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Monday, February 27, 2012



When I was growing up in the 1950s the cars were big, the food was fatty with large portions, Milton Berle and Ed Sullivan ruled TV, and almost everyone who could get their hands on cigarettes, smoked.

It was the era of “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should” and I’d walk a mile for a Camel.”   Midget bellboy Johnny Roventini sold millions of packs of Plilip Morris cigarettes with his popular announcement of “Call for Philip Morrisssseeeese!”

Most of my friends and I were in our early teens and, although my parents didn’t smoke, most of their parents did so they would frequently swipe some from their stash.  I was the lucky one:  Although I tried my best to smoke, cigarettes tasted obnoxious to me so I finally gave up trying. 

When I entered the Air Force in 1961, I found that most of the guys I was stationed with were smokers.  I gave smoking another shot at that time but my reaction was the same.  I have never touched one since.

With the evidence against smoking in recent years, not to mention the high cost of cigarettes, I made the right decision although it wasn’t because of the fear of health problems or the cost; it was all about my hating the taste of the nasty things.

Every now and then, someone will come up with an idea that supposedly gives a person the pleasure of smoking, hopefully without any dangerous side effects.  We’ve all seen the nicotine gum and patches and I have heard of certain pills that claim to break the habit but it seems those ideas are hit and miss if they work at all.

Lately, the panacea for smokers seems to be the e-cigarette.  It looks like a cigarette although it is made of plastic.  According to Wiki,  " It is an electrical device that simulates the act of tobacco smoking by producing an inhaled mist bearing the physical sensation, appearance, and often
the flavor and nicotine content of inhaled tobacco smoke; though without its odor, and intended to omit its health risks. The device uses heat (or in some cases, ultrasonics) to vaporize apropylene glycol- or glycerin-based liquid solution into an aerosol mist, similar to the way a nebulizer or humidifier vaporizes solutions for inhalation."

I’ve seen some people using them and to me they look kind of silly plus I would bet the enjoyment of them is far from what smokers are used to.

If I was a smoker, I doubt if I would use an e-cigarette.  If you see someone smoking one, take a good look.  I think they are another flash in the pan in the battle against smoking.


We have become much too sensitive.  St. John’s University dropped their nickname “Redmen” in 1994 because Native Americans thought it was offensive.  Never mind that the 70 year old name had nothing to do with Indians.  The football team wore red uniforms, hence, “Redmen.”  Now, the NCAA is threatening the U. of North Dakota about using its 80 year old “Fighting Sioux” nickname.  These are just two of many examples of the silly political correctness we have to endure.  Will the Whittier College “Poets” and UC Santa Cruz “Banana Slugs” be the next to feel demeaned?  Let’s hope not!


Little Johnny Roventini selling Christmas cartons of Philip Morris cigarettes.  He started representing them in 1933 and retired in 1974 at age 64.  He died at 88 in 1998.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


My wife and I have been involved in the grocery business for years.  While in college in the 1960’s, she was a checker for Kroger’s and many years later worked the checkouts for Safeway in Scottsdale.  I was a salesman to the grocery trade at the headquarters and retail level for twenty years.

As a peddler, I had my share of headaches in the job but no more than peddlers in any other profession.  My wife, however, had to deal with the eccentricities of customers who knew nothing of the grocery business or, for that matter, about working at the retail level of any job.

Phil Hawkes writes for the Arizona Food Industry Journal and has listed a number of ways to annoy a supermarket checker.  Ever since I went to work in the supermarket business, I have had the utmost respect for the checkers of the world.  If I was in their position, I probably would have smeared more than one lemon meringue pie in some customer’s faces but the checkers I have seen over the years possess the patience of Job and I admire that.

I’m sure you have had the displeasure of seeing some of these antics if you have spent much time shopping in a supermarket:

(1)  I hate cellphones anyway but when I see someone yapping on one while holding up a checkout line, I hate them even more.  I have even seen customers “shushing” the checker while they are on the phone.

(2)  Don’t complain about being carded for alcohol.  The checker dislikes asking you as much as you dislike being asked.  It’s her/his job so let it go.

(3)  Use the dividers to separate your order from the person behind you.  It’s easy to do and speeds things up.  Is that asking too much?

(4)  If the check stand light is off, don’t use it.  Remember:  Off, no.  On, yes.  It’s like at Halloween.  If the resident didn’t want you ringing their doorbell, the porch light would be off.

(5)  There are still those who write checks at the check stand.  If you must do this antiquated practice, have the check filled out except for the amount when you pay.  Also, PLEASE do not balance your checkbook at the check stand.

(6)  Don’t be the food stamp shopper who buys porterhouse steaks and king crab legs with them.

(7)  Don’t wait until the checker has bagged your order before saying you brought your own bags.

(8)  Don’t load the check stand with groceries then tell the checker, “I only have $80 so stop when you get there.”

(9)  Don’t argue with the checker when your debit or credit cards don’t work.  That’s your problem, not theirs.

There are more irritants in the thankless job of being a supermarket checker but you get the idea.  I don’t think it is too much to ask for everyone to apply a bit of common sense while shopping.

Whew!  I feel a lot better now having said this!

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Being an ex-salesman, I can appreciate a recent column by business writer Harvey MacKay.  Mackay knows his way around the business world and has the dough to prove he has been successful.

He says that “Customer service is crucial to success.”  I couldn’t agree more.  For twenty years, I called on the grocery trade in the Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska areas.  My job was to sell packaging products to grocery stores and the warehouses that supplied them.  It wasn’t like I was the only one in that business; I had plenty of competition.

In the grocery business, the warehouse buyers are busy guys who don’t like to spend a lot of time on secondary items like supplies.  Seeing that situation, I seized upon it by making it as easy as possible for my buyers to buy from me instead of my competition.  I did that by earning their trust which is a large part of customer service.  They knew they could count on me to ship to them on time and follow up on any problems.  My motto to them was simple:  “If you have any problem at your warehouse or stores, call me and I will have it handled within 24 hours at the latest.”

My method worked great:  I had the buyers’ trust, gave them fast and efficient service, and as a commission paid salesman, made excellent money.

Mr. MacKay’s advice is important to remember.  You are in the customer service business no matter what you sell.  You may have a restaurant with the greatest food in the world but you will not make it if your service is bad.  Even if you have great food and happy employees you can still fail if you are tied down with idiotic rules and procedures.  They will irritate customers as much as bad food.

When hiring, always select the “A” players and be sure you have great training in customer service from A to Z.  It takes a lot of time but is well worth the effort.

I live in Scottsdale, Arizona and we have a great chain of bakeries/delis called Paradise Bakery.  At lunch time people are lined up to eat their great fare.  The lines can get long so to ease the anxiety of some customers, they have a smiling employee walk the line giving small samples of hot bread to customers.  It’s a small thing but customers love it!  That company “gets it.”

One of my annoyances is when a clerk is incapable of counting change.  It is pretty typical today with registers that tell the clerk what the change should be.  That’s no excuse; I wouldn’t have an employee who can’t count change.  However, to top that, one day at McDonald’s, a clerk refused to take a 50 cent piece from me until the manager told her it was OK.

Welcome to 21st century America!

Monday, February 06, 2012

Phoenix grocery store history (From 3-09)

The grocery store business has changed a lot in Phoenix over the years. 

J. B. Bayless markets started in1917 and grew to 18 stores before selling out in 1929. In 1930 A. J. Bayless, J.B.’s son, opened his own group of stores. Safeway was the first chain in Arizona arriving in 1928. In 1932 Bashas’ came along and Food City was opened in 1942.

By the 1950s S & H Green Stamps made their appearance and had catalogs and stores where they could be redeemed. They were a huge success and gave retailers plenty of extra business which easily covered the cost of the stamps. "Double stamp Wednesdays" were a big success and could give some stores as much as one third of their total business for a week.

Another innovation of the ‘50s was supermarkets staying open on Sunday. Also, frozen foods were more plentiful by that time and the appearance of the first convenience stores started forcing the "mom and pop" stores out of business. By the ‘60s Smitty’s and Fry’s came aboard with Smitty’s adding general merchandise to their product mix. I bought a bicycle there once.

By the 1970s Alpha Beta had entered the market and in the 80s Southwest Markets introduced their Hispanic oriented stores. During this time, Albertson’s and Smith’s also made their entrance into the area. With more housewives entering the workforce, convenience foods became more popular in grocery stores and the introduction of computers and UPC codes were of tremendous benefit too as they eliminated the need to price items on the shelves.

Today Wal-Mart dominates the grocery business in Phoenix followed by Fry’s and Safeway. Bayless and Food City were bought by Bashas’ in the 1980s and early 90s and IGA is not a factor in the market as the chains now dominate. Megafoods, Southwest Markets, Smitty’s, Smith’s, Fred Meyer, ABCO, Alpha Beta, Lucky’s, and The Fleming Company warehouse have either been sold to other groups or have gone out of business. New entries include Fresh and Easy who now operates 28 stores in the area soon to be joined by 17 more.

I worked as a sales rep for Procter and Gamble during 1993-94 and I learned quickly that the grocery trade in Phoenix is very volatile. I never thought accounts like Smitty’s and The Fleming Company would disappear but they have. Wal-Mart is a dominant force and we may see even more changes in the future as chains like Fry’s and Bashas’ are laying off workers. Stay tuned.

(top)  A. J. Bayless (center, with trademark derby hat) operated 60 stores in Phoenix as late as 1984.  (bottom)  These stores operated into the 1990s in Phoenix but most are now a memory.