Target Update

My last blog on the Canadian launch of U.S. super-retailer Target, struck a chord.  I’ve never had so many friends make a point of telling me they’d read one of my posts, and sharing so vehemently their points of view on the topic.  So when I heard that three Target ‘pilot’ stores were opening in Ontario this week, like a moth to a bug zapper, I found myself drawn in.

This past Tuesday, people were lined up outside the Milton store when the doors opened at 8am.  I wonder what they thought when they stepped inside.  Were they dazzled by the brand-spanking new Starbucks in the foyer?  Did they get a little flutter in their chests as they wheeled those virgin red plastic shopping carts from aisle to aisle?  Did they stop to browse the first display of colour grouped costume jewellery, or was their eye caught by something deeper inside?  

Today, my first issue was parking.  Milton Mall is a facility that has seen better days, perhaps constructed at a time when people travelled primarily on foot and by bus?  Side-stepping potholes in the parking lot, I reached a mall entrance and snaked my way past empty storefronts and oddly branded clothing stores featuring footwear of the 3 for $10 variety, towards the Target ‘anchor’ store.  It struck me that Target will either revitalize this mall or prove to be the kiss of death.  No in between. 

Inside Target, it was a zoo.  People packed shoulder to shoulder and a checkout line that was a mile long. At first, I interpreted the empty shelves in the shoe department as a signal that the merchandise must have been remarkable.  But on closer examination I discovered inventory issues everywhere that were more difficult to explain.  I offer exhibit A:

 Target March 2013

This aisle, in the health and beauty aid department, was virtually empty.  I find it hard to believe that the hair elastics and headbands were so fantastic as to result in a Sunday afternoon customer feeding frenzy.  And this wasn’t the only area of the store where I found empty shelves.  Bathroom wastepaper baskets were picked clean, only a smattering of spring handbags remained, and my contact lens solution was out of stock. 

As a ‘pilot’ there are lessons for Target management in this Milton store, and judging from the number of staff scurrying around scanning shelf tags with laser inventory devices, I’m betting that they’re doing their best to learn them.

I hold out hope that the store’s official grand openings this spring are going to be spectacular.  My advice to shoppers, is to let these ‘pilot’ stores practice on other people…. Like sneaking a peek at my Christmas presents, my visit left me wishing I’d waited for the big day.

Target Practice

I pretty much stopped clothes shopping three years ago, when I decided to leave my job.  Economy was the name of the game and so I made do with the many things I already had in my closet.  The long neglected casual part of my wardrobe began to get more regular circulation and in time I lost touch with our local dry cleaner.  I revelled in the comfort of my new best friends; my Lululemon yoga pants. 

My consulting work was done largely at my dining room table so there was no need for office wear.  Teleconferences rendered my clothing choices open to my colleagues’ imagination and even the odd Skype meeting only required semi-professional clothing from the chest up.  However, this summer a consulting project came my way that required a fair amount of face to face client meetings. 

After months of professional isolation, dusting off my career wear was fun; I felt like I was getting ‘out there’ again.  But I couldn’t help wondering if some of my career separates had seen better days.  My friend Georgina has been working on a couple of blog posts around the topic of returning to work after a career hiatus, and more than once she’s referenced the ‘faux pas’ of showing up to interviews in dated outfits.  No one wants to look like they’ve fallen behind the times.

So with Christmas behind us, The Williams family took advantage of a free day last week to travel across the border to gorge ourselves on gross consumerism and some American size meals. 

After a full five hours trolling the Fashion Outlets mall, accumulating a gaggle of shopping bags full of stuff we did (and didn’t) need, and stuffing ourselves overfull at Applebee’s, we were ready to go.  But there was just one more item on our list… a pharmacy product.  Weighing the various retail options, we found that there really only was one answer in all of our minds…  Tar-get! 

Indeed, the addition of Target to our Canadian retail landscape is something we’re all eagerly anticipating.  I think of it as a fancy Wal-Mart full of stylish merchandise at affordable prices.  Every time I drive by their illuminated logo on the slick head office building off the 401 in Toronto, I find my gaze drawn to it, wondering what merchandising delights they’re cooking up for us inside.  Even the least enthusiastic shopper in our family, Taylor, was eager to say she’d been there.  It might even warrant taking a photo of her ‘in situ’ that she could then post on social media with the hope that her friends would be jealous. 

Target Canada has been doing a simply fantastic job marketing their brand in this pre-launch phase.  Their pop up stores have attracted crowds of Canadian fans and garnered media attention.  What impresses me most about Target`s efforts so far, is the degree to which they are taking a regional approach.  Oddly some Canadian retailers forget this simple fact, but Target has recognized that Canada is not Toronto and have embraced the vastness of our country in their marketing plans.  Check out the coast to coast Holiday Road Trip promo they ran in the weeks leading up to Christmas:  http://pressroom.target.ca/pr/tgt-en/default.aspx

Unfortunately, our first human interaction at Target in Niagara Falls, NY was an intoxicated hobo shuffling through the foyer.  I suppose that can happen in any store, but you know what they say about first impressions.  Our second impression was one of disarray.  Far from the ‘healthy mess’ merchandising strategy of legendary retailer Jean Coutu, this could only be described as a dirty mess.  Shopping carts were tattered, and staff wore wash weary red pinnies.  Merchandise lay strewn on the floor, having tumbled from half empty shelves, and Taylor slipped twice on a slimy substance in the middle of the aisle.  Unlike the spirited crowds we had encountered at the Fashion Outlets, only a handful of desolate looking shoppers wandered this sad store. 

Having secured the item we were looking for from Target’s half-hearted effort at a pharmacy department, we continued around the perimeter of the store.  There’s nothing more American than baseball, right?  Surely the sporting goods section would be better and Jack would find something to satisfy his growing baseball obsession.  But sporting goods was just as threadbare and, to my dismay, so was the selection of home goods.  The clothing section was so disturbing that we felt compelled to avert our eyes as we passed by. 

Before we left, I dictated that everyone should visit the washroom on the premise that crossing the border might take a while.  I’d call the condition of the Target washrooms the icing on the cake, but just thinking about that analogy makes me gag a little.

If this is the Target that is coming to Canada then we`re all in for some serious lunchbox letdown. 

My humble prediction though, is that this won`t be the case.  My marketing spidey senses tell me that the first Target stores that open in Canada this spring are going to be awesome.  Their pre-marketing activities have primed us to Expect More (the first part of their customer promise) and I can`t imagine that they will disappoint us.  My fear is that in time, the second half of their customer promise, Pay Less, will make it impossible to sustain.  Trying to out-discount the competition can prove a slippery slope, squeezing margins until inventory is so tight that shelves become sparse and the cleaning regimen begins to slip.  With this, the upscale clientele begin to drift away and the product selection begins skew to a discount mindset.  Until…. voila!  We`ve got our crummy Zellers back again.

Krazy Times in Talent Management

I knew a guy in high school whose Mother made a small fortune in the bingo dabber industry; further evidence that timing is everything.

In the small city where I grew up in the 1980’s, the Bingo destination of choice was a place called Bingotown.  It was a clever re-invention of our local roller skating rink, previously known as (go figure) Rollertown, and in order to take full advantage of the smooth floors and supplies on hand, bingo card sellers cruised from table to table on roller skates.  A good friend of mine worked for years as a seller, hoping to eventually make the big time and call the numbers from the repurposed DJ booth.  The callers were duller than a busted pencil, laboriously drawing balls from the basket and reading the numbers in monotone.  Memories of Ben Stein as the teacher in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, “Beuller…………. Beuller………… Beuller.”  Yawn!

In those days the majority of Bingo patrons were over-accessorized female chain smokers.  The cigs had taken their toll over time, littering ladies with premature wrinkles, yellow-stained index fingers and hoarse voices.  But hope sprung eternal at the bingo hall, where stiff looking hands moved swiftly to mark the numbers on a stunning number of cards often masking taped to the surface of the table and usually surrounded by Troll dolls, rabbits feet and other talismans. The silence was deafening save for the odd hacking cough, until a lone voice would finally call “Bingo!” and the hall would erupt with the crumpling of hundreds of paper cards being discarded in frustration.  The whole affair was somewhat depressing.

But thanks to Krazy D, the game of Bingo has been re-invented at Fern Resort.

I’ve written about Fern before.  It’s our family’s favourite summer holiday destination and it’s a resort like no other.

At 4:15pm almost every day, the barbeque gazebo crackled with excitement in anticipation of the appearance of Krazy D and his bingo bucket.  The chance to win a Fern T-shirt is likely what drew guests to show up in the first place but it was Krazy D that kept them coming back.  He is the anti-thesis of the Bingotown callers.  In his trademark sunglasses and bright yellow ‘SPORTS’ staff shirt, Krazy D put on a show like nothing you’ve ever seen before.  There is yelling, there is jumping and when we’re down to fewer than ten balls left in the full card game Krazy D hoists the cage of balls over his head and gives it an enthusiastic shake.

“Am I not calling good numbers?!!!   What number do you want me to call?!”

The crowd’s thundering response shakes the panes of glass of the gazebo.  Even the shyest child and his most infirm looking grandpa can’t help but respond by shouting out the number they’re waiting for.

“Moving over to the Bad Boy line… B12!  You don’t like that number?!  Under the Oh Canada line, O trickety trick….. O66!”

There’s no dispute that Krazy D is a national treasure when it comes to bingo callers.  And that his approach to the game is exactly on target with Fern Resort’s philosophy of offering activities that unite the community of guests through a memorable and shared experience.  But that’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of his talent.

By day he is Devon.  For years he worked in the Junior kids program, leading gaggles of starry eyed 7-9 year olds from one fun activity to another so their parents could enjoy some couple-time.  But at 3pm his alter ego ‘Krazy D’ would emerge.   As poolside DJ, he knitted together popular songs to draw even the laziest lounge chair guests into a toe tapping, head bobbing groove.  He taught dance steps on the pool deck, attracting people of all shapes, sizes and abilities.  At 3:45 pm the shallow end of the pool filled to capacity with grinning participants standing shoulder to shoulder for his Aquafit class.

But Krazy D was most in his element performing in the weekly staff lip sync show where he showed us all what dancing really looks like.  One year he managed to perform Usher so flawlessly that one young girl asked for a picture and an autograph.

This summer when we arrived at Fern for our first dinner, we spotted Devon waiting on a table nearby.  He was wearing a dining hall uniform, sans-sunglasses, but this disguise didn’t fool Jack for a minute.

“There’s Krazy D!” he whispered.

It was like seeing Brad Pitt at the grocery store.  Thrilling and surreal.

So imagine our horror when we learned that Krazy D was gone from the sports staff, having taken a permanent role in the dining room.  There would be no more Krazy D T-shirt bingo.  There would be no more poolside dance instruction.  There would be no more spirited Aquafit and no Krazy D performance in the staff lip sync show.

Our only chance to see Krazy D this year was in the 10:45 am Fern Bucks bingo game, a time slot that conflicted with many other activities on the daily schedule.  This game had always drawn smaller crowds, due in part by the fact that the duty of caller was assigned to plain, old, dining room staff.  But this year we made a point of going, desperate for a fix of Krazy D.

The rumour mill among guests immediately began to churn.  What happened to Krazy D?  Midway through the week we learned that in fact Devon had resigned.  Emotion caught in his throat when he announced to the 10:45 bingo crowd that after six years as part of the Fern family, Sunday would be his last day.  A collective gasp registered in the barbeque gazebo.

“No more Crazy D?  What are we going to do without him?  How could Fern let this happen?”

While the nature of the resort business dictates that much of the staff will be transient, with young people working on the resort through their university years but moving on to careers elsewhere when they graduate, we had all hoped that Devon would be a permanent fixture.  He had left his home in Jamaica and moved to Canada year round.  He had gotten married and had a young child here.  The head of Sports, Mike Stewart, has been with the resort for more than thirty years, and so we thought it possible that Krazy D might be around for thirty more.

Exceptional staff that love their work exist in almost every business, but all too often they reach a point where their needs are no longer being met by the companies they work for.  Sometimes it’s money.  Sometimes it’s work/family balance.  Sometimes it’s the opportunity to grow and evolve their role in the organization.  And sometimes it’s a little of all three.

In my prior life, I often engaged in debates with upper management as to the degree to which staff are replaceable.  In general, I have found that management doesn’t fully appreciate the contributions of exceptional staff.  It’s a topic I touched upon in a post I wrote about Undercover Boss.  And the real shame is when companies let these special individuals slip through their fingers over a relatively small increase in pay, or a little flexibility when it comes to working hours.

Having held a seat in management for a number of years, I appreciate the company’s concern about precedent setting.  It was an objection often raised when women expressed a desire to work fewer days a week in exchange for a cut in pay.

“If we let her work four days, then all the women with kids will want the same.”

Well maybe not all, but probably many.

Although in a non-union environment there is no legal risk, perhaps employers simply don’t want to have the tough conversations with employees whose performance doesn’t merit special accommodations.  They’re afraid that non-star employees will flee as a result.  So the logic is, that we’d rather have one star employee leave than a bunch of average employees leave… but isn’t the average employee easier to replace than the star employee?

Perhaps instead of fleeing the company in droves, the average employees might up their game and try to meet the bar set by star employees in an effort to earn some perks of their own.  And if this happened and the entire staff turned into a flock of star employees would this really be such a problem?  Couldn’t a company like this have enough competitive advantage in the marketplace that they might be able to afford to give a greater number of employees a little more of what they want in terms of pay and working arrangements?

Sunday was Krazy D’s last bingo game at Fern.  He offered up three of his bright yellow ‘SPORTS’ staff t-shirts as special prizes to those who could answer Krazy D trivia questions.  Partway through the full card game, some co-workers dropped by to say goodbye and tears were shed by all.

I-25 came out as a choked sob and Devon had to walk away to collect himself.  It was clear that he loved his years at Fern, he loved being the best Bingo caller ever, and he loved all of us.  He didn’t want to go.

But he did.

The Key to Walking a Tightrope? Stay Flexible!

We were there.  We saw him cross the falls, mist swirling and floodlights streaming, step by step across a treacherous steel cable.

It’s only by coincidence that we caught the spectacle live.  The Williams family doesn’t go for crowds.  Even the fall fair in tiny, Paris Ontario tested the limits of our comfort zone, with sticky neighbours pressing against us on the wooden bleachers at the demolition derby.  We would never be one of those enthusiastic families dragging picnic baskets and blankets down to the edge of the falls a day in advance to stake out our viewing area, only to end up standing shoulder to shoulder with the masses when Nik finally took his first step.

Many months ago, Jack’s baseball team registered for a tournament in Niagara Falls for the Father’s Day weekend, and locked in a block of rooms at $129 a night.  When Wallenda announced the date of his highwire walk we were thrilled at the thought of seeing it live.  But when the time came, we were tempted to watch the whole thing on TV from the comfort of our hotel room.  With the streets around our hotel closed to traffic, we were tired from the walk to and from our Friday night game.  Lugging camp chairs, bottled water and baseball gear 1.5 kilometers wasn’t a huge deal, but the detour to Dairy Queen for a celebratory Blizzard on the way back had left us dozy.  It was 9pm and surely all the best viewing spots near the falls were taken.

Our hotel room offered no view.  In fact, someone joked that the name of the hotel might have been more aptly named the “Wallsview.”  But on the 33rd floor there was a restaurant that advertised a spectacular view.  We arrived at 9:45 pm, just half an hour before the Wallenda walk would begin, and secured the last table for four.  On an ordinary evening, our shorts and t-shirts might have been a bit out of place in this upscale restaurant, but that night the patrons were abuzz with excitement over an impossibly long wire strung across the thundering falls.   Unfortunately the staff was not at all comfortable with the carnival atmosphere that had emerged in sharp contrast to white linen tablecloths and candlelight.

When people stood up from their seats to sneak a peek out the window, the hostess frowned.  When kids had the audacity to take a step away from their table, waitstaff complained loudly about serving hazards.  And when three starry eyed young boys were invited by a family with an excellent tableside view to stand next to the glass, the manager stepped in and shooed them away.

Our waitress audibly sighed when we ordered wine, soup, salad and a couple of kids’ meals.

Why do staff at upscale restaurants feel that it’s appropriate to make certain patrons feel unworthy?

Years ago, Craig and I went to Oliver’s, an Oakville dining landmark, to celebrate our anniversary.  In this case the server was an older gentleman who literally looked down his nose at us, through half closed eyes as we placed our order.  Unlike our Niagara Falls experience, we were dressed to the nines and spared no expense in our order.  I’m unsure whether it was our age, or some other secret ‘tell’ that led him to believe we weren’t fine dining regulars, but it was clear that he judged us to be beneath the standards of his precious restaurant.  After the appetizer course, he made a huge deal of bringing a silver brush and dustpan to our table and spent what felt like an eternity sweeping up every breadcrumb that had strayed from my plate in my apparently boorish consumption of a very crusty roll.

This is different surly service from what we regularly encountered at one of our favourite Bronte Village haunts: La Parisienne.  At this artery clogging (but incredibly delicious) crepe restaurant, the owner does the serving while his wife does the cooking.  He is brisk and impatient and you can usually hear him arguing loudly with his wife behind the kitchen door, but in this case it’s all part of the charm.  You don’t take it personally; he treats everyone this way.  They are real French, from France, after all.

The transitory nature of Niagara Falls hotel restaurant patrons will likely keep this business alive for years to come, but I worry about the Oliver’s Restaurants of the world.  Walking the tightrope of razor thin margins, most foodservice ventures can’t afford bad reviews from ANYONE.

Our restaurant had an opportunity to demonstrate some flexibility in how they catered to the needs of their customers last Friday night.  On the night Wallenda made his incredible journey across the raging falls, the staff of a restaurant filled with excited people of all ages could have chosen to demonstrate some flexibility.  Trying to force fit this round group of customers into the square hole of a typical fine dining experience was a mistake.  And they missed a rare opportunity to knit their business into their patrons’ memory of this historic evening in a positive way.

As is, whenever the topic of Wallenda comes up, I’ll likely say:  “We saw it live.  It was INCREDIBLE!  But we had this snotty waitress…”

Inhaling Your Dessert ….. literally!

I have never understood the Red Bull phenomenon.  It’s clear that these high octane caffeinated beverages are selling like hotcakes; I see end aisle displays piled high every time I stand in the Tim Horton’s lineup at my local Esso station.  Perhaps the crackdown on drinking and driving that has compelled twenty-something men to resort to these as a means to demonstrate their macho-ness during the day?

But now there’s a whole new way to get a hit of caffeine without the calories.  It’s an inhalable product called AeroShot.   $2.99 gets you a lipstick sized tube that contains three pumps (doses?) of various B vitamins and 100mg of caffeine, about the same amount you would find in a large coffee.  Don’t ask me what B vitamins have to do with caffeine but the concept is made only stranger by the fact that the puff is delivered in the form of a lemon lime flavoured powder.

I wish them good luck.  Somehow I can’t imagine that holding this odd looking device to one’s lips and tooting down a powdery puff is going to be nearly as satisfying as pounding back a can of Rock Star or savouring a Starbucks.

The maker of AeroShot is a UK based company called Breathable Foods.  In April they’re set for the European launch of ‘Le Whaf,’ a line of drinkable dessert clouds that you pour into a snifter shaped glass and breathe in instead of consuming the calorie laden alternative.

Now maybe I’m old fashioned but I like my sweets eaten with a fork.

I’ve seen this before in new product development.  Smart and capable scientists can spend their entire career optimizing existing products, never developing something truly ‘revolutionary.’ So when someone comes up with a product that is completely unique it must be overwhelmingly exciting.  But just because something can be done, doesn’t mean that it should be done.  Take, for example, spray on hair.  Or the related, but equally ill-conceived, spray on grass.  Whether it’s your head or your lawn, it’s simply a bad idea.

There’s no doubt that calorie free dessert is an appealing concept.  But just like painting over one’s bald spots is no match for real hair, a whaf of lemon tart or a puff of caffeine is never going to match the enjoyment of real food and drink.  But that’s just my opinion.

The CEO of Breathable Foods happens to be a twenty-something business phenom who at age thirteen founded Soccernet, a football results database that sold for £25 million.  So I suppose it is possible that he knows something I don’t.

We’ll see.

Growing Sour on BlackBerry

The Toronto Star has started delivering a newspaper to us every day.  I suppose that as weekend subscribers they think can entice us to extend our subscription if they can get us ‘hooked’ on the idea of waking up every day to a paper on our doorstep.  But each morning, while I rush to the front porch to retrieve my copy and excitedly slip off the elastic band to reveal the front page news, I seem to be faced with nothing but depressing headlines.

Today, it was with a special degree of exasperation that I read the news that Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis have stepped down from their leadership roles at RIM to make way for a new CEO and Independent Chair on their Board of Directors.  It’s not that I’m particularly attached to the company founders.  In fact I agree with the majority of analysts and shareholders, who believe that their best before dates passed some time ago.  My issue is with the choice of replacements.

Last summer, I posted a blog about RIM stating that I felt the company’s problem was primarily one of marketing, and I still believe that this is the case.  Certainly a failure to meet new product launch timelines, a major network service issue this past October and some important feature-misses on the PlayBook haven’t helped matters.  But I can’t help thinking that the major missing link is a passion for the consumer.

So it was with horror that I read this morning the new CEO, Thorsten Heins, ex-Chief Operating Officer, has built his reputation in R&D and customer service.  Mike Lazardis was quoted as saying: “We have been impressed with his operational skills at both RIM and Siemens.”  Sigh.  Heins himself said that he’ll be focusing on instilling discipline in execution in order to make sure that the company meets its timelines.

Is anyone inspired yet?

Well, don’t hold your breath waiting for the new Independent Chair on the Board of Directors to pick up the slack.  Barbara Stymiest’s expertise is in corporate governance.  In this morning’s Toronto Star article, one of her colleagues described her as “always doing her homework, and being smart and ready with insightful questions.”  Forgive me, but given the state of RIM, I think what they need most, are insightful answers.

If there is one ray of light in this dismal picture, it’s that they’ll be recruiting a new chief marketing officer to replace Balsillie.  My fingers are crossed that they will come with some CONSUMER marketing experience.

What Every CEO Should Know

I love reality television.  I realize I should be trying to hide this fact from people I’m trying to impress but I find it so compelling that I can’t help talking about it.

Luckily my kids and I share this passion and so we watch Toddlers and Tiaras (gasp!), Storage Wars (YUUUP!TM) and America’s Next Top Model (no comment) together.  This past weekend we caught a rerun of Undercover Boss.  The concept of this program is for a CEO to go ‘undercover’ as a new trainee in a series of front line worker roles to find out what it’s really like to be an employee of the company.  In this particular episode Kim Schaefer, CEO of Great Wolf Lodge, was the central character.

Like the undercover bosses before her, Kim was challenged to keep up in a variety of roles.  Working the front desk, she was shocked at the complexity and length of the check in procedure.  Her patience was repeatedly tested in the kids club and she completely sucked as a waitress.  She became so flustered at one point that she asked a family if they were ready for their bill … before she had served their food!  But the highlight for me was when she was called upon to deal with an AFR (Accidental Fecal Release) in the kiddie pool.  The young man who was training her, made sure that she collected all of the floating pieces in spite of Kim’s complaint that it fell apart when she tried to pick it up.  His standards were high, and he sent her back a second time until she had cleaned away every trace of the smear on the bottom of the pool.

In her post experience interview, Kim repeatedly expressed her surprise at the pressure employees were under, and the degree of skill required in order to be successful in these roles.

Now as much as I delight in seeing executives struggle, and often fail to deliver, in jobs that they may have once thought a well trained monkey could perform, it infuriates me that they universally seem to require this experience to help them realize that their company is full of people who do difficult work for little money.

Again and again, they are surprised to learn that employees face family and financial challenges outside of work, and that many of them work extra shifts or even secure a second job at another company in order to make ends meet.

At the end of Undercover Boss, the company ‘trainers’ are summoned to head office where they are told that their trainee was actually the head of the company.  One by one, the participants gasp at the realization that the person responsible for running the whole company had trouble keeping up with the peons.  As a means to transition from this shock and awe to a happy ending, they are usually given some sort of reward born out of the CEO’s newfound insight into their plight.  Kim Schaefer offered to pay one waitress to stay home with her baby rather than working extra shifts because she felt that the worker shouldn’t have to sacrifice this time with her child to make ends meet.  Well that’s great for that particular waitress, but what about the hundreds more slaving away at all the other Great Wolf Lodge Reorts!?

It was with this in mind that I read an article this weekend from the Toronto Star about a KPMG recommendation to outsource city cleaning jobs.  Much to Mayor Rob Ford’s dismay, the current union contract won’t allow contracting out when it comes at the expense of permanent union jobs.

Do private cleaning companies have some remarkable technology that allows them to deliver the service more efficiently and cheaply than city staff workers?  Of course not.  Their lower cost comes on the backs of their employees; living, breathing people, who perform unpleasant tasks with inconvenient part time hours at low pay with few or no benefits.

When companies treat their employees as a faceless ‘resource,’ like oil or paperclips that can be purchased from the low cost bidder, we’re all in trouble.   Because paying people less to do the things that make the world go ‘round, means that the population at large has less money to spend.  This means that they can buy less, which means that goods and service companies sell less, which places more pressure on companies to reduce expenses, and causes tax-supported governments to reduce services, and so on, until a good number of us (the 99%?) are living in cardboard boxes and wondering how this happened.

If you’re not a general labourer you might think you’re immune.  You’ve got a university education after all.  But heed the human insight from Undercover Boss.  Those CEOs are failing to value all kinds of jobs, including white collar staff.  Having the boss freak out about the time pressure and accuracy mandate in an accounting role just doesn’t make as interesting TV as seeing him or her scrape poo from the bottom of a pool.

Who knows, maybe it will be the 99% movement that will spark change.  Perhaps it will be an offshoot of the trend to think globally and act locally.  Whatever the impetus, I have to believe that there is be a tipping point somewhere down the line when companies start to realize that their obligation is not only to shareholders, and that they also have a responsibility to contribute positively to the prosperity of the communities in which they operate.  Yes, we need business to provide useful goods and services, but also to provide gainful employment so that people can raise good families and build strong communities.

And if Undercover Boss is any indication, there are certainly enough people out there willing to work hard for companies in return.