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Kroger Employees Against Key Retailing

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As an employee of a Kroger-owned grocery affiliate, I wish to register and record my disgust at the program known as Key Retailing. For those who are not familiar with the term, Key Retailing refers to a suite of schemas and procedures utilized by Kroger to measure, standardize, and control every aspect of the grocery retailing business. In theory (and this was perhaps the intent of its designers) it is somewhat similar to the “Six Sigma” strategy employed by manufacturers to reduce the number of defective products they produced. In practice, however, it is little more than a system of inapposite regulations and totalitarian control which interferes with, rather than assists, the necessary operations of a grocery store.

It will not be possible in this short petition to set forth even a comprehensive account, let alone a comprehensive critique, of Key Retailing. Suffice it to say, though, that the system is very granular and untrue to life, entirely unsuited to the raucous ebb and flow of a busy grocery store; and furthermore, that it redounds to the ineffectiveness of employees and reduces their ability to serve their customers with genuine personality and human warmth.

For example, the cashier who checks out your groceries is doing her job in a technologically-enhanced fishbowl. She is being watched by head clerks, by cameras, by the computer in the very check stand she is working at. At every moment her performance is being evaluated according to half a dozen parameters with respect to its efficiency and conformity to the Kroger way. Her scores are then posted in a public location, and should they fall below a certain number she will be liable to reprimand.

The merchandising of product is another example. Every inch of shelf space, every inch of floor space, every region of the grocery back room, is precisely mapped out by the corporate office and assigned to hold a certain amount of a specified item. This results in at least two problems which, over the long term, will prove fatal to any retailer who adopts these procedures. In the first place, the merchandise is too fluid to be subject to such rigidity: old items are discontinued and new ones are introduced almost continuously; the shelf allocations and even the very availability of many products are subject to large seasonal and logistical swings; and there is no method by which the sales of a particular item can be accurately forecast, despite the best efforts of the system to do so. The corporate mapping efforts are unable to keep up with the pace of change, and as result errors build up within the system.

The second problem, which is a derivative of the first, is that store managers and department managers are usually not interested in dealing with such problems as inevitably arise. Their role has been reduced from one of actual “management” (understood as personal initiative and responsibility) to that of a Kroger Clone whose only task is to implement the protocols dictated by the corporate branch. Such an environment conduces to the rise of a managerial class whose chief attribute is the ability to play politics and shine the company brass, but who possesses little competence when it comes to actually running a store.

The net effect of Key Retailing is that the few good employees (the ones who actually care about the business and have some sense of how things need to get done) are busied with ever more work, since they not only must get their old jobs done according to the rules of natural law and reality, but also must bustle around to create the appearance that the stupid Key Retailing rules have been followed. Meanwhile the parasitical management persecutes them and lives off the fruits of their labors.

In sum, when one considers Key Retailing in all its aspects--as a system of totalitarian control, as an apersonal substitute for personal skill and responsibility, as a planned economy, as the reign of a crony class—one is forced to the conclusion that it is simply Marxism under another name. That’s right: Marxism is alive and well at Kroger headquarters, and if it is allowed to continue it will destroy the company that so many of us have worked hard for and depend upon.

I invite all concerned persons to sign this petition; and if you are a Kroger employee, please include your own tales of the devastating effects of Key Retailing. The world needs to hear our voices. Let the change begin with us.


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