to a comment made in a cover article by Elliot Zwiebach, "New Look, New Challenges," SN, May 12. The article addresses several points made by Margaret McEwan at the Food Marketing Institute Annual Convention. I do not question the observations made by the FMI study, the vital importance of front-end operations in our stores, or the frustration a customer has waiting in line. I must, however, question arbitrary statements that we "cannot afford to cut labor" and "The best strategy to combat this age-old challenge is to make sure all your checkout lines are open, with packers available during your busiest hours."
It is particularly painful to see these statements made when our industry has the equipment, technology and tools to operate and schedule better today than ever before. Also, I do not believe competition from the outside or inside will ease up enough to allow such a potentially careless use of resources.
My counter to the statements above is, simply, to use the technology and tools available to put the correct number of people in the right place at the right time. In some cases this approach will mean adding hours, in others a reduction. Rarely would it mean adding hours across the board, as McEwan implies.
When the success and future of our industry rest so much on outstanding performance and customer service, I must respond to the idea that better service is somehow equal to more people (and higher operating costs). People standing around is NOT better service. People scheduled at the wrong time or place is NOT better service. Failure to train front-end supervisors to react quickly and correctly to changing conditions is NOT better customer service. In my experience, overscheduling tends to slow productivity, not improve it.
Today we have an amazing ability to forecast and schedule to improve productivity, reduce operating expenses, and provide better customer service and satisfaction on a store-by-store basis. It would be a shame not to do so. Because SN is such an important and influential voice in the grocery industry, I believe it is important to express an opinion counter to the one given by Ms. McEwan.