business news in context, analysis with attitude

Last week we had a conversation about the Robinson-Patman Act, prompted by the proposed Kroger-Albertsons deal, which prompted one MNB reader to write:

For 25 years I was an attorney at a major consumer products manufacturing company.  (Before becoming a lawyer I had some experience at the retail level - independent as well as chain.)  While as an attorney in those 25 years, compliance with R-P was not among my responsibilities, I was familiar with the statute and what was happening at ground zero level.   To begin with, the statute is subject to some interpretation.  The sales people in large measure were reacting to what competitors were offering.  The major chains etc. stretch the limits of the statute in their demands.  They had to do it because their competitors did. It became a sort of race to the bottom in complying on both sides and the lack of federal enforcement is certainly a factor.  Add to that I strongly suspect that more often than not the sales people were making concessions that they never had reviewed.  Brokers get involved.  The higher ups didn't often get into the details - they just told the sales people to make the numbers or else.  R-P covers a lot more than just "pricing".  There are many other "incentives and services" that major accounts get that are not offered to independents.  R-P covers a lot more than just pricing discrimination.  It is not a level playing field out there.  Independents survive largely because they have lower overhead.  

MNB reader Lauren G. D. Redman had a response:

This person clearly didn’t spend too much time with independents OR wasn’t privy to the books.  As a 100% ESOP and independent retailer I can absolutely say our overhead is NOT lower than the majors as we have to attract and retain employees in an over-stored market that has an out of control housing market (median home prices are over $700,000).  How we do that is with company paid benefits and employee discounts that far exceed anything the majors offer along with some of the best pay in the area if not the industry.

I do however agree with this person’s statement that it is not a level playing field.  Spot on.  So instead of bitching about boohoo life isn’t fair, we instead look inward at the things we can do and the things we can control and treat our employees and customers the very best we can.

Let’s get real, this merger if approved isn’t good for the consumer or the employee or the communities that will lose stores.  What is good about it…the opportunity it creates for the independent that chooses to do the best they can for their employees and customers.  When you do that both groups will seek you out as the employer of choice and the grocer that feeds their family.

This is why Lauren - CEO of Newport Avenue Market in bend, Oregon - is both an MNB fave and one of the best independents out there.

MNB reader Rich Heiland had some thoughts about Kroger's Q3 numbers:

I have long felt that the worst thing that ever happened to business in this country was the beginning of quarterly profit and loss estimates, then their reporting. 90 days in the life of a corporation is a split second. I blame this sort of reporting for the death of strategic planning, long-term goals and values establishment and skyrocketing executive wages. After all, what serious executive is going to sign on for being publicly evaluated every 90 days without one hell of a salary and parachute? I would love to go back to annual reports. Let people dream, plan to chase those dreams, then judge them. 

I got some lovely emails about my FaceTime regarding Thanksgiving dinner.

MNB reader Phil Herr wrote:

Thanks for sharing your joy. I could see you were moved as you spoke. I could feel a prickling in my eyes as you described your feelings.

MNB reader Ron Beltramo wrote:

Kevin…I saw your post this morning and I had a very similar Thanksgiving experience.  Our son, daughter, daughter-in-law, three grandsons, sisters-in-law, niece & friend all got together for Thanksgiving dinner at our house.  It was the first time we had been together like that since the pandemic and I savored the moment (just like you).  Felt the same joy you mentioned and have a lot to be thankful for. 

Glad to hear you had a great Thanksgiving and were able to enjoy family & friends time…and have that joyful feeling.  Hope you (and I) have many more holidays just like this Thanksgiving in the future.

And MNB reader Kim Marsh wrote:

It was touching to hear about your thanksgiving and mirrored my own experience this year.  

As background, my family moved to Canada back in 2009 when I was promoted to run sales there for the Kellogg Company.  My oldest son was a junior in high school and, needless to say, I did NOT win 'Mom of the year' that year!  But he found his place in Canada and has since graduated from a Canadian university, found a job he is thriving in, become engaged to a lovely woman and applied for full citizenship.  

The pandemic kept them in Toronto, so close, yet so far.  This thanksgiving, his first “home” in 4 years, was ever so sweet for all of us.  I found myself, like you, grateful for the gathering over a wonderful meal, love and laughs, debates and jokes between the group - my 3 sons, their fiancé and girlfriend and me and my fiancé.  This is what its all about.  We can, and should, sit back and relish these moments, especially after the last 3 years of separation, discontent and discourse. We can, and should, as parents, find moments of contentment in who our kids have become, their talents and their successes as well as acknowledging the obstacles they overcame to get to where they are right now. 

Thank you for speaking about your thanksgiving, it moved me to think about ours as well.  And I have a sneaking suspicion that your kids know you and that somewhere, somehow, you would find a way to use your experience as a lesson for us all.