business news in context, analysis with attitude

From an MNB reader:

A quick note in response to the email you posted Tuesday on remote working.

Companies were forced to go into remote work arrangements during covid and many associates enjoyed the freedom it allowed, particularly if their company did not offer some version of remote working days pre covid. While many workers can be productive working remotely how does a company instill its company culture remotely, how do you train and mentor the new hires just joining the ranks?

For those retail companies, how do you justify to the rank and file store associates that must show up at the store each day that their office counterparts get to work from home?. Remote work will be with us until some other shift in the employer/employee balance changes but requiring at least 3 -4 days in the office is not a big ask for an employer. Having worked through Covid and observed what transpired you won't convince me that the remote work was as productive as when workers were present in the office. Not to say that people in the office didn't find ways to distract themselves from the work at hand.

Yesterday we had a piece about Trader Joe's rejecting any sort of e-commerce component to its business, and I commented:

Maybe Trader Joe's never will embrace e-commerce.  But there was a time when the company rejected scanning, too.  (My local Trader Joe's, when it opened in 1998, didn't have scanning when it first opened its doors, and that was well past the time when almost every grocer had adopted the technology.)

I would be the last person in the world to tell Trader Joe's how to be an effective retailer.  But I would suggest that times change, and it isn't impossible to imagine that a time will come when it will make more sense for it do offer e-commerce options than to reject it.

MNB reader Steve Anvik wrote:

Aren’t you always advocating unique retailer connectivity (most recently old school Bill’s Toggery) .. so Trader Joe’s is just that, yet you still challenge their status quo, in your comments. 

Does Mrs. KC notice indecision in you … since you often quote her?

I don't think Mrs. Content Guy thinks of me as being indecisive.  "Stubborn" and "pig-headed" are adjectives she tends to use more frequently.  (There also are a couple of nouns she uses that I can't repeat here.)

But I actually reject your characterization.  All I said was that "I would be the last person in the world to tell Trader Joe's how to be an effective retailer," but that times could change, and Trader Joe's could adjust its strategy.

Isn't that what all smart retailers do - reinvent themselves when the evidence suggests that it is time to do so?  

I did get a very thoughtful email on this subject from another reader:

My wife and I operate a small Jam and Jelly business with no retail stores of our own.  We are in 50 stores in 4 states and growing and have a website that includes a map to all the retail locations where you can find our products.  It's been tempting and people question us on it all the time, but we have no desire to sell over the internet.  First, it's expensive to ship jelly as it is heavy.  Second, Amazon has set the expectation that shipping is free, and nothing in this world is free.  Third, we would rather support our local retailers than compete with them online and we tell them so.

One might argue that we are giving up sales, reach and new/remote customers in the digital age.  But we view it differently.  For what is the purpose of a business?  We want to make money sure, but we also view the company as a vehicle to support employees by creating employment and an opportunity to support local brick and mortar businesses.  If nobody supports them, they die.  So, we've decided to forego competing with them online and instead encourage customers wishing to purchase online to support our retail partners who do just that.

With all the talk lately about the merger of Kroger and Albertsons plus the pressure brought to businesses from Walmart and Amazon, small businesses are hurting.  Not all of our retail partners survived Covid.  We are small boutique brand supporting local boutique businesses and grocers.  We will never sell into Walmart either.  Probably half our retail partners would drop us like a hot rock if we did so.  In their eyes we would no longer be special and so why carry us?  It would hurt the relationships we've built with people who took a risk on a small local brand and supported us, so we support them.