business news in context, analysis with attitude

We had a story yesterday about a reorganization at Hy-Vee headquarters that reflects changing priorities at the company. Which prompted this email from an MNB reader:

This article did not take me completely by surprise, but it was shocking nonetheless.   I have been watching the company add staff positions over the past five years and wondered about the need for them but assumed it was because the firm was building sales volume.   I’m not sure who was calling the shots on this, but I think the size of the administrative staff got away from them and they started to increase the pressure on the stores to generate profits to pay for it.

When I talk to my friends and co-workers who are department heads and store directors, I hear three overarching themes:

• The job is not fun anymore. More and more people are retiring or leaving voluntarily because of the substantially increased pressure to perform and produce sales and profits.   There are no “attaboys” for a good job; the only time they hear from a staff person is when something is wrong.

• People are disposable. Even more so than in the past, it is made clear by staff that “if you can’t do this job, we will find someone else who will”.  While I don’t disagree with that theory, it is still incumbent upon the employer to put an employee in a position to at least have the possibility of success.  Too often recently I have seen the company only putting people in positions to fail with no way out and they have to walk away as store directors because they are starving to death.

• There is no ability to constructively provide a difference of opinion with the CEO at any level. In the past, the vice-presidents could act more as a “team of rivals” with differing theories or methods of running a store.  Now, the ability to manage a store as an entrepreneur is discouraged and individuality is not permitted.   Long-time store directors have been dismissed or have walked away because the CEO has told them that they are not being supportive of him and his directions.   In the past, if a store was sufficiently profitable, such flexibility would be tolerated and sometimes even encouraged.  
It is disheartening to me to see this occurring and the number of key people who have approached me to accelerate their retirement plans has increased.    I hope the company can modify its thinking to maintain its status as a progressive retailer that can attract and keep good people.

Perhaps the changing priorities are even greater than I thought...

On another subject, this email from an MNB reader:

We had to make a driving speed trip to Ohio from Florida and back last week for family reasons. I have been fascinated for some time by the on-going expansion of Bass Pro, Cabela's, Field & Stream and Gander Mountain stores in the face of an ever increasing availability of online shopping. I realize that Bass Pro is working on the purchase of Cabela's and it is really those two that most fascinate me by virtue of the size of the facilities, the huge aquariums and wildlife exhibits in each unit and the land required for the stores and for parking when one can essentially by everything they offer online except for maybe Boats and ATVs.

They seem to be doing well and I understand one stop shopping, on staff expertise and wide variety but it also seems that their overhead and inventory costs must be massive.

While I appreciate the sense of theater they present and I also understand each has online businesses as well I just wonder why they have yet to be seriously disrupted.
I suspect their products are not in your wheelhouse I never see them mentioned in discussions of retail and the future of retail. I thought they might make for some interesting discussion and observation at some time if you were able to study and research them.

Never underestimate the power of disruption. Gander Mountain, in fact, is in bankruptcy protection as it seeks a buyer for the company, and has closed a bunch of under-performing stores.

I think your point is a good one - that many of these kinds of stores have managed to avoid disruption by using a sense of theater; I'm always sort of reminded of Wegmans when I go in one (though I must concede that this is not often ... I'm neither a hunter nor a fisherman, and my definition of enjoying the outdoors is sitting on a veranda scanning the wine list of enjoying a craft beer).
KC's View: