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.

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