Logistics

I was going to talk at some length about the “supply-chain crisis” with respect to the grocery business, but Sundance did it for me.

And for what it’s worth, his diagnosis and analysis are absolutely 100% correct.  As long as there are no hiccups in any aspect of the supply chain, “just-in-time” supply is the Finance Department’s wet dream.  But note the term, “any aspect“.

A driver shortage, a spare parts shortage, a labor shortage, a packaging shortage or a fuel shortage, and the whole Jenga structure falls over.  If all of those happen at about the same time, the Jenga structure disappears completely and would take months if not years to be restored.

As we are going to see very soon.  Stock up now, folks, while you still can.  And for once, I’m not talking about ammo.

No Kidding

One of my favorite movie (and life) lines comes from A League of their Own :  “There’s no crying in baseball!”

Here’s something we all know about.

Facts be damned: Rising use of emotional language like ‘feel’ and ‘believe’ has helped displace rational thought in ‘post-truth era’

A new study suggests we are living in the post-truth era where ‘feelings trump facts,’ as language has become less rational and more emotional over the past 40 years.

A team of scientists found words like ‘determine’ and ‘conclusion’ that were popular from 1850 through 1980 have been since been replaced with human experience such as ‘feel’ and ‘believe.’

The team also identified another major shift around 2007 with the birth of social media, when the use of emotion-laden language surged and fact-related words dropped.

Although the drivers behind the shift cannot be determined, the researchers suggest it could be a rapid development in science and technology or tensions that came about from changes in economic polices in the early 1980s.

Reason #2,465 why I could never work in a modern office.

Coming from a business background where every single proposition or proposal had to be justified with fact, research, real-world experience and (lastly) common sense, the very thought of going through the same process where any suggestion of same might “trigger” some kind of emotional response at best makes me want to reach for the gin bottle. (At worst, it makes my trigger finger itch.)

In fact, an emotional response to criticism would have made my time’s audience suspicious:  Why are they getting upset?  What are they hiding?   Why should we take them seriously when they are such weak people that criticism upsets them?

Nowadays, of course, all the above responses would result in Stern Words from HR (or even, gawd help us, from your own Management, so pussywhipped has the business world become).

No wonder Socialism has become so popular:  because while the eventual goal of Socialism is complete societal control, the way it is introduced is through emotional appeal:  “It’s not fair that…”  or “We need to end [whatever supposed evil]”, without any fact-based foundation but with plenty of anecdotal or emotionally-based evidence.

Small wonder too that the entire Green Movement is based not only on emotion, but a pack of easily-disproved lies (“Climate is cooling I mean warming I mean changing, and we’re all gonna diiiieeeee if we don’t do something!!!”)

Facts don’t need to be propped up by emotion;  they stand proudly on their own.  In fact, it’s probably true to say that the greater the hysteria generated by about some supposed catastrophe, the more likely it is to be complete bullshit.

Dr. Fauci, call your office.

Chasing Markets

I’m not going to argue with the genius of Juan Trippe, the late head of Pan Am (as discussed in last night’s homework assignment).  But the problem with genius is that it can overstretch itself, which is what happened to Trippe, and that had dire consequences for Pan Am.

But first, it’s time for yet another one of Kim’s Supermarket Stories (and I promise it has relevance).

I once worked for a chain which prided itself on the quality of its product — not only the merchandise, but the service of its customers.  The Produce Department (Fruit & Veg to non-Murkin Readers) was as good as any “street market” or “farmer’s market”, for the simple reason that the store merchandisers tossed out a tremendous amount of any produce items which they judged sub-standard or even close to going “off” before they ever set it out on the shelves, in the bins, fridges or displays.  The result was that you could pick any item off the display stand, and had no need to check it because you just knew that it had passed a stringent quality test.  And the same was true of every department:  (on-site) bakery, meat department, deli and so on.  As a result, our average basket cost a little more than our competitors’, but then again, our typical shopper belonged to a higher income bracket:  the kind who value quality over price and expect the best.  Our average household, therefore, usually consisted of a high-earning husband/wife with teenage kids, who lived in the upper-middle class suburbs where (surprise surprise) 95% of our stores were located.

I was at the time the senior marketing manager for the chain — ran the loyalty program, worked with the Advertising department, worked with Purchasing on product selection and so on.

Then we had a huge management change:  new CEO, new COO and new CFO.  When I went to the first “welcome” meeting, the new CEO announced, without any fanfare, that our chain would henceforth be aiming for the lower segment of customers:  younger moms with small kids, more “efnic” shoppers, and so on.  After the meeting, I managed to get a one-on-one with the new CEO, and blew up at him.

  • Had he discussed this with Purchasing? (because we’d have to start buying larger pack sizes, cheaper — perhaps lower-quality — products, which meant new shelf set design, and so on)
  • Were all new stores going to be located in more down-market areas? (because our existing stores were not convenient to those areas)
  • How were we going to compete with the multitude of competitive chains who had already staked out the “Every Day Low Price” (EDLP) position in the marketplace? (and we didn’t have the numbers to compete with the large existing chains, anyway)
  • Had anyone looked at how this new strategy was going to affect our gross profits?  (in our end of the market we had hardly any competition, ergo  we could afford our higher prices for the quality)
  • And why the fuck had I not been consulted on any of this? (because I had all the answers to the above questions).

To his credit, the new CEO didn’t fire me on the spot.  But his lofty answer was that the board of directors had decided that we needed to “grow the business”, and as we had the upper end of the market more or less to ourselves, we needed to expand our customer base.

Which brings us back to Juan Trippe and Pan Am.

It’s clear that Pan Am had a quality product, and their clientele were not people who, let’s say, were at the bottom of the market.  Their service was unparalleled, not only in the airline industry but anywhere, and it showed in all aspects of their business:  hiring, training, equipment and cuisine.

Then Juan Trippe decided to “grow the business”, and open Pan Am up to the lower end of the market via mass-market people carriers like the Boeing 747.

I had always wondered why Pan Am ever, or could ever, have gone out of business.  The YouTube video gave me all the answers.  To be blunt, Pan Am went from “You can’t beat the experience… Pan Am!” to “We’re just another airline;  check out our low prices.”

Their demise was as predictable as that of the above supermarket chain:  both went out of business only a few years after making that calamitous decision to chase a new market.

Side note:  I resigned a month after my meeting with the CEO.

Now, had I been Juan Trippe and wanted to “expand the market”, I would have done a couple things differently.

  1. Had the 747 jumbos built, but not flown them under the Pan Am logo, to include ground staff, cabin staff and maybe even pilots.
  2. Named the new budget airline “Dream Trippe” or something similar, and not have the 747s have first- or business class — basically, the economy-class seating (and service) would run from nose to tail.
  3. Kept the 707s going until the new sub-200-seat generation of airliners became available (e.g. the long-haul Airbus 220-300 or the “short” Boeing 757-100).  Then turned them into first-/business class-only aircraft, using the traditional Pan Am staff and pilots, and maintaining the both the higher prices and the clientele who preferred the luxury service levels.
  4. Shared the existing Pan Am slots at airports between the two airlines.

That’s the basic idea of the thing, but you get my drift.  It might not have worked and Pan Am might still not have made it.  But they failed anyway, so how much worse could the outcome have been?

But at least they wouldn’t have screwed up their Pan Am brand, which was priceless.  And the actual blowing up of the Pan Am brand was the entire responsibility of its founder.

Clueless

I know that politicians are completely ignorant about everything not political or legal — and even then, they’re not especially bright — but Elizabethan ignorance on everything can only be truly appreciated by acknowledging her academic credentials.  [/snark]

Even by her own heritage of ignorance, however, Elizabeth Warren’s latest broadside against Big Grocery must rank among her greatest cock-ups.

“What happens when only a handful of giant grocery store chains like Kroger dominate an industry? They can force high food prices onto Americans while raking in record profits.” Warren claimed that “a handful of giant chains” had replaced the wide selection of smaller stores that used to dot the American landscape, and she called for the use of the government’s antitrust power to “break up these giant corporations.”

Ah yes… let’s blame an industry for price gouging — an industry that traditionally runs on 0.75% net profit margins.

Remember, by the way, that while I know a few things about some things, and almost nothing about a whole lot more, when it comes to the supermarket business, I know everything about it.  That’s not a brag, nor even an exaggeration;  it’s what comes from close to a third of a century of experience in and around the industry.

So hear me now when I saw that Reason Magazine’s Joe Lancaster has it exactly right:

In actuality, for much of the last year, grocery stores have seen enormous boosts in revenue, but not increased profitability, for the simple reason that everything has been costing more:  not just products, but transportation, employee compensation, and all the extra logistical steps needed to adapt to shopping during a pandemic.  Couple that with persistent inflation—which Warren also recently blamed on “price gouging”—and it is no wonder that things seem a bit out of balance.

She is clueless, a fraud and incompetent.  All she has is Marxist dialectic by which to formulate her idiotic positions on every topic under the sun — dialectic which when translated into policy has boasted a record of 100% failure — and the sooner the citizens of Massachusetts vote this moron out of office, the better the country will become.

Righteous Firing

Read this story and tell me she didn’t have it coming:

Stylist Lisa Thompson was collared by salon owner Luke Daniels after she turned up to work looking ‘untidy’ with unwashed, scraped back hair and no make-up and wearing leggings, a bobbly long black cardigan and flip flops.  The company owner handed her £100 to buy herself nice clothes and offered her a free treatment worth £150 to ‘enhance the appearance of her hair’.

But that’s not all, he wrote.  Follow the link for the full story.  Judge got it right.

I think I’m going to start a new department dedicated to all these asswipes who think they’ve been hard done by, when in fact they earned everything that came their way.

Cautionary Tale

A week or so ago, I talked about the Great Resignation.  Now the excellent City Journal  has this to say about that:

Younger workers opting to work less or to put in only the minimum effort may pay a future price in terms of stagnation or downward mobility. Workers receive the most pay raises in their twenties and thirties. This is also when people acquire the skills and contacts that pay off for the rest of their careers. One’s early years are not an ideal time to stay away from work, even considering the challenges that today’s younger workers face. Some jobs are certainly harder than others—especially when you’re learning skills and occupy a low rung in the workplace hierarchy. But opting out early only makes it more likely that work won’t get better later on.

All true.