business news in context, analysis with attitude

Here is the email - from MNB user Roger Cooper, about a JC Penney shopping experience - that I referred to:

Had the opportunity to shop a JC Penney's this Labor Day weekend at Washington Square in Portland, Oregon. I was with my best retail critic, my wife. She pointed out how much easier it was to shop their store and also she was impressed the new store within in a store concept e.g. the new Levi's department. She likes the new pricing strategy and says they are really on the right track with the current changes.

She says she will be back as she felt good about the new merchandising feeling in the store. Not being a total stranger to retail operations as she had owned a Hallmark store in her past life.

I explained what we in the retail have seen and heard of the results at JC Penney's and the pressure on Ron Johnson. Of that she says give the guy a chance!

You're preaching to the choir here. I'm just not sure that it is a very big choir at the moment.

In a story about Supervalu management changes yesterday, I commented that whatever new CEO Wayne Sales does, "he absolutely must not give out any more retention bonuses or stock options to the executive team. Because that would undermine any efforts to reinvigorate and create trust within the organization."

Which led MNB user Michael Julian to write:

Kevin, I think your comment about a retention bonus is the popular position; however it is difficult to openly state that a public company is for sale and convenience those execs you have promoted to leadership roles to not look for future employment without an incentive. The assumption is that the new CEO has chosen these individuals because he believes they were not responsible for the current problems and that they will be instrumental in the very difficult process of keeping the business together while trying to complete a sale.
If as a shareholder of Supervalu I thought an incentive for key execs that paid off on a successful sale was part of recovering the most value for my investment it would not be hard to support the idea.
I know that the reaction from the majority of the employees would likely be negative, but it is the age old problem of who is management responsible to the shareholders or the employees? It is easy to sit on the sidelines and say both but in a public company for sale I don’t know if that answer works.
This is a complex issue without easy answers.
Mr. Sales has a very difficult job to do.


And I get your point.

I guess my response would be that it would be nice if people at the top would believe and act like the people on the front lines were important - indeed, critical - to the success and sustainability of an organization.

Got a lot of reaction to yesterday's story about Walmart testing an iPhone application that allows people to scan products while in-aisle, and then pay for their purchases at a central checkout.

One MNB user wrote:

I wonder if this is not just another labor saving thing like getting rid of door greeters. Mores self check outs?

From another MNB user:

What Technology is becoming a job killer ... Scary stuff but inevitable I guess.

MNB user Wally Schiek wrote:

Regarding Walmart's move for customers to check their own purchases and bag them in the aisles, there is no mention of how they will put off the increased opportunity to steal easily.  There must be something that I'm missing.

Another MNB user expressed the same worry:

What are stores doing on the security/theft side of things for this.  I really like the idea, but haven’t ever heard any discussion on how stores manage those folks who put the product in a bag without scanning it, etc.

From still another MNB user:

Sorry to say I’m not with you on this….I absolutely abhor and will avoid self-checkout like the plague because I am the one that always, always has an issue.  The red light above me goes on alerting the whole front end that I’m a doofus and then I have to wait (with usually a long line behind me) for what seems a lifetime for a manager to come by and fix my problem.  When they can finally make self-checkout idiot proof, then I might consider using it more frequently.

And from still another reader:

One thing that wasn’t addressed is the loss of jobs that are realized through self scanning. While I use them myself now and then when I have only a few items, I have to think about who will lose their job whenever I do use them. I hope consumers continue to want the personal touch when checking out. That is, if the customer service is at a level that we want to continue to have.

We also had a story about how Tesco is expanding into click-and-pick up model in the UK, which led one MNB user to write:

Why go to the Store? Might as well shop on line and either have it delivered to you or just stop by and pick it up like some are advocating now?? What shame and what a world....

I'm not sure I would characterize it as a "shame." Rather, it is the circle of life ... and new opportunities will be created even as old business models fade.

MNB yesterday took note of a Los Angeles Times report on how "many older Americans are delaying retirement and being added to the workforce in record numbers. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans ages 65 and older are working or looking for jobs — the highest in almost half a century."

The story noted that "the labor participation rates for other age groups have slid since the recession began at the end of 2007, most sharply for younger adults but also for people in their prime working years, their 30s to 50s. The contrasting employment paths of seniors and other age groups reflect a long-term population and lifestyle shift intensified by the recession. And the trend has significant implications for the broader economy."

The upside of the trend: these older Americans are paying into Social Security, as well as paying income taxes, instead of just taking money out of the system. The downside is that when these older Americans get and keep jobs, that prevents their younger counterparts from landing those same jobs. Since the economy isn't growing at the pace that everyone would like it to, with too few jobs being created, this contributes to continuing unemployment and underemployment problems.

MNB user Mark Raddant wrote:

Retirement is of little interest to a lot of us.

Unlike a lot of younger people who were both spoiled and instilled with the dream of a perfect job they love all the time, may of us older folks actually enjoy working and thinking our butts off and competing—even if our jobs may not be the dream job we might have wished for at one time.

All the younger folks have to do to get us out of the way is offer more return to the employer for their earnings.  Be aware that often means spending time working when off the clock, researching, taking initiative, showing up early, staying late, and focusing on work while at work, and not on the myriad distractions so many younger folks feel entitled to.

I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have walked through workplaces and seen Craigslist or eBay showing on screens.

One note here ... don't assume that those young people on Craigslist or eBay are wasting time. They could be learning more about customer needs or finding business opportunities. (See Michael's column, above.)

From another reader:

The media can spin this subject any way they choose…..but the simple fact is that older Americans are working longer because many of them have done such a terrible job of saving money for retirement.   In my work, I see too many Baby Boomers who have reached age 50 or 60 and tell me that they are going to retire when they can’t work any longer.   The simple fact is that these same people have not saved nearly enough for retirement and know they wouldn’t be able to have much more than a subsistence standard of living if they stopped working.   The scary part comes when they have a significant health issue that won’t allow them to continue employment and they have virtually no savings to live on.

Whether it is because Boomers won’t lower their spending rate, won’t increase their savings rate, or have decided that they are obligated to provide a college education for their kids, too many people have their priorities in the wrong order.  There is such an emphasis on “keeping up with the Joneses” that employees change jobs, cash out their retirement plan assets (rather than rolling them into an IRA or another retirement plan), and pay substantial taxes and penalties in order to be able to get their hands on the money today that is intended for long-term retirement savings.

There is no doubt that there are people who have had legitimate issues with job layoffs, lousy market returns and a contracting economy who have had to spend retirement assets because they had no other choice.   I’m referring to the people who have been fortunate enough to remain fully employed through the last decade but can’t seem to make it a priority to save money for the future.

And another reader connected the retirement story to my opening Eye-Opener about Voyager1 being poised to be the first manmade object every to leave our solar system:

As much as I hope your blog is widely read, during this campaign season, I am also hoping that neither side has time to reply to your employment story. I would much rather hear Voyager 1 is looking for its creator, than another debate on unemployment and the economy. In fact I would also prefer explorers from the future looking for a whale to take back and communicate with aliens.

Live long and prosper.

And finally, from MNB user John Parvin:

Saw your comments on Ron Hodge retirement, and you are right on about Ron.  He hasn't changed in the 26 years I have been here.  He's a down to earth guy who has made Hannaford a better place.  He will be missed by the organization, and by me for sure. 
KC's View: