Supermarket Sweepstakes: Part 1

Sometimes I just wonder what’s behind a corporations business strategy or if they really have one at all.  I live in Vallejo, California and it is a town of just over 115,000 and proud to say it is the most diverse city in the United States of America, (numbers are rounded up – 32% white/european, 22% African American, 25% Asian/Filipino and 23% Latino).   When Safeway placed three stores of various sizes in this town Mare Island was still an active Naval Base and the demographics at that time were higher in white/european and African American.  The base closed in 1996 which changed everything.  Safeways newest store in the area, is about 6 years old and is very close to me in the town of American Canyon, 2.8 miles from my door,

The Vallejo flagship store is on Admiral Callahan Lane in a fair sized strip mall that is old and ugly and has several vacant store fronts.  It’s a large store but was built with narrow aisles and gets seriously congested quickly when it’s busy and they don’t have a Safeway gas station.  Even though It is only 1.8 miles from my door I really don’t like going there because it’s right off a freeway exit/entrance and always hard to get in and out of the strip mall plus as I mentioned earlier, the congestion in the store.  The Safeway on Georgia Street is tiny, old, dirty looking, poorly lit inside and I only go there as a very last resort since they do have a gas station.  In fact if you read the Google reviews the only positive mentioned is to go for the gas, otherwise people have said the service there is poor to fair and It is.  One of the few times I’ve gone inside, was a Saturday evening to grab only a carton of buttermilk for Sunday morning pancakes.  What should have taken only a few moments took forever as two employees chatted with each other about their Halloween plans ignoring the growing line of 7 poor souls just trying to quickly purchase one or two items.  They also have very little parking and it’s tough getting in and out of the place when the gas station is full with long lines that they don’t try to control at all.  From my observation the only thing keeping that store open is the gas station.

I’ve been to the Safeway in Glenn cove only a few times and I find it  nice but it is the furthest away from me and not worth the trip.   However I do  find the store in American Canyon the most convenient to go to, especially since it is the newest of their fleet and was built with nice wide aisles and a good size parking lot along with a gas station.

You would think that with such a large visible store located on Highway 29 in American Canyon, the gateway to Napa and the wine country would be the proud flagship of your company.  That is why I am having issues with what Safeway is doing with this store and the opportunity they’re  fumbling away.   They must have had a customer appreciation program going on during the summer.  My wife and I must have hit the magic level of spending since as we finished the transaction the manager came over to personally thank us for shopping there and gave us a card with their direct number at the store.  What ever I needed, I can call and they’d help me get it.  So I asked her why they stopped carrying Aunt Jemima lite pancake syrup?  Her eyes glazed over and she replied, we don’t carry that anymore?  I’ll look into it.  I never heard back then and I never got an answer when on another day we must have hit another plateau as another manager thanked us again.  I asked why are you no longer stocking Libby’s corn beef hash?  The silence was deafening.  Don’t have your managers ask, if we could find everything we needed if you really don’t want to hear the answer.  Then recently, as a warehouse professional I took particular exception with a manager who told me it was the warehouses fault that there were out of Silk Vanilla light.  This was the second time it happened within a month.  Does anyone read the “shorts” report?

It’s obvious that Safeway is spending money on training managers on how to properly demonstrate public displays of affection to customers for spending their hard earned bucks there, but the real troubling issue is the overall lack of training and awareness demonstrated by managers and their employees in the areas of food safety and cleaning maintenance in this store.  A few years ago this great store developed a pigeon problem and the pigeon poop began to pile up on the store side walk.  We watched it steadily grow larger and deeper each time we shopped to the point it was a carpet of bird waste.  You couldn’t avoid it as you had to drive your cart through it or walk in it to get into the store and then wind up tracking it in.  If you didn’t know, pigeon poop can contain up to 60 different deseases including salmonella, E.coli, Cryptococcosis, meningitis or respiratory histoplasmosis (which can permanently affect the lungs), to name a few.  It was not being addressed by the store and finally it was reported to the Napa County health department whose response to the matter was fantastic and immediate.  I’m not sure what if any bonus program the managers get working at Safeway or what criteria is used, but you would hope that it would be partly based on overall presentation of the store and not just dollars taken in.  I also wonder how much food safety training do they receive and what is passed onto the working staff?  Have you seen a container of milk sit at the register, aging while waiting to be put back?

Unfortunately, signs of neglect continue to rear up of late.   In the dairy section, on the top flow rack where the low fat milk is kept, the rollers don’t operate properly.  They are caked up with dried milk and don’t roll so the milk containers don’t advance forward as they’re taken and you have to step up on the cooler doorway to reach the milk.  I’ve had to help frustrated seniors twice in the last six months to get to a container.  They also seem to have a big issue with expiration dates finding many containers of Fage yogurts and lucerne  sour cream that were two weeks out of code.  There also have been several times the produce department has had more  empty plastic bag dispensers than ones with bags and you get to play the game of “where’s a bag?”  The deli counter service is inconsistant.  Some days you could die waiting for someone to notice you and some days they’re on the mark.  I’ve found training has been an issue here as well with employee’s not understanding their Friday special pricing or the product.  The bakery is also beginning to show signs of inconsistency lately as some days they have kaiser rolls and some days not.

Service is also slowly deteriorating as witnessed on a recent Saturday in the early afternoon.  They had only two registers open and each had developed long lines of at least 5 customers.  From where one line of customers were standing they could see into the managers office, since the door was open.  The  two managers were doing some sort of paper work and talking to each other as the first page for help up front went out and then the checkers paged for help a second time and again still no response.  Customers were looking around wondering what was going on and began making comments amongst each other, “Did they let everyone go?  This is ridiculous, why don’t they have more registers open?  The managers must have felt the stares coming from the line because suddenly the white shirts finally emerged to open two more registers.  They also used to have a Starbucks in the store as well but closed it down, which made sense, since there is a regular Starbucks in the same strip mall.  They don’t seem to know what to do with the empty space though and currently looks really tacky with large displays of boxes of boxes of stuff.  I personally would have made it a cart holding area especially for those northern California rainy,nasty days.  Nice to drive a dry cart around and keep the floor dry.

Retention of customers is usually number one priority for any thriving business with finding new customers at #2.  Safeway has only demonstrated that they have become stagnant and have given up on innovation.  I don’t see them capitalizing on their location so close to wine country.  They have a great opportunity to blow up their deli and market pre-made picnic meals for people to pick up on their way to Napa for the day or even pre-made wine tasting snacks to take so you get a little food in you when hitting the wineries.  Along with continuing the reduction of brands that I prefer, at this store, which by the way I have been able to find at Raileys and this has re-introduced me to their store and it’s values which has definitely begun changing my shopping and spending habits.  Safeway wants you to believe that you can get everything you need at their store, but this is really not true since you’re more  limited each day to fewer choices and then if they have it in stock.  They want you to believe their club card savings, and gas discount rewards are enough savings to motivate you to keep coming in and over look a store, operated sloppy to reduce operational costs to support those programs.  I Strongly recommend they train their store managers to do a Gemba walk or some kind of walk around to check what’s happening in the store and pay attention to it.  With everyone looking for better pricing and service, they have many other places to go even if it means split shopping.  Safeway is betting to much on you believing they are a convenient store,  but it’s not convenient when you don’t have what I want.

How about where you live?  Have you noticed changes in service and quality?  Would really like to hear your stories.

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