not be fair to me. What maybe fair to me - may not be fair to you. The comment sounds whiney when your leave it hanging. One lesson in life - if you want to complain - then complain with a solution. Children whine. Adults find answers to life's cruelest inequity. Actually inequity drives innovation, it is the greatest equalizer. From the bottom up not the top down.
Forgive me … but what a crock.
I didn't suggest any of those things. Not state mandated salaries, not guaranteed employment, not collectivism.
And I certainly don't think I was whining.
What I do think is a good idea is that everyone in the supply chain - from suppliers to retailers to consumers (and in this case, I was really referring to consumers) - to understand what things cost.
As I noted last week, "free delivery" has become a cost of doing business, but it isn't really free, is it? Somebody has to pay. Probably shouldn't be the people doing the actual work.
As I understand them, the New York City bills addressed specific issues, like wages being paid to employees that are way below minimum wage, with the balance designed to be made up by tips. Except that there have been times when delivery people actually had to pay a fee to get wages and tips, which reduced their income even more. There also was a lack of transparency about tips, which left workers uninformed about what tips were actually being paid. The new rules also prevent delivery companies from preventing workers from going to the bathroom.
To be blunt, I don't think it is collectivism to suggest that a delivery worker ought to be able to take a leak when necessary.
Taking advantage of an entire class of people just because you can doesn't strike me as a reasonable cost of innovation.
To quote Harry Bosch (who uses the line in a different context), "Everybody counts, or nobody counts."
On a related subject, from MNB reader Mike Bach:
Interesting to see the auction underway for seasonal staffing. One of my clients, who runs a chain of eyeglasses stores, put out “help wanted” ads at $15 / hour. Not one single application. They tried it again, at $20 / hour. Received average of 20 applications / store. The Incoming CEO at Southwest Airlines, Robert Jordan said he had a job application attached to his recent drive through order at WhataBurger. Vail Resorts raised all minimum wages to $15 / hour AND is giving benefits for part time seasonal help this winter. The latter is drawing more attention, particularly among the 55+ age crowd that already have homes in the resort areas and just want / need health care benefits to get to 62 / 65 years old. Earlier this week, Bloomberg shared a term “ghosting coasting” a new buzzword for employees who leave restaurants after a few days to go work elsewhere.
Healthcare benefits (company paid) will soon be the new currency in hiring workers. $15 / hour is so yesterday…..
We had an email on Friday about the piece I did regarding a robotic barista I saw at San Francisco International, suggesting that it was a step away from the personality that has characterized so many coffee shops.
To which MNB reader Paul Schlossberg responded:
Vending coffee, looking back some years, could have been described as "brown, flavored water." Next there were major equipment upgrades allowing for fresh-ground coffee. Much better. But it was no match for what happened with the rise of Starbucks and others.
Then robotics changed the game.
Some locations do not have adequate foot traffic to justify having a staffed operation. There might be sufficient traffic, and thus transactions, to justify an unstaffed and less capital-intense solution. Perhaps a vending deployment might work.
Some occasions might not fit in to the typical operating times for a location. Even though airports have staffed coffee service, those might have closed while passengers are waiting to head out on a flight delayed to an 1100pm departure...or maybe a red-eye leaving at midnight. A vending solution might work.
Think about a college campus at 100am. Odds are coffee vending service might be a good choice for student night owls.
Don't forget 24-hour work locations for the late-shift staff. Hospitals. Data center sites. Customer-service centers. Maybe a vending machine could sell some coffee.
Transactions that might have been realized but "never happen" are lost opportunities...lost revenue.
These robotic baristas do a reasonably good job serving a variety of coffee beverage alternatives. Taste the coffee. You might decide it is better than "reasonably good."
How do you bring your brand to locations where potential buyers cannot easily access it? In this case it's coffee vending machines. Who woulda thunk it?
Writing about my Friday video from Folsom, California, where I enjoyed a moment at a winery that reminded me of the before-times, MNB reader Rich Heiland wrote:
Great Folsom vid. On my gigs I always build in an extra day to see what an area has to offer. Don't think I've ever been disappointed and I have missed it.
And MNB reader Gregory Gheen wrote:
If only you had your better half with you to share it with!
Yeah. Join the chorus.
Finally, got this email from an MNB reader about my coverage of the National Grocers Association show:
I was somewhat surprised by your calm demeanor surrounding NGA’s live show. You certainly had a very different view on PLMA’s decision to postpone their show. What is missing?
I think my reaction to the PLMA story had more to do with moving the show to late January in Chicago, which seems problematic from a weather perspective. Though I did note that pandemic concerns could be worse at that time of year, when you can't really be outside.
As for NGA … in one of my FaceTime videos, I said that while NGA seemed rigorous about making sure that attendees were either fully vaccinated or recently tested, it was noteworthy that an awful lot of people in the casinos seemed to be ignoring the city's mask mandate, with no enforcement evident.
I was calm, but that doesn't mean I was complacent. I'm getting a Covid test today, just to be safe. (I have no symptoms, but I must admit to being relieved in the morning when I can both smell and taste the coffee.)
One other thing on this subject. I have no idea what the policies may be at NGA or any other group holding live conventions these days … but to my mind, it is absolutely essential that if they get any reports about someone who attended being diagnosed with Covid, they must send an email to every attended informing them of that fact.
To do otherwise would be unethical.