business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from MNB reader Rich Heiland about the new rankings of the best supermarkets in the US:

Like you I kind of take these things with a grain of salt. But, as you know I am an HEB fan. And in a way, it has nothing to do with groceries, which after all are a commodity.

Every store in our area has them. What HEB consistently has is nice people who seem to enjoy their work and know their store and products; fun commercials that are localized by region using sports stars and others from those regions (i.e., San Antonio gets Spurs players, not Rockets); generally among the first to step up in any community crisis or emergency; participates locally in terms of staff, donations; isn’t afraid to innovate; quick to admit mistakes; laughs at itself; actually listens to customers. I could go on. But bottom line HEB takes care of business by taking care of the business outside the business. By doing so it creates an experience, which in today’s retail environment is the ultimate loyalty builder. Oh, and yes, it also sells food and other stuff.

One of the other chains on the list was Market Basket, which prompted this email from MNB reader Joe Axford:

Market Basket? Give me a break, they have three stores in Salem NH, three in Haverhill MA for example, with no other supermarket competition. I have to take these surveys with a grain of salt.

Or a whole shaker of salt. Salt. Salt. Salt.

We talked here about the importance of food stores being more adventurous when it comes to culinary, which prompted one MNB reader to write:

Some retailers are doing culinary training already. Since 2014 H-E-B has operated a culinary school in San Antonio.

H-E-B again. Not a coincidence.

MNB reader Craig Espelien chimed in:

I read the piece today on where some chefs received their training - iHop, Applebees, Wendy’s, etc. and was intrigued by your comment on how grocery retailers (or retailers in general) nudge their way into this pathway.

This got me thinking about definitions - and the fact the food service (sort of regardless of the outlet) is defined as being part of the “Hospitality” business where grocery retailing in specific is not. Perhaps if all retailers thought of themselves as being more in the hospitality business, more would achieve the levels of preference achieved by HEB (also referenced in the blog today).

Perhaps the very mind set the industry has or does not have is a way to “nudge” into the pathway - approach customer experience from a hospitality perspective rather than from a “cart full of groceries” perspective.

Responding to yesterday's FaceTime piece about StitchFix, one MNB reader wrote:

Huge huge huge fan!  My stylist bats about .800 and keeps me in good style.  I have slowly dialed back frequency as I have built up my wardrobe.  I was skeptical, however I am a huge fan.  It feels incredibly personalized and the more I interact with them the better the clothes get for me. Also, I love the Mavi jeans.

I raved about the Mavi jeans yesterday, which prompted MNB reader Tom Gillpatrick to note:

Mavi is Turkish brand … Mavi is Turkish word for blue.

Something I didn't know. Thanks.

From another reader:

You have frequently commented on Stitch Fix model but I don’t believe I have seen you take a look at the Stylist role and how it contributes to the company’s success.

As a former part time Stylist, I can tell you that it wasn’t as simple as the use of an “algorithm” to create a Fix. Stylists must complete a required number of Fixes per hour, create the customer note of a specific length, and maintain a “keep rate” based on what their clients decide to keep. These and other statistics are monitored weekly and if a Stylist falls below their stats, they are coached by a Stylist Lead until their stats improve.

As a young company, they have experienced some growing pains with inventory levels, making it challenging for stylists to find items that meet their customer’s needs. Keep rates fall and customers have left angry and inappropriate feedback comments for the Stylist. Part time Stylists are required to work a minimum number of hours per week even when inventory is low.

I chose to leave Stitch Fix after a about a year. As a “boomer” I didn’t really fit the demographic of what Stitch Fix looks for in a Stylist role. I found the minimum hour requirement and metrics standards a little more than what I was looking for in a part time job.

A lot goes on behind the scenes at Stitch Fix. I’m sure there are similarities with Trunk Club and other similar services.

Thanks for the perspective.
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