Wednesday, August 31, 2011

907 Reinventing the Flat Tire

907 Reinventing the Flat Tire

Reinventing the wheel.  It happens every day.  For those who are surrounded by the inventors, it’s a pain in the neck, only lower, to quote the contemporary philosopher and linguist T. Frohman (1905-1997.)

But at least when that happens, you have something that’s round and rolls.  Re-inventing the flat tire will eventually stall whatever’s riding on it.

So, let’s hear it for Jane Parker.  Who?  Jane Parker, a fake person who for decades was the public face of the A&P supermarket chain which also owns Pathmark, Waldbaum’s Food Emporium and more.  It is the modern-day poster child for re-inventing the flat tire.  Besides, it has shown the way to others in its business to do the same.

A&P is trading as a pink sheet stock at about 15 cents a share.  

How did the once mighty chain get that way?  One of the reasons is this:  it failed to give the customers what they sought by crowding national brands off its shelves and replacing them with their own brands, cheaper, but largely inferior, at least in the minds of the shoppers.

The fancy schmancy King’s of New Jersey did the same thing and combined that mistake with something equally stupid:  eliminating large size packages of most everything in favor of microscopic items.  Only selling out to the larger and more stable Kroger’s saved King’s from oblivion.

And then there’s Wegman’s, a small privately owned chain based in Rochester NY and which is heading in the same general direction as both the A&P and Kings.

Wegman’s probably is the best stage decorator on either side of the theater district.  But they’re re-inventing the flat tire created by the A&P and raised to high art by King’s.

When you bring to their attention that house brands don’t sell nearly as well as national brands, don’t have the reputation for the quality of national brands and aren’t all that cheap, they come up with an answer that appears to show they think their customers are idiots.

“We have 80 gazillion items on our shelves and our house brands, generally equal to or superior to the national brands constitute only a small percentage of what we offer for sale.”

Fine.  Until you realize that the 80 gazillion items include 70 gazillion things like magazines, newspapers, cooking utensils, greeting cards unbranded fruits and vegetables and bulk candy by the pound.

Try to find a bottle of Log Cabin Syrup or a can of Dole pineapples or a box of Bob Evans chilled mashed potatoes and you’re out of luck.  Try to find a container of Gain dishwashing liquid or Skippy Peanut Butter in a useful size, you’re out of luck.

Three competitors down the street carry this kind of thing along with an ample supply of their own house brands.  And while it’s pleasant to walk into Wegman’s or Kings or Waldbaum’s stage set grocery stores, they won’t remain solvent if they don’t carry what people really want.

That’s called re-inventing the flat tire.


--Sometimes it’s tough to attract the attention of a sales clerk at Best Buy and similar stores, but there’s a way.  Figure out a way to set off one of the alarms they have on every piece of display merchandise.  Help -- sometimes armed -- will be there in a jiffy.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2011

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