Golden Days

Kroger was a great company. We had more variety, fresher produce/meat, and better service than Walmart in about every way. We went out of our way for customers, even willing to lose money to keep them. Our customers were happy to pay a bit more for a great experience. Kroger's workers were very experienced (years to decades), highly diverse, had great benefits via our union, and often promoted from within. At least one executive started on the bottom himself. Some of us, like me, were heavily cross-trained as jack-of-all-trades they'd send to support or fix arbitrary departments or stores. The company highly praised all such people. Although always top-down and control freaks, the Corporate Office seemed like they just kept tight reins on a strict, highly-professional workforce that got results. That I know, only Publix was better with us otherwise on top.

Things Changed

(Note: I was in Oakland, TN when this happened. I don't know when. Dave Dillon was CEO and Tim Brown President at the time.)

Kroger started cutting staff big time: no stockers, cashiers, or baggers. To compete with Walmart better, they put almost the entire store on sale, too, instead of being selective. Slim margins make justifying costs, such as labor and equipment maintenance, harder. Plus, the cuts were arbitrary with seemingly no logic. The local Walmart in Oakland had more stockers and cashiers than us. We protested that we who charge more for a better experience needed enough workers to provide that experience. They told us to produce it out of thin air by outworking every competitor. We had to multitask, too, where our competition didn't.

The results were bad: shelves emptying, long lines, customers bagging their groceries, and phones that never got answered. We thought they'd reverse the cuts. Instead, they sent teams of 10+ people to do "process walks" seeing if we "followed the corporate processes." They had checklists with every rule, performance requirements, etc. Being control freaks, Kroger always had rules for almost every detail of the store. Now, top performers were marked failures in every area of the business due to no staff. Multiple failures led to our bosses getting threatened individually, bosses + department heads threatened at division-wide meetings, workers getting threatened on conference calls of many stores, and (being union) transferred around to "solve" the problem. They also kept increasing micro-management and requirements over time while reducing staff. Turnover began climbing. They got antagonistic where it's like they were graded on how many fights they started with us and failures they wrote down.