Today brought me to visit Ellenfoot Food Place, unfortunately. You remember, it's the store that's always got on our wick by being oh so better than us.
Ellenfoot Food Place is virtually identical to ours, only slightly narrower. It has the same warehouse-look as us, with no ceiling and a clear view straight to the tin roof and air conditioning apparatus. The staff, however, are another issue entirely.
I don't need an outsider to tell me that my branch of Food Place has friendly staff. We know many of the customers on first name terms, we're generally very cheery and we'll go out of our way to help (unless the customer in question is a nasty-pasty). But Ellenfoot is something else. At the till they totally blank the customers. No eye-contact, no smile, no please, no thank you, no sod all. One of them has the looks and posture of a gorilla.
Ellenfoot is also more expensive. Food Place think they can get away with charging the customers more money because competition is thin on the ground in the town. The staff don't follow the POS policies and, as a result, many of their shelf prices are missing, inaccurate or misleading. My inside knowledge tells me they don't follow stock-control procedures properly and it really shows. The number of missing products, incorrect facings and overcrowded shelves is quite astounding.
Ellenfoot have always thought they can get away with being sub-par because their customers generally had nowhere else to go. But last week this all changed. Muhaha! A rival has opened up shop in the town, and sales figures for Ellenfoot Food Place plunged. At first the manager was overly confident it was because people were checking out the competition - he was so sure they would all return. But it's not happening. In fact its worsening. This time last week they were down 38% on the previous week. This week, they're 18% down on last week's poor figures placing them 56% short of their sales before the rival arrived.
In a way, it's sad. There's no doubt that people are going to lose their jobs. Food Place has "Sales Tiers" which dictate how many supervisors the store needs. Ellenfoot has dropped two sales tiers in the past two weeks. Their new position, if maintained, means they should have 5 supervisors and 2 department managers. They currently have 9 supervisors and 4 department managers. Eek. And then there's the possibility of closure. If their new rival (you're probably already guessing who this rival is) gains the confidence of Ellenfoot residents, Food Place is stuffed. If it goes anything like Bartonfield (another local Food Place hammered by the same rival chain) then the sales will continue to slide gradually until it reaches the point that promotional stock accounts for 90% of the total sales. And we all know what that means - no profit. Bartonfield lasted 8 months - I wonder how long it'll take for Ellenfoot.
When I visited today the store, although far from deserted, was nothing like as busy as it usually is. There were plenty of customers but, sadly for Food Place, they were only stocking up on the special offers.
And the effects don't stop at Ellenfoot. Sales at my Food Place branch are down by roughly £3000. This is a tiny fraction of our total sales and isn't going to lead to mass redundancies, but it's still something.
At the end of the day, the blame doesn't lie solely with the rival - naming no names, but inviting guesses (I'll give you one). Ellenfoot Food Place isn't able to compete because it's much smaller, more expensive and it was too complacent. If the staff had run the store well in the past, they might have more customer loyalty now. But it's too late...