Guest Opinion: Did Ukrops bungle the media storm?

The views expressed in Guest Opinions represent only those of the author and are in no way endorsed by Richmond BizSense or any BizSense staff member.

ukrops1Strongly embracing a well-thought-out set of values is essential to the success of any business or organization.

Writing them – and even living by them day-to-day – is the first and easiest step. Being faithful to stated values when push comes to shove is far more difficult, and true colors often are revealed when such values are kicked to the curb.

When news broke in mid-July that Richmond’s iconic grocery store chain, Ukrop’s Super Markets Inc., was shopping for a possible buyer, the loudest reactions seemed to fall in one of two categories: “Oh, no!” or “Excellent!”

Many who had the former response associate Ukrop’s with fresh prepared meals, overall store appearance and the “let-me-take-you-to-it” approach and sense of pride that made the company a national model for customer service and places to work.

Many also reacted with anxiety because of the company’s deep philanthropy and support for several popular, long-standing events. Do you like your Monument Avenue 10K? Your Christmas parade? The Golden Gift program that has distributed $12 million to local nonprofits? Thank Ukrop’s.

Through consistent demonstration of its values in the areas of customer service and community relations, Ukrop’s embedded itself in Richmond’s collective psyche.

But while Ukrop’s brand loyalty might extend to the salad bar and the bagger who rolls overfilled carts to the parking lot, it doesn’t appear to run so deep when it comes to identifying with Ukrop’s as an entity or watching our wallets. When the economy tanked, Richmonders didn’t hesitate to take their business to Food Lion, because everyone knows its prices are lower, and now it’s No. 1 in the market. Hey, we’re not that loyal.

Even worse, some area residents actually took enjoyment in the news of a possible sale because of another set of company values that is just as well known if not so loudly trumpeted. Brothers Jim and Bobby Ukrop have over the years held firm on policies such as remaining closed on Sundays and not selling alcohol.

Although that is their prerogative, basing corporate values on religious or moral principles can have disadvantages. They can alienate customers with different beliefs in an increasingly diverse community. In fact, in an age when one can buy a bottle of 151-proof liquor at a state-run liquor store in Virginia on a Sunday, some of Ukrop’s policies have been characterized as puritanical and overbearing.

Deserved or not, the perception exists even in parts of Richmond’s white establishment that the Ukrop family runs Richmond, or thinks it does. For all of their good deeds, the Ukrops are to some the direct embodiment of a restrained, square and outright backward attitude that for decades has held Richmond back from being all it could be.

Regardless of individual emotional reactions, the impact of any sale on the community would be dramatic. The chain employs almost 3,400 people in the Richmond area. It has 28 stores, just three of which are outside the Richmond region. That is no small chunk of anchor commercial real estate space, which in turn represents a tidy sum of local tax revenue. Not to mention no more white house rolls.

The Richmond community first got wind of all this July 14, when online grocery trade publication Food World reported that Ukrop’s had floated a prospectus – a detailed report on its assets and market share – to potential buyers. The local media and blogosphere went wild. Ukrop’s should have been prepared for this or possibly even announced it themselves. Rather, its owners seemed either caught off-guard or unable to be bothered with it.

In a postal letter to employees dated the next day, Ukrop’s president and chief executive dismissed news reports as “rumors, anonymous blog postings and industry chatter.” Hardly. The company put out a “for sale” sign. Subsequently, yes, rumor was rampant.

The Ukrops had an obligation to quickly explain the matter to the two main groups that supported it for 52 years – employees and customers. Instead, the company has declined comment to the media and been disingenuous with employees, whom they expect to continue to show up each day with a good attitude until they’re told not to.

In his letter, Bobby Ukrop went on to tell worried workers, “Anything I say at this point would just add fuel to the fire. For example, I could say that, yes, other companies are interested in buying Ukrop’s. But the truth is there have always been companies interested in buying us, so there’s nothing new here. So, I’m not going to comment on rumors because if I responded to each one, I wouldn’t have time to get much work done.”

I’m sorry, gentlemen, are we wasting your time with this? Listen, it isn’t all about you. It’s about your company values and the groups to whom you promised them.

The views expressed in Guest Opinions represent only those of the author and are in no way endorsed by Richmond BizSense or any BizSense staff member.

ukrops1Strongly embracing a well-thought-out set of values is essential to the success of any business or organization.

Writing them – and even living by them day-to-day – is the first and easiest step. Being faithful to stated values when push comes to shove is far more difficult, and true colors often are revealed when such values are kicked to the curb.

When news broke in mid-July that Richmond’s iconic grocery store chain, Ukrop’s Super Markets Inc., was shopping for a possible buyer, the loudest reactions seemed to fall in one of two categories: “Oh, no!” or “Excellent!”

Many who had the former response associate Ukrop’s with fresh prepared meals, overall store appearance and the “let-me-take-you-to-it” approach and sense of pride that made the company a national model for customer service and places to work.

Many also reacted with anxiety because of the company’s deep philanthropy and support for several popular, long-standing events. Do you like your Monument Avenue 10K? Your Christmas parade? The Golden Gift program that has distributed $12 million to local nonprofits? Thank Ukrop’s.

Through consistent demonstration of its values in the areas of customer service and community relations, Ukrop’s embedded itself in Richmond’s collective psyche.

But while Ukrop’s brand loyalty might extend to the salad bar and the bagger who rolls overfilled carts to the parking lot, it doesn’t appear to run so deep when it comes to identifying with Ukrop’s as an entity or watching our wallets. When the economy tanked, Richmonders didn’t hesitate to take their business to Food Lion, because everyone knows its prices are lower, and now it’s No. 1 in the market. Hey, we’re not that loyal.

Even worse, some area residents actually took enjoyment in the news of a possible sale because of another set of company values that is just as well known if not so loudly trumpeted. Brothers Jim and Bobby Ukrop have over the years held firm on policies such as remaining closed on Sundays and not selling alcohol.

Although that is their prerogative, basing corporate values on religious or moral principles can have disadvantages. They can alienate customers with different beliefs in an increasingly diverse community. In fact, in an age when one can buy a bottle of 151-proof liquor at a state-run liquor store in Virginia on a Sunday, some of Ukrop’s policies have been characterized as puritanical and overbearing.

Deserved or not, the perception exists even in parts of Richmond’s white establishment that the Ukrop family runs Richmond, or thinks it does. For all of their good deeds, the Ukrops are to some the direct embodiment of a restrained, square and outright backward attitude that for decades has held Richmond back from being all it could be.

Regardless of individual emotional reactions, the impact of any sale on the community would be dramatic. The chain employs almost 3,400 people in the Richmond area. It has 28 stores, just three of which are outside the Richmond region. That is no small chunk of anchor commercial real estate space, which in turn represents a tidy sum of local tax revenue. Not to mention no more white house rolls.

The Richmond community first got wind of all this July 14, when online grocery trade publication Food World reported that Ukrop’s had floated a prospectus – a detailed report on its assets and market share – to potential buyers. The local media and blogosphere went wild. Ukrop’s should have been prepared for this or possibly even announced it themselves. Rather, its owners seemed either caught off-guard or unable to be bothered with it.

In a postal letter to employees dated the next day, Ukrop’s president and chief executive dismissed news reports as “rumors, anonymous blog postings and industry chatter.” Hardly. The company put out a “for sale” sign. Subsequently, yes, rumor was rampant.

The Ukrops had an obligation to quickly explain the matter to the two main groups that supported it for 52 years – employees and customers. Instead, the company has declined comment to the media and been disingenuous with employees, whom they expect to continue to show up each day with a good attitude until they’re told not to.

In his letter, Bobby Ukrop went on to tell worried workers, “Anything I say at this point would just add fuel to the fire. For example, I could say that, yes, other companies are interested in buying Ukrop’s. But the truth is there have always been companies interested in buying us, so there’s nothing new here. So, I’m not going to comment on rumors because if I responded to each one, I wouldn’t have time to get much work done.”

I’m sorry, gentlemen, are we wasting your time with this? Listen, it isn’t all about you. It’s about your company values and the groups to whom you promised them.

Your subscription has expired. Renew now by choosing a subscription below!

For more informaiton, head over to your profile.

Profile


SUBSCRIBE NOW

TERMS OF SERVICE:

ALL MEMBERSHIPS RENEW AUTOMATICALLY. YOU WILL BE CHARGED FOR A 1 YEAR MEMBERSHIP RENEWAL AT THE RATE IN EFFECT AT THAT TIME UNLESS YOU CANCEL YOUR MEMBERSHIP BY LOGGING IN OR BY CONTACTING [email protected]

ALL CHARGES FOR MONTHLY OR ANNUAL MEMBERSHIPS ARE NONREFUNDABLE.

EACH MEMBERSHIP WILL ONLY FUNCTION ON UP TO 3 MACHINES. ACCOUNTS ABUSING THAT LIMIT WILL BE DISCONTINUED.




Return to Homepage

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
9 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
tvnewsbadge
tvnewsbadge
12 years ago

Good article, but I believe that while the tradional media only got wind of this sale on the 14th of July, it had been out there for many days before.
It was certainly the stuff of blogs before that date and the excellent Jack Gravely had it on his radio show the previous Friday.

max
max
12 years ago

“It is almost always the cover-up rather than the event that causes trouble. ” Attributed to Howard Baker Bill Clinton certainly demonstrated that. And its part of human nature. I’ve seen the same problem in allegedly “progressive” institutions work its damage, circle round the wagons, keep out the troublemakers and deny deny deny. I have no idea what to do about it. Its so common that I find myself surprised now when people are OPEN and even admit to mistakes and take personal responsibility. I have tried being open and admitting mistakes and all it did was get me disposed… Read more »

Anne Smith
Anne Smith
12 years ago

I’m sorry but this article is way harsh. Ukrops has been wonderful for our community. I’ll even admit that I also shop at Kroger but Ukrops is a store I’ll always be fond of and continue to go to for groceries. And the comment you made about basing their corporate values on religious/moral values — please stop bashing. I’m proud of a company that will stand it’s ground for it’s religious beliefs. This is a free country and thank God a businesses can choose not to open on Sundays or sell alcohol! Look how successful Ukrops has been without caving… Read more »

Brian Glass
Brian Glass
12 years ago

In my opinion there are three reasons why Food Lion ascended to the #1 position in our market. The first is that Food Lion remodeled most of their stores. From my previous experience in the retail world sales increase when stores are remodeled. Customers see a new face so to speak and non customers are curious to see what the “new” look store is all about.. Believe it or not sales very often increase during the remodel as well. Secondly, Food Lion has almost twice the number of stores that Ukrop’s has. As a result it is more convenient to… Read more »

Robert J Holland, ABC
Robert J Holland, ABC
12 years ago

Based on some of the earlier comments, you would think this whole matter was some sort of illegal scheme with the added scandal of a cover-up. Actually, it’s just another example of business leaders bungling the communication and public relations around an industry rumor. Like them or hate them, the Ukrops have done nothing wrong here except what so many business leaders do when faced with a lot of chatter about the future of their enterprise: they retreated into public silence instead of engaging with the community, their customers, the news media and employees. There are ways to respond to… Read more »

Doug and Julie
Doug and Julie
12 years ago

For the last 10 years we have lived in Richmond, all we know is Ukrop’s is the key corporation and family repeatedly behind anything good that happens here — whether it is the folk festival, sports backer events, the new arts center, the salvation army, the chamber, the police athletic league, richmond public schools, and we can go on and on. I am sure this is an awkward time and what do you really say when everything is speculation at this point? All we have to say is thank goodness Ukrop’s has stepped up to the plate repeatedly for this… Read more »

Chuck Roast
Chuck Roast
12 years ago

I can do the math, Foodlion moved ahead due to number of stores. With the amount of competition funny how you did not mention that the little guy, Ukrop’s, is still number two in one of the most competitive markets in the nation. That says a lot. The fact that Ukrop’s has deep rooted values, in a country where values are declining, I applaud. Customers can choose who they want to support and many customers support Ukrop’s Monday though Saturday and do allow them to close on Sundays. Remember they are still number 2 while being closed on Sundays and… Read more »

T. Bone
T. Bone
12 years ago

As a northerner and a very recent transplant, to the Richmond area I confess to being a HUGE supporter of Ukrops. My value and belief system could not be more diametrically opposed to what I understand Ukrops to be. However, I admire, and support, a company that DOES abide by what they believe without allowing profit be their overriding decision maker. I am a far left liberal, I drink, I do not go to church. I have made a conscious decision to support Ukrops by making it “my” grocery store. I have adjusted for it being closed on Sunday’s (hey,… Read more »

paul_h
paul_h
12 years ago

I have it on very good authority that it is Bobby who calls the shots and Ukrops and it is his policy to close on Sunday and not sell alcohol. I think it is foolish. If they sell out, then whoever comes behind them with certainly open Sunday and sell beer and wine. Where would his principles be then?

I admire what Ukrops does for Richmond. It will be a sad day when they are gone, just like it was a sad day when they closed my neighborhood store. I’m hoping they stick around and bring a Joe’s Market downtown.