business news in context, analysis with attitude

On the subject of management-labor issues, MNB user Bill Gardner sent us the following email:

You hit it right on the head when you said "chains look at front-line staffers as costs, not assets."

As a resident of Colorado, I visit a King Soopers store several times a week, whether it be to buy lottery tickets, grocery shop, grab something for lunch, or visit the bank or ATM. I can't tell you how many times I've complained to management in two stores about the lack of help at the customer service desk. If they're going to offer all those services, they need to have more than one person working the desk during peak times. I've had to wait as much as 15 minutes. First of all, I think it's ridiculous that a grocery store thinks it needs to be a bill-paying center, a rental center, ticket buying service, lottery outlet, and shipping service in addition to normal store services, such as returns and tobacco sales.

In one store, some of the clerks obviously don't care about their jobs and barely speak to customers, let alone smile. And they're certainly not in any hurry. At the store I frequent during my lunch hour, the staff is very quick and efficient, but obviously aren't happy about their career choice. I'm in that store at least twice a week at the customer service desk (I WILL win
Powerball any day now!), and they never seem to recognize me. They're like robots and can't seem to wait to get rid of a customer. What happened to friendly service?

I firmly believe their attitude toward customers is a result of how they're treated by management. If management gives them no respect, why should they care?

By the way, I've discussed this with a friend who works in one of the stores. In fact, it was he who insisted I complain to the manager and even paged the manager for me. My friend, after hearing my complaints, said that management doesn't really care what the customer thinks because they feel there are no other choices. Well, there are for me, and I've walked away many times. The next time may be for good.

You read emails like this one, and you realize that while King Soopers has a labor problem, it may not be the labor problem it thinks it has.

Now, compare the letter above to the emails we got responding to our piece about Jungle Jim’s International Market in Ohio.

MNB user Chris Riesbeck wrote:

I too have spent time in Jungle Jim’s and found it to be an exciting place to treasure hunt for all sorts of items from cigars to produce and everything in between. The store brings a truly innovative approach to shopping. It's not just about filling consumers’ pantries - it's the entire shopping experience. Retailers like Jungle Jim’s understand that and deserve to stand apart. Granted it won't be for everyone but it's great to have such stores to reinvigorate grocery shopping.

And MNB user Denise Remark-Lundell wrote:

My husband & I visited JJ's recently while attending a wedding; in fact, the wedding became secondary to my excitement about shopping at Jungle Jim's! We live in NE Ohio & JJ's in is SW Ohio, so it's not a brief trip

However, JJ's is reason enough to travel 4+ hours to shop! What an event!
My husband isn't a foodie (although he happily reaps the benefits of my foodie ness) but had a terrific time shopping & exploring with me. I wish JJ's were closer because I would be there several times a week! We will return and next time take coolers & freezer packs so we can transport perishable goodies! Everyone should go to Jungle Jim's--it would spoil them for mundane shopping ever after!

We also got the following email about management-labor relations:

Years ago in a Sunday Dilbert cartoon (always on point regarding the business world) the Pointy Haired Boss was addressing his employees in meeting. With the usual corporate drivel of “…employees are our most important asset…” he follows it up in the next panel with “…AND AS WITH ALL ASSETS YOU DECREASE IN VALUE OVER TIME….”.

Unfortunately this is the view of most businesses regarding their employees today. The inability of companies to take price increases has caused them to focus on cutting costs, in most cases employment costs.

Now, a King Soopers store will never be a Jungle Jim’s. And vice-versa.

And we certainly don’t want to pick only on King Soopers…because the same approach to store environment and employees exists at pretty much every major chain in the country.

It just seems to us that until the chains begin to realize what their true assets are – and start developing and coaching those assets so that they make a real, tangible difference to consumers – the competitive problems that they face are only going to worsen.
KC's View: