business news in context, analysis with attitude

Received the following email from an MNB user about the mass layoffs announced last week by Supervalu:

I am one of the 800 (that number will increase) to be let go.  You will surely receive many e-mail responses on this subject.  I think what is needed to be addressed is the lack of accountability for the Supervalu Board of Directors.  It is quite obvious they have made a hire that will never turn the company around.

Supervalu was a very good company to work for.  Great people, Great leaders.  A leader in the Wholesale segment of the food retailing industry.  Corporate retail was added.  Some was successful, some not.  That buying power helped reduce costs for the independent retailers.

I think it is safe to say, that 17 quarters of negative store sales should be a good indicator that current Corporate Initiatives are not functioning properly.  Becoming “Americas Neighborhood Grocer” while out sourcing IT functions to India (Mexico) could possibly send a mixed message.

Many companies hire inept Corporate leaders.  That is a process that can be understandable.  Allowing those leaders to continue to function, reduce company value/stock value, reduce employee earnings/value, destroy the lives of people who have worked for years to build up a company/ and put limited value into the company assets is what makes this whole thing a travesty.

Those who refer to this as a Supervalu employee reduction should realize that Supervalu does not exist anymore.  What we are seeing is a continuation of Albertsons and the poor management that lead that company to ruin.

Here’s the question that Supervalu leadership needs to ask itself:

How many people who remain in the organization - as opposed to the people being laid off - feel this way?

Because if these beliefs and emotions are gaining traction and growing at Supervalu, then they have even bigger problems than some believe.

On the possibility of Apple striking an agreement with Walmart to put Apple Stores inside a number of Sam’s Clubs, one MNB user wrote:

This would be a HUGE mistake for Apple and something I would bet that Steve Jobs would have never signed off on it. With that said, Apple continues come up with things that take them away from top quality one on one inter facing with their customers.

MNB user Larry Lyons wrote:

“Apple quality service”…and that would mean checking them out at the Apple kiosk, instead of sending their customers to stand in line at one of the three open registers, stacked 10 deep at the front end!!

And MNB user Bryan Nichols wrote:

What a great example of an incongruent marketing message.  Placing an Apple Store inside a downscale warehouse club will do nothing for Apple’s image.  Costco would make much more sense, as the brands share a similar upscale brand image and commitment to service.

We had a piece recently about how San Francisco International Airport installed a yoga room, which airport managers feel gives it a differential advantage. I agreed. But one MNB user wasn’t so sure:

You're right.  I can just imagine all those people who'll be flying to San Francisco just to use the yoga-room.

I’m not sure that people are going to route themselves through SFO because of the yoga room. But I think anyone who travels has favorite airports, and that’s usually for a variety of reasons. I like the availability of Starbucks and Jamba Juice, a United Club, and/or free Wi-Fi. And if an airport has a good train system into the nearby city, that’s an enormous advantage.

I think that airports need to have differential advantages, just like any other business.

We also received a number of emails about Friday’s story about continued and deepening losses at the US Postal Service (USPS).

MNB user Tom Elliot wrote:

I know you rail against the PO for a lot of their mis-steps, and much of that IS deserved.  I'd like to point out a shipping experience I had recently in support of the PO.  I wanted to send a care package to my sister in Switzerland that had about $100 worth of stuff in it.  I made my package and headed online to see what it was going to cost me to send 13 pounds overseas. 

UPS and FedEx were in the $220 range for their cheapest, slowest offering, which was I think guaranteed 2 or 3 day delivery.  The USPS was just under $81 for 3-5 day delivery, and it got there in 3 days. 

I did it all on-line, including filling out the customs forms and paying for and printing the postage.  If my mail carrier wasn't a walking route, I could have given him the package and gotten it taken care of without leaving the house.  Since he IS a walking carrier, I drove it the 3 blocks to the PO and, despite them being closed, a USPS employee answered the bell on the dock at the back of the building and happily took my package. 

The USPS might have it's issues, but for international shipping, my limited sample experience would say it's top notch!

Fair enough.

On Friday, I took note of a suggestion made by reader Jeff Folloder:

What if...the USPS pitched, say, Kraft... We have this logistics and delivery system that has every deliverable address in the US already connected.  We mean ALL of them.  Why even bother with the Walmarts and Krogers of the retail landscape?  We will integrate directly into your new website and handle all of the direct to consumer logistics for you.  Customers get what they want and you can sell whatever you want, without the whole take-a-buyer-to-lunch-and-negotiate-the-slotting-fee thing.

Talk about the government actually doing something to promote business!  And it might even make the post office relevant again...

Not everybody agreed that this was a good idea.

MNB user Mike Franklin wrote:

Kraft would respond, “thanks but no thanks; our business is driven by our customers’ positive experience with our brand…your brand on the other hand has been proven unreliable, unresponsive, non-productive, and we do not want your employees going postal on our customers…in essence, we cannot co-brand with you, you bring nothing to the table.” “Oh, and you say your strength is your rolodex of every address in America…we can purchase that online!”

MNB user Marty Berlin wrote:

Interesting idea, but one that puts the federal government in direct competition with private business. If the idea doesn’t work, is the government (the taxpayer) going to continue to subsidize this entity so that it can remain solvent? Not good.

Now, if the post office was to sell their assets to private business………?

From another MNB user:

…in additional to having all the great convenient locations, let’s not forget they have the exclusive right to “own” every mailbox in front of each of our homes and how much that means.

Kevin, you have rightfully challenged their decision making several times recently. Why don’t they get it? It was not that long ago that Fed Ex was dependent on overnight mail, much of which it lost to fax machines, to be followed by computers. Had they not responded with an improved business model, they too would have been dead broke. The USPS has an incredible infrastructure, that with some creative solutions could be a very sustainable business. I personally do not think it would be that difficult and would jump at the opportunity to flip the ship back upright...

To me they are being about as creative in finding their niche in the delivery segment as Superalu is in finding theirs in grocery retailing. Crisis management! Let’s close locations and cut out a day of service, with no plan in sight how that works into a future business model.

Perhaps there is more. I have a son who had hoped to make his career there after returning from Iraq. He was only scared off by the frustration of dealing with many inept, lazy and overpaid union workers. That is not a jab at union workers, as look how well UPS has done with the right management. I have a wife that is coming up on 30 years of service at the USPS, only to be leaving at the first good opportunity they offer due to the lack of team atmosphere and skilled management decision making. Wouldn’t you love to put together a team of forward thinking people to tackle this one?

And another MNB user wrote:

What happens to privacy with this idea?  The government sells out to save the postal service?

Since they are going after the Catholic church, why not keep going, right?

Well, that last line strikes me as a gratuitous shot that seems perfectly in keeping with some of the irrational hysteria of the last week or so. But since I occasionally take gratuitous shots at people and ideas, I’ll let it go ... except to respond that just because people may have differing views on social policy does not necessarily mean that they are “going after” anyone. Unless, of course, throwing gasoline on the fire serves your own political purposes.

I just get so tired of this stuff. Last Friday, there was a piece in the New York Times about growing enthusiasm for Rick Santorum, and it quoted one new convert to his cause as saying that she liked him because he was the only real family man in the race. That may be the image that some folks would like to perpetuate, but last time I checked, Mitt Romney seemed like a pretty solid family man. Ron Paul seems like a good family man. Among the folks who have left the race, Michelle Bachman, Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry all seemed like family-oriented people. (Herman Cain’s credentials in this area probably can be considered suspect,as can Newt Gingrich’s ... though if you believe in redemption, one can even debate that.) And, by the way, Barack Obama seems like a pretty good family man (at least for a Socialist Muslim).

I know I’m digressing here, but this email just set me off. Could we please just debate issues, and not get into this stuff? It strikes me that the country would be better off if we had serious people discussing serious issues in a serious way. But that’s just me.

As for the privacy issue ... I think what Jeff was suggesting is that the USPS has an infrastructure that could be useful to companies looking to differentiate themselves in the area of delivery. Not that they’d be violating anybody’s privacy.

I was a little critical on Friday of an MNB user who wrote in about a Tesco Fresh & Easy store having to discontinue the handing out of samples because of homeless people - described as “freeloaders” - who would come into the store to eat for free.

That reader actually wrote in to say that he didn’t mean to be harsh in his assessment of the homeless folks, but the exchange actually led to my favorite email of the weekend from MNB user John Hall:

A more politically correct description of the freeloaders would be ‘free range grazers’.

Now that’s funny.
KC's View: