business news in context, analysis with attitude

In writing yesterday about Safeway’s public relations offensive in the San Francisco Bay Area, as it looks to rally public support while it negotiates with organized labor, we commented that “we have this old-fashioned feeling that the best way to win the image wars is to deliver a unique, compelling, differentiated and relevant shopping experience to customers.”

MNB user Ted File responded:

Kevin, I certainly concur. But it's difficult at best to deliver that shopping experience if those who work in the stores are not happy with the current working conditions....salaries and benefits......Hmmmm…


MNB user Thomas D. Murphy wrote:

I concur with your comment on establishing an image by providing the best shopping experience. Unfortunately, the real world of labor negotiations involves the sharing of mistruths, half-truths, and often, outright lies by both parties seeking to establish public support for their position. If this can happen at the presidential campaign level, e.g., CBS news and their suspicious documents, we should expect it at our industry level.

What would be more beneficial from a public relations standpoint would be Albertsons, Kroger and Safeway issuing joint statements and then maintaining some consistency in their positions with the public going forward.

Unfortunately for both labor and their employers, American shoppers have embraced Wal-Mart and other price/value operators, e.g., Costco, SuperTarget, and the dollar chains. Just reference a recent study from Retail Forward indicating, "Half of all US primary household shoppers visit a Wal-Mart store on a monthly basis". The indicator is that grocery industry economics are shifting...too bad that labor and the employers can't unite to take on that challenge!!


And, on the subject of Randall Onstead leaving Safeway’s Dominick’s division, one MNB user wrote:

Onstead could have turned Dominick’s around but there was no way Steve Burd was going to give him the autonomy to do so. Steve Burd will not tolerate one-ups-manship by subordinates.

I spoke to a few Dominick’s executives and they told me Mr. Onstead was frustrated and his recent family issues made a convenient excuse to leave. I don't blame him. I was told that the primary reason for Mr. Onstead coming to Dominick’s in the first place was not to turn the division around, but rather to calm the union. If Mr. Onstead had been successful this would have humiliated Steve Burd. In order to justify his blunders, Steve Burd wants his subordinates to fail. He only wants them to succeed if somehow he can take the credit for the success.

KC, you are right about Dominick's negative prospects for the future. Steve Burd lives in a dream world where he protected from the truth. Delivering the truth means death to the messenger. As long as accountants are making marketing decisions and career Safeway executives are paid just enough to keep their mouth shut, I doubt we will see nothing but same kind of negative news coming out of Safeway.

And another MNB user chimed in:

Concerning Randall Onstead departure from Safeway. I don’t view it as a surprise, since I never believed he had a chance to succeed from the beginning. Bringing in someone who’s previous experience was in running a similar operation that was similarly destroyed by Safeway just never made a great deal of sense. I concur that his replacement doesn’t bode well for the Dominick’s employees, the Dominick’s franchise or for the Chicago consumer. Rather that turning Dominick’s around, it would appear to me that it now will just be more Safeway-ized.

Isn’t that what got Dominick’s into trouble to begin with?

Responding to the story the other day about Wal-Mart’s RFID-related initiatives, MNB user Bob Vereen wrote:

What Salon does not mention (or perhaps even know) is that leading retailers around the world are endorsing and beginning to use RFID.

Metro actually is somewhat ahead of Wal-Mart's efforts; Tesco also is
moving along the same path as Wal-Mart. Carrefour is exploring the idea. Several others, whose names I don't recall at the moment, also are charging key suppliers to begin using RFID on pallets, containers, etc.

Wal-Mart appears to be the only U. S. retailer moving forward, but not
the only world retailer, by any means.

We had a story the other day about Ralphs employees likely to be offered immunity as the government investigates reports that the company encouraged locked-out employees to cross the picket line and allowed them to use false names and Social Security numbers when paying them. The government seems to be going after senior executives and store managers, which led MNB user Robert Dyer to write:

What about immunity for the Ralph's managers? The unions and striking employees were a party in this also, but only the managers get prosecuted? I have got to believe that Ralph's senior management was supportive, at some level, to this activity by the managers. And the employees obviously were acting out of their own necessity. If I were a manager in the same strike situation, I would have acted in a similar fashion (and have done so in the past). It is simple economics of supply and demand.

MNB user Murray Raphel wrote in the other day to tell of an independent retailer he knew who did not want to back up his products with a guarantee because of concerns that the customers would take advantage. While Murray seemed disenchanted with that cynical view of shoppers, MNB user Doug Baumgartner of Martin's Super Markets wrote in to restore Murray’s faith:

Murray Raphel will be happy to know that Martin's Super Markets, based in South Bend, Indiana (with stores in Northern Indiana and Southern Michigan) has had a 200% Guarantee on perishable products for many years.

Initially, the guarantee was just on meat, but it was expanded to all perishable items to show our quality commitment to the customers. Abuse of the program does happen, but not to great amount. Even though we advertise the 200% Guarantee, most customers are pleasantly surprised when they get the item replaced and also get their money back.

Good for you.

On the subject of whether or not Wal-Mart devastates communities by leaving so-called “dead stores” behind it when it opens new facilities, one MNB user wrote:

I have never EVER made a purchase at WM & am generally anti-big-box, pro patronage of locally owned businesses, eg., not a fan of WM. However, regarding complaining by various communities of the dead stores that WM leaves behind, have the communities been proactive in looking for adaptive re uses of these spaces? Have community representatives contacted WM to try to work out options? Shame on WM for leaving empty stores and eyesores, but shame on the communities if all they are doing is complaining!

Another MNB user wrote:

Wal-Mart stated that they have reduced their vacant rate 22% from two years ago. That reduction amounted to 15 million square feet or 15 strip malls last year. True, that is a large amount of vacant area that is not an eyesore anymore.

BUT what about the remaining 78% of their vacant closed buildings? By their own statistics, that would be over 53 million square feet of vacant buildings and would be equivalent to 53 strip malls and most important, over 62,000 lost jobs. And these figures do not account for any new closures from their future growth.

This enormous amount of dead space, eyesore, loss of revenue, increase of crime would devastate most cities and probably some states.

And we continue to get email on the whole “should we boycott French products because France didn’t support the war in Iraq” subject, with MNB user Troy Williams weighing in:

It's often said, if you don't like a policy a business has, don't shop there. If enough people feel that way, the store will eventually change that policy.
The saying you get what you pay for is appropriate in regards to French Politics, their people and vintners. The French people "paid" with their vote for their elected politicians. They chose them in a democratic election and people, including voting citizens, are held accountable for their actions. The US chooses to "vote" with their pocketbooks to influence the French people/vintners. If the people/vintners are hurt long enough and hard enough perhaps their vote will be influenced and they might elect people that have different opinions about the country that saved them from the Nazis.

Okay, we know this is going to get us in trouble…but in for a penny, in for a pound.

We have to point out that we have never met a French person who regretted the fact that the US fought to liberate France during World War II. Never.

We have, however, met French people who believe that their government should have supported the US invasion of Iraq, as well as French people who believe that the invasion of Iraq was ill-timed. (By the way, we know Americans on both sides of this issue as well.) The question we would ask is whether there comes a point when France doesn’t have to support everything the US government does because we bailed them out sixty years ago.

After all, wouldn’t Americans get a little annoyed if the French pointed out all the time that they offered us a little help back during the Revolutionary War…

By the way, we’re not supporting the French government with any of this. Far from it. It’s just that we’re trying to figure out where to draw the line, and we’ve decided that we’re not going to victimize the French wine industry. We do, however, respect the fact that other people might choose to draw the line elsewhere.

Predictably, we continue to get email about the suggested boycott of Procter & Gamble, urged by two conservative religious groups upset that the company is opposing a local statute that would exempt gays and lesbians from civil right protections; the groups feel that opposition to such legislation is virtually the same as supporting gay marriage, a connection that P&G denies.

While yesterday’s emails overwhelmingly took MNB to task for supporting P&G’s position, the second day’s mail gave us a little more support…

One MNB user wrote:

A very wise man once told me:

"There are only two REAL issues concerning (consensual adult) sex: Pregnancy and disease. EVERYTHING ELSE IS CULTURAL."

In this case, in seems people identify with their own religious or social culture much more strongly than on other issues. And, I would agree, with a lack of compassion. Most likely they have no gay friends or relatives, and therefore do not realize the "naturalness" of these relationships, or the extent of discrimination.

Disclaimer: I'm not gay, but I do have close friends who are.

MNB user Gretchen Murdock wrote:

I am sorry I didn’t take the time to write yesterday to express my agreement with you on the P&G issue. This witch hunt against P&G, which started years ago with their logo, continues today. I applaud your position and support your right to state your views.

It’s okay…we have pretty thick skin.

Gretchen’s point, by the way, is well taken. The news stories about the proposed boycott have noted that some of the people pushing this boycott are the same nut jobs who were accusing P&G of having Satanic connections.

Another MNB user wrote:

I was really surprised at the number of responses you received yesterday regarding the potential boycott P&G may have to face from these religious organizations.

To me it seemed fairly basic: P&G was being targeted for supporting Gay marriage when they took no stance or made no comments regarding Gay marriage whatsoever.

From the 9/17 AP story:

“. . . P&G spokesman Doug Shelton said the organizations have wrongly characterized the company's support of repealing a Cincinnati charter amendment to mean that it is supporting same-sex marriage.

“P&G has given $10,000 in support of a Nov. 2 ballot issue for repeal of a 1993 city charter amendment that forbids Cincinnati to enact or enforce laws based on sexual orientation. P&G said it believes the amendment makes it harder to attract visitors and potential employees to Cincinnati
and that it subjects gay people to potential discrimination in workplaces and housing. . . .

"’P&G has not supported gay marriage. The definition of marriage is a subject that will be debated and decided by voters," Shelton said Friday. "We've not taken a position on that -- and we won't.’”

While it hasn’t made a stand on Gay marriage, P&G does seem to support the inclusion of Gays in our existing discrimination laws. GOOD FOR THEM! In our country it is illegal for a company, business, lender or landlord to discriminate against people because of their race, religion, age, gender, color, or country of origin. In many places, however, it is perfectly legal to discriminate against a person because they are gay; apparently it is currently legal in Cincinnati.

When I first assumed a managerial position, once upon a time, my company sponsored a hiring seminar with our attorneys. Its purpose was to make sure that everyone in the company with hiring responsibility knew the laws involved in human resources and to make sure that we were all acting fairly and legally (stress legally) in our dealings with employees. In other words, they wanted to limit lawsuits against the company caused by any inadvertent illegal actions taken on the part hiring managers because of ignorance.

At the seminar I was given a long list of situations where I had to take special care should I wish to fire somebody. I had to make sure that the reason for the dismissal was work performance based. I could not fire a person because they were and African-American, or Irish-American, or Mexican-American. I could not fire them because they were a woman, or a man. I could not fire somebody because they were old, or young. I could fire somebody because they were gay.

Imagine my shock when I was informed that it was perfectly legal for me to fire somebody only because they were gay. Not only was it ok, I could even use it as a reason for dismissal if I wanted to. I could look someone straight in the eye and tell them that I was firing them because they were gay, and there was not a thing they could do about it.

Obviously this discussion was just for our information as managers so that we understood what we could do and could not do under the law. The company had no plans to discriminate against Gays, or anyone else, or I wouldn’t have worked there. At the same time, this helped crystallize my thinking on the issue. I view discriminating against a person because they are gay much the same as discriminating against a person because they are African-American. It is treating somebody differently because of who they are and it is wrong; always.

To all those people who feel it is okay to discriminate against a person because they are gay, let me ask a question. Should it be all right to discriminate against a person because they are a Christian? Before you answer the question remember the following: the Romans and the lions, and the fact that the majority of the people on this planet are not Christians. We must accept the differences in others if we are to have them accept the differences in us. You know?!

Do unto others…

We can only imagine the emails we’re going to get in response to what some people will feel is this person equating being a Christian with being gay.

That’s not what he’s saying, folks. What’s he pointing out is that discrimination is wrong, whatever its genesis.

Another MNB user wrote:

Well, I can’t let it pass that you didn’t get much support for being humane, open minded, and resistant to Christian pressure group tactics. I am perfectly straight, happily married, and not the least bit Christian, so I find the wave of fundamentalism sweeping the country distasteful to say the least.

I thought we settled this one about the time the first settlers ran off from the Puritans and founded Rhode Island? There is nothing American about grabbing a bible, claiming its teachings cover everyone, and trying to get the government to pass laws that mandate conformity. It’s also historical nonsense – in this case, homosexuality has been a persistent and more or less harmless deviation from the norm since before the Pyramids were built.

Marriage will not die, sexuality will not suddenly skew form the norm, and the sun will most likely continue to stay right there while the horizon moves up and down.

Commercial enterprises cannot afford to get in the middle of what is likely to be an ongoing debate for the next few decades, and P&G choosing to opt for tolerance makes just as much sense as our friends at Ukrops deciding to remain true to their own personal culture and stay closed on Sunday or eschew liquor sales.

That’s what tolerance is, isn’t it? And when did we decide to declare holy war on that particular American value?

One MNB user, however, believes that the discussion has run its course:

The people you’ve persuaded already agree with you. Move on!!!!

Easier said than done…especially considering the volume of email that we’re getting. This story has struck a chord…not because of the specifics of the P&G case, but because it represents a unique and compelling intersection of business, politics, and culture…
KC's View: