business news in context, analysis with attitude

Nor surprisingly, we’ve gotten a number of emails about the gender discrimination suit against Wal-Mart that was granted class-action status this week by a San Francisco judge.

One MNB user wrote:

Is Wal-Mart’s treatment of women in their workforce much different than what advancements women have received in retail up until now?

I doubt it; believing that women haven't made up any larger percentage of "bosses" in the past.

That's not to say discrimination is right, but if it's just an ongoing theme, not something new; then is it Wal-Mart’s size, again, which has singled them out for all the hoopla?

IMO, If this had occurred to Sears or Wards 50 years ago, perhaps only the readers of business magazines and newspapers and national circulation newspapers might have read about it; or heard it on Walter Winchell's radio show.

We would disagree. First of all, if Wal-Mart is being targeted because it is the biggest retailer in the country, that’s just fine. You get that big, you deserve to be a bigger target. With great power comes great responsibility…something a lot of entities with great power would like to ignore.

As for the suggestion that the mainstream media wouldn’t have covered this story 50 years ago, we would remind you that 50 years ago institutionalized discrimination and bias was seen by many in this country to be perfectly acceptable. And if the mainstream media ignored stories of bias and prejudice, it’s because they often were newspapers and magazines written by middled aged white men for middle aged white men. And that sort of behavior is no longer acceptable, and deserves to be targeted and exposed.

MNB user Mark Rodrigues wrote:

Wal-Mart seems to be very good at giving customers reasons why they should not shop at their stores.

What Wal-Mart competitors must do is promote the things that they do that gives their shoppers reason to shop at their stores (i.e. good union wages, good employee standards, fresh food, good assortment, etc.) Since they cannot compete on price they must attract the customers who will shop for other reasons than simply having the lowest prices.

And another MNB user wrote:

Chalk another one up for Walmart. If it isn't sub-standard wages for everyone, it is sub-standards for a particular group. Each shady practice is another added bullet in a game of roulette.

Latin lesson of the day:

Instead of caveat emptor (buyer beware), it should be caveat operor (worker beware).

We suggested the other morning when we did our special alert about the class action suit that we’re probably about to see a lot more Wal-Mart commercials trumpeting its diversity. And one MNB user observed:

MorningNewsBeat was right again.

This morning on the way to work the first radio commercial of my day started off by a lady stating "bla bla bla about working at Wal-Mart" and ending with, "I'm so & so (Ladies name loud and clear) and I'm a Wal-Mart District Manager over 8 stores in California.

Talk about not wasting any time…

And yet another MNB user chimed in:

Not until the early 80’s did retail management slowly evolve to allow women to hold positions with a line of authority and accountability to the bottom line within their respective departments. Look at the supermarket, women were either cashiers, money room girls, bakery hostess and florists. Traditional male jobs were grocery, meat, deli, produce, and store management. This was true in Mass Merchandise and Chain Drug-remuneration was never equal and is slowly changing at a snails pace. The dinosaurs and museum pieces of corporate management that came out of the A&P era finally have seen their day, and the workforce in the retail industry are mostly women, and capable women at that-but than again it has always been a “boys club” and that will be around a lot longer before things change. Sam should have had more daughters!

Here’s the deal. Wal-Mart had better deal with this issue, and fast. Diversity initiatives now may ring hollow if it is proven that Wal-Mart has been in violation of basic civil rights laws for a long period of time.

On another subject, we got the following email in response to some of our stories about Safeway’s difficulties in its Chicago-based Dominick’s:

I am a supermarket junkie. I walk through all of the major supermarkets in Chicago - Jewel, Dominicks, Cub, Woodman's, Meijer's, Wal-Mart Supercenters, etc.

Dominick's is in worse shape that you think. Their inventory is NOT turning. I cannot go into any of their stores without finding a significant number of markdowns in their MEAT case. At first, I noticed this in some of their weaker stores. Now I am seeing it in some of their busier stores. I am not talking about the "specialty" meats. I am talking about chuck roasts, ground beef, steaks, etc. Needless to say, I am taking advantage of the bargains.

In most stores, I am seeing markdowns in the DAIRY case. There is generally marked down yogurt (all varieties), fresh orange juice, and some specialty dairy produces like cream and half and half.

I even saw them markdown butter to $1 the week before Easter.

Cub's slower stores are in the same condition. Emeril's sausage, regularly $5.95 marked down to $1.25 this week.

Both Cub and Dominicks stores out here in the Chicago suburbs have the same "ghost town" feel that the Thriftway (Winn-Dixie) stores had in Cincinnati.

Where are the customers going? When a Dominick's stores closes, the local Jewel store sales increase 20-25%. However, I do not think that people realize the impact of Meijer and Woodman's entry into the market. Wal-Mart and Target are not major players at this point.

One more comment. I am NOT anti-Wal-Mart at all. I spend thousands of dollars on my prescriptions there as the pharmacists are pretty good.

However, their Supercenters as grocery stores in this area - DeKalb and Rockford and Beloit, WI., are the absolutely filthiest stores I have seen. Also, some of the products (especially meat and seafood) is of the lowest quality.

Personally, Meijer's frequent specials beat WalMart's prices all the time. We stock up, buying 2-3 month supplies of staples when they go on sale.

Thanks for the report.

We wrote yesterday about Starbucks creating environments in which a sense of community can thrive, and MNB user Al Kober observed:

This is a basic desire of human being, to belong, to be around other people and feel comfortable, to have a place where it is more like what they want home to be like, "Community" a beautiful word with connection to people, without having to face personal rejection. A place to be accepted for who you are. WOW. It will work, What a concept.

We’ve felt for a long time that retailers that do not foster a sense of community in their stores among both shoppers and employees are missing an enormous opportunity.

On Monday, we had a piece about how conventional wisdom in the wine biz seems to be that if French vintners want to grow their business in the US, they need to start producing the simpler wines that American consumers prefer.

In addition to the complexity often evoked by French wines, there are two other assessments of the problem. One is that US consumers simply have trouble understanding French wines because they are labeled by geographic region, not by grape varietal. In addition, there is a belief that French wineries have not engaged in the kind of modern marketing programs – which give wines unusual and irreverent names.

And we commented: While we think that it makes sense to create marketing programs that make French wines more accessible to US consumers, we’re not sure that it is sensible to make French wines more like American or Australian wines.

We’re not suggesting that one is better than another, just that they are different – and differences ought to be celebrated, not minimized.

To go in the other direction is to add to the homogenization of our foods and cultures, and that’s too bad.

To which one MNB user responded:

The marketplace for wine, particularly in the US, has taken a ‘populist’ turn. This trend has helped to de-mystify wine selection, make the purchase of wine less intimidating and, generally, help to sell more of it.

In putting together private label wine programs (including labels and names) for retail chains and restaurants, especially for price points below $15, we’re constantly wary of steering away from what consumers now want, which is user-friendly, colorful and approachable.

People want to learn more about wine everywhere. We’re all eliminating barriers!

‘Well, maybe not everyone.

MNB user Brad Morgan wrote:

The real reason French wine sales are down is because so many consumers have a healthy disdain for the French people. This disdain is well deserved and something the French have worked very hard to maintain by: being as rude, obnoxious and arrogant as possible to Americans who visit their country and struggle with the language, the French government's complicity with Sadam Hussein and their refusal to back-up their "Allies" in the war or terrorism. We must however give the French credit where credit is due for being consistent- we know we can ALWAYS count on the French to be there when they need us - of this you can rest assured!

Another reason French wine sales are down is competition from the ever increasing quality, selection and value of Californian and Australian wines. Just my humble opinion...

Another MNB user wrote:

Could there be a chance that some consumers like myself fine it easy to look for other wines than the French wines. Due to the position France has taken in the War on Terrorism? We sure do!

MNB user Tim Kosty wrote:

I think the marketers are missing the fundamental issue with the decrease in sales of French Wines. I believe Americans are still boycotting these wines because of the political issues surrounding the second gulf war that has been compounded by the Food for Oil revelations. With many alternatives available for the consumer, passing on a French selection is an easy thing to do.

But MNB user Tim O'Connor took a different approach:

The point is not to dummy down the French wines…Just the labels and how they are marketed and merchandised at retail to American consumers with poor language skills (most of us).

Consumer's are intimidated and fear embarrassment from failing to know that a red Bordeaux is a Cab Meritage etc, Retailers tend to treat the ignorant with distain.

Maybe if the French go to more logical labeling for mass marketed export wines and retailers merchandise the wines appropriately more people will understand why the French preferred to stay home and enjoy the wine instead of torturing Iraqis.

Finally, we had a story yesterday about how men’s grooming products have contributed to the growth in Personal Care categories around the world. Helping to drive the shift are male baby boomers, who are buying up everything from skin cream to incontinence pads in their quest to hold off old age.

To which we responded: Our first reaction when we saw this story yesterday that this was just one more example of self-obsession, and that we guys ought to have more to worry about than face and eye moisturizers. Like the Mets. And the Red Sox. This whole metrosexual thing is getting a little out of hand…not that there’s anything wrong with it.

Then we opened the mail…and saw that five months earlier than expected, we had been sent the dreaded membership card from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). This on the same day that our oldest son graduated officially from high school.

Suddenly, personal grooming seems more important…like maybe we should start worrying more about those crows’ feet…the shape of our teeth…and maybe that whole incontinence thing.

MNB user Steve Schwalb wrote:

Welcome to the "recently got my AARP card" club, and congratulations to the high school graduate. By the way, I think your initial reaction to the ACNielsen study on the growth in men grooming products is correct....self obsession. But, it's not our fault!! With all the media bombardment about what we should look like and all the quick, convenient, "can't fail" means available to make that happen, it's not surprising that it's finally getting through to us guys...even the hard core ones! Just think about all the "subliminal" advertising and messaging that is occurring when we watch our beloved (or in my case with the Orioles, not so beloved!) national pastime. What used to be just a wall or backstop behind the batter or next to the dugout is now a forever changing advertising sign, always in view as we watch the game and constantly reminding us what products to use. What used to be "Oh, I'm a little tired and over-stressed from work" must now be erectile dysfunction (well, you know....since Raphael Palmeiro uses it....well, you know!), so I got to get that stuff. But, since growing old gracefully and being comfortable with what you are and look like doesn't sell any products, we're doomed to be self obsessed in today's environment. You know, some of this stuff is not too least the high school graduate won't have to worry about you leaving a puddle in the chair seat when you stand up to applaud at the college graduation.

Not sure that makes us feel better…

Another MNB user wrote:

I didn't join AARP, but asked the wife to join as I was too young mentally.

Either "the wife" has a great sense of humor or you simply prefer sleeping on the couch.
KC's View: