On Wednesday I went into a local Kroger store in Michigan where I am working with another great client.  Among other things I bought a pack of razor blades that were (as usual these days) locked down tighter than Fort Knox in a plastic case that required the cashier to use a special tool to open.  She set the package aside to do her security thing after she rang up the rest of my stuff.  End of a long day for both of us, I suppose, but we both forgot about the blades sitting off to the side and I didn’t notice until I was back in my hotel that they were left behind.

The story has a happy ending though.  I went back to Kroger after work on Thursday – having lost the receipt in the meantime – and told the woman at the customer service desk my sad story.  No problem, no questions asked, no big deal – she told me to go grab another pack of blades, bring them to her to wrangle out of the security package, and she apologized for the mistake.  Took my word for it that I paid for almost $20 worth of merchandise and left it behind.

Contrast that story with the tale of Frank Swanson who was unceremoniously sacked by the Walmart store in Missouri a couple weeks short of his 20 year anniversary with them.  His offense:  “excessive price matching”.  It seems Frank (who happens to be handicapped and has a long history of hugging folks – customers, fellow employees, just about anyone and everyone who is open to it) gave a customer 50¢ off of a jug of tea without demanding written proof that a competitor was offering the same tea at that lower price.  Frank must have made the grave error of trusting customers in the past because the folks in charge at Walmart decided that they will have no more of it.

Let’s look at Kroger again.  Business is booming and they recently announced that they are opening three more stores in Michigan and hiring some 1,000 folks.  Walmart, on the other hand, is not faring quite so well, closing a couple of stores in Michigan and quite a few elsewhere.

What Kroger did was good for all of the stakeholders, except the most short-term focused of stockholders.  It was good for the customer (me), good for the community because I spread Kroger goodwill and they helped out someone, and I suspect it was good for the customer service person because she got to enjoy the satisfaction of knowing she did something helpful for someone.  A stockholder could make the case that he was the loser in the deal because they are under no obligation to give me the razor blades and money may have been theoretically taken out of his pocket. 

In the longer term and the bigger picture, however, the stockholder at Kroger is probably the biggest winner of them all.  My experience was not unique.  It is a direct result of the culture Kroger has worked hard to instill and maintain.  It is a huge part of why they make a lot of money and why they are expanding.

What Walmart did was good for no one other than that same absurdly myopic stockholder.  Good employees are ousted, customers aren’t trusted and the community is disgusted with Walmart – but the stockholder gets his share of the 50¢ this guy will no longer be in a position to give away.  In the long term that stockholder is the biggest loser as Walmart slowly sinks; but at the next quarterly conference call with Wall Street the folks steering the Walmart ship onto the rocks won’t have to worry about having to explain why they let Frank Swanson give away 50¢ of their money to that gang of thieves that Walmart calls customers.