business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from an MNB reader:

I've weighed-in with you on the postal issue a few times, but have never spoken-up about the world of grocery, which I've been selling to for 25 years. I enjoy your focus on our industry and your opinions, which by-and-large I agree with. As I sat in day two, of a two-day meeting in Chicago, I was struck at how I was being included in a very special and unique opportunity that many, many, many of your readers could learn from ...

Whole Foods Markets (WFM) has a program started in 2006 called the Local Producer Loan Program (LPLP) where-by you can apply to your Regional Category Coordinator (i.e. grocery buyer, health & body buyer, meat, etc.) for a low-interest loan to assist you in expanding your business, thus giving you the opportunity to sell more within your home region, or expand into other regions. Whole Foods prefers that the loan be used for capital expenditures (equipment) though exceptions have been made. The amounts vary from a few thousand dollars to $100,000 depending on a multitude of factors related to your history within Whole Foods.

This symposium was the first annual meeting of all recipients of the LPLP and was a half-day trade show and full day of Q&A sessions. At the trade show we set-up tabletops with our products and collateral material and had the opportunity to present to every WFM Regional Grocery Coordinator (buyer), which is invaluable for small producers. Our ability to travel to ten US regional office is many times unaffordable. There was no charge to us as vendors to participate and WFM brought from 2-5 representatives from each region to this event, plus what appeared to be dozens from the global headquarters. It also gave us a chance to meet and tell war stories with other like-sized companies.

The second day was all about WFM helping us be better at our jobs. Without going into details about each of the seven sessions here is an idea of what they were about: WFM commitment to local producers and the loan program, how do you expand into other regions, and how to navigate the supply chain. These were all presented by the top ranking person in the respective department with an extensive Q&A after. Next were panel discussions on extremely relevant topics, such as: maintaining your brand though picking the right broker or brand manager, success stories and advice "What we wish we would have know then," social media ideas, and stories and what do do if you are looking for capital. They told us that with a goal of 1,000 US stores they had to have those of us in attendance, and more like us, for them to reach that goal and still have unique products that meet their standards for health and sustainability.

They reported, to enthusiastic applause, that they have recently raised the amount earmarked for this program from the original $10,000,000 commitment in 2006 (which they will reach before year-end) to $25,000,000 moving forward. Obviously it's working for them, and the proof is them telling us that our [local vendors] sales can be two to four times those of like-products in a category.

The reason I thought of MNB while sitting in the very first session was, what other retailer in America (or the World for that matter) would, first-off loan you money to grow your business and secondly would rent a space in a major cities CBD for two days and fly dozens of their most relevant high-ranking executives in to tell a group of vendors how to grow with their company? Having sold to WFM for over 25 years with a number of small entrepreneurial companies, I was moved by this act of foresight on their part and the commitment to their vendors. This is unheard of and they are to be commended!

From a small one-man, or Mom & Pop producer to a multi-national large retailer, I think lessons can be learned from this, by any industry, on how and inspire those on your team to build better relationships to the mutual benefit of both parties.

Thanks for sharing. Great story.

On another subject, an MNB reader wrote:

One of your readers seems to question why Harris Teeter sold to Kroger although perhaps it could get a higher price from another. Perhaps, it's not just about always getting the stock price for the shareholder, but also about a responsibility (maybe even an obligation) to have sustaining jobs and career opportunities for their employees as well as being a quality food provider to their customers and communities. While a private family business may be more likely to think about their employees, customers and community, there's no reason a publicly-traded company cannot as well. It's not just altruism, it's being responsible.

Agreed. Completely.

On the subject of e-commerce, MNB user Mark Raddant wrote:

It will be interesting to see what the environmental costs are of all this added shipping.  When I order on line, the original package is placed in the shipping package, often more than doubling the weight of the original.  Add to that the emissions from countless extra delivery trucks and the added wear and tear on roads and streets.  There is always a cost related to the idea of added convenience.  Prepared foods made our lives easier, but now we know the added cost of having someone else mass produce our dinners is obesity, increased levels of diabetes, and who knows what else?  It might be nice if for once, in our headlong rush to make our lives more convenient, we take time to find out if our lives get BETTER.

Regarding eBay's expansion of a same-day and next-day shipping program, one MNB user wrote:

Based on my experience, this week, I give the advantage to eBay. My pool pump stopped working on Sunday, so I Googled pool pump to find the nearest retailer that carries my pump. I found out the pump I need is a bit scarce, but came across a U Tube video on how to adapt it to a superior, more readily available pump. The new pump was available at Meijer’s but I needed 3 parts for the conversion, which were only available online. I found, and ordered the parts on Amazon. Since I’m not a Prime member, I had to pay shipping.

One of the parts, I needed was out of stock but Amazon indicated they would email me when it would be available and when to expect delivery. By midday, Monday, I hadn’t received an update from Amazon. I had to get the  ten dollar part quickly so my pool wouldn’t turn to pea soup, so I Googled the part and found it and ordered it on eBay. I then cancelled my order for that part on Amazon. Shipping on eBay was free and, even though I didn’t specify overnight delivery, the part arrived via FedEx the next day. I’m still waiting for my other parts from Amazon. Thankfully, I was able to take temporary measures to keep my pool clean.
I will now start all my online shopping at eBay.

From MNB reader Jeff Folloder:

I keep reading about the conundrum of traditional b&m retailers being relegated to show rooms for Amazon. Today's Your Views looked at book retailers in the specific. And my mind started clicking (might have had something to do with the triple espresso).  Amazon wants to expand their same day delivery services, books are a core business, book stores are still widely distributed... Why don't book sellers and Amazon team up?  Link up the inventory and order/dispatch systems, where possible, have the local b&M actually fulfill orders, coupon arrangement for future local purchases...? Customers get their orders faster and the local guys stay relevant.  What is worse for a local retailer: carrying dead inventory or moving it at a (presumptive) discount with the possibility of getting the customer into the store to experience added value?

MNB user Cassie Drake wrote, on another subject:

I wanted to respond to the article on Tuesday about the price gap between Target and Walmart.  This story and others like it frustrate me.  I Love Target!  I often use a trip to Target as an "escape" or time to relax, just wondering around each aisle. Going to Walmart is never relaxing and I do dread it every time I go. I understand that I may be paying a little more for a bar of soap that I buy at Target versus Walmart, but I am willing to pay that and probably more because of the experience I have at Target.  My fear is that Target will become too concerned with competing with Walmart on price and forget that as a customer I chose Target without much regard for the extra couple of dollars I might have to spend to shop there.

MNB user Dan Graham had some thoughts about yesterday's FaceTime, which suggested that it is counter-productive to stake out positions without considering the possibility that people holding different opinions might have legitimate reasons for their opinions:

Regarding your commentary I would just add that the path to an adult mind is usually education of some type - either formal or through the school of reality known as life. Of course to take the second road you need to pay attention, have an open mind and be willing to learn.

From another reader:

One of the aspects of life which is sorely neglected is the idea of balance.  If you train to be an athlete, the best way to perform is in balance, it is more efficient and you are less prone to injury. To ignore balance is to hurt your performance and body.  Intellectually, it keeps one from seeing the whole picture and developing a coherent, holistic response.  Our culture now emphasizes the opposite.  Case in point: when the President made a speech on the environment lately, very little was sown on ANY network; the talking heads jumped immediately to their own discussion of the political battles being fought at the extremes of politico/cultural thought.  Absolutely NO discussion of the actual content of the speech.

And another:

It seems to me to be impossible to argue with your FaceTime piece this morning although I suppose that some will attack it for various reasons. At least part of the problem is that we get such frequent bad examples from the politicians of all parties on an almost daily basis. I don’t know if the impulse to act so child-like is something that bubbled up to Washington and so many state houses or something that flowed out of them but it sure is disturbing. With so many examples before us daily I don’t think your term Adult Mind is the correct term, it should be the Mature mind…something many adults neither have nor aspire too.

MNB user Blake Steen wrote:

Just because someone takes one side or the other on something doesn’t mean they don’t understand the other side.  I’m 100% against a living wage because I saw my dad work two jobs and put himself through school when my sister and I were young.  He sacrificed a lot to get an education to make a better wage. For the government to regulate anything is scary including a “living wage”.  That is why I take the side of gay marriage as the government should not be telling people NO on that either. 
To (in so many words) call your readers unintelligent because they choose a side is very unfair.  It scares me when people don’t take a side.  To take a side means you understand both sides of the issue and have chosen your opinion.  Be careful when opining on such issues people are smarter than you give them credit for.

Not necessarily. There are a lot of folks out there who take positions without making any effort to understand the other side. They're called ideologues. And ideology, to quote the great Pete Hamill, is usually just an excuse for not thinking.

And, finally, from another reader:

You pompous, over educated, blowhard…how can you claim people default to calling names and demonizing people when they disagree.

And how could you possibly think your lefty commie diatribe about let’s all listen to the other guy’s perspective is worth the time I spent reading it.

Then you drag our politicians into the mud…well if we didn’t have right minded people fighting for right minded ideas our country would be going to hell in a hand basket faster than we already are.

Some days, professor,  you just amaze me with your condescending thinking.

Of course this is all 100% in jest.

What a concept - compromise solution.

Wink wink.

KC's View: