business news in context, analysis with attitude

I got the following email from MNB user John Rand in response to my Eye-Opener on Friday about a great experience I had being hired to give a speech to Supervalu's Eastern Region, and how impressed I was with the people working for embattled company:

In Friday’s column you pointed out you had a positive experience with Supervalu as a client, and it moved me to weigh in on the long running conversation about Supervalu here in MNB.

My experience is exactly the same as yours. As you know, Kevin, you and I do some of the same things. (I am just not smart enough to have started my own website and not clever enough to keep up with you about everything else from movies to wine, however much I enjoy it! Besides, I’m a Red Sox fan!)  

But I was privileged to speak to a large number of the Supervalu store manager community at their Store Directors conference in Minneapolis a few months ago, just a few weeks before the Board made their recent announcements, and I will be meeting with another group of their managers shortly in Chicago, and I have found the personnel at Supervalu to be unfailingly polite, generous as individuals, highly motivated, and professional.  The ones I have spoken to individually have been anxious to find a positive path forward, realistic about the issues involved, and eager to gain and apply new skills and ideas.

In a larger sense, it is not entirely Supervalu’s fault that the Albertson acquisition occurred just before the biggest downturn in economic and financial performance of the American economy in two generations. They took on a big mortgage and knew it was a big job – and discovered that a lot of planning assumptions were suddenly ‘way out of date. It may have taken too long a time to find a way to cope, but it has not been for lack of trying at the store level.

I too hope for the best and wish everyone in the Supervalu community well. It is not healthy for the industry to lose such a large and complex contributor to the business, and not fair to the many thousands of associates and their efforts to write them off too soon.

There’s work to be done and problems to fix. I am encouraged that they are rolling up sleeves and working on it.

And MNB user Randall Onstead added:

Your Open Eyes, Ears and Mind piece was both classy and transparent on your part.  A wonderful reminder that we work in an industry filled with gracious and genuine people who want to feel proud of the company where they work.


I love it that all I really have to do is use the words "US Postal Service," and people start sending me emails.

MNB user Roy St. Clair wrote:

This whole situation with the Postal Service has also produced a significant “ripple-effect”.

I saw an NBC news story last evening pertaining to post-Gulf War veteran’s unemployment rates…something like 4 or 5 times the national average.

In the past, the Postal Service provided many of these folks with jobs. Veterans were given preferential status (well-deserved) and got to use their time spent in the military towards retirement and benefits.

Now these jobs are gone and a key employment option for veterans has been lost.

I love the ideas that have been discussed in your column about partnering with Amazon, etc.

You would think that someone high up in the Postal Service would find a way to make it happen…and possibly save this institution and the jobs that go with it.

You'd think.

MNB user Gail Graham wrote:

I know it may sound crazy, but when I was in the Yukon a few weeks ago I willingly paid $1.00 per stamp so I could send postcards back home to the grandkids. In the states  I only pay 44 cents for a first class letter. And the last time I had an “overnight” piece to mail I paid about $6.00 less at the Post Office than I would have at Fed Ex.

I use email as much as anyone, but now and then snail mail is useful.  Perhaps the Post Office needs to review their pricing structure in addition to scrutinizing all of the other aspects of the business. But then the problem may be that they don’t think of themselves as a business.

Another MNB user wrote:

We had a little chuckle the other day in our office about the USPS.  My husband is a rural route mail carrier.

I posed the question "who stops at every single residence in the United States once a day, 6 days a week?" Seems like an expensive task.  At some point they had it figured out, back when there was enough mail to cover the costs.

So I said to my cube mates (we are a sales office) what would you like to see show up in your mailbox.  Someone said "a salad", "fresh locally grown fruit/veggies", "cigarettes", "lottery tickets".  All really good ideas.  Now I'm not a smoker, but I'm pretty sure smokers need a new pack or two by Monday when their mail comes.  How about 2 packs every Monday?

How about if we let all the post offices in the country be their own individual delivery hubs with their own P&L statements?

The post office essentially is a local delivery company.  They can deliver anything that can fit in the box.  So . . . 45 cents for a letter from anywhere in the US, and then supplement the cash flow with $.10 for a pack of cigs or $.10 per lottery ticket (plus the profit in those two items!).  They could inventory and deliver these items.  There would be some sort of order process (smart phone, computer, or good ole' paper), and a delivery process with a lock box.  OK, maybe not salads, and I know the idea is "really out there", but I think that is the kind of thinking they need.  Business as is, is not working.

The next idea is to create some sort of self mailer vending machine in all the Walmarts.  Set the package on a scale, it weighs and measures the size, you put the address in and either cash or credit and it pops out the right size box, with a mini roll of tape and your printed address label - then you drop it in a (big) mailbox.  The mailman comes once a day to pick it up.  Yep, even on Saturdays.  It could even be computerized where it would remember you, and offer you frequent shopper discounts.  Can you imagine December.  And how nice at the 24 hour Walmarts!

I have no idea if what you are proposing would work, but this is the kind of thinking that the USPS needs if it is going to survive.

Another MNB user wrote:

While I certainly agree the USPS needs to re-define its value proposition for the future, there are certain things in which its indispensable.

In business, i am a strong proponent of the hand-written note. While Thank You emails are politely read, then instantly deleted and forgotten, an honestly written note received in the mail takes on special meaning. I have been reminded of notes I've written to clients YEARS after the fact, while emails received yesterday cannot be recalled.

On the personal front, I sent a sympathy card off to friend of the family who recently lost a loved one. Somehow, an e-card sent for the same purpose seems almost inconsiderate.

To me, people are beginning to wake-up & recognize the value of time & effort in a different way. When you think of it, there isn't a lot of difference between taking the time and effort to cook a family meal and writing a hand-written note. It's a matter of taking time to do something worth - while and meaningful. Folks inherently recognize and appreciate that effort.

While I agree with many of your sentiments, the fact is that this is not a path for success for the USPS. Appealing to people to write thank you notes as a way of saving the system strikes me as too little way too late.

And finally, from another MNB user:

Seriously??? Our government should not be running program they touch works. The private sector should be handling everything from postal service to school lunches...

This strikes me as the kind of hyperbole that does not get us anywhere. It draws the line in a way that makes serious discussion and compromise impossible.

The government should not be running anything? Really?

And finally, a great line from MNB user Kerley LeBoeuf:

Ya think the USPS should rethink that "forever" stamp?


Wish I'd thought of that line...
KC's View: