GHQ: Scary Movie

Discussion
Jul 11, 2008

By Tom Weir

Through a special arrangement, what follows is an excerpt of a current article from Grocery Headquarters magazine, presented here for discussion.

At a time when finding talented young grocery managers is a crucial challenge for the industry, Hollywood has come out with what may be the ultimate anti-recruiting film. The Promotion, released in June, depicts the competition between two assistant managers to become the manager of a new store being built by Donaldson’s, a fictional Chicago supermarket chain. Battles of ambition are a time-honored movie genre, typically exploring a man’s burning desire to win at all costs and his fixation on some glorious, almost unobtainable prize. Think Rocky Balboa going up against Apollo Creed.

In this film, the goal is portrayed as so plebian as to be pitiful: a $69,000-a-year job that will put the winner on the same level as the mediocre manager who is his current boss. It’s not even close to a ticket out of the middle class, and perhaps that’s why Doug, played by Seann William Scott, and Richard (John C. Reilly) never seem driven in their quest for the position even though they both really want it.

Overall, The Promotion is a portrait of not-very-talented people doing dispiriting, sometimes demeaning work that leaves them with the feeling that what they’re accomplishing isn’t worth much. It’s enough to make any viewer who’s ever thought about a career in grocery retailing seriously reconsider.

If the store-level atmosphere weren’t bad enough, the five-man board of directors who inspect the supermarket and, during interviews at headquarters, sit in judgment of manager candidates who wear cheap suits and unfashionable ties convey the clear message that there’s no level at which things will get better.

It’s obvious that the Donaldson’s chain was not modeled on Wegmans, Hy-Vee, Publix or a number of other familiar players. But the inspiration had to come from somewhere, and that should be troubling to the industry.

When this film comes out on DVD, buy a copy. Buy a lot of copies and pass them around to the executives who help set the tone for your organization. Better yet, have them sit down and watch it together. Ignore the lame comedy and focus on the lack of imagination and the atmosphere of helplessness that pervade Donaldson’s. If you see something of your own company in any of the situations in The Promotion, consider what that does to your chances of attracting and retaining the best managerial talent.

Discussion Questions: Is there any validity to the way retail jobs are portrayed in movies such as The Promotion and others? Which stereotypes are true about working retail and which are false? Can and should the retail industry be doing anything to counter negative images portrayed in movies, television, etc.?

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11 Comments on "GHQ: Scary Movie"


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Mel Kleiman
Guest
13 years 10 months ago

My first reaction was to say forget the movie, it is there for entertainment. My second reaction was if the shoe fits, wear it and then make the changes necessary so you don’t commit or continue to commit the same mistakes.

Third, I keep preaching the same message over and over again. The retail industry gets to see some of the best and the brightest young people early in their career when they take part time and summer jobs. When I talk to most of these employees and ask them if they would consider a job in retail or restaurants, I get a lot more. There is no way.

The questions is, what are we doing to turn all of these bright employee off from making a career out of retailing and what should we be doing so they would say, “WOW I never thought about a career in retailing before but I can see myself staying here.”

Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Guest
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
13 years 10 months ago

Hollywood can certainly have an impact on how things are viewed. Heck, I’m in Hispanic Marketing and I assure you that the image of Latinos in Hollywood has contributed to the stereotypical views that exist in many people’s perceptions of this community. At the end of the day, however, the community is stronger and more three dimensional than any film.

Imitation is the highest form of flattery. It’s what “The Office” did for well, the office. Now it’s retail’s turn. Fifteen minutes of Fame. Enjoy it. It’s a lot shorter than the lines we wait on to buy something at retail.

Janis Cram
Guest
Janis Cram
13 years 10 months ago

It’s just a movie. If anyone leaves the theater and thinks, “Gee, I need to re-think my career choice of working in grocery management,” then chances are they weren’t choosing the right career path in the first place.

Richard Wakeham
Guest
Richard Wakeham
13 years 10 months ago

Liz Crawford is right! It’s a movie, folks. Do you think the intelligence community is concerned about Get Smart? Do you think Best Buy is concerned about the big box image in the television program Chuck?

Kevin Graff
Guest
13 years 10 months ago
Over the past 20 years, I’ve spoken to and trained tens of thousands of retail employees and managers. It’s been an entertaining ride! You meet managers you’d love to clone, and some who obviously tricked their bosses in the interview to get the job. Same goes for the front line staff. But, this isn’t any different than the rest of the corporate sector, construction field (when was the last time anyone had a contractor show up or finish a job on time?) or service industries. Yet, this is what makes retail both fun and challenging. If you don’t like people and enjoy the challenge of getting the best out of each team member, then retail isn’t for you. As for the movie, at least someone is paying attention to retail. There have been lots of movies about misfits in the corporate world, so now its retail’s turn. We’re on the radar, so that’s probably a good thing. One thing is for certain: Retail is now as sophisticated and competitive a sector as any. If you… Read more »
Dan Nelson
Guest
Dan Nelson
13 years 10 months ago

It is hard to portray Operations managers in one specific way; as with any other profession, there are really talented, creative, and professional store leaders that do an amazing job of leading their stores and caring for their shoppers. They build loyalty both within their store associates and also throughout the community. It is apparent when you walk into these stores. Unfortunately, there are examples of stores not led by effective leaders as well, and just as apparent as soon as you enter the front of the store.

Owners and leaders need to elevate and celebrate those that do a great job in leading at retail, and set them as the examples and future leaders of the business. After all, the front line (retail locations) is where you build loyalty with your shoppers, your suppliers, and your retail “front line” employees.

David Biernbaum
Guest
13 years 10 months ago

Retailers and their recruiting functionalities have greater concerns than what’s showing at the movies. Get a big box of popcorn and enjoy the movie. I hope it’s good.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
13 years 10 months ago
Retail has been a favorite playground recently for Hollywood, and not just in the movies. The series “10 Items or Less” was about the son of an independent grocer who inherits the store and decides to try to ‘keep the dream alive’–but also inherits a collection of workers who do things like give him a very wrong translation of store announcements into Spanish or ignore any and all of his earnest efforts to beat out the competition, a mega-chain down the street. Or try Reaper, which is set in a place called the Workbench, a cross between Home Depot and Walmart. The main characters have to deal with another bumbling store manager who in turns is either earnestly implementing weird corporate programs or hounding the brave heroes for imagined slights or lack of enthusiasm. The reality is that retail work is hard work and not intrinsically fun. It’s not fun for store managers to deal with unmotivated employees, and it’s not fun for employees to deal with managers who don’t understand them. The only retailer… Read more »
Liz Crawford
Guest
13 years 10 months ago

Look at “The Office.” Look at “Dilbert.” We still work in offices, don’t we? I am not terribly concerned here.

John Crossman
Guest
John Crossman
13 years 10 months ago

I see this as an opportunity. First, it begs the question, are they right? Is the perception a reality? Are changes needed in the retail industry?

Second, file this under all press is good press. It can be used in training purposes.

Later this month I am speaking to students at the Center for Retailing at the University of Florida. These students are seeking a career in retail. I like using negative examples from movies and the media to train and teach. We can use them to laugh at ourselves and learn about how to get better.

Mark Lilien
Guest
13 years 10 months ago

Movies and TV shows have a huge impact that gets amplified for years. Their earlier stereotypes of blacks hurt social progress and their later turnaround showing blacks as responsible characters in integrated situations helped social progress. Mass media is a great propaganda amplifier. Furthermore, the retail work situations portrayed negatively are the absolute truth for many organizations, even if they’re not all stores. Enlightened retailers like Costco and The Container Store can get the best quality people and keep them because they’ve gone out of their way to be the opposite of the low-grade, humiliating places to work.

Retailing is like any other industry. Look at colleges or hospitals or airlines or hotels or auto manufacturers: most are mediocre. Only a few are determined to be the best employers.

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