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Q: How many Corporate Vice Presidents does it take to ruin a Customer Service experience?

A: Two or more

I walked in to the Urbana Meijer this morning at 6:15, picked out my mini-cart, and headed for produce. I picked out a dry red leaf lettuce ($1.49/lb) from the wet ones—why pay for the water?—and a stalk of ginger root ($2.99/lb). I also peeked at the Thompson Seedless green grapes ($0.99/lb). As I headed off towards Baked Goods, a pudgy stuffed shirt named Bartlett called to me from across the aisle.

“Hey,” he began . . . not the warmest of greetings, “we’re not open.”

“What time do you open?” I queried, knowing the ribbon cutting was scheduled for 7.

“Seven,” he responded.

“That’ll be perfect,” I answered. It takes me at least 45 minutes to find my way around any new grocery store. Because I’ve been waiting for this particular grocery store to open for over a decade—and have watched the actual building sit idle for three months—I can imagine using up a whole hour, even.

I was not surprised to find the store open, even though the “ribbon cutting” was still minutes away. After all, they have to have all the employees there before they can sell things to people. And boy were there a lot of employees there. Also on hand were half the Grand Rapids golfing community, in their roles as Meijer Corporate Vice Presidents.

What did surprise me was the second managerial type. She approached me in frozen foods (boneless chicken breasts, $5.97/2.5 lb bag) to again say, “We’re not open.”

Of course you’re open, I thought. Unlocked automatic front doors + customer + shopping cart filling up with items. These are the signs. But unlike the guy in produce, she told me I’d have to leave. Then she walked me towards the door as I grumbled about customer service, the value of locking doors. She told me there were greeters manning the portals—despite the evidence to the contrary.

As we passed the Customer Service counter, a Customer Service person asked me, “How you doing today?”

“Not very well—I’m being kicked out,” I told her. At that point a third suit confronted me. According to his name tag, he was Dan, the second shift manager. Dan was about half a foot shorter than me, so I was not surprised by his pesky point-guard defensive posture. He had me all wrapped up, and I was not getting away from him.

“How many security people does it take to kick a guy out of a new store?” I intoned, mildly.

“Just me,” he said, in a cheery voice. Manager #2 faded into the background, as the Customer Service person froze into oh heck, am I doing something wrong in front of the boss mode.

Dan’s tone felt a softer touch than the others, which I somewhat appreciated. But it’s hard to overlook the aggressive face-guarding. Cheery or not, he’s still kicking me out, I think—and breaking into a tell-tale sweat around the forehead. Hmm, he’s probably nervous about what his bosses are thinking right now.

Maybe if there were one manager, or one Executive Vice President on hand, I’d have continued my shopping, paid for my groceries, and biked home. The problem, of course, is that they were all trying to impress EACH OTHER rather than the community they seek to serve/profit from. All the Vice Presidents made the local store managers feel watched.

More Vice Presidents were filing in as I mounted my bike, and pedaled out. “They kicked me out,” I told them. “I’m going to County Market.”

This brings me to the really exciting part of the story, for us consumers. As long as you are allowed to actually get in the stores, all this competition is going to be a boon for us. County Market, for example, had green grapes at $0.69/lb—so it’s lucky that Meijer wouldn’t let me buy theirs. The bag of chicken breasts was $3.99. Already the new Meijer is saving me money!

I completed my Urbana Big Box adventure at Wal-Mart, where the red leaf lettuce ($1.44/lb) and ginger root ($2.88/lb) also beat the Meijer price. And I got an extra five miles of early morning bicycle exercise out of the deal. This is a win-win for me, I thought.

Heather and I shop selectively. Strawberry Fields provides bread, bulk, and vitamins. Far East is our favorite Asian foods depot—Hong and her family being the main reason. Cheeses and exotica come from World Harvest, where we enjoy a good banter, and commiserate the state of the Iraqi people, with Mr. al-Heeti. The Urbana Farmer’s Market, and our own garden, provide seasonal produce. The chains provide the rest. And by keeping an eye on the online weekly ads, we know where to buy which items.

The Jerry’s IGA website is down, maybe gone forever—but you can still view the weekly ad here. County Market is here, although you should also ask for the supplemental coupon book that regularly appears in the mail. Schnuck’s, where everything costs twice as much and all the cans are very nicely displayed on the shelves, posts a flie, too. Meijer, if you can get in, advertises here.

I have no particular philosophy regarding mom-n-pop versus big corporate giants. I am aware of the arguments, pro and con, and I don’t subscribe to any of them as religion. The moms-n-pops I like are owned by moms (Hong) and pops (Mr. al-Heeti) I like—it’s as simple as that. I don’t patronize stores where the local owner is an asshole, and there are plenty to not choose from.

But I also enjoy visiting with Tim Johnson, who just got promoted to Grocery Manager at the Philo Road County Market (hooray Tim!) as well as Tanya, Cathy, Chris, and Monique—but not the late night manager who refused to refund my $7.52 overcharge, because she was on break.

Across the street, at CVS, you can still find Theresa, who’s been there for years. Last month she offered to bring me an out-of-stock item from the Champaign store, on her way into work. I didn’t take her up on the offer, but that’s the kind of warm fuzzy that makes a guy think “I want to shop here.”

The Urbana Meijer gets an F. And that’s a terrible thing to say about a million dollar enterprise on its birthday. Maybe all those suits should stop trying to impress each other, and let their employees charm me a little.

They fucked up. There’s just no excuse for it.