Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What was the cost of that?

I actually went to the grocery store the other day. We were planning a dinner with a group and had to get some basics, so off to my least favorite grocer in town because they are the only ones here. Stater Bros. The have been a huge gripe with me forever.I worked for the competition for ten years and grew to loathe the thought of bix box stores. I would rather trade at local farmer's markets and the neighborhood meat market that I've traded at for years. But on occasion you just have to go to Stater's.

My big gripe with them is the loss of customer service. They have been so bent on getting us the cheapest prices it didn't matter to them that they didn't offer a broad range of items. I remember one time asking if they could order a special product for me. Special "because I liked it, and possibly others would too" and not "special because it comes in a pretty jar and only I would ever think of using this stuff". The response was swift and sure: We'll order it but you'll have to buy the whole case. We wouldn't think of offering it to other customers. Ugh!

Then there's the other LARGE, and I mean LARGE gripe. The clerks completely ignoring you in the checkout lane while they talk to each other. This is such a common practice at Stater's you begin to wonder if you're invisible. It makes me crazy. Now they have begin allowing the baggers to say thank you for your business. The clerk can't even be bothered with that simple statement. Bigger Ugh.

Those little gripes out of the way...

I ran into a friend. A friend I have know forever. It was good to see him. His dad farmed in this small community many years ago. Had acres and acres of apricot trees. My friend learned to farm and drive a tractor and a backhoe. He's been a laborer all his life. His hard earned money is spent very carefully. He noticed I had a watermelon in the cart and began to complain to me that "he had given up on their (Stater's) produce years ago. Can't get a decent melon from them. I bought two last year and they were both horrible." The nbegan his gripe session: "You know, I've been to Walmart and shopped. I can't believe how these guys have ripped us off all these years. Once the new Walmart opens, I'm never trading with Stater's again". He is a worker bee, I could see that he felt his hard earned dollar had been taken advantage of by the store. We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

Then I began to think. Have they been ripping us off all those years? They somehow managed to drive every other store in town out of business because no one else could compete with their pricing. So they must have been low. So just how did we get ripped off? I haven't shopped at Walmart for quite a while. I don't like their attitude on customer service even more than Stater's so I avoid going there. So I decided to take a walk through the Wally-world to check prices.

Oh yes. The prices are quite a bit lower. Wow. On some items, a whole lot lower. But then you look at the produce counter. Yuck. The produce is just awful. 2nd tier at the very best. So at what cost did Stater's rip us off?

Well here are a few I could think of just off the top of my head:

1. They are a union shop. All of their employees have to be a member of the union. While I am not a lover of the union, I can throw stones because I have a union withdrawl card in a drawer somewhere with my name on it.

2. Stater's sign's a "sweetheart deal" with the unions. That means that when a contract is up for renewal, the employees of Stater's don't need to worry about a strike vote. They won't walk out. Stater's has signed the agreement to adhere to the new contract without argument and so their people don't walk. They keep on working without suffering through the trauma of strikes (like I did with my company). I can see how this has ripped off the community.

3. Their employees who work more than 20 hours a week have had medical benefits. Yes, this is a diminshing benefit, but it is still in existence, and thier employees are better families because the benefit is there for them. Back in the late 70s and early 80s I had three children by C-section for three dollars a piece. This must be another one of those rip-offs my friend was talking about.

4. Everyone one of their employees participates in a retirement plan. Wow. That is almost a thin gof the past. I even have a small retirement coming from my former grocer (it actually comes from the union I'm sure). Retirement benefits certainly rip off a community.

5. Their employees are paid a living wage. When I was working my part time job for the grocer I worked for, I earned as much in 20 hours that my friends earned in forty. It allowed me to work and be with my family more than the average american working mom. That must be part of the rip-off program desigend by the stores too.

I think you are getting my drift. I hope you are. While our local stores may infuriate us because of their lack of customer service (which I do not condone EVER), and the fact that thier prices are higher, I am not sure we could honestly say that they have ripped us off.

Walmart does not pay a living wage. Walmart does not pay medical benefits for most of their employees or they are just to costly to participate in for them. I don't know anything about their retirement plans. I do know they have a stock option plan for certain employees. It could be for all employees, possibly. However, if you don't earn a living wage how can you inest even 2% of your salary every month? And have you ever wondered why you can't find a clerk when you need a question answered? They don't hire enough people. Thier employees are stretched to the limit.

So the next time you think your local grocer has ripped you off for years and years look around in the store at the employees. Their making ends meet, more or less. They have health benefits and they have a small retirement building for them. I don't mind paying a little extra to help a member of my community have a better life.

Oh and just for the record, the watermelon was awful! My friend was right about that!