Food Lion founder gives leadership gift for 95th birthday
Lessons in Leadership is the name of a new documentary film profiling the life and contributions of Food Lion co-founder Ralph Ketner who turned 95 this month.
Food Lion and Catawba College, based in the grocer’s hometown of Salisbury, North Carolina, produced the film which chronicles the life and business lessons of Ketner. Plans call for the film to be distributed in both digital and physical formats to North Carolina high schools. The film features stories and advice from those who Ketner touched throughout his long-tenured career, from leaders in the Salisbury community to family members and colleagues. To help schools use the leadership lessons from Ketner, Catawba College collaborated with Rowan-Salisbury Schools' educators to create five lesson plans that enable students to take the concepts featured in the video and apply them in a practical way in a classroom setting.
"For more than 50 years, Food Lion has been an important part of the City of Salisbury's history and all of this was made possible by our company's founders, including Mr. Ketner," said Meg Ham, president of Food Lion. "When approached by Catawba College about this opportunity to preserve the rich heritage of Mr. Ketner's impact on this community, from the founding of Food Lion to his pro bono work with Catawba, we couldn't think of a better way to honor our founder and all he has given to us. We were honored to underwrite this video to preserve the history and lessons Mr. Ketner has taught all of us as part of his vision to build a company with the focus on always taking care of the customer, having the lowest prices in North Carolina and being a good corporate citizen, which are all strong pillars of our business today."
Catawba College president Brien Lewis said the video resource and accompanying five lesson plans will help inspire a future generation of entrepreneurs who will dream a big idea and work diligently to make that idea a reality.
Store Labor: A Retailer’s Biggest Asset
In a retail world focused on omnichannel strategies, product and service innovations, IT investments and technology-enabled stores of the future, winning retailers are taking a new look at their store labor models and budgets. Store associates represent one of the biggest contributors to the success or failure of brick-and-mortar stores. In many ways, they are a retailer’s most powerful asset.
Survey after survey reveals that customer service in stores is the top factor affecting customer advocacy. Across retail sectors, a store associate’s availability, knowledge, advice, assistance and friendliness exert a stronger influence on a shopper’s likelihood to recommend a retailer than product assortment, the shopping environment and even price. On the flip side, poor service is a major contributor to customer defection. When Bain & Company recently surveyed shoppers on the subject, more than 25% of their top frustrations were due to bad experiences with sales associates.
As retailers build omnichannel strategies that require them to balance the needs of digital and physical channels, and as they grapple with rapidly rising labor costs and service requirements, they feel an increased urgency to revisit store labor, which represents more than half of a typical retailer’s selling, general and administrative expenses. This comes at a time when store associates’ jobs have grown more demanding, with new responsibilities like searching online for out-of-stock merchandise and new technologies like mobile checkout platforms or smart kiosks.
Also, retailers’ ability to spend on store labor is now under intense pressure from wage inflation, declining traffic to physical stores, the need to fund digital investments and, in the U.S., the Affordable Care Act.
The instinct for many is to simply make across-the-board cuts in line with declining traffic and store sales. But fewer hours can hurt the customer experience, resulting in increased customer defections, thus further reducing sales productivity. This cost-cutting doom loop can create devastating consequences.
On the other hand, taking a more thoughtful approach to store labor can lower costs by as much as 15% while keeping customers loyal.
Companies that successfully transform their store labor operations for retailing’s new realities benefit from a three-step process: They invest to clearly understand what matters to their customers; they zero-base their store labor model (activities, processes and organization); and they mobilize for change at the front line.
Let’s look at these one by one.
Learn what customers value. Companies with leading customer advocacy outgrow their competitors by more than two to one. For many retailers, the hard part is figuring out which of the dozens of customer touch-points matter most to customers and need to be stellar, as well as which of them are least important — and thus ripe for cost reduction.
A U.S. department store surveyed its customers and then tracked time spent on various store activities. Among its findings: Making associates available in fitting areas had relatively little impact on customer advocacy. The store diverted resources away from such less-valued activities, freeing up time for activities that had the most positive impact on the customer experience, such as offering knowledgeable advice and helping customers find specific items. The change delivered a double effect: It lowered store costs and boosted customer advocacy.
It’s time to zero-base. Often, when retailers think about budgets, they start by looking at what they did last year. They adjust by 2%, 3% or whatever level they need to compensate for changes in store sales and costs.
In a swiftly shifting retail world, the best companies zero-base. They start with a clean slate and determine the right mix of employees, the right scheduling and forecasting, and the right processes and activities. They set the zero-based staffing for a store at one customer and build from there, redesigning processes to take advantage of newly available technology to improve productivity.
A U.S. apparel retailer cut store labor costs by 10% in part by improving back-end processes and redesigning activities to maximize high-quality customer-facing time. The retailer’s associates were spending significant time setting the floor, cluttering the aisle with clothing, which took time away from working with customers. The root cause: the frequency and inconsistency of store deliveries. The retailer worked with its distribution centers to determine a more practical and manageable delivery schedule and to increase visibility into the timing and size of deliveries. The objective was to ensure that the right levels of staffing were in place without disrupting visual merchandising execution.
Mobilize for results. Finally, once a retailer understands how to delight target customers and has zero-based store labor, the next big step is to mobilize the field organization (district managers, store managers and sales associates).
Zero-basing requires a fundamental change to the associates’ behaviors, activities and processes. The best companies rely on pilot projects and make a serious commitment to communicate and measure results.
A specialty retailer recently rolled out a sales productivity initiative across its stores. Sales productivity had varied dramatically, so the company identified best practices such as prioritizing checkout assistance over floor coverage and making store managers more available on the floor as a floating resource.
The retailer implemented a plan for mobilizing district managers and store managers. For example, it gave each store manager a monthly action plan that laid out specific tactics, dates and owners for three of the best practices. At the end of each month, store managers performed a self-assessment, including whether the actions were completed and why they were successful or unsuccessful. District managers reviewed the store scorecards, self-assessments and action plans prior to store visits, and they provided recommendations, coaching and support based on their observations during the visit. This program helped spur growth while improving store managers’ and sales associates’ capabilities.
In all segments of retailing, earning such benefits starts by acknowledging that it may be time to take a fresh look at store labor, and that associates can be a secret weapon for achieving the seemingly contradictory goals of boosting customer advocacy and improving store efficiency.
Allison Gans is a Bain & Company partner based in New York. Lewis Weinger and Michael Brookshire are partners based in Dallas. All are members of Bain’s Retail practice.
Sears names Amazon vet to head fulfillment
Amazon.com is certainly known for its expertise in integrated fulfillment, and Sears Holdings Corp. is now tapping into that knowledge base.
Sears has appointed Girish Lakshman, who most recently served as VP of worldwide transportation strategy, technology and customer returns at Amazon, as president, fulfillment.
His new role will support the company's continued efforts to fulfill member and customers' needs and advance its integrated retail strategy.
During his 15 years with Amazon, Lakshman held positions with increasing responsibility in a variety of roles in transportation, technology, logistics, operational excellence and management. Lakshman's early career experiences included operations planning for manufacturing and industrial engineering functions.
"Girish's strong operational discipline, process thinking and experience leading change make him a strong fit for Sears Holdings," said Edward S. Lampert, Sears Holdings' chairman and CEO.