My Uncle Bill used to drop by our house for a cup of coffee before heading out to the grocery store. After chewing the fat with my mom, he would swig down the last drop of coffee, then announce "well, better get going..got to get over to "the safest way". He was referring to our little town's Safeway Store. At that time Safeway was pretty much the "cock of the roost" of grocery stores in our area.
Well, I was in a Safeway just last Saturday. I go about once a year because I've always found our local Fry's (Kroger owned) Grocery has the best prices. Well, I had driven by Fry's on Saturday and the parking lot was jammed packed and, since I didn't want to fight the crowds, I drove on down to Safeway. I was really just after some chicken noodle soup to battle this seemingly perpetual cold I've had since Thanksgiving. Well, as I posted in a previous blog, a personal encounter of the kindness kind, had me hurrying up with my purchases and on my way back home. However, I was in the store long enough to compare a few food prices. What I saw was that Safeway food prices were at least 30% higher than the same items in Fry's. I was not really surprised; that's why I only go to Safeway about once a year, even though it's about the same distance from home as the Fry's store. And, on that busy Saturday, while the Fry's store was packed, Safeway was lightly trafficked. Yes folks, in today's economy price matters.
One of the problems with Safeway's pricing is that they must price high enough to support their very generous employee pay and health and benefit plans. I've always looked at Safeway as kind of a "boutique" grocery that seems to exist just for the benefits of the employee. And that would be fine if Safeway was driving down costs to benefit the consumer...but they are not. So, Safeway has been noncompetitive with the other major chains for awhile now.....so much so that they were recently bought out by Albertson's LLC, another giant grocery chain. Of course in today's wild and wooly corporate world Safeway is not really Safeway. Safeway bought the Von's grocery chain out west a decade ago, and Safeway itself is owned by a midwestern chain called Tom Thumb....so Albertson's is really buying Tom Thumb and getting Safeway and Vons.
Confused yet? Well, me too. That's why I can only judge the merits of a business by how they price and how they treat the customer. And, shall it come as no surprise to you conservatives that Safeway's union employees are snotty and remote to their customers while Fry's employees will do handstands to please you? Thus, on a busy Saturday shopping day, Fry's parking lot is packed and Safeway's is sparse.
What's my point? Well, it's my age old gripe about unions. Unions seem to breed employee sloth who are ungrateful that Safeway charges 30% more for their grub than Fry's...and just to keep the union employee fat, if not happy. And making Safeway slugs happy does not seem to drive innovation and brilliant employee ideas for bettering the business...so eventually the chain goes bankrupt because they cared more for the employee than they did their customer. Do we need to laundry list businesses that have done just that and no longer exist today?
Alas, we've come along way in 50 years with those long ago mornings where my Uncle Bill stopped for a cup of Joe before heading out to "the safest way"....it ain't so safe anymore...or friendly, or even price competitive. Sigh.