On July 6, Hampden's Superfesh closed for good. The store sat for 3 days while new owners Fresh & Green's moved in, cleaned up, restocked and prepared for yesterday's "grand" reopening.
I wasn't anticipating a lot when I went to check out the store. 72 hours is not much time to turn over that kind of square footage. So my expectations were low.
And the lack of signage, the absence of cars in the parking lot, and a hastily handwritten sign at the front door saying they are still in the process of restocking suggested that low expectations might still be too high.
Fresh & Green's is delighted to be adding your neighbourhood [Canadian spelling] to our growing family of grocery stores. Our concept is a new and refreshing one that will expand the selection of prepared meals and natural foods while still providing all the conventional food products and brands you have enjoyed in the past. We'll be renovating this location in the near future to provide you with a more enjoyable shopping experience. As an important part of your community and everyday life, we are committed to bringing you an unmatched one-stop food shopping destination. We are passionate about serving you and look forward to bringing your community a unique grocery concept with superior service at affordable prices.
Thank you for your tremendous welcome and on behalf of all of our staff we look forward to serving you.
The two things most folks have been talking about that are mentioned here are this "new" concept of providing natural foods and conventional products and their staff.
So, the store admits it's still restocking and getting its distribution online. The aisles have no signage, and there are spaces on the shelves and whole swaths of nothing - largely where the greeting cards and magazines used to be.
But that being said, I did spot new "natural" product lines - specifically in the produce, juice and hummus areas. The most notable change so far seems to be the chain's own generic/house brand of products - "Best Yet" - which has replaced Superfresh's America's Choice.
We were still able to find everything we found at Superfresh before the going out of business sale and our bill actually seemed to be less than it usually is, even before we used the $10 off purchases of $35 or more coupons they are giving out at the store.
So as far as I'm concerned, while not a new, finished, renovated, fully stocked grocery store, it's functional enough for me to keep shopping there. And I look forward to coming in on a regular basis and checking out the progress.
How fast that progress is has largely to do with staffing, and that's where there seems to be a problem.
I've worked for companies that have acquired other companies and companies that have been acquired by other companies, and staff-wise these things are always difficult. In fact, it's been my experience that staff transitions in a corporate takeover/acquisition most often don't work out.
To be fair, even before the Superfresh bankruptcy was announced, as a shopper, it seemed like employee morale was suffering. Then the bankruptcy announcement added a sense of uncertainty to workers' lives and that made things worse. And then this changeover for some was the final straw.
I spoke for a long time with a store employee who felt relatively comfortable being open and honest about their frustration with the situation.
This employee said that their salary had been cut by several dollars per hour after working at this store for a number of years. They said some employees had their salaries cut as much as $5 per hour. Fortunately, their benefits did roll over.
Of course, when you take over another company and you want to keep employees, the worst thing you can do in the switchover is to cut salaries. So that is a mistake that Fresh & Green's will have to struggle with.
Many Superfresh employees have decided not to continue on with Fresh & Green's despite an arrangement the union made with the new owners to keep on the staff (mostly due to the salary cuts).
Additionally, there has been a change in overtime, as in they're not really being offered overtime pay anymore. The traditional time and a half for overtime/holiday rate has changed to an additional $1 per hour. So, you could spend time with the family, or for an extra $5 you could work a 5 hour shift. And right now, to get this store up and running fully as a reduced, experienced staff, they need to get employees to work a lot of overtime that the owners don't seem willing to pay for. So if this store takes longer to get set up, this is why.
The Canadian CEO and owners flew out to look at the place this past weekend, again according to this employee, and they didn't bother to introduce themselves to the workers or even bother to talk to them. Now this not addressing the "rank and file" (as one of my former bosses would offensively call the employees) could be a cultural thing, but if so that's rude. It's also a missed opportunity for the executives to outline their vision to the employees, to get them on the same page, and to try and motivate them for the work that needs to be done.
Instead you have a situation where you have a demoralized workstaff who have no incentive to work extra hours to get the store up and running, a largely absent corporate infrastructure and supervision, and a lack of employees to actually get the work done.
The employee also told me they were most likely not going to stay on at this store. And they also warned that the prices were going to go up and their feeling was more than likely these new owners would not last.
Of course, that's conjecture coming from an employee so disgruntled they felt comfortable saying all this in the middle of the store with other people around and not at all concerned about any ramifications.
What has happened here so far does not seem to be the ideal scenario for anyone involved. I'm sure the owners would like a smoother transition. The employees would have liked to be kept on at least at their regular salaries. And the neighborhood would like a healthy grocery store that delivers on the promise Fresh & Green's has made - a market with a "selection of prepared meals and natural foods while still providing all the conventional food products and brands you have enjoyed."
Whether or not we'll actually get that last part remains to be seen.
So far, Fresh & Green's self-description as "a unique grocery concept with superior service at affordable prices" is not yet fully realized. And based on the way their corporate executives have handled things so far, it appears as though it's going to be a while before it is.
***UPDATE - I've since heard from former Superfresh employees that benefits have also been cut by the new corporate owners. (7/13/11)