America’s Most Exciting Bank

The Wall Street Journal: “To Michael Daly, who runs Berkshire Hills Bancorp Inc., BHLB -1.22% banking is too often blasé. So Mr. Daly has adapted an unconventional rulebook meant to energize and empower his 1,900 employees. Suits are not allowed. Rock music must be played at every meeting. And ziplines are an acceptable form of transportation: Mr. Daly once arrived at an employee town hall on one, slinging $100 bills to the crowd below … In an industry built on numbers, Mr. Daly believes in emotions and that employees who feel good will do good work. He started calling his company ‘America’s Most Exciting Bank’ years ago, because workers told him they wanted jobs they enjoyed.”

“Since he became chief executive in 2002, the bank has grown to $11.5 billion in assets as of the first quarter, from about $1 billion. During acquisitions and their accompanying job cuts, Mr. Daly hands out his cellphone number freely and encourages employees whose jobs are on the line to ‘come get in my face.’ The ones that do call often prove worth keeping. ‘You would be shocked at how many high performers we find through that,’ he says.”

“Mr. Daly often hires from outside the banking industry, valuing scrappiness over pedigree. He likes to tell the story of two customers that he struck up a conversation with at a branch in Albany, N.Y. He liked their energy, and hired them away from the clothing store where they worked to do customer service for the bank … For all his swagger, Mr. Daly also likes to play the part of a small-town banker. He said he sends a couple hundred handwritten notes to employees every month, and replies to just as many employee emails.”

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Walmart Engages in Retail Politics

The Wall Street Journal: “Political divide in the country is creating a new landscape for business, in which fierce debates often lead consumers and employees to demand that corporations and chief executives take positions on big issues. That is increasingly pulling Walmart, the world’s largest retailer and largest private employer, into weighing in on issues such as immigration, the Confederate flag and gay rights—generally after other companies or politicians have done the same.”

“Under its 51-year-old chief executive, Doug McMillon, Walmart has often taken a more liberal stance on issues in recent years—a gamble for a company based in Red State Arkansas. But executives see its approach as part of its mission to let potential shoppers and employees know the company aims to be socially engaged. It’s a big change for a company that built itself as a ruthlessly efficient business focused on affordable shopping and that generally avoided taking a stand on political issues.”

“Today, around 72% of Walmart shoppers want the company to ‘take a stand on important social issues’ and 85% want the retailer to ‘make it clear what values you stand for,’ said Walmart’s chief marketing officer, Tony Rogers, in a June presentation to reporters, citing a survey by research firm Kantar. Increasingly, the perception of a company’s views and deeds are linked to its brand, he said … Yet with its political stances, Walmart, with 2.3 million workers, especially risks alienating its core customers, who often live in more conservative-leaning rural and suburban communities.”

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How Moosejaw & Walmart Make Music

The Wall Street Journal: “Walmart is betting that even under its umbrella, Moosejaw and other brands like the feminist-leaning ModCloth and men’s fashion clothier Bonobos can remain convincingly hipster. But Walmart has such a distinct culture; will it be able to maintain an appropriate distance or will executives from Bentonville swoop in, forcing everyone to wear those iconic blue big-box vests? … Some suppliers of high-end gear abandoned Moosejaw’s shelves to avoid doing business with its new parent.”

Yet: “Moosejaw’s loyalist shoppers appear unfazed. While there have been reports of social-media backlash against Walmart ownership of firms like ModCloth, Walmart’s overall e-commerce sales have picked up … Moosejaw will soon have a rolling pop-up store pulled across the U.S. by a semi truck—another innovation private-equity backers may not have sponsored. With access to Walmart’s shipping rates, Moosejaw.com offers free two-day shipping, which is increasingly expected by online shoppers.”

“Then there is the beer cooler. Much has been made of alcohol policies at Walmart subsidiaries, and Moosejaw’s victory in this category is notable. Before the acquisition, Bentonville executives noticed a padlocked beer cooler at its Madison Heights, Mich., headquarters … Shortly after the deal … Chief Executive Doug McMillon concluded that because Moosejaw had responsible policies, the cooler could stay. At this month’s shareholder meeting Mr. McMillon gave analysts a glimpse of why he’s bending the rules. He carries a list with him of top retailers from decades gone by, a sobering list that includes struggling Kmart and Sears that reminds him of the fleeting nature of success. Yesterday’s retail kings die ‘because they don’t change,’ he said.”

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Chick-fil-A-Pay: Not Chicken Feed

The Washington Post: “By 2022, the minimum wage in California will rise to $15. But the owner of a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Sacramento plans to go ahead and raise the wages of his employees now, offering a huge bump to $17 to $18 from the $12 to $13 he pays now. While analysts can’t say whether a $17 to $18 hourly wage is the highest in the country for front-line fast-food workers, it certainly appears to be among the higher ones, said David Henkes, a senior principal with Technomic, a restaurant research and consulting firm.”

Eric Mason, owner of the Chick-fil-A location in Sacramento, comments: “I’m looking at it big-picture and long-term. What that does for the business is provide consistency, someone that has relationships with our guests, and it’s going to be building a long-term culture.”

Warren Solochek, senior vice president of industry relations for the food service practice at NPD Group, adds: “You can’t have that high level of service when you continually hire people and have to train people. You need people who’ve been in their job for a while. That’s Chick-fil-A’s reputation, and that’s very true across the country.”

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Chik-fil-A ‘Secret Sauce’: Community

Business Insider: “Chick-fil-A’s recent dominance of the fast-food industry can be tied to one behind-the-scenes secret … It’s less expensive to open a Chick-fil-A than it is to open a location of almost any other chain. Chick-fil-A charges franchisees only $10,000 to open a new restaurant. However, unlike other franchises, it prohibits franchisees from opening multiple locations.” Industry expert John Hamburger says this franchise model puts “somebody in the store that was close to the customer. They’re dealing with the customer, they’re in the community. They’re active in the community. And that’s what Chick-fil-A does.”

“Chick-fil-A franchise owners are involved in hiring and firing employees. The company also encourages franchisees to get personally involved in the community through various local organizations. According to Hamburger, that allows Chick-fil-A to get a leg up on the competition in terms of quality and customer service.”

“Hamburger says chains such as Applebee’s are already seeing the negative impact of losing their community connections. The chain, which went to a 100%-franchised model in recent years, closed 99 stores in 2017 amid sinking sales … Chick-fil-A’s success as a rapidly expanding private company could help convince more public companies to follow in its footsteps.”

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Uber v. Lyft: Sharing Space, But Not Cultures

Anne Kadet: “Most of us think of ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft as virtual outfits—a vast, digital web of drivers connecting with passengers via app. But if you were a driver, you’d have a different perspective: Uber is a place. And so is Lyft. Both companies operate hubs which their drivers, who are contract workers, can visit to sign up, resolve problems or just get a free coffee and use the bathroom. And in New York City, strangely enough, the rivals maintain hubs in the same building.”

“Lyft recently reopened an expanded, 12,000-square-foot hub on the building’s fourth floor. The space looks like a cross between an Apple Store and a third-grade classroom. The décor features the brand’s hot pink, white and lavender hues. Drivers help themselves to bubble gum and chocolate kisses wrapped in purple foil … Lyft General Manager for New York City Vipul Patel says the company hopes its effort to create a welcoming environment will encourage drivers to extend such hospitality to passengers … Downstairs on the first floor, the Uber Green Light Hub is about three times the size of the Lyft Hub, and the look is more tech startup than kindergarten. The two-story loft is stark black and white; the music playing one recent morning favored thumping dance beats. No candy here!”

“While its onboarding process is similar to Lyft’s, Uber also offers two of the (Taxi & Limousine Commission) required classes for free, and the third at a discount. Uber even has doctors on-site to administer the TLC-required physical … Uber says anyone who takes advantage of its free classes, physicals and optional training course can drive for another outfit. But it expects drivers will enjoy the overall Uber experience enough to stay loyal.”

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Retail Politics: Is Fast Fashion Tone Deaf?

The New York Times: “Every once in a while, tucked into the stream of speedily made garments rushed into stores, designs with shockingly bad taste stand out: a shirt comparing women to dogs at Topman, symbols of the Holocaust on a top at Zara … Retail experts blame a heated competitive environment, where companies, many of them based in Europe, are spread thin trying to cater to a global customer base that is easily bored, is extremely demanding and can buy almost anything via e-commerce. Many brands develop a cavalier attitude: Churn out products now, ask forgiveness later.”

“Earlier this year, H&M, one of the largest clothing retailers in the world … was taken to task over a children’s hoodie emblazoned with the phrase ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’ and modeled in marketing materials by a young black boy. The description, which has been used to dehumanize black people, set off protests at South African stores that left mannequins toppled and racks overturned. In the aftermath, H&M chose a lawyer and company insider, Annie Wu, to lead a new four-person team at its Stockholm headquarters focused on global diversity and inclusiveness.” She comments: “We didn’t recognize that in this now new age of transparency, what the brand stands for is super important to people.”

“Fast fashion companies, which specialize in low-priced, quickly produced clothing and have grown faster than the apparel industry as a whole for years, are under pressure to be more prolific and provocative as they sell across more borders. H&M, which added 479 stores last year, now has more than 4,000 stores in dozens of countries … retail experts said that much of the creative process takes place in and around its European home office, far from many of its markets … Fast fashion has produced tone-deaf products for years, passing them off as a rounding error given the enormous volume of items the companies generate each year … Several companies have pledged to diversify hiring, retool corporate guidelines and initiate other measures to prevent mistakes from going out the door.”

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Boyd’s: Retail’s Past as Prologue?

The New York Times: “Like the Liberty Bell and the stone Rocky Steps, Boyds is a Philadelphia landmark, and one equally impervious to the shifting seasons. For 80 years, the family-owned business has outfitted lawyers, bankers, doctors, politicians and famous athletes … The store is where a young man goes to buy his wedding suit, and returns 30 years later, grayer, wealthier, thicker in the middle, this time bringing his son to buy his wedding suit … in this age of dressing down and click-and-buy, in an environment where the big chains have killed off the mom-and-pops and Amazon is killing off the chains, Boyds now feels like a shopping experience out of time … Out-of-towners who happen into this retail anachronism tend to react first with astonishment, followed by a sigh of pleasure.”

“It’s very possible that Boyds isn’t just one of a dying breed of old-fashioned retailers, however. Given its scale (50,000 square feet of selling space over four floors), and the level of service it provides, and the tailor shop and complimentary parking lot, and the near century of independent operation by the same family, it may be the only clothing store of its kind anywhere in the country … To understand how Boyds has avoided oblivion thus far, it’s instructive to spend an afternoon on the selling floors … The operation has a choreographed precision. Chris Phillips, the 43-year-old men’s tailored clothing manager, on this day stood near the elevator. It was his job to greet customers, determine their needs and spin them to the right salesperson.”

“Generally speaking, the men who come to Boyds aren’t there to browse. Overscheduled high earners, they view clothes shopping as one more task to be efficiently completed, an attitude to which every Boyds employee is attuned … Marc Brownstein, the president and chief executive of the Brownstein Group … dates his first Boyds shopping trip to high school, back in the ’80s, and now especially appreciates its delivery service to home or office, and the text messages he gets from the store when a brand is going on sale.” He comments: “The family just outthinks other retailers. They’ll deliver to your house, to your office. You park for free. You know what parking costs in the center of Philadelphia? They’re going to outwork and out-service everyone else.”

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Hershey Story: In Chocolate We Trust

The Wall Street Journal: “In the early 20th century, Milton Hershey transformed chocolate from a luxury good to a working-class staple. It made him a fortune, which he used to establish Hershey, Pa.—a model company town 100 miles west of Philadelphia and the self-proclaimed ‘sweetest place on earth.’ He also established an orphanage, the Milton Hershey School, to provide housing and education primarily for children from the area.”

“Hershey and his wife supported the school through a trust, which they established in 1905. By 1918, when he donated his full stake in his chocolate company to the trust, the trust was valued at $60 million. Today it is worth more than $14 billion—ranking it among the largest nonprofit endowments in the nation, on a par with MIT’s—and has maintained a profound commitment to its locale.”

“Peter Kurie’s ‘In Chocolate We Trust: The Hershey Company Town Unwrapped’ is a study of the town and of its residents’ shifting attitudes toward its institutional trinity of trust, company and school … He demonstrates how a philanthropic institution can continue to reflect a founder’s vision while shaping and being shaped by the community that grows up around it, one whose bonds can often be bittersweet.”

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J&J Credo Starts with Price & Value

Business Insider: In 1943, “Robert Wood Johnson, son of the company’s founder … wrote the company’s ‘credo,’ a 309-word mission statement published ahead of Johnson & Johnson’s initial public offering … The credo opens with, ‘We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services. In meeting their needs everything we do must be of high quality. We must constantly strive to reduce our costs in order to maintain reasonable prices’.”

“It then lists responsibilities the company has to suppliers and distributors, for making a fair profit; to employees, for respecting their dignity and paying fairly; to communities, for supporting charities, paying taxes fairly, respecting the environment, and fostering health education; and to stockholders, for making profits and continually growing the business.”

“The credo is in front of every J&J office in the world. And each year, all 140,000 employees answer a 100-question survey that assesses the leadership team’s performance agains the credo’s values … The resulting ‘credo scores’ then influence individual promotions and the allocation of resources to different teams.” Here’s a link to the Johnson & Johnson credo.

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