business news in context, analysis with attitude

In our commentary yesterday about Albertsons' restructuring and decision to employ a Six Sigma approach to the business, we noted that "while we don't want to overstate this…does it seem to anyone else that Larry Johnston essentially is betting the house on these moves? This would appear to be his ultimate play - that if these steps don't work in making Albertsons better positioned for the future, it means either than it cannot be done or that he's not the guy to do it.

We wish Albertsons luck…though we have to admit that we wouldn’t be willing to bet our house on Johnston's ability to make good on his gamble. It's just an enormous task, and we're just not sure it all can be accomplished."

MNB user David J. Livingston responded:

You got that right KC. Albertsons is living in a dream world. They are almost 30% higher priced that Wal-Mart and their answer to problem is cut back on labor and turn out the light in the stores so shopper must shop in the dark. Any move they make now is too little too late and will at most be only a lateral move.

MNB user Jack Moffett chimed in:

If I were Mr. Johnson I would also subscribe to KISS, (keep it simple -). Spend large amounts of time in the stores talking to the customers and store staff. Go where the rubber meets the road and find his answers there.

The nearest store to my home is a very nice Albertson’s in a great location, very clean, professionally stocked, manned with a super helpful and friendly staff. But, I and many others like me have many buying choices, so we drive a little further and buy every thing we can at Costco and Winco and only go to Albertson’s as a last option now.

Why? We don’t want to use a PREFERRED SAVINGS CARD and we don’t want to be charged more than those that do. And we don’t want to be lied to about how much those savings REALLY are.

Sam Walton figured out ways to make shopping fun and created ways to encourage people to come in, not set up barricades and alienate his customer base. Respect your customers don’t treat them like they are dim-witted.

P.S. Mr. Johnson, when you get rid of the card, also get rid of the people who recommended it. Consider giving your great company a little less “Six Sigma” and take away a few hundred “Black Belts” and give it a little more “KISS”. We are not building jet engines here we are just selling a few apples and toilet paper to few million bright and wonderful CUSTOMERS.

MNB user Steve Grossman wrote:

What is sad about this, that over the last 10 or 15 years, this company's culture has been consolidated and changed every two to three years. What is the price of upheaval that the company and the employees must pay? This would be a great college case study of how not to grow a potentially great retailer. I believe they, over the years have been their own worst enemy.

Another MNB user wrote:

Do not use my name, but I work for Supervalu and the article (about Albertsons) almost sounded like a recap of the ways we go to market.

Supervalu employs a national customer service center for all of our retailers rather then the regional models and it is many time better then what could be offered in the past. The training is better, the spend on technology is higher to better to assist the CSR with the customer, and professionalism on the phone is excellent. Supervalu also offers their version of the Price Impact Division ( Save-A-Lot).

We are also structured into regions, I work in the Eastern region with goes from NY to North Carolina with two distribution hubs in Harrisburg Pa and Richmond, VA.

We are not following Six Sigma, but maybe we can steal this from them.

Regarding the rumors that Publix might bid for Ahold's Bruno's and Bi-Lo divisions, one MNB user wrote:

I find it very ironic the difference 24 short months can make. Not 2 years ago, the rumors were rampant that Ahold was trying to buy Publix. Now, Publix is trying to buy Ahold. Slow and steady wins the race.

Words to live by.

Another MNB user wrote:

This is bad news for a lot of Winn Dixie stores. They had it easy competing against the lame attempts of Ahold. If Publix gets hold of those stores, all that bold talk recently from Winn Dixie will sound like a death cry.

Another member of the MNB community wrote:

This would be great for the employees of both Bruno's & Bi-Lo. Publix in my opinion is the best managed grocery store chain in the US. They have the knowledge and the experience to make money at these two un-performing chains. Publix is in for the long haul and the benefits for current employees will be greater.

Responding to all our stories about drug reimportation, one MNB user wrote:

Finding a way around stupid laws to make a buck is capitalism in action. Using the legal system to force customers to spend more money than they should have to is pretty much the opposite. It's interesting how the conservative party is the big supporter of capitalism when it's convenient and ready to cram unfair laws down our throats when it's to the advantage of major campaign contributors. I grew up in a conservative, Baptist, republican home, but the administration's actions don't sound at all close to what I learned conservative capitalism was all about. The government should stay clear out of this one as long as the drugs coming from Canada were okayed by the FDA in America before they were shipped to Canada in the first place. If they were good the first time they were sold, they're good till they're gone.

No matter what the Bush Department of Justice does now, the word is out. If you are a senior citizen, or anyone else who is dependent on prescription drugs, GW is starting to look more and more like the enemy, no matter which party he comes from.

And believe me, we'll remember who was there for us and who stabbed us in the back in November. We're not the fastest walkers, or drivers, but we get there and we vote.

Responding to our story yesterday about the effects of the California grocery strike, one MNB user wrote:

Gee: I was wrong when I wrote after 3 months the stores would start to pick up because people would return for the convenience of locations. Thanks for the report and setting me straight.

Hey, we're just reporting what we saw.

We noted in our commentary yesterday that when we visited some stores over the weekend, "the view from inside them tends to be pretty depressing - service departments closed, shelves spotty with merchandise, and the aisles as active as a morgue on a slow day. And these stores were viewed on a Saturday afternoon.

And then, you go to Trader Joe's, to Stater Bros., to Bristol Farms…and you see tons of customers, lots of sales, and a hubbub of activity."

One MNB user didn’t think much of our perspective:

Tell us, please, what's the point of your "view" on the Cal. grocery strike. Should we be surprised that stores on strike look empty or out of stock while those not being struck or not under a labor contract look better or busier?

The strike has taken its toll on both sides and no one will come out unbattered. The "view" here should not be the obvious or trite but who, when the strike is done and the chains management prevails, will be the long-term winner. ownership with more favorable labor packages, labor with less to show in weekly wages but with more secure positions in face of non-union competition or the customer with better prices and convenience.

My "view"....all three.

Fair enough.

We certainly weren't trying to be trite in our view. On the contrary, most of our usership doesn’t come from Southern California, and can only depend on press reports for a sense of how the chains are doing there. It was our first trip there since the strike began, and we were just trying to share our perspectives.

We'll try and do better next time.

Another MNB user wrote:

Winco has plans for the southern California market also. If Safeway, Albertson and Kroger are worried about Wal-Mart wait until they have Winco across the street form them. Check out Winco's present markets and you will see they are very competitive in grocery. Winco has a distribution center in center California and plans to build over 40 stores in California.

Not surprisingly, we got a lot of comments about the proposal up in Maine for a doughnut shop with topless waitresses that would compete effectively with Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme.

One MNB user wrote:

Re: that bold thinker/free enterpriser up in Maine, I'm slightly surprised at your response...

Are you testing our "with it" quotient on a Monday AM to see if we're awake or get it??

What should he think of in Maine in February, snowplowing? Ice fishing? Seeing how pitcher's and catchers have reported this past week, if I may, I think you mis-swung on that

Maybe. But sometimes it's better to simply tell the story and let you folks fill in the jokes…

MNB user Lisa Everitt wrote:

You've probably heard this from a zillion people in and around Fort Collins, Colorado, where some guy opened a topless bakery just off I-25 called "Debbie Does Donuts."

This would have been 1989-1990. I was working for the paper in Greeley and refused to cover the story, but I believe we sent our columnist and a photographer. It's been gone for years, but good God, did it ever get national press. I think Geraldo did a show from there.

Man, we would've killed to have covered that story.

And MNB user (and Maine resident) R. St.Clair wrote:

Ain't gonna happen...the townsfolk (especially the female variety, methinks) and, more importantly, the guy's wife are all against him.

Even though the Madison town authorities could find nothing "illegal" about his proposal, Mrs. Doughnut Guy will lay down her version of the law... at that point, would it surprise anyone to see him change his mind?

After all, I don't think sleeping at the topless doughnut shop will be allowed under the town's occupancy laws.
KC's View: