Passing grade in feining kiss-ass

I had to go into work early Friday after having the previous two days off.   The reason for this was a change in my schedule due to the arrival of a VP of the company for a little ‘look-see’ and ‘press-the-flesh’ the executives do before major holidays.  Most of the time they’re ensconced over in Buffalo, much like the executives were in Syracuse with the last company I worked for.  They only ventured out for what they deemed ‘important’ dates, and the places they go have to ‘spruce-up’ and make nice for them, so they can see how the other half lives.  Except they never get the full measure (and they know it), because no one tells them how things are really going.

So to me, it’s a dog and pony show.  And it always has been.

The only time I’d ever been impressed with the manner in which an executive ever visited places was when I was working for the previous employer, and there was a hired gun brought in from California (it soon turned out to be an enormous clusterfuck, but it started out promising).  His method, at least in the beginning, sidestepped the normal method of pre-sprucing places for visits.  He would go to the stores he wanted to visit, or send in people that just shopped there, didn’t interact with the store management, and took notes on what they saw.  Who they spoke to, how they were treated, everything.  So when he went back in, in his official capacity, he could see through all the hoopla that was put in place to dazzle him.  And it worked.  He could say ‘Well, I was here last week on this day, and this happened, and I saw that, or one of my people saw this or that, experienced this thing, and why is that?”  Sure, maybe a ‘gotcha’ moment, but at least it wasn’t him showing up unawares, seeing everything looking pristine, and then walking out of the place thinking everything is great, when it never is.  These sorts of visits infuriate me.  But, I’m not allowed to say anything.  So, I don’t.  I glad-hand, make nice and get them out of my department.

I’ve worked for three different companies, and these visits are without a doubt always the same.  Spending an inordinate amount of time and money to create a visage for someone to see.  They’re trying to convince them everything they see is just fine, if there are fewer hours to work with, that’s swept under the rug.  Any other problems, same thing.  Just make nice and go on with business, as if that makes any sense.

I guess I just don’t understand the nuances of corporate executives.  If was running a company, I would want to know the crap along with the good stuff.  So I could fix the crap and make things better for not only the customers that make my business go, but the employees who are on the front lines.  But no one wants to do that.

As expected, we got word the execs were pleased with what they saw.  So, the show goes on.  And the overall problems remain.  Naturally.


Working with lazy people

Its always boggled me how lazy some people can be when there’s one thing that no one wishes to do.

There’s a cardboard baler where I work.  Since the vast majority of the products that we get in are packed in corrugated cardboard, the baler gets quite a workout day to day.  When it’s full, it needs to be shut down, opened, wires run through it, tied off, and the machine spits out the bale once chains are attached to the compressing ram.  The bale falls onto a wooden pallet, the pallet is put on a trailer destined for the warehouse and the whole process begins anew.  The recurring problem lies with who gets to make the bale.  None of the department people want to do it.  They’d rather fill up the baler and leave it for someone else to take care of.  As a matter of fact, on a day like today, those same people filled the baler to a such a degree, it was nearly impossible to get the bale made safely.

On one of my trips to the baler Tuesday morning, I encountered the deli manager throwing her cardboard into the already overfilled machine.  She looked up at me and said “Looks like a bale needs to be made” and proceeded to walk off.  I called out to her rather loudly “the baling wire is right over there, if you wish to give me a hand WE can make one…” and she turned, shook her head and walked off, not a care in the world.

It’s not my responsibility to make a bale.  But I certainly know how.  I learned many years ago, and have taught countless people how to do it.  It’s pretty simple, and a single person can do it alone if they’re careful.  The sheer number of people that work there and have zero interest in something that would help literally everyone else just boggles me.  It makes no sense to me whatsoever.  Of course, the worst offender is the one person that you would think would have the most to gain by helping out is the store manager.  One day the baler was full, I went to move the pallets of water out of the way while he was in the back room, and he asked me what I was doing.  I told him I needed to make a bale and could use some help.  He recommended I get someone else.  I replied he was available, since he was only using a broom to clean the back room.  Needless to say, he gave me a withering look and in one of the most condescending tones I’ve ever heard from someone in his position might have, he said very plainly “I don’t make bales.”

At that point, I didn’t tell him what I was thinking.  Anything I might have said at that juncture would have more than likely involved not only the union steward (the aforementioned deli manager) and/or our union rep.  So best left unsaid.

It doesn’t take a lot to be helpful.  We get pounded into our heads daily that ‘Customer Service’ is a priority.  Well helping out your fellow employees is a good thing as well.  Pity that it’s so far down on everyone’s to-do list.


If it a’int broke…

I wonder sometimes why corporate executives make some of the decisions they do.  A lot of the ones they make don’t seem to be set too much in reality, not to mention the fact a good many of them are only on the books for a few months, and then the product is gone again, like a failed television show.

Couple examples:

  • A significant investment was made into a start-up company called Chef’d last year.  Their business model was based on the quick take-off on mail-order meal kits from companies like Blue Apron and HelloFresh.  Their idea was to take that concept and put meals in boxes in stores, refrigerated so your average shopper would pick them up and take them home.  Cook the ingredients, eat the meal and repeat the process without having to purchase a membership from the mail-order company.   The idea made sense in a certain way, except the meals weren’t all that appealing, they were expensive ($20 for a meal for two people) and once the customer had the recipe that came with the box, they could recreate the product without ever having to purchase it again.  So, to me, (and others I spoke to) it wasn’t the best idea.  Except that my company went for it hook, line and sinker.  Big marketing campaign, lots of signage, purchased a refrigerated cooler for every store that was rolling it out, and so on.  It flopped big time.  Within six months, Chef’d folded, and fired all of their employees.  Of course one of their bigger investors took control of their warehouses etc and are marketing their products under a similar name. Coincidentally, my store continues to market these meal boxes, with similar results. A lot of throwaway.  Very little sales.
  • For as long as I’ve been in the retail business, grocery stores sell a lot of hamburger.  It’s freshly ground throughout the day, and usually enough is made in the late afternoon to last through the evening until the following day.  Even in 24 hour stores, there usually isn’t a ‘run’ item, where you run out of it.  There are exceptions of course, as there always are.  Within the last month we’ve been informed that the company has decided to do away with the freshly ground meat in leaner grades, in lieu of pre-packaged, like one might find at Costco, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club and some other grocery stores.  It has a longer shelf life (10-12 days from point of sale, meaning when it gets put on the shelf) and even though the label does say one thing ‘Beef’, one has to wonder what else is in it, in order for it to stay appealing for two weeks or more from the time when it was shipped from the warehouse.  None of us that work in the actual department think this is a good idea, but somewhere above us, someone seems to think this is a winner.  Too, there’s been a lot of talk around about the executives trying to trim labor however and whenever possible and one big outlay of money is in the meat department, ie: the ones that cut the meat.  They’re paid pretty handsomely (and when you think about it, it’s deserved, considering daily they’re pitting life and limb against some fairly nasty equipment if used incorrectly or something happens accidentally) and go through some fairly rigorous training in order to be able to handle all the different cuts of meat so that they look appealing to the eye when in the display case.

Its decisions like these that make me wonder who’s running the show at any given time.  Many of the executives worked their way up from the bottom rungs, but there are others that came in from other businesses, ones that don’t necessarily have the razor sharp edge when it comes to dividing sales from profit.  I’ve worked for three different corporations in my time, and in some ways they’re different, but in many ways they’re the same.   Companies share ideas, or some companies outright borrow or ‘steal’ ideas from their competitors, thinking that what works for the others, will work for them, even if they don’t do it the exact same way.

I’m reminded of my former company having seen what the independent retailer down the road was doing with chalkboards and multi-colored chalk to ‘talk-up’ and advertise each department and what was on sale for any particular week.  When one would go into that company’s stores, it looked fresh and kitschy.  What my former company did was take the idea and downplay it, going with a supplier that sold specific signs that looked like chalkboards, but were pre-printed with the department names, and hung them from the ceiling in each department.  And left there.  Over time they started to become faded and dust covered (as one would expect) and for the most part forgotten.  And this was done over the entire corporation, so 200 plus stores with faded and dusty signage?  Didn’t look very professional after a few years.  If anything, it looked dated and neglected.  But that was their business model.  After three bankruptcies they still didn’t learn anything, in the aftermath of each bankruptcy, they went back to doing things ‘the same old way’ and got the same old results.  Little wonder they’re no longer in business.

“If it a’int broke, don’t fix it.”  I wish someone would learn from this.  I’m all for innovation, but sometimes leaving well enough alone is a business model too.