business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Detroit News has an interesting piece about the most recent round of layoffs at Grand Rapids-based Meijer - 1,900 management jobs that "was the largest work force reduction in Meijer's 70-year history and the kind of brutal corporate downsizing some employees thought would never happen at the family-owned company."

The paper notes that while Meijer used to be the kind of store that kept its doors closed on Sundays, these days it cannot afford "to hew to its paternalistic roots" - and it makes no apologies for the new approach.

"There's a reason why (the 1,900 managers) were let go," spokesman John Zimmerman tells the News. "They didn't fit into our strategy of growth moving forward." And, he says, they represented a layer of management personnel that didn’t fit into a retailing world dominated by the Nation of Wal-Mart. (Our phrase, not his.)

"It's a fierce marketplace," Zimmerman says. "We have to provide guests with what they want, when they want (it), or they will go somewhere else."
KC's View:
We agree with this last sentiment completely.

What's interesting is that Meijer believes that to succeed long-term, it has "to connect emotionally with customers rather than lure them with rock-bottom prices."

You have to wonder, though, if the company risks the emotional connection when it diverges from the "paternalistic roots" that gave it an identity to begin with. That's probably easier said than done - and Meijer probably has to find new ways to communicate how it identifies with and advocates for its shoppers.

That's not to say it can't be done. It can. And Meijer is working hard to do it with new stores and a newly aggressive attitude. But we have this vague feeling that something is being lost in the translation.