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.

Bluster = Intent?

About every three months my union has a conference call, what they call a ‘telephone town hall’ where the union President and whoever else he invites to participate talks to the members that wish to listen in.  Usually this is held at the union offices near Buffalo, NY, but sometimes they do it in a satellite place like Syracuse, Albany, or somewhere there’s a significant union presence, where they can be out and seen, interact with the rank and file, and in many ways give us all the impression that our union dues are actually going towards something meaningful, rather than what some suspect, padding their respective pockets.

In these calls, the format is welcoming everyone to the call, talking about what’s been occurring in the union over the last several months, since not all union members are with one particular company, there are several businesses that are covered by the union, so someone in the health care industry isn’t necessarily interested in pension business with a grocery chain and so on.  There’s some crossover, but not necessarily a lot.  On these calls, generally at any given time there may be anywhere between 700 and 3000 people listening in, depending on what’s being discussed.  Certainly more than one would get at a sit-down union meeting, as is evidenced by all the ones I’ve attended when it comes to discussing and voting on impending contracts.  Just as an example, the last time my particular contract was voted on, out of over 100 eligible employees that might have attended the meeting, four showed up.  FOUR.  Boggles my mind.  With that in mind, the organizers had several different locals at the meeting so as to allow for more people than one local would provide.  Still, the attendance rate was pretty dismal.

Getting back to the issue at hand, the meeting was mostly about what’s been happening ove the past three months, and to bring people’s attention to a program the union is sponsoring in regard to health care costs, that it requires some effort to participate in.  In order to lower the costs here in the US (since we don’t seem to have any rhyme or reason when it comes to health care charges) they started this program where one can provide them with some health care information (confidentially) and if there are certain warning signs (heart, pre-diabetes, etc) that person can get assistance in attending to it, from a health professional, as well as qualify for lower co-pays and higher payments from the health insurance, which can be a great thing if one ever has anything that would be more costly in that regard.

Generally, the business portion is dealt with first, then the floor is opened up for questions.  Too, there are small polls conducted, asking questions like “who are you going to vote for in the coming election“, (generally unions prefer Democratic candidates as Republicans aren’t very supportive of anything to do with organized labor as a rule) to fill in the time of the meeting.  After the business is attended to, the floor is opened up for questions.  Generally, the questions aren’t supposed to be about something the person is experiencing in their local store or employment location, but on occasion that does happen.  Too, questions attend to information or discrepancies in the health care plans, but every now and again someone asks something that effects all of us.

In that vein, this time, someone asked that sort of question.

Here in New York, the state government has been raising the minimum labor wage incrementally over the last ten years.  The Federal minimum wage is at $7.25/hour and has been there since 2009.  There have been several bills introduced in the Senate and House intending to raise it, but with Republican control in the Senate, and Trump in the White House, there’s little chance of a raise in the minimum wage on the Federal level anytime soon.  That’s not to say the Democrats are any less guilty of this, when Obama was President, Congress had little desire to raise it either, so there’s blame on both sides.

The question posed was; with the raising of the minimum wage that has been happening, every time that wage goes up, those of us that are earning more than minimum end up losing out, since eventually someone being hired could very well make about the same amount of money that another person (like myself) took 20-30 years to earn.  Minimum wage rising doesn’t translate to a bump in pay for people in grade.  We end up losing ground to this.  And the company I work for knows this, but does nothing about it.  They just throw up their hands, and say there’s nothing they can do and continue on their merry way.  (Of course it doesn’t stop them from awarding themselves bonuses whenever they feel like it, but that’s a different issue.)

The person asked if there was anything the union was intending to do about it, and that’s when the union President had a nutty.  I’ve actually never heard someone in his position get so passionate about an issue, and as he was going on about it, he was practically yelling into the phone.  I think it was a speakerphone on his end, since he was at a sit-down rank and file meeting that had been set up for this occasion.  That might have contributed to his actions, but he harranged about this for a good two to three minutes, basically calling out the grocery company I work for to do something about this issue (I do wonder if they had someone listening in on the call, or ever do) and just coming short of promising to bring this up at the contract negotiations next year.  Whether or not anything happens with this is very up in the air, but it was pretty interesting to listen to at any rate.

After this tirade, the meeting came rather quickly to a close.  All in all it wasn’t wasted time, and it gave me something to ponder as well as talk to with my fellow employees at work the next day, ones that hadn’t been in on the call.  I actually expect I’m one of the few at my store that even bothers to take these calls, but being older, I tend to give more weight as to what happens with the union than younger employees, who might not be so interested in building a career in the retail industry.


Bright and Early

There’s one Monday out of every month that I have to be up at 3:15 am for work.  Those are ‘Inventory Mondays’ and they’re a bitch as I get older.  I hate to say this, and believe me I knew eventually I would be saying this, as a matter of fact I’ve often thought about when I was younger saying this, but when I was younger, this was easier.  As I get older, it seems it’s harder to get up at odd times, I’m becoming more of a creature of habit, or preference if you will.  Working in retail, there are first, second and third shifts, though ‘night crew’ (overnight stocking) generally is something you ask to do, not be asked to do.  Since you’re going against your body’s normal circadian rhythms, there’s a reason that graveyard workers are paid a little better than their daytime counterparts.

I’ve spent the vast majority of my career working third shift.  12 years stocking shelves for three different companies, as well as another 12 years working in a bakery department for one of them.  So, 24 years of working nights, but I can say the bakery work was the most rewarding for me, even though at times it was the hardest.  Even now I have residual effects from that work, I have recurring wrist pain that might have something to do with carpal tunnel, since there were years and years of kneading countless rounds of dough for my job.  I never bothered to get the surgery, and about 3 years ago I lifted a case of chicken oddly and sprained (my thought) my right wrist and its never been the same since.  I wear a brace to bed at night, I’ve had physical therapy and even talked to a surgeon about it.  He said that he might be able to do something with it, but there are no guarantees, and since I work in a job with repetitive motion (as well as lifting boxes weighing 40-80 lbs) I could easily re-injure it just by working.

So for the time being, I work during the day, and one day a month I get up at the crack of 3:15 in order to be to work by 5.  Call it a necessary evil.  I know very well it could be a lot worse, because I’ve been in jobs where it’s been worse.  So I’m thankful right now it’s just that one day a month.  I’d rather not go back to working 3rd if I can help it.  I figure I have about 13 more years of work before I can retire.  Best I do it where I don’t have to drive an ungodly amount to get there, and its something that I want to be doing, as opposed to something I have to be doing.