business news in context, analysis with attitude

We got the following email yesterday from MNB user Paul Schlossberg about our piece describing the new Marsh “Lifestyle” stores:

Your description reminds me of the Albert Heijn store in Haarlem, Holland...which I first visited in 1998. That one ranks #2 on my list of best supermarkets I've shopped. The #1 is in Rotterdam.

That such designs have been increasingly the norm in Europe does not diminish the good work done by Marsh. Even if we call it an adapted imitation, it is still a refreshing improvement versus the boring supermarket aisles we get across America. Why can't we (the shoppers) get more innovation like that in my town?

By the way, if you want to see video of the Marsh store, you can check it out over at,:

More comments about WinCo, the value-driven grocery chain expanding in California.

One MNB user wrote:

I look forward to getting a WinCo within shopping distance of my house. They beat Wal-Mart prices (though not dramatically), selection of products (dramatically) and they are a good community citizen. Their health plan is not quite as good as the union but far, far better and more affordable than what Wal-Mart offers. WinCo and Costco are 2 good examples of companies that can compete in the marketplace without sacrificing the employees. I applaud both companies and shop at them whenever possible.

And another MNB user wrote:

I recently toured some WinCos. They look like a big Supervalu Cub store from the early 90s. Very well run and extremely high employee morale. In Wisconsin we have a similar run chain called Woodmans, which is also employee owned and offers generous benefits. Kind of ironic that these stores make both the union and Wal-Mart nervous at the same time. Could it be that companies like WinCo and Woodmans have found a way achieve what both the union and Wal-Mart want to accomplish (or what they claim to)? Low prices and good wages at the same time? WinCo also has a big advantage in trying get their zoning approved --their name isn't Wal-Mart.

Our story about publishers increasing the size of paperback books so that they are easier for aging baby boomers to read caused MNB user Bob Peterson to reflect:

This is such a validation of one of the issues that Paco Underhill (“Why We Buy”) has been saying for years. His in-store observational work has been raising red flags, and he has been discussing in presentations that easy to read labels (both in terms of contrasts and font size) will give smart manufacturers and retailers an advantage with all of us seasoning baby boomers.

And responding to yesterday’s piece about how Domino’s is trying to reverse its turnover problems not by raising wages but by doing better manager training, MNB user Mark Hunter wrote:

This is a great article for those who claim the only way to improve things is to raise the minimum wage. 20 Years ago I managed McDonald's restaurants and we were proud of how much we paid our managers and the training we provided them. Every time we needed to fix a bottom-line profit in a restaurant all we had to look at was the quality of managers running the store. A well managed store would deliver 2 - 3 times the profit margin on the same sales revenue.

On the issue of new investigations into Wal-Mart’s violations of child labor laws, one MNB user wrote:

I don't really get it....what they mean by Wal-Mart is violating state laws by allowing teen-agers to operate bailers.

Yes, you could get badly hurt by one...if you climb into it for any reason, stick a part of your body into it while it's in operation, etc.

But, is it a violation to throw a piece of "cardboard thrash", otherwise commonly referred to as an empty box into it? By the way, the box should be broken down flat before you do. There's never anyone in management around when I throw trash away. Why should there be? Every bailer I've ever seen in a Wal-Mart store, and that's quite a few, is plainly marked that it's dangerous, don't put any part of your body in it while it's operating, etc. What are they saying Wal-Mart should be doing or not doing?

The only dangerous, non-operating item I can think of is when you unload the bail from the machine. While it's still under compression you have to run wires around it at several points to hold it together and then release the pressure to roll it out of the cavity it's in. The machine does most of this but if you were standing too close to where the bale comes to rest on a pallet placed on the floor in front of the bailer I guess you could get hurt. Or if one of the metal ties were to break it could whiplash you pretty good. I've seen this happen but no one was close enough to be hit. And that's evidence of someone tying the bale not doing a good job.

So, to me, all in all, this is, again, a lot of political hoo-rah about not much of anything.

And, we got some emails about Montana’s proposal to tax big box stores, including this one:

I am already thinking up loopholes to get around this. An all part time workforce. Divide each department into small corporations so that no department does over $20 million. Etc. This is just feel good election year rhetoric. I doubt this would become reality. First of there really aren't a whole lot of big box stores in Montana. There are only a handful of supermarket I know of doing over $400k per week. Wal-Mart could pack up and leave and it would have no material effect on their company. The state would get flooded with illegal immigrants and the "Grapes of Wrath" types looking for those living wage jobs that are heading south. Everyone knows this would backfire and blow up in Montana's face. That's why it will not happen.

And another MNB user wrote:

I doubt that you will get many comments from other grocers on this. This is a problem EVERY grocer faces from time to time because of the number of teens working. Teens can violate labor laws by using equipment, working past certain hours during the week, and missing/skipping meals. Most grocers pay a small fine, no larger than the one suggested for Wal-Mart when they are caught. Incidentally, most grocers, like Wal-Mart struggle to prevent these problems. However, the tone of the article makes Wal-Mart sound like they are operating with slave labor..."people who live in glass houses..."
KC's View: