History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Will SuperValu business travail be felt here?

It's "the home of the people lovers." Steve Schmidgall once wrote that he associated such a slogan with San Francisco, but it has been the trademark of our Willie's SuperValu in Morris. (B.W. photo)
You have probably seen those employee group photos by the deli at Willie's SuperValu. They seem to send the message that Willie's is proud to hire so many people. We see employees arranged in rows. You can see how people age through the years.
You can see how certain waistlines may have been thinner in past years. That's a trait they share with all of us! It's nothing that can't be remedied. Working in a grocery store might not be the best environment for learning restraint.
The reason I'm broaching this whole topic of Willie's employees is that I'm wondering if this whole model will survive much longer. Why would I wonder? For one thing, the parent company of Willie's is in some very rough seas financially.
SuperValu is based in Eden Prairie. I'm not Mr. Stock Market so I'm not sure how to interpret all the news. I consumed this news about SuperValu from the Minnpost website. The tone of this coverage on back-to-back days was dire, Titanic-seeming. Everyone at parent company headquarters must be watching their back now.
The business world has seemed to degenerate to this level just about everywhere. It's an atmosphere that Willie Martin himself would shake his head over. Willie represented the Greatest Generation to the fullest extent. These were people who didn't get up in the morning worried about where the S&P futures stood. They believed in making a decent profit but didn't seem to obsess on such matters.
Willie took pride in his rather substantial workforce and would never consider them a burden. These days they wear yellow T-shirts and you will more than likely be greeted by at least one as you make your rounds in the store. It seems ideal but it costs the company money.
It's not hard to imagine the Willie's workforce pared down without a great deal of loss of service. Conventional wisdom has it that all customers care about is price. They can shop at Wal-Mart with all its state of the art wizardry on keeping prices low.
Wal-Mart doesn't provide carry-out although I'm told they'll do it on request. My late friend Glen Helberg always told me carry-out was on the margin for being cut everywhere. Glen carried out at Coborn's.
Glen swore Coborn's was making a lot of money here but it apparently wasn't enough. The business world is sucking in its cheeks these days. Things are very tight. Businesses in small towns seem to be consolidating. This is one reason, just one, that media businesses are struggling.
We're less likely to see two "warring" grocery stores in a town like Morris. When I was a kid in Morris in the 1960s, we had the U.S. vs. the USSR on a global level and Willie's vs. Juergensen's in Morris. Willie's was Red Owl back then. It would have been anathema to attach the SuperValu name to Willie's.
Juergensen's SuperValu, where Jim Rud ran the fine bakery, was located where Aaron Carlson Woodwork is now. It seemed a nice location for a grocery store. It had a snack counter where you could get an ice cream cone as good as at Dairy Queen, remember?
The Juergensen family sold out to a family that stumbled financially. New interests took over and things seemed stable there for a time. Finally the death knell came, and according to Morris legend it was due to the Atlantic Avenue improvement project.
Willie's finally built its new store. I remember covering day 1 of the new store for the print media. I had some fun with a "Willie-ism," suggesting this day was indeed "astronomical" (a word Willie had fun using loosely). UMM Chancellor Sam Schuman must have read that caption and been amused, as reflected in one of his columns soon thereafter.
Willie provided spice with his people-oriented nature. Willie's built sort of a mystique as "home of the people lovers." You might say the store was a little idiosyncratic this way, like a business on the old Route 66 (in the days before franchises sprouted everywhere).
The old gives way to the new. Everything seems pushed toward a homogeneous quality. So I'm wondering: Will these awful travails of the Willie's parent company cause an absolutely no-nonsense approach to spill down, wiping out any idiosyncratic traits or "people-loving" tendencies?
The stock market has nothing to do with loving people. It's all about profit, the value which is absolutely intertwined with the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney. We might say we as the public don't worship at the altar of profit. But polls show Romney (a.k.a. Scrooge McDuck) running pretty even with our incumbent president.
I think the American public is confused. I think people really hope that if the very rich are facilitated further, there will be "trickle down." But what happened to the horse at the end of "Animal Farm" (by George Orwell)? Wasn't he sent to the glue factory?
Boy I don't know - I would be nervous working in a SuperValu store now. We may see the scythe applied in the name of greater efficiencies. And management will say they have no choice based on the competition they're facing.
Self check-out is a concept that has already taken root in some places. My friend Brent Waddell says he has seen this at Wal-Mart and even used it. I'm concerned: Will all these check-out personnel, were they to be cut, be able to land on their feet doing something else?
When I was a kid we referred to "carry-out boys." Such individuals come in all ages today, of course. We have to ask: Will these employees go the way of the "gas station attendant?" Perhaps Willie's will eventually have carry-out on request only. Otherwise, feel free to just put your groceries in your cart and wheel it out there. Many Coborn's customers did that. It would reduce cost.
As I walk along the aisles at Willie's, I have to wonder why they need such a wide selection of so many things. Baked beans are baked beans, right? Why different flavors?
And breakfast cereals? It's dizzying how many kinds there are. Is this really necessary? If you're taking a bowl out of the cupboard for breakfast, is it necessary to be so particular about what kind of cereal you eat? Do you think Robinson Crusoe would be concerned with any of this?
Having so many varieties of everything would seem to call for additional store manpower to manage all of it. And that costs money. If the SuperValu parent company really sees the sky falling - and news reports indicate this is so - I wouldn't rule out any changes at Willie's.
In the future we could see fewer employees, really just a nucleus, posing for those annual photos. These will be harried souls who won't be so interested in saying "hello" to the customers. They might smile for the employee group photo but in all likelihood they won't be happy. It is a grim proposition to be dedicated to doing nothing but propping the store's profit up.
Willie belonged to another age when there was seldom if ever reason for panic. Much as that previous generation of business owners were known as skinflints, they really took life pretty easy. They looked forward to going to the VFW on Friday and Saturday nights. It was the age in which employees would try to find a way to sneak away early on Friday.
As a college student, I learned it was nearly impossible to arrange to meet your advisor on a Friday. We laughed about this, knowing it was the American way to pad your weekend. But now in the age of the "rate your professors" website, you'd better be focused all the time.
Indeed, if you have any kind of job today, you can't be too careful or too committed, because the heavy-hitters at "corporate" could vent their wrath at any time. We will live by this credo until there's some kind of revolution.
Good luck, Willie's employees.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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