business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

There are few things that retailers should be more thankful for than the passion of the people who work on the front lines in the retail environment.

It isn’t always easy. Just a couple of weeks ago, there was a survey out pointing to a general discontent and dissatisfaction among retail employees. But this isn’t universal, and worth noting when passion and commitment are demonstrated.

Let me offer two examples as we head into the holiday weekend.

Earlier this week, MNB had a story about how Wegmans plans to close its well-known Tastings restaurant that is adjacent to its Pittsford, NY, store, and will replace it with a new restaurant across the street called the Next Door Bar & Grill. In my commentary, I wrote that “one of my nicest memories from the past few years was a wonderful dinner that I had at Tastings with some folks from Wegmans - it always is a great evening when there is a combination of great conversation, terrific food and excellent wine.”

It wasn’t long before I got an email from a Wegmans employee that read, in part:

I am glad to hear you really enjoyed the Tastings Restaurant and I hope that you will join Wegmans again when Next Door is opened. I have only been a member of the Wegmans ... team for a year and a half ... but I can say only the best about the character and innovation of this company ... Thank you again & please let me know if there is anything I can do to ensure you have the "Next Door" experience.

I think that this email says a lot about the character not just of the company, but the employee who sent the note.

Think about it. This person has been working for Wegmans for just 18 months or so, but feels so committed and connected to the culture of the company that it was second nature to reach out on behalf of the company and to represent its brand so forcefully.

That’s extraordinary. Then again, it’s Wegmans, where the extraordinary often is commonplace.

Nevertheless, the email was worth noting.

The second example also is in the form of an email, this one responding to a story we noted from the Chicago Tribune, which reported about how the Simon Property Group, the nation’s largest mall owner and operator, will give away millions of chocolate chip cookies during the upcoming holiday season, in what the organization refers to as “retail aromatherapy.”

I commented: “How many food retailers engage in retail aromatherapy - whether with cookies or some other product - not just during the holidays, but year round? My answer would be, not nearly as many as you’d think. Which means that too many food retailers are essentially giving away what should be their built-in advantage.”

Which led to the following email:

In Albertson’s stores here in Boise, Idaho, every day at 4 p.m. the smell of fresh, hot baked French bread pours through the stores.  The bakery team bakes fresh from 4 to 6 every afternoon and wheels the carts of hot loaves right up to the cash registers.  The smell is heavenly!  I’m not sure if anyone else has a problem getting the whole loaf home without a nibble out of one end, but mine has never made it!

That’s retail passion showing ... and it comes from a Supervalu-owned Albertsons employee. Not to disparage the company, but you don’t expect to get the same kinds of emails from Albertsons as you do from Wegmans. But there it was.

I cannot help but think that as Supervalu CEO Craig Herkert looks to remake the company, apparently moving it in a value-driven, low-price direction, he should be careful that this kind of pride and passion in not just left alone, but nurtured. This is what makes a retailer different; this is what makes a shopping experience magical. It isn’t just low prices or unique products, but passionate people who feel great pride in where they work and what they do.

Something, in other words, to be thankful for.
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