Still Falling Down

Still Falling Down

August, 2006

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How not to improve a grocery store

I went to the Gristede’s supermarket (well, supermarket as it’s defined in Manhattan) the other morning because we were out of milk. It was too early for the D’Agostinos to be open. I haven’t been going to Gristede’s recently because I found the store dirty, and the employees rude, but especially after one visit where I asked the manager to turn off the music on the PA. It was the worst kind of gangsta rap, including lyrics about killing policemen.

As the manager finally rang up my items (all three of them), I saw a circular on the wall announcing a company contest. Apparently, the corporate headquarters finally got tired of all the complaints about the stores. There were at least 8 different categories, including cleanliness, employee attitude, and produce quality. The contest was to reward the store manager whose unit improved the most in all the categories.

Wow. This just seemed wrong on so many levels. It may sound good to reward a store for improving in all these areas, but think about it. The manager (and, by extension, the district manager) who allowed this store to become the undesirable place which prompted so many complaints, would be rewarded and praised for bringing it back to the minimum acceptable level it should have been all along.

Also, this is basically a sales contest. The behavior driven by sales contests evaporates the instant that contest ends, or it participants realize that they can’t win.

So, once this effort is finished, the stores will stop being cleaned, the employees will go back to insulting the customers (after they’re finished ignoring them or discussing last night’s drunken screw-ups), and the produce will stay on the shelves longer.

If Gristede’s really wants to change this behavior, then the managers who were directly or ultimately responsible for the operations of these units should be demoted or fired. This is not about underperforming, this is about not doing their job, plain and simple. This goes all the way to the top. Maybe Mr. Catsimidis should spend more time in the stores and less time running for mayor.

If you want someone to excel at their job, make them understand that’s what their job is about, day in and day out. Contests are for one-time jolts. Store cleanliness and employee attitude are not subjects for one-off and forget it contests.

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