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The Uncomfort Zone

by Adam Zack — November 6, 2018

I have a birthmark the size of a quarter right on my neck. It’s natural, I did nothing to cause it and don’t even really see it when I look in the mirror. I was probably 7 when I first got teased about it. “What is it, a hickey??!!!” I didn’t even know what a hickey was (and fortunately, only had to live through the embarrassment of a real hickey once). I have been chided about it probably a thousand times. From the nickname “Hickey Man” to endless “Who gave you the hickey??!!” (Your mom did was always a good comeback.) But the most memorable comment came from a total stranger. I was working in one of our grocery stores and passed a customer on the aisle, asking him if I could help him find anything. He responded that I should have my birthmark checked out by a doctor (at least he didn’t call it a hickey) to make sure it wasn’t cancerous. Turns out he was a doctor. I did ask my doctor about it on a future visit, turns out it’s just a birthmark, not skin cancer OR a hickey.

A tactful leader than can point out life’s embarrassments.

This was probably 20 years ago, and it still stands out as an incredible act of caring. I tell people to please just tell me when I have bad breath, or a booger hanging, or my fly in...
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It’s so easy. Not.

by Adam Zack — October 31, 2018

We all talk a lot about great leaders. Guys who are innovative and groundbreaking. They are respected and successful. They inspire the team and cultivate positivity. Guys like Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest Airlines, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway and Tim Cook of Apple. They are universally considered outstanding leaders. If you’re like most people, then you think they were born great leaders. They were captains of the football team, homecoming queen (or King), valedictorian, first chair violin and president of the debate team (which went on to win the state championship, by the way.)Men and women who are the great leaders do deserve the respect, but for every one of them, there are thousands who don’t get any accolades but are revered just as much by their employees. People like Bill at Town and Country, Norman at Dorothy Lane, Colleen at Wegman’s and Adam at Bristol Farms. Everyone (well not everyone) in management wants to be a great leader, but no one talks about just how much work it is every day to be one, and to maintain it. For all the glory of success that the great ones get credit for, there’s thousands of moments of failure, doubt, stress and pain. It requires doing the extracurricular activities, taking calls at all hours, signing the personal guarantees on loans and smiling when you just feel like screaming....
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I can’t thank you enough

by Adam Zack — October 24, 2018

Picture of Adam Zack

It’s the little things that count.

We are all at least good, if not great customers to some business. Like the guy from Wisconsin who ate two Big Macs every day since 1972 and recently ate his 30,000th Big Mac. (Check it out https://www.foxnews.com/food-drink/guy-who-ate-30000-big-macs-also-eats-another-mcdonalds-treat-every-single-day). None of us are probably to that level, but we are all good customers of some business. It could be a local restaurant, newspaper subscription, gas station or your local grocery store. I’m always a little impressed when I call American Express and they thank me for my years of being a loyal card member. Or when Southwest Airlines sends me some drink coupons on the anniversary of joining Rapid Rewards. Or when the owner of the restaurant that we have gone to regularly for years comps us a drink or dessert. It makes you feel special and appreciated. And it keeps you going back. Some tangible form of thank you cements loyalty. Especially at this time of the year with the holidays coming on. Do you know who your top five customers are? Do you know who is your very best customer? It’s ...
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Painfully Memorable

by Adam Zack — October 17, 2018

Picture of Adam Zack.

We’re actually bleeding money.

One of my very earliest lasting memories is from when I was 4 years old.My mom’s husband at the time was yelling at us that we had to get going (where I don’t know) and I was running across the living room, tripped and smacked my face right into the coffee table. Blood was all over the place and my lip was split open. I think that made him madder, but somehow, I was taken to the hospital and got my first set of stiches. (There were several more trips over the years). I clearly remember the chaos, pain, blood and my huge fat lip. I have many other vivid painful memories too – falling out of a tree on Easter and getting stiches when I was 9; crashing on my bike while doing ramp-to-ramp jumps in 5th grade and breaking my collar bone; falling off a motorcycle and cutting my chest and getting 13 stiches when I was 12; walking through a plate glass sliding door when I was 17 and cutting my arm; heartbreak in high school and diving to get out of a closing garage door and dislocating my shoulder when I was 22. And there’s many more. Holy crap, it sounds like I am the most uncoordinated person in the country. Or the unluckiest. The point of all these tales of woe and mayhem is that our memories of BAD THINGS (I hat...
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The Cliché and You

by Adam Zack — October 10, 2018

Picture of Adam Zack.

Strike while the iron is hot.

“It is what it is.”
“All things being equal.”
“A deal’s a deal.”
“Better late than never.”
“Easier said than done.”
“Needless to say.”
“No guts, no glory.”
“Think outside the box.”
I use them all the time, yet I loathe clichés. They are overused and have really lost their meaning. I especially am tired of “think outside the box”. Yet I understand it and see it’s necessity. It’s the opposite of “Tried and true.” It pushes you to something new and exciting. Something unproven that involves risk. It’s not routine, and it’s not “Been there, done that.” Today I was discussing grocery sales with my friend Gary and how the day after Thanksgiving is one of the slowest days of the year for grocers. How can we get more business when everyone is food exhausted from Thanksgiving and there are lots of leftovers in the fridge? How can we do a promotion that’s as strong as an ox and sells like hotcakes? It’s especially difficult to rally the troops who have worked so hard during the very busy Thanksgiving sales. I started thinking outside the box and remembered a couple post-holiday promotions. Breakfast items was one, b...
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Perfect!

by Adam Zack — October 3, 2018

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Perfect needs to be something that can be touched and savored.

Perfect is the most over-used word in America.Example: “I refilled the toilet paper.”“Perfect!”Really? It’s such a standard response to any positive statement that I think it’s totally lost its meaning. To me, perfect is perfection, as in you can’t get any better. It’s as good as possible. The best. Flawless. Wouldn’t change a thing. No criticism possible. 100%. Every answer right. For our use today I think we need to redefine it, because for it to be useful, especially considering how it’s thrown around as often as “ummm…” and “you know”, it should be attainable by more than the smartest, best or luckiest. But it still needs to be special. We don’t want it to be the equivalent of the participation trophy. I propose the perfect will now mean “really, really, really good.” Maybe even “great”. I want to be able to tell an employee that the work they did was perfect without having to say to myself that it could have used a tiny tweak here or a small adjustment there. It doesn’t have caveats. We need to factor effort and enthusiasm into the scoring equation to keep getting great results from our employe...
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The object of your obsession

by Adam Zack — September 26, 2018

Picture of Adam Zack.

Are you reflecting your retail soul?

“Obsess over your customer, never your competitor.” – Jeff BezosNo one can dispute that Jeff Bezos and Amazon have changed the world of shopping. What was initially just an online bookstore, dismissed by many as something that wouldn’t even be around for a few years, has become the largest seller of, well, about everything. (And made Jeff Bezos the wealthiest man in the world). It’s changed everything from ordering office supplies to how and what we read. Although I have very fond memories of taking each new Stephen King book to the beach to read, I can’t imagine not having my Kindle. Maybe that’s why my arms used to be so much stronger. So what? Everyone’s amazed what Amazon does – and will do. I think it’s their single obsession over their customers that has led them to be a trillion-dollar company. It’s the old school way for the founders of the modern grocery store business to obsess over our competitors. We pull out the ads from all the competition and curse when they beat us on chicken breast by 50 cents and beam when we feature strawberries that are 60 cents lower than them. But you know who’s not pulling out the ads and comparing them side by sid...
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Can You Relate?

by Adam Zack — September 19, 2018

Picture of a trophy.

Keep your customers tuned in.

We recorded the Emmy Awards last night and started to watch them after Monday Night Football. (Yes, I have a wife that would rather watch football than the Emmys.  So lucky!) Our conversation went something like this:Me: This is stupid.
Linda: Yep.
Me: This is not even funny.
Linda: Nope.
Me: This is the worst Emmys ever.
Linda: Yep.
Me: I bet this will be the lowest rated one of all time.
Linda: Yep.
Me: 95% of all Americans can’t even remotely relate to this %$#!
Linda: Nope.
After about 10 minutes of watching these people pretend that diversity is so difficult to attain and that their jobs are the most important thing on this planet we started fast forwarding, hoping for something funny or interesting. It did not happen and we switched to Sport Center. So why the hell am I even wasting your time talking about the television awards? Well it’s because I could not even remotely relate to any of those people, and to really have the support of your fans (customers) they have to be able to relate to you on some level. They have to feel that in some way that you are one of them. That you have things in common. They are hung...
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CH-CH-CHANGES

by Adam Zack — September 12, 2018

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“If you’re not falling, you’re not trying.”

“Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older” – David BowieMaybe the people most resistant to change in the country are conventional format American grocers.  I’m talking the old school, this-is-how-we-do-it-because-it’s-always-how-we’ve-done it grocery lifers.  The produce managers who grew up unloading 50 pound sacks of potatoes.  The meat guy who apprenticed breaking down sides of beef.  The baker who insists white bread is making a comeback.  The grocer who says “If they don’t like it, they can take their business elsewhere.”  Well guess what?  Quality potatoes don’t come in 50 lb sacks.  Carcass beef is virtually non-existent.  Milinneals like whole grain breads.  The American consumer has changed and is taking his business elsewhere.  Of course there are hundreds of exceptional grocers whose leadership has led their stores down the path of change.  No, they have actually blazed the trail of change, and many have followed.  Or at least attempted to.  We work with dozens of grocers who live the motto: Change is good.My uncle, who was an incredible water skier, once told me “If you’re not falling, you’re not trying.”  I’ve never forgot that ski...
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The Broken Trust

by Adam Zack — September 5, 2018

Picture of Adam Zack

Treat them like your trusted partner.

I’m a huge proponent of empowering your employees to take care of your business.Treat them like your trusted partner and share the successes and learn from the failures. It’s a philosophy that has allowed many forward-thinking independent retailers to rise above their competition and deliver a level of service that corporate chains can’t touch. Stores like Dorothy Lane Market and Town and Country Markets do it very, very well. It’s a culture that starts at the top and goes all the way to the courtesy clerks. They treat your store like it’s their own, with pride. But what happens when that trust you have in them is betrayed? When the most loyal, longtime employee succumbs to bad decisions and life’s pressures and instead of treating your assets like his own, treats them like, well like they are yours? It happened very recently to me and it really shook my belief and trust right down to the foundation. One store manager, a 24 year employee and one we considered to be another brother seems to always be having money troubles. It’s not because he isn’t paid well, it’s from consistent, extremely poor life choices. We tried everything from financial assistance to tou...
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