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Local Voices: Rethinking ‘The Friendliest Store in Town’

Schnucks

Nearly twenty-five years ago, just out of high school, my friend Kevin got a job as a checker at the recently-opened Mid-Rivers Schnucks. He was pretty excited because the starting pay was good, once you paid the union dues.

A few months in, he met Craig Schnuck. “He’s a nice guy . . . wants us to call him ‘Craig’ when we see him,” said Kevin.

I thought it was cool that the owner wasn’t a pompous guy who insisted on being called “Mr.” or “sir.” Like most St. Louis-area natives, I grew up going to Schnucks stores, so I would’ve expected a member of the family to think of himself as kind of a big deal.

Schnucks and, to a slightly lesser extent, Dierbergs, is part of my consciousness. By the 1980s, Schnucks and Dierbergs had built clean, modern stores in St. Charles County. Prior to that, our parents shopped at IGA, Kroger, and Overland Dairy. The Schnucks and Dierbergs stores were something different, though: large, comfortable, and all-brick on the outside. They were hard to beat. Smaller grocery stores and even Kroger soon left the area.

On summer vacations, when my family traipsed around the country in a camper, we visited lots of grocery stores (our trailer had a fridge and stove, much to Mom’s displeasure). None–even Publix and Safeway–seemed as awesome as Schnucks or Dierbergs.

Both companies have done plenty of advertising. But in my mind, the Schnucks ads stand out. Probably because they used a superlative: “the friendliest stores in town.” We locals can’t help remembering the slogan and treating it as a promise, one that colors our perception of any changes Schnucks makes.

Schnucks is a family business, and has succeeded through multiple generations, which means the parents must’ve raised their kids right, since they haven’t run the business into the ground. But the management style at Schnucks seems to be different now that Craig is no longer in charge.

Anyone who has seen family members debate even small issues involving money can imagine how a changing of the guard affects things. Schnucks has had a few bumps in the road, recently. There was the data breach. Then, at least at my local store, someone had the idea to put in a small kitchen where someone who was (maybe) trained would show customers how to cook quick and easy meals. Contractors came in and set up electricity and even plumbing, if I remember correctly. But the idea didn’t take off, at least in my area. Perhaps we were too blue-collar for that sort of thing, or maybe it was because the “chef” was young and snarky-looking, like she’d rather be texting.

Point is, that idea had to cost some bucks, and might’ve been symptomatic of a disconnect between owners and customers.

Now Schnucks is in the news due to the outsourcing of labor and the banning of charities, including those tempting tables of Girl Scout cookies every spring.

It’s possible there are things at work about which I know not. Two sides to every story, you know. Nevertheless, my advice to Todd and other members of the Schnuck family is this: Take the long view. Maybe the numbers needed to compete with Wal-Mart require cagey labor decisions, but if that’s the case, make your explanations clear. And, above all, do what you can to keep the promise “the friendliest stores in town” implies. Think carefully about making sudden, global changes. Maybe pick and choose who you let flank your front doors; perhaps reposition them so they don’t crowd the customers, but, for God’s sake, let those Girl Scouts sell their cookies and let the Salvation Army ring their bells and sing off key in front of Schnucks.

Otherwise, the friendliness is gone and it’s just another store, and we can get that at Wal-Mart.

 

15 Comments

  1. There actually is more to the story than is portrayed – the reason Schnucks had to ban all solicitors was due to union goons. Because Schnucks tried banning the goons from harassing customers, the goons sued, saying all solicitors should be treated equally. So, you can thank unions for making it harder for Schnucks to give back to the community.

    • UNION GOONS!!?? Heaven forbid that you have to be confronted by the lowly people that just have the duty to store and ship your groceries. How dare they want to keep there jobs! Why would they think I care if there families eat or not so long as you don’t have to see them or be made aware of what the company is doing so you could make a difference in someone else’s life.

        • Sorry everyone didn’t have all the opportunities you seem to be blessed with. Not everyone planned to end up in there current situation. Now I myself am a union truck driver with well over 2 million miles without a accident and this job I’ve had for 18 years is by far the best I’ve ever had. No forced illegal hours no more driving with extra logs to show I’m legal when I’m not. Alot of that is because the company and the union keep the agreement to run safe and legal

          • My opportunity….was doing tile and hardwood floors for 25 years till I destroyed my back. I spent time in local 18 tile setter union…and was taught to milk jobs…make materials disappear…and I saw lazy crybabies. So I started my own business. I made more money..and took way better care of myself as far as insurance goes. I also have a class A cdl. Driving a truck is boring lazy work.

            Unions keep mediocre workers in a job….where if it were no union…they would be bounced out of a job in a heartbeat if they didnt perform. I know how unions work in this town.

          • Well next time you get a shipment for you material just tell that driver who gives up home life and most thing people take for granted that he is just lazy and bored good luck with all your empathy you sound like a real peach

          • You have dock guys and lumpers to do the lifting. You sit in a air ride seat in a automatic rig with air trailers. Gravy. Boring. Ass hurt? Yeah. You could be swinging a mallet into a hardwood floor nailer all day or busting tile of of concrete with a jack hammer. Lets not kid ourselves about how hard it is to get a cdl. I saw them tossing them at crackheads when I took my cdl test.

          • Never said it was hard to get a CDL. I commented on the real drivers that commit to the job sacrifice a lot of what others take for granted. And if you think driving 12 to 14 hours everyday, day after day for thirty years in all weather is nothing but a lazy boring persons job than you may have a CDL but you never did any road time or put up with dispatchers that will flat ass lie to you companies that will try to cheat you.

          • I took a break from flooring and got my cdl. I learned quick the dispatchers were idiots. Played favorites. Trapped you in middle of nowhere waiting for a load. Im no mans bitch. I made my own way and started my own business. Unions keep the best man from doing the job.

  2. Yeah, those damn unions! Curse them and their eight-hour work days! And for saddling us all with those god-awful weekends! Bring back the good old days of no overtime and child labor!

    Goons?

    (I think my brother needs to do a little reading)

  3. unions keep below average workers in a job. every union guy i ever met gamed the system and is a whiny bitch. go find another job….im sure your box stacking skills will take you far.

  4. How about higher wages to keep employees happy? Once everyone retires schnucks will have unhappy underpaid employees unless they escape schnucks hold on them then theyll be stuck with snotty highschoolers how about FULL TIME positions WITH benefits instead of part time positions that are worked to full time but stuck with part time benefits & crappy pay

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