Friday, December 23, 2005

Meijer and the competition

I've always suspected it. I've heard the underground stories, the myths, urban legends, the get the idea. but I never truly believed, perhaps not believing was a defense mechanism, a way to protect myself and my delicate grocery reality.

you see for Christmas vacation, I've ventured beyond the mid-west Meijer territory and have entered the eastern state's, non-union grocery store nirvana known as Wegmans.

Wegmans. let the name roll around your tongue and palate. go ahead breathe through your nose as you feel the bouquet waft through your sinuses--Wegmans, Wegmans and ahhh, Wegmans. no spitting please.

where do I begin, produce? it's a massive produce section with digital scales and print your-own upc labels. the inviting area is dotted with sincerely smiling "What do you need? I can get you whatever you need..." produce associates. do I dazzle you with the "food court" (that moniker seems too cheap and tawdry for the reality) fresh made-in-front-of-you hoagies, chinese, italian, sushi, a salad bar that would shame most grocery store's produce sections.

how about the bakery--not the defrost the frozen mounds of dough and slap some frosting on it "warming area"--but an actual bakery with mounds of multi-flavored bagels, bagettes, donuts, loaves, muffins, croissants, I'm going into carb melt-down as I write.

oh! did you know that Paul Newman makes cookies? what about salsa and olive oil? did you know that he makes more than 2 kinds of salad dressing? see, this is how Meijer keeps the little grocery shopper down--withholding product opportunities! who are they to decide that I only want to see Paul's face on balsamic vinegar and/or parmesan ranch? where's the ACLU when you really need them?

do they have a deli? you ask in a simple country mouse squeak. would you pull your hair out in a jealous fit if I said I died and went to deli heaven? stacks and stacks of meats, cheeses (plural!), olive bar, fresh sausages, smoked this and that, roasted hens & ducks...they didn't even flinch when I spun around in a Mary Tyler Moore-esque spin of joy, I guess they get that a lot.

the service at the deli counter was astounding. finally a staff that doesn't appear to detest their job and are secretly hoping the meat slicer will put them out of their misery. boisterous number calling with a jocular greeting and "you've got it ma'am!" I didn't tempt fate but I listened to the natives quizzing the deli attendants about freshness, cooking times, even recipes!

I could go on, but perhaps like me you are feeling overwhelmed. I live in union grocery territory and I will only have the bitter-sweet (did I mention the international chocolate section) memories of the competition. I wonder if anyone in the east is interested in an opportunity cost trade-off--my MI $.10 bottle return for a few groceries each month. I feel a kramer and neuman moment coming on...

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Meijer and the honesty policy

awhile back my daughter and I were scanning groceries through the u-scan. my daughter gets a kick out of finding the upc labels and watching the price come up (ahh, the simple joys). we were doing our thing, scanning, placing item in bag, don't touch the scale that the bags sit on or the red screen will scream at you and computer will go into melt-down mode--yeah, we had a system and we were buzzing along.

we were just about to the exit when I notice my 1.12 pounds of sahlen's deli smoked ham is crunched in the corner of the cart, outside of the grocery bag. "crap!" I swear to myself, (yeah, that's my idea of swearing--I'm not a big swearing person. for some reason real, don't-mess-with-me swearing just sounds silly coming out of my mouth. is it the timing?) I'm going to have to go back in line and wait to pay for the ham. but then, the ever-present silver lining dons on me! this will be a great learning experience for my daughter, she will see honesty at work and we will both have tender warm hearts on our way home.

did I mention we were at Meijer?

I quickly explain to my daughter what happened as I turn the cart around to head back to the u-scan. my daughter and I are feeling a tad giddy, like we are in cahootz of some grand, bigger-than-you-or-me honesty bonanza. she's smiling, I'm smiling...the u-scan cashier isn't smiling. she scans our cart with the obvious supposed-to-be-done grocery shopping bags and asks doubtingly, "can I help you?" I explain embarrassingly/chirpingly that I neglected to pay for the ham (I show her the ham and my short receipt) and would like to go back in line to pay. the cashier takes the ham and the receipt. I look down at my daughter, she is sporting the same blissful honest smile that I am, we exchange little winky-winks.

the cashier's silvery grey eyebrows furrow; clearly she is not in on the grand honesty bonanza bandwagon. "you forgot to pay for the ham and now you've come back to pay?" she asks in disbelief. I nod my head, my daughter nods her head while the cashier shakes her head. she hands me the receipt and places the ham inside my grocery bag. "it's okay she says, just take the ham." and turning back to her monitor, effectively dismisses me. my five year old pulls on my hand, signaling that she wants to whisper in my ear, "is she stealing for us?" I remove the now even more dishonest ham from my bag, and head-gesturing toward my daughter state, "I would like to pay for my ham, may I leave my cart here?" now annoyed cashier looks and says, "I can't watch your cart, you can leave it here, but I'm not guaranteeing anything."

the giddiness is gone, the bonanza is over as I pay $6.03 for my pound of deli ham. we walk back over to the cart when cashier lady half laughs and mockingly states, "I'm sure we've made errors in our favor that would have canceled out your price of the ham." memories of grocery bags that never made it into my cart, mis-priced items on my receipts and all the wasted gas to drive back to rectify Meijer mistakes (not to mention the agony of waiting in the "customer service" line) come rushing to mind. she's probably right, cynical but right.

I sigh a little in the car, dejected by the whole scene. I glance in my rear view mirror to see my daughter all aglow, she laughs while squeezing her hands together and says, "you're right ma! it feels good to be honest."

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Meijer and the credit card pusher

it's the holiday season once again at Meijer. actually, I'm writing this about a month and a half late as according to the indicators at Meijer, October 29th was the actual beginning of the Christmas season. at that time the indicators were subtle; specially made green, red or silver garland-ish snowflakes hung haphazardly around the store's much-too-high ceilings, partial signs were hung in flowing script wishing us a "season's" without it's "greetings" and the center store aisles were stacked with green and red storage bins, on sale.

but now we are in full Christmas mode, all holiday caution thrown to the wind! cashiers are sporting their peppermint candy earrings, the pharmacist has donned his much-too-small Santa cap, and the tunes of yester year have been replaced with a really old, tone-deaf, don't-remember-the-words-to-any-Christmas-song guy with a mic and a keyboard. three foot striped candy canes are all a go-go throughout the store and (my personal favorite) the tiny Christmas trees decorated with Meijer credit card applications have sprouted. I smell Christmas!

so, Meijer has discovered the money-making machine known to financial institutions as the credit card. as a former loan officer, I know the amazing potential for easy cash a credit card brings to a store. marketing a credit card has very little overhead with huge returns, it literally is a cash-cow for any sponsoring institution. now, having given you this little side-tour, let's move on to the real show...

when I first noticed the Meijer credit card pusher (the name has evolved, first I called her the credit card lady, then the annoying associate, now she's the pusher) she was idly standing at the front entrance with a few credit card applications in hand. she would try to catch my eye, immediately putting me into "vacant-look" mode. after two weeks of that, came the credit card stand with huge banner, then the "incentives" began and pusher went on tour.

the tour was a very irritating turn of events for me. no longer could I just whiz by pusher in mid-sentence--"would you like to open a Meijer cred-". no, now she is equipped with a cart loaded with stacks and stacks of applications and she follows you 'til sentence is completed. "would you like to open a Meijer credit card and save 10% percent today on your grocery bill plus save money for your kids' college tuition?" she asks the customer cornered against the microwave popcorn and pringles.

I have jilted her hopes of getting me on a Meijer credit fix for weeks now. and no, it's not a case of her not recognizing me because I will get the "have you reconsidered your decision?" pitch. once, I came this close to reciting my favorite mom montra, "no means no", but decided she would finally get tired of my negatory answers and give up on me. my plan was simple, stick to my pat "no" reply and move on. pusher, on the other hand, had a different tactic...

bread and cracker aisle, saturday, 13:00 hours: the kids are with me as I'm trying to wrangle some bread, hamburger buns and crackers in the people capacity-limit aisle. I'm deciding between original Triscuits and nearly-break-your-teeth reduced fat Triscuits when I hear pusher begin her schpeel on me. pretty much tired of the whole repetitive nonsense, I don't even look at her when I interrupt her with a sing-song voice, "nooo, thank youuu!" expecting to hear her say, "okay, thank you", she switches gears and replies loudly and seriously, "you know, I'm surprised at you. with all your Christmas purchases, our credit card can help you pay for your children's college with the U promise plan. are you really going to turn down free money to help pay for your kids' future? or do you just not have a plan for your kids' future?" the bustling aisle is suddenly hushed, carts have stopped moving and all eyes are nervously on me.

friends, you know I grew up in the home of a lawyer--I ate manipulation 101 for breakfast, Socratic method for lunch and well-timed sarcasm for dinner! who in the H-E double toothpicks does she think she is dealing with here?! is she really trying to manipulate me with guilt to open a credit card?! my mind is whirling with all the account numbers to my kids 529 plans, ugma and utma accounts not to mention the huge jar of coins sitting on the kitchen counter! besides all that, a Meijer credit card is not giving me free money, and it will not finance my children's education! saving money not spending wads of money on a credit card will finance my kids education, since when does spending $1000 dollars on select, participating groceries to get $50 (that's 5% before the NV state 529 plans fees take their hit, so actually about 2.4%) make sense?! do I really have to divulge/explain all this to the pusher and the surrounding minions?

I casually toss the original Triscuits in my cart, turn to her and say, "Nao 'brigada. nao quero sua carta." (translation: No thank you. I don't want your card.) I smile smugly as I move past her, nodding my head to the gawkers, saying a loud "hello" in perfect english to each of them. now, maybe using portuguese to deflect an obvious credit card confrontation is a little immature, but that's my plan and I'm stickin' to it!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Meijer and the "how-to-avoid crazies" course 101

over the years I have developed a finely honed Meijer crazy evaluation process. I could flow-chart this process for you or even insert a link to a power point presentation, but I won't 'cause that would be geeky. besides, those tools are static and cannot shift with all the variables inherent to a Meijer crazy. but wanting to be helpful, here are a few scenarios for you to study and hopefully you can learn a thing or two from my mistakes.

case scenario A--don't start a friendly conversation. broccoli is on sale for $.99. at the broccoli "pile" another woman is making her choices, carefully placing the desired ones in the crook of her arm, like a slew of tiny green babies. I notice she is buying a lot of broccoli. I decide to ask how she is going to store all that broccoli, just trying to start a friendly conversation, maybe exchange some kitchen tips (obviously, this occurred when I was a novice).

so, with my naive, folksy voice, I ask the broccoli hoarder, "do you cook those, then freeze; or do you just freeze them raw?" like a flash of lightning she whips her head to face me. I think she mistook me for a Meijer produce associate because she snapped at me, "the sign doesn't say there's a limit, so I can take home (not buy but take home) how ever many I want!" the sirens in my head blared, "walk away! walk away! walk awaaaaay!" instead, trying to recoup my faux pas, I offer to get her a plastic produce bag to which I was promptly scolded with, "plastic isn't natural!" just a side tip to this lesson, listen to the blaring sirens in your head.

case scenario B--never respond to a Meijer crazy. the pharmacy gods are against me this day. my son has chosen the busiest day to get sick and requires prescription drugs. I'm pretty sure the over-80 pharmacy customers were not happy when the "young-family" usurpers rustle up to their territory. the pharmacy waiting area offers a free, touch-screen, automated weight scale and blood pressure evaluation. for my two youngsters, this is a real treat, so they wait for the only man using the machine to finish, then begin tapping the proper choices on the screen, they have their weight and blood pressure taken, absolutely delighted with the print out receipt.

suddenly, I hear an elderly "gentleman" shout, "they are going to break that and a lot of people count on that machine!" startled into she-lion mode, and forgetting that technology is a complete conundrum to this generation, I ask, "how are my children's fingertips any different than yours? the reinforced glass and the touch-screen software won't break because it registers a child tapping." reacting like I just threw him into an apoplexy, the man spews out some loud curses and emphatically waves the how-dare-you index finger at me.

case scenario C--don't state the obvious. once again I'm at the check-out lane. I begin unloading my cart; skim-milk, cracker barrel vermont white cheese (oooo, I love sharp cheese!) fruit, veggies, and turkey ball park franks--we're having a weenie roast.

"those will kill you," I hear in a gruff, I smoke-three-packs-a-day voice from behind my cart. confused, I look around me in the are-you-talking-to-me? head gesture. sure enough the lady (I use this term loosely) nods her head. "those hot dogs, they'll kill you. I had an uncle that ate them everyday for lunch and he died from cancer." okay, so I can't help notice that an opened pack of cigarettes are sticking out from her purse, she is carrying a six pack of beer, and a bag of donuts in one arm and three boxes of pop-tarts in the other arm. I can't help myself, "really?!" I ask in an alarmed voice, "what kind of cancer?" I whisper in reverence. she get's agitated, and replies harshly, "well it started out as lung cancer and then spread, but he swore up and down that it was those damn hot dogs that gave him cancer!"

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Meijer and the sit-com SWAT team

a few years ago, the Meijer store I frequent was given a complete overhaul. as a result the store is much larger and more organized than it was (it went from grimey huge, to cleanish humongo). the store now features these make-your-neck-hurt-to-look-up warehouse like ceilings. there's really no reason to, but on occassion I will risk neck pain to look up and survey the scenery. there's more going on up there than you would imagine.

the innocent child in me likes to look for the stray balloon of elmo or even ariel (the little mermaid for those without a disney fanatic), floating between the rafters or bapping their little helium heads on the sky-like ceiling. even an amateur bird watcher can enjoy the occasional sparrow, goldfinch or early spring robin, flying about searching for their next target, I mean nesting site.

the spring meadow music drifting through my head suddenly comes to an abrupt halt when I realize, I'm being watched. my twitter-pated goofy smile self-consciously turns to a cough and bored stare. you've probably seen them, they are the smokey-black, plasti-glass, half-sphere moles dangling from the ceiling's skin (eewwww, too graphic). they are watching me and yes, you.

no, this isn't a "she's crossed over to the Meijer crazy" paranoia moment. seriously, like every other store, security is a high priority at Meijer. I can understand the need for surveillance cameras, people fake accidents at grocery stores all the time, hoping to cash-in on the $%&#@, corporate Man! then there's the percentage of the Meijer customer base who choose shoplifting as their crime of choice.

now, amazingly enough I have never witnessed a shoplifter in the moment of comitting a crime. well, unless you consider the guy that "tastes" about 1.33 pounds of grapes. or the lady that cleans up the cheese and meat taster tray (including crackers) at the deli counter. or the mom that dumps the stale, broken bakery cookies into her toddler's snack tupperware container. those shades of grey aside, I haven't witnessed shoplifting at Meijer. however, I have watched the almost comedic scene of bringing down the law breakers.

while standing in line, I realize that a ceiling mole is dangling above every cash register. I imagine the surveillance camera room with a wall banked with small monitors, panning every nook and cranny of the store. oh, and the monitor-watchers are bemuscled (not bemused!) ex-navy seals with tattoos expressing love for "mum" and have nickname's like rosie or boo-bear. I wonder from which door the Meijer SWAT team would burst out of, ready to dog-pile the "perp"--yeah, I"ve watched Kojak.

after giving a half-hearted "thanks" to the greeter thanking me for shopping that day, (I have no idea why I say thanks, but replying "your welcome" seems too smug) I pass through the security detector thing and into the air lock. ahead of me I see this guy leaving the store, who seriously, was 6'5" maybe even 6'6", whatever, he was TALL. as I'm trying to make an educated guess as to exactly how tall he is, two non-descript, average joe’s jostle me aside and run past shouting, STOP RIGHT THERE! before the goliath perp can turn, the felix and oscar “odd couple” strike team scramble in front of him and are now flashing some sort of mock-FBI-wallet-id type of thing in front of him. then it dawns on me, these nothing-even-remotely-intimidating guys are arresting him! and it works!

giant criminal slumps his shoulders, silently obeying as felix turns the man around and oscar informs him he has been caught on camera stealing. I didn't catch what he allegedly stole (lawyer speak) I was just so stunned that my idea of the security detail was completely out of sync with reality.

since that first experience, I have seen two more "take-downs" all quiet, successful arrests. well, except for that fifty-something woman who screamed, threw her arms into the air and immediately spread eagle on the sidewalk without the “odd couple” asking her to.

who knew that felix unger and oscar madison were the true nemeses of the criminal underworld? obviously Meijer, the superstore.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Meijer the superstore

there's just something homey about walking into a Meijer superstore these days. for me, even the automatic-open door swooshes a "welcome" (it's just like they were expecting me! tee hee). there's always a greeter trying extra hard to smile and offer me the proper morning, midday or evening greeting, pushing this weeks advertisement flyer eagerly into my hand. almost always there is a cart ripe for the taking (sometimes freshly wiped down from the sudden showers), and the whole monstrous store eager to be stripped of its goods. ahhh, capitalism.

when I have time to actually browse the store, it can be quite enjoyable to be surrounded by so many possibilities, so many choices--the cereal aisle alone is mind boggling, in a good way. there's a spring in my step on these giddy days when I can enjoy being wrapped by the climate controlled 73 degrees (not too hot, not too cold), snap my finger to the hip tunes of yester-year and start searching for pomegranates. yep, Meijer can often be like a huge, bustling, home away from home.

on occassion, during the week, month or year I will find myself a turn-coat to the superstore. I will investigate the aisles of Wal-mart, Kroger, and Target. they have their uses and an occasional good sale, but I can't get a pedicure at Target! and for that matter Kroger won't sell me fish food and a hamster. my Wal-mart isn't a superstore, so while I can use the ATM, I can't wire money via Western Union (up till now in my life I have never, ever wired $ via Western Union, but I still want options).

nope, it's Meijer the superstore that draws me in time after time. if one wanted to one could buy everything necesary to furnish their hunting lodge, and then buy everything to go hunting! (as I've said before, never been down that section, but I've heard stories). think about it, at Meijer if one wanted to one could drop off thin-soled shoes and get them repaired, pick up their 1 hour photos, open up a money market account, upgrade their cingular wireless plan, grab a starbucks mocha-whatever, enrich the environment and make a buck or two by recycling, pick up some reading material on the way to get one's heart medication and if you're lucky win 27 million dollars! and I haven't even mentioned the clothes, shoes and groceries! now, wouldn't that make you a loyal Meijer superstore customer?

obviously, over the past nine years, me and Meijer have had some note-worthy Meijer crazy experiences. but on these days, all's forgotten, all's forgiven. like with an old, crazy friend, it's fun to think back and laugh at it all. ha-ha, ha-ha, and yes, ha-ha.

besides, with gas prices breaking the beejeezees out of my budget, I can't afford to go to a zillion different stores. reality bites.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Meijer and the lord of the flies parking lot

to be honest, I've never read lord of the flies. I just know that it is syonymous with abuse of ill-gotten power, anarchy and general mayhem. yeah, that pretty much sums up the Meijer parking lot. I personally have been in the Meijer parking lot when a guy (about this time of year) decided to buy an axe and start hacking at any blankety-blank car that came into view. I have watched the "house detective," (are they still called that, or is there a new, non-1940's term for them now?) on 3 separate occassions take down shoplifters and I have witnessed a retrieval of a child kidnapping. yeah, all in the blacktop jungle we off-handedly call the Meijer parking lot.

in the spirit of fairness, I have witnessed these human nature meltdowns over the span of nine years, which actually, is a pretty good Meijer crazy crime rate. and the above experiences are not the reason for my entry. the above events are shocking and sensational but not as pervasive and insidious as a continual pattern I have been cataloguing in my head.

you see, I'm pretty sure I didn't have a "normal" home-life growing up. my mother was a registered nurse and my father was a defense lawyer. my mother would teach us how to be physically safe and healthy while my father would back that wisdom up with how to avoid being sued out the wazoo. my children can blame their grandparents for their lack of trampolines and backyard swimming pools--both are potentially physically harmful (drownings and paralysis) and from my father's viewpoint lawfully harmful (being sued by a neighbor for drowning and paralysis). I can recall reviewing with my mom how to do the heimlich maneuver only to hear my father mutter, "just be careful, you could break someone's ribs and get sued out the wazoo!" so you get the idea, mom's coaching with dad's wazoo.

fast forward to the Meijer parking lot. because Meijer is a superstore it logically follows that it must supply a super-parking lot. now, I have been taught, that the parking lot is a completely lawless, dangerous place filled with people who blatanly disregard the rules of war. dare I ask if that's how you were raised? frankly, I don't have to ask because I witness and on occassion, am forced to confront the bitter, bitter truth.

only on holidays have I seen every stall filled in the super-lot, usually all the cars fight to be a part of the cluster nearest an exit. so on any given typical day there are a couple of acres of free, open blacktop range. again, I was taught that in a parking lot, it is illegal to cut across the rows and rows of painted white lines. you must follow the rules of the road and drive up (or down) the parking lot's thoroughfares at a speed equal to or less than 25 mph. in 2004 there were over 6 million car accidents in the US. I'm willing to bet at least 25% were in Meijer parking lots and involved Meijer crazies.

here we go... I'm driving on the perimeter road on the west side of Meijer (the west is always the open range isn't it?) and have just chosen the parking lot "road" to turn down. I'm getting nearer and nearer the "cluster" when out of the corner of my eye is see a bonneville careening through the parking lot, drive between parked cars and blast right in front of me! as the crazy passes, I see a middle-finger flash in the passenger side window. it's only my braking system that prevents a pontiac/honda t-bone event and he's giving me the bird?! the (w)reckless driver isn't done, he drives through the next cluster of parked cars and parks in a handicapped spot! I'm livid! not only did this crackpot teenager (isn't it always a teenager?) endanger my life and property, he now has the gall to park in a handicapped place in order to get the closest spot?

oh no he ditn't !!!

this can't go unpunished, I quickly (but safely) begin pulling up next to this idiot and roll down my passenger window. I'm gonna let it fly and hit the fan. the bonneville door opens as I get closer and out comes an old man with a cane and from around the passenger side comes a mother theresa look alike! they both see me and start swearing like french sailors!

I'm completely disarmed, how in the world am I supposed to chastise geriatric bonnie and clyde? aren't they supposed to know better?!

amid the cane waving and four-letter salutations, I hoarsely shout, "you should know better!" and drive off. yeah, pathetic, but I lived to fight another day. my mother would be proud that I was not physically harmed in the exchange of words and my father would be relieved that I didn't set myself up for a doosy of a slander lawsuit. my scoreboard intact and nerves calmed down I let a fellow veteran of the Meijer parking lot war into a stall that was rightfully mine.

Meijer crazies= 2 traci=3.5