business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from an MNB user about Supervalu’s decision to make changes at the top at its Save-A-Lot division:

Interesting comments on the Save-a-lot changes at Supervalu. You touched on an interesting part of the puzzle – communication. There seems to be a real disconnect as to passing along clear direction or guidance. This carries to lower levels than Craig Herkert.  Now it has extended out to hearing feedback on the culture or the changes. The management, under the guise of having better things to do, has indicated that it does not want or need to hear from employees about the culture, attitude or direction of the company.

Supervalu announced that they are not doing their annual employee survey this year. It appears through this announcement and other day to day activities, that management at the VP levels and above are not interested in improving what is now a depressing environment:
"For the past three years, Supervalu has conducted an Associate Survey to facilitate feedback and empower associates to share their opinions around important business metrics and ideas on how to improve work environments. As a result of this feedback, changes have been made in all areas of the company that can be directly attributed to associates’ opinions and their commitment to the continued success of the company.

“While the survey itself is a relatively minor time commitment from an end-user perspective, from a store support center, banner and region resource perspective, it requires a considerable amount of time and effort to assess, communicate and take action on the results.

“In light of the importance and priority of Supervalu’s business transformation efforts for Fiscal Year 2012, a decision has been made to defer the Associate Survey for this year. This will allow store support center, banner and region resources to focus on ensuring the success of our business transformation efforts. The survey will resume in 2012, which will provide an opportunity to measure the impact of business transformation efforts."


Talk about lousy timing. Based on all the emails I’ve been getting, this doesn’t sound like the right time to be shutting down lines of communication.

A cynical person could read that memo as saying:

• Thanks for your input.
• Any changes we’ve made are your responsibility.
• Enough is enough.

At the very least, it would appear that the leadership at Supervalu could be fairly accused of being tone-deaf. And the hits keep coming.

Got a number of emails yesterday responding to Kate McMahon’s column about whether 7-Eleven might be taking a risk by engineering a promotion connected to the new sequel to The Hangover, a move about debauchery.

One MNB user wrote:

A couple of thoughts regarding your piece "How Far is Too Far?"

I've always been of the belief that most folks assume that promo tie-ins are far more successful than they really. Similarly, I think analysts are making far too much noise over social media, a cultural development that may well not exist in five years--at least not in the way we envision it today. 

But I must admit that this campaign seems better thought out than most. The character cups are a slam dunk. The scavenger hunt is pretty clever. The Facebook page, not so much. I subscribe to most of the major branded Facebook pages and find that in almost all cases the signal to noise ratio renders them worthless. 435,000 people giving a thumbs up to an Oreo character and participating in a chance to win a custom Oreo T-shirt. Yawn.

I do tend to agree with you that there is the possibility of a "public/press-based backlash" Individual moms and dads? Nah, not so much. But if it did happen it would be more like the Mommy Motrin disaster, which you documented quite well if I remember correctly.

But the larger issue here is that I don't think anybody really cares about what 7-Eleven does or doesn't do, in large part because of the clientele. I travel the country frequently, and I must say that whenever I visit 7-Eleven, it is almost always like the one down the street from my home--a quite nice suburb in a major metro area.. In the afternoon it is filled with kids buying candy and soda. As the day evolves, it turns into stoned and/or drunk kids (usually boys, harmless). There are also the disenfranchised folks buying lottery tickets or trying to wire money somewhere. Don't forget smokers!  There is never any shortage of confused, schizophrenic or homeless people--many of whom often carry an unfortunate stench. In the evening people of all ages line up to buy alcohol and cigarettes. And then there is the (admittedly more rare) fist fight in the parking lot. Last night,while stopping to get some cat food, a sketchy looking dude came in, spilled a cup of coffee all over the floor, mumbled and left.

Oh, and there was the time I asked the fellow behind the counter in Plano, Texas (of all places) why a giant box of stainless steel Brillo pads was on the checkout counter. Silly me, I had no idea they were important tools (filters) for crack smokers. Yes, the children of Plano, Texas - which admittedly has suffered quite a reputation for rampant drug abuse - could freely avail themselves of crack paraphernalia.

And this is all a longish way of saying that the convenience store industry has the most delusional view of any business segment I have ever encountered. Put another way, they are much more delusional than the schizophrenics who can be found in their stores.

The 7-Eleven promotion won't matter because who is going to want to defend such an often motley and disenfranchised group. I can't imagine mommy bloggers caring because most of the ones I have encountered would never have any need - or desire-- to visit 7-Eleven. To be fair, there are plenty of respectable kids that frequent 7-Eleven, but in most cases I'd say they are the minority. And yes, there is surely variation between these stores and neighborhoods, but my data points support the picture above.

But perhaps I'm wrong.. I've surely been wrong before. And it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

The one thing I am sure of, however, is that a chain that allows the sale of crack paraphernalia to kids--and lets not forget the new "bath salt" problem--doesn't seem like it should need to concern itself much with its brand image.

I’m sure my friends at NACS would differ in their assessment of the convenience store business. And I also think I should point out that there are a lot of convenience stores in this country that are doing a remarkable job of changing their businesses and getting away from the old tobacco-and-beef-jerky model.

I’m also not sure I’ll ever look at a Brillo pad the same way. I had no idea.

Another MNB user wrote:

I think it’s creative and smart, and not offensive at all. 7-Eleven can’t control what teenagers do. The comment ‘And it concerns me that this promotion will particularly appeal to teenage boys who aren’t even old enough to drink legally’ offers no reason as to why or how the company will do this. People are going to drink, and many people therefore are going to get hangovers. I see it as a way of reaching a large crowd.

And MNB user Scott Svarrer wrote:

My days of late night partying are long gone, but I never once considered going to a 7-Eleven after a night of drinking.  The proper places to go are White Castle and Dunkin Donuts, in that order.  If neither of those are close by, the nearest diner will do.

KC's View: