Jack Brown Opens Pandora’s Box

Jan 25, 2005

By George Anderson

Okay, we’ve got a bone to pick with Jack Brown. That’s right, Jack Brown, the chairman, chief executive and bottle washer at the Stater Bros. grocery store chain. The same man we often hold up as a shining example of leadership that others in the business would do well to emulate.

So, what could he have said or done to set the world of Anderson threatening to spin off its tiny axis?

Jack Brown told John Weeks, a columnist with the San Bernadino County Sun, that a dozen cans of cat food only count as one item when going through the express lane. Pandora’s box has been opened right in the express lane at a State Bros. store somewhere in California’s San Bernadino County.

In fairness to Mr. Brown, who is known as a man of reason and compassion (heck, even the United Food and Commercial Workers Union like him), his answer to the question was technically correct: “Multiple identical items count as a single item, because we scan in just one of them, then hit a number key.”

The problem, however, is that the logical extension of Mr. Brown’s comment is too horrific to contemplate. Imagine an elderly woman walking up to the express lane searching through her black hole of a pocketbook for 12 coupons on 12 cans of cat food, 12 cans of a nutritional shake, etc. Imagine being the clerk who checks her out? Worse yet, imagine being a shopper behind her when only one express lane is open — the horror!

And what about the operational and category management consequences of Mr. Brown’s seemingly innocent comment? Sure, at first glance, 12 cans of the same brand cat food might seem to be one item but what if liver and tuna flavor were mixed in with the cans of chicken? How can the pet food category manager at Stater Bros. be expected to order properly when the scan data she’s been given is incorrect? What if similar scanning mishaps occurred in categories throughout the store?

Moderator’s Comment: Do stores need to post shopping etiquette rules in an age when road rage and other outbursts of anger are increasingly common during
the course of daily life? What other gray areas of shopping behavior hold the potential for friction between shoppers and/or shoppers and staff?

Mr. Brown did leave himself an out on the whole express lane issue. He said Stater Bros. offers its checkout people adequate training to deal with the issues
that may arrive at the express lane. The whole idea is to keep the peace, and make the shopping experience as pleasant as possible for everyone,’ he said.

George Anderson – Moderator

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