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  • Writer's pictureLacy Starling

#66: The Excellent Potato

Last Sunday night, my grocery store inadvertently gave me a fantastic example of the difference between a Culture of Excellence and a culture of "meh." (At Starling Consulting, one of our core values is Excellence, and that means we strive to do our best, every day.)

I had ordered groceries online for pickup, as I always do, and my local Kroger had very helpfully sent me the list of things they needed to substitute, and the things they were out of. One of the items I'd ordered was potatoes, and I was shocked when I saw that they were not going to be able to fulfill my order because they were out....of potatoes. They didn't even give me an option to substitute a different kind of potatoes; they just told me, "Sorry, we're clean out of....potatoes."

Now, I ask you, have you EVER IN YOUR LIFE been in a grocery store in America that was out of POTATOES? (Sorry if I'm yelling, but this one gets my blood boiling.) I had ordered redskin potatoes, and I guess I could understand them being out of that particular size and style of potato, but to not even give me an option of one of the 22 other varieties of potatoes listed on their site at the time of my order seemed like the height of laziness. I ordered ham, too, and when they didn't have that, at least they offered me turkey. (Yeah, not another kind of ham, from the 75 varieties of ham they listed, but turkey. When I already had turkey on my list. Kroger was having a rough night, apparently.)

On the drive home from picking up the groceries, Brian and I were talking about it, and when I told him they charge $4.95 to pick up groceries instead of going in the store, he said one of my least favorite things. He said, "Well, I guess we get what we pay for." I responded with two thoughts:

  1. If your business is CHARGING GOOD MONEY for a service, you better be giving people a good service. If you don't want to do the job, just don't offer it. But don't charge people money and then NOT GIVE THEM POTATOES because you are salty about what you are getting paid. If you think the service is worth more, charge more. And if you need to charge more in order to do a good job, raise your prices. People will either choose to use your grocery pickup service, or they'll come in and shop for themselves. I would pay roughly quadruple what Kroger is charging for grocery pickup if I knew I wouldn't have to go into a grocery store AND I'd actually get my freaking potatoes.

  2. A culture of excellence will encourage critical thinking among ALL employees, even the teenagers picking the groceries. It would have taken the kid grabbing my groceries two seconds of thought to say, "Hey, if they want potatoes, which they obviously do since they ordered them, maybe I should offer them an option of another kind of potatoes, INSTEAD OF TELLING THEM WE DON'T HAVE ANY FREAKING POTATOES IN A GROCERY STORE IN AMERICA." Instead, they didn't see the exact kind of potatoes I ordered, so they shrugged and moved on. (Apparently, they moved on in a vast grocery store, empty of potatoes. I envision tumbleweeds slowly rolling through dozens of empty produce bins, wind whistling sadly past where the potatoes should be.)

Basically, it boils down to this. If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well. And if you have the right structure and management, everyone working for you will want to do that job well. It is up to the company to figure out how to charge for that job, how to train for it, and how to encourage all the employees to embrace a culture of Excellence. How Kroger goes about that is their business, but it is extremely disappointing, as a customer, to be faced with the sort of indifference I encountered Sunday night.

I just wanted my potatoes. Is that so much to ask?

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