business news in context, analysis with attitude

On the subject of treating employees in a way that keeps them engaged, one MNB reader wrote:

I have a nephew with limited cognitive skills but is a loyal bagger at a Michigan Kroger. On his fifth year of service he received a package containing Thank You cards from store management and fellow workers as well as a gift catalog from which he could choose an item. Obviously he, and of course his parents, are deeply touched. And thrilled.

You’ve written often about the need to consider employees as assets and not costs. This is an example of that. Think of the multiplier effect of that gesture.


Responding to our story about what will happen to Mariano's once the banner - though not all the Mariano's stores - is sold to C&S if the FTC approves Kroger's acquisition of Albertsons, one MNB reader wrote:

Just another Chicagoland resident and Mariano’s shopper confirming that Mariano’s was a far more distinctive and better shopping experience before the Kroger acquisition.  I trusted Kroger to treat the Mariano’s acquisition with the same respect and Ralph’s and Harris Teeter, etc.  Kroger failed us in Chicago.  C&S should definitely buy the name — Piggly Wiggly simply doesn’t have the cache, nor are Mariano’s shoppers similar to Piggly Wiggly shoppers.  Please don’t let us down!

Another MNB reader wrote:

Early in the development of Bob Mariano’s new vision of what a supermarket could be, embodied in his Mariano’s “Eat Well. Live Well. Shop Well." ethos and synthesis of organic and mainstream food shopping, I had the opportunity to walk the aisles with Bob at his newly opened bi-level store on Randolph street. The place was gorgeous and at the time a step up in food retailing with his in-store kiosk concept of wine bar, sushi bar, pizza bar, even a fresh popcorn “bar” that turned out an array of flavor varieties. Servers with trays in the aisles offering samples from the Deli. Bob took me through his thinking with the first retail concept designed from the ground up, as he put it, from “a blank sheet of paper.” It was unique and different, and with each new store he tinkered with the formula to try new add-ons and in-store culinary experiences. You could hear it in his comments – a man who has a passion for food and elevated shopping experiences. Incidentally during our tour, every staff member we encountered he greeted by name. The CEO took the time to learn their names. Telling.

A week later I spent some added time at Randolph getting a feel for the departmental layout. Everywhere I went I was greeted in the aisles by store staff who smiled, said hello and asked if they could help me find anything. First time in my life I’ve ever experienced something approximating “service” in a grocery environment. The place was pristine. The food looked great. The vibe was “happy” if you will.

Since Bob moved on, I moved to the Loop area and started shopping regularly at that particular Mariano’s. It’s a slippery slope to mediocre and when Bob left, his soul and commitment to quality went with him. The place is now chaotic with stock carts blocking the aisles, staff seem dour, out-of-stocks are rampant, shelves are a mess. You have to keep innovating and improving or what was once special becomes commoditized. Not sure what the Mariano’s banner will mean outside the Chicagoland trading area, but one thing is for sure, it’s not what is used to be.

Responding to our posting of a CBS Sunday Morning segment about Michael Bloomberg and the transformation of downtown New York City, one MNB reader wrote:

I retired from Wegmans in 2020, but still read you every day.  And often see things that otherwise I would miss…such as the CBS piece this morning with Michael Bloomberg.  New insights, both intellectual and emotional.  Thanks for being you.  And I will always read you, even though I’ll turn 90 next month. 

Wait a minute - you retired at 87?

Yikes.  Not sure I'll make it that far.

I am impressed.  And thanks for the kind words.

I cited Feargal Quinn, founder of Superquinn in Ireland, when talking about how, in his words, headquarters should be mere support offices for stores, which is where all the real work is done and the sales are made.

MNB reader Beatrice Orlandini responded:

Remember that Feargal's store managers did NOT have an office? Because they were supposed to stay on the sales floor.

Remember that for a certain time they also had a lapel pin that was something like YCDBSOA (you can't do business sitting on your a…)

Remember Feargal's boomerang effect?

He was a great one.

No argument here.  He is one of the people who most influenced me in my career.

On another subject, one MNB reader wrote:

Beautiful commentary this morning on 911.  Thank you. Strangely, it seems like just a short time ago. 

You're right, it does.  And thanks.

I commented the other day that "maybe retailers ought to try to figure out how to communicate to employees that working in a store can be work-with-dignity, and, of course, deliver on that promise.”

Prompting one MNB reader to write:

Oh KC- You haven’t worked in retail for a while and it shows so this comment in particular rang pretty hollow.

I would have agreed with you before, but honestly, the pandemic changed so, so much. We’re a smaller grocer with employees that have stayed with us for years, but even some our longest term employees have left to work in a different field, retired or retired early, are currently looking to switch careers, etc. Retail used to be fun, especially in the right company. But for those of us that had to hold it all together, we’re tired. Our staffs are tired and it’s really frustrating to try to make it all work with increased pressure on costs, still spotty supply chain issues while trying to build sales and store experience. Oh yeah, and then there’s the shoplifting. It’s terrible.  

Add our increasingly violent and divided country where we also have to manage the safety of staff and shoppers and you have a recipe for high turnover. 

Regarding Kroger's settlement of opioid cases, one MNB reader wrote:

While I understand why states and federal government went after pharmacies/retailers who filled opioid scripts, where are the doctors who actually wrote the prescriptions being held accountable?  Aren’t pharmacies simply playing their part in doing “what the doctor ordered”?  Yes, pharmacists push back and are often told to “fill the script”. Going after corporations with big wallets is easier than stopping the problem where it starts.

I agree - doctors writing those prescriptions ought to be held at least as responsible as the pharmacies that fill them.

Responding to Scott Moses' "5 Things You May Not Know About Aldi" Eye-Opener, one MNB reader wrote:

Aldi’s acquisition of WD will provide a pivot point in their 47 year history in USA.

However, I find Aldi and Lidl to be two over hyped retailers in the USA.

The Aldi 5 facts shared are interesting, although #1 and #2 relate to their impressive European business. Let me share another 5 things you may not know about Aldi which provide a more  balanced view of their USA presence.

  1. #26 retailer in North America according to Progressive Grocer.

2. Dollar General opens 1000 stores per year and has sales of almost 2x Aldi.

Likely more shopper swapping with Aldi and DG vs. putting Aldi in the company of Full service players like Walmart and Kroger.

3. Aldi sales per store of 9-10 million…..far below the comps of other USA retailers mentioned.

4. Aldi market share approximately 1.4 percent pre Winn Dixie. Hard discount channel flatlined at 2 percent in USA, actually underperformed in Pandemic.

5. Aldi is not a disrupter in USA. Every USA supermarket retailer carries private label plus national brands often on special offer at prices below private label.

Aldi is a successful company competing in a niche… However, when you get beyond the hype and look at total revenue and market share…

Aldi lags behind Publix, HEB, and Meijer, that quietly go about expanding their popular full service models without all the PR hype.

I get your point, but if I am doing the math right, Aldi has around $20 billion in US grocery sales right now, which makes it #12 - and that's before its acquisition of Winn-Dixie.  That strikes me as formidable.

I agree that Dollar General is growing faster, but are you suggesting that Aldi isn't stealing market share from anyone?  I have to believe that they are, just as they have in Europe.

No question that Aldi is behind Publix and HEB today (but ahead of Meijer), but they had $3 billion in US sales 20 years ago and now have $27 billion in US sales.  While Publix and HEB have tripled in the past 20 years, Aldi - again, if my math is correct - has grown by nine times.

While I think is is important not to overstate their presence, I think it is equally important not to underestimate Aldi.

On another subject, one MNB reader wrote:

Having done business in Africa for many years I would humbly suggest that when WalMart opens new stores they use the Walmart and Sam's banners rather than South African banners.  There is quite a bit of equity in a US brand in Africa - Admiration for the US can be seen in many long lines at US Consulates Visa Centers.

To prove a point in a Mass Mart store we put the exact same product side by side on the shelf except one had a US flag sticker on the product.  The stickered product always sold before the other.  Another thing for Walmart to watch out for:  A previous Chairman of South African Brewing said the worst mistake he ever made was changing the label on the number 2 beer brand.  In months it sank to number 6.  Because of the large number of people who are barely functionally literate a change in your labeling can tank your product.  There are some US companies that get it.  The Rooster logo of Kellogg’s in Africa is quite a few generations behind the current one in the US.  Quaker had to spend tens of millions of dollars to support a package change in Africa that could have been avoided.  The tagline I seem to remember was “Same good product, different packaging” or something similar.  But then circle back to the functional literacy.  And a final suggestion to Walmart is to start a tech center in Africa to deal with the African market.  And put a big Walmart sign on the building.

Regarding consumers' desire for fast delivery, MNB reader Lori Buss Stillman wrote:

Consider me in the group of consumers willing to pay for faster delivery. My Achilles heel are retailers who seem not to understand the expectations of consumers for reasonable – not even overnight – delivery.

I’ll put Neiman Marcus at the top of the list of retailers who get an “F” on delivery. For a retailer once known for extraordinary service, the last two deliveries took 10-14 days. For the most recent, I got tired of waiting, ordered the exact same item from Nordstrom and had it five days before the NM package showed up. They’re on my “do not use” list of e-commerce retailers.

Similarly true for another online (only) retailer…I ordered it Sept. 1 and am still waiting...

And finally, on the subject of the new Covid vaccines, MNB reader Steven Ritchey wrote:

I think it's safe to say I don't always agree with you  I think it's far too easy for pundits to tell us and leaders of business, or business owners what they should do and how they should run their business, when they aren't the ones who'll take the hit if it doesn't work.

However, when it comes to vaccines, I'm with you, 100%.

I was born in 1958.  Well before the measles vaccine was developed.  Mom didn't know she was pregnant with me yet, no EPT yet, so it was in her first month of pregnancy.  My older sister came down with the measles and Mom being a stay at home mother cared for her.

Later when she discovered she might be pregnant and got tested at the Dr.'s office, she and Dad learned that yes, they had a third child on the way when, as Dad told me, Dr. Apple said, "Didn't Susan just have the measles?"

When Mom and Dad replied in the affirmative Dad says Apple looked at them and said, "Oh sh!t.  This could be a big problem."

Then he went on to explain what that could mean, that the baby may well not survive, be born with a serious learning disability, or in the term used then, 'retarded,' or be missing some limb(s).

Instead, it was discovered after I was born that I was blind in my right eye, I still am.  I was born with no lens in that eye, a cataract over it, and a stilted optic nerve.  I see fine out of my left eye.

I can't complain, it could have been so much worse.  I do pretty much what I want to, I just have to be careful, extra careful with power tools as my depth perception and eye hand coordination are very compromised.

However, when as a teen I learned I could never be a pilot I was very, very disappointed, but eventually got over that.

My reason for writing this isn't for sympathy.  I'm lucky.  But, I wonder how many lives have been saved by vaccinations.  I had an uncle that I never knew who had polio and was lame.  He still worked, and what I've been told was able to do nearly anything with his hands.  I wonder what might have been different for him if Salk had come a few decades earlier and developed his polio vaccine, how many lives might have been saved.

For this and many other reasons, I cannot and will never be an antivaxxer, ever.  I've told my doctor several times that if there is a vaccine for a serious disease, I want the vaccine.  I got my flu vaccine last week, got the pneumonia vaccine last year.  I've had the original two dose covid vaccine, and 3 boosters.  As soon as I can get the new booster, I will.  I will also get the RSV vaccine.

So, yes, when it comes to vaccines, I'm in your corner.  At times I wonder if my life would have been different if my siblings had been able to get the measles vaccine.

You're right - it is easy for pundits to tell people what to do - in life and in business - without having to directly deal with the repercussions if things go badly.

That said, it is sort of what we do.  in my case, I try to reach for the aspirational and not screw up too badly or too often.

I've given up on telling people to get vaccines.  All I can do - all any of us can do - is try to behave responsibly, protect ourselves and our families, and hope that we don't end up with a severe public health emergency on our hands.  Again.