Tag Archives: chain stores

Information and Competition

It seems that competition regulators at the European Union are looking into whether “Big Data” is a potential threat to competition. The concern, apparently, is that a company may be able to use a trove of proprietary data about consumers in ways that foreclose competition — and that the assets changing hands in a merger could include enough data to give the merged firm an insurmountable advantage over would-be competitors.

There’s no doubt that control over data can affect competition. But it’s not so obvious how to ensure that consumers benefit.

Consider the logistics business. Every containership line publishes a schedule with the rate for moving one container from, say, Shanghai to Los Angeles. In practice, though, almost all ocean freight moves under confidential contracts between shippers and carriers. These contracts may be filled with contingencies providing for bonuses and penalties if the parties exceed or fail to meet their respective commitments. A large retailer, manufacturer, or freight forwarder has many such contracts in force at any one time, and it is always negotiating new ones. This means that big shippers have lots of up-to-date information about current shipping rates.

Now, imagine a small shipper, a modest retail chain rather than a Walmart or a Carrefour. Because of its size, this firm has only a handful of contracts with ship lines, and it may go months without negotiating a new one. It therefore lacks the current rate information its bigger competitors possess, so it will have a tougher time bargaining for the best rates. It may use a freight forwarder to get better rates, but then must pay the forwarder for its trouble. Either way, the smaller company’s information deficit will force it to pay more to move its goods than its larger competitors do.

This information disadvantage is one reason smaller retailers and manufacturers have been having such a difficult time. Their supply chains are comparatively costly to operate, on a per-container basis, and their higher costs make it hard for them to match their competitors’ prices. I suspect this is one reason we’ve been seeing increased concentration in so many industries. The big benefit from their control of big data about shipping costs; the small are harmed by their lack of information.

Is there a solution to this problem? Of course there is: it could be made mandatory to publicly disclose information about shipping costs. We actually tried such a policy in the United States in the early days of railroad deregulation. What happened? Railroads were reluctant to offer discounts to individual shippers when they knew that publicity would lead other shippers to demand similar discounts. Little freight moved under contract and rates remained relatively high. Only after confidential agreements were permitted did railroads’ freight rates fall and their service improve.

I think there’s a lesson here. Control of information can be anti-competitive, no question. But public disclosure of information can be anti-competitive as well, potentially raising costs for consumers. The EU will face a challenge getting the balance right.

 

Amazon, Whole Foods, and The Great A&P

A lot of people are concerned that if Amazon.com’s purchase of Whole Foods Market goes through, Amazon will be able to use its might and technological savvy to monopolize the grocery business. I’m not concerned about that myself, because I think the grocery business is pretty difficult to monopolize. Even the Great A&P, the subject of one of my books, never managed to amass enough power to force up the price of food; indeed, when a federal court found it guilty of violating antitrust law in 1946, the charge was that it was using its size to sell food too cheaply, not to raise prices unfairly.

So when the New York Times asked me to write about Amazon and Whole Foods in mid-June, I used my space to wonder why Amazon, which reports precious little profit from all the goods it sells, wants to go into the low-profit grocery business.  Perhaps, I suggested, Amazon should take a portion of the space in Whole Foods’ stores, most of which are in affluent neighborhoods, and turn it into an exciting retail concept that sells exclusive merchandise at a high mark-up. I was thinking of something similar to the Apple Store, which is a far more profitable retail venture than Amazon.com.

Amazon.com hasn’t yet offered me a consulting contract, so it apparently didn’t think much of my idea. Jeff Bezos seems to be a pretty smart guy, so if he thinks his company can make billions shaking up the stodgy grocery industry, perhaps he’s right.  But the list of others who have thought the same thing is very long indeed.

Time for a Timely Demise

As a young journalist, I was taught never to refer to someone’s “untimely” death: those words carry the implication that someone else’s death might well be timely. But perhaps there are some deaths that truly are timely. One might be that of Sears Holdings, the company that owns Sears and Kmart.

A few days ago the company announced that there is “substantial doubt” that it can survive. That news surprised the many Americans who were unaware that Sears was still in existence. Anyone who has been in a Sears store in the last 10 or 15 years wasn’t surprised at all. Everything about the store, from the dim lighting to the hodgepodge of merchandise on display,   screamed “going out of business.” It was hard to tell who they thought they were selling to.

Sears has been struggling for decades. Its encyclopedic catalog, offering everything from undershirts to mechanic’s tools, was last published in 1993, and many commentators have observed that competitors such as Home Depot, Target, Costco, and Bed, Bath and Beyond have been nibbling away at pieces of its business since the 1980s. Amazon’s transformation from a mere bookseller to an on-line emporium left Sears in the dust. Eddie Lampert, the hedge fund genius who took over Kmart in 2003 and used it to take control of Sears two years later, has had more success disassembling the two retailers–often in ways that benefit his hedge fund–than making them attractive places to shop. When a retailer tells its shareholders that  “Affiliates of our Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, whose interests may be different than your interests, exert substantial influence over our Company,” it’s a good bet that the story won’t end well.

Why might Sears’ demise be timely? Like The Great Atlantic and Pacific, which I wrote a book about several years ago, Sears used to have some of the most powerful brands in the world. A&P’s brands–Ann Page, Jane Parker, Eight O’Clock Coffee, and the A&P brand itself–went from world-beating to down-at-the-heels over the decades as the stores declined; by the early years of this century, A&P ran many of its stores under other names and went to great lengths to hide their connection with A&P. Sears is now in a similar situation. While its Kenmore appliances were once a safe choice for middle-class homeowners, the brand has been tarnished by its association with a failing chain. Much the same is true of Die Hard car batteries. The Sears name itself is likely a negative when it comes to attracting shoppers, save for a handful who still remember the chain’s glory days. The longer Sears hangs on before giving up the ghost, the less its storied brands are likely to be worth.

 

In Defense of Industrial Food

The other night I watched Michael Pollan’s new documentary, In Defense of Food. I’m a great fan of Pollan’s 2006 book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which is gorgeously written and extremely thoughtful. The documentary, I regret to report, is neither. On the contrary, it’s a scattershot attack on what Pollan refers to as “industrial food,” with far too much romantic nonsense about what a natural diet ought to be and far too little serious discussion of the challenges of feeding a populous, highly urbanized world. It’s an opportunity missed.

As I show in my book The Great A&P, an industrial food distribution system was a signal accomplishment of the twentieth century. Before it came along, most people’s diets were calorie-rich, nutrition-light, and boring. In the summer, sure, there were lots of fresh vegetables and fruits. In the winter, there were cabbage and potatoes and potatoes and cabbage. Protein mainly came from smoked or cured meats or from fish caught in polluted rivers. Lard was widely used in cooking and baking. Fresh milk, when it was available, was often unsafe to drink. It’s not as if people ate healthy.

This isn’t ancient history. Growing up in the Midwest, I never ate fresh fish, because the food industrial complex hadn’t yet figured out how to deliver it a thousand miles from the ocean. Frozen foods were a staggering success in the 1950s mainly because they offered consumers unprecedented variety at any time of year. Today we may look down our noses at frozen orange juice as inferior to “fresh” juice, but when it arrived in grocery stores around 1950 average families could obtain essential vitamins in the middle of winter. That was an enormous change for the better.

It should also be said—and Pollan doesn’t say it—that food used to be staggeringly expensive. As late as the 1930s, urban families in the United States routinely spent a third or more of their incomes on food, with much of that money going to keep inefficient wholesalers and retailers in business. Chains like The Great A&P in the 1920s and 1930s and Wal-Mart and Aldi more recently have made food consumers much better off by squeezing costs out of the distribution system. Much of this saving is achieved from economies of scale in production and distribution. Pollan, judging by the film, doesn’t much like economies of scale; he’d rather have us buying from farmers who are selling green beans they just picked by hand this morning. Nothing wrong with fresh-picked green beans, but there’s a trade-off that Pollan refuses to recognize. You can see it in the fact that those farmers’ market green beans cost three times as much as the green beans at Costco.

Pollan’s documentary muddles a lot of things. It’s absolutely true, as he shows, that manufacturers of processed foods make misleading claims about their products. There is no doubt that some processed foods are unsafe and that many of them are unhealthy. I agree with his attack on what he calls “nutritionism,” the idea that adding a drop of one or another nutrient to a food product magically makes it better for us to eat. But the industrial food system has brought us a lot of benefits along with Big Gulps, Twinkies, and gluten-free burritos fortified with antioxidants. Pretending otherwise is just pop nutritionism.

End of the Road for an American Icon

The July 20 bankruptcy filing by the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company marks the end of the road for one of the icons of American business. The filing was in no sense a surprise: A&P has spent more than half a century driving itself out of business, shrinking over the years from a nationwide retailer to a small regional grocery chain. Few people, aside from its remaining employees, will grieve. Indeed, most people who think of A&P at all today remember it mainly as the dim and dowdy place where their Grandma used to shop.

But in its day, A&P transformed American retailing several times over. The company, then known as the Great American Tea Company, introduced mail-order shopping in the 1860s. In the 1890s, it developed the concept of handing out reward coupons with each purchase, an idea that soon had millions of housewives collecting trading stamps to exchange for lamps and crockery. Discount shopping as we know it today originated with A&P in 1912, despite the objections of Boston attorney Louis D. Brandeis, not yet on the Supreme Court, who thought consumers would be confused if a product did not sell at the same price everywhere. “The evil results of price-cutting are far-reaching,” Brandeis warned.

For more than four decades, from 1920 into the 1960s, A&P was the largest retailer in the world. It may also have been the most controversial. With stores in 3,800 towns, supplied by its own state-of-the-art bakeries and macaroni plants, dairies and salmon canneries, it squeezed costs out of the food distribution system and consistently undercut mom-and-pop grocers. A&P put fear into the hearts of small-town merchants. The earliest radio talk show hosts built their audiences by inveighing against it. State legislatures tried to tax it out of business. When that did not stop it from cutting prices, many states limited discounting by requiring minimum mark-ups on every single item in the store.

Washington got into the act, too. The literature lionizing Franklin Roosevelt as the first pro-consumer president ignores his support for a 1936 law intended to prohibit manufacturers from granting volume discounts, as well as the fact that his Justice Department sued A&P for selling food too cheaply—and won in court. As late as the 1950s, the federal government was still trying to break A&P into pieces, claiming that it was “impervious to competition.”

Washington needn’t have bothered. Competition carried the day. More aggressive grocers pushed A&P to the sidelines, but now they, too, are being pushed aside. The supermarket, a format A&P pioneered in the 1930s, is old hat. A host of innovators, from deep discounters to organic food chains to drug stores touting packaged foods to glitzy gourmet emporia, has the food retail industry in turmoil. If you shop for groceries, this is a wonderful development. If you’re trying to sell them, life won’t get any easier.

Chain Stores in Chains

Chain stores have a lot of advantages over mom and pop. By purchasing in enormous quantities, they can obtain volume discounts from manufacturers. By signing contracts to ship thousands of containers, they pay far less for freight than a retailer that ships only a handful. By maintaining strong credit ratings, they can lease better locations, at lower rents, than smaller competitors. All of this can help the chains keep customers coming through the door.

Yet chains face some disadvantages, too. Sheer size is foremost among them. When a chain does something wrong–which is to say, something that fails to satisfy customers–the problem can be very hard to fix, because it affects hundreds or even thousands of stores and may have irritated millions of shoppers.

There have been many recent examples of this challenge. Tesco, which only a few years ago fancied itself a challenger to Walmart for global retail leadership, still can’t figure out how to respond to British shoppers’ unexpected attraction to discount grocery stores. Wet Seal, which sells clothes to teenage girls, couldn’t cope with the fact that shopping malls are out of fashion; it has filed for bankruptcy and closed 338 stores. Target Stores, which marched noisily into Canada two years ago, is abruptly leaving with the admission that it failed to please Canadian shoppers. And then there is Walmart itself, which is struggling with U.S. consumers’ newfound preference for shopping close to home rather than in gigantic outlets miles away–a change of taste that presents an obvious problem for a company that has 606 million square feet of space tied up in “supercenters” across the United States.

Last week, at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, a Walmart distribution executive, Douglas Estrada, provided some interesting color about how Walmart is trying to adjust to this trend. The company is opening smaller supercenters to fit in reviving urban neighborhoods, he said, but the company’s growth in the United States is likely to involve opening traditional grocery stores, small grocery stores with limited stock, and even convenience stores with gas pumps out front. Kiosks, now being tested, may compete with e-commerce, allowing a shopper to order anything available in a nearby supercenter and have it delivered to the small neighborhood store the same day.

This sort of innovation is a nightmare for Walmart’s distribution department. Walmart has more than 170 distribution centers across the United States. They are extraordinarily efficient at what they are designed to do: take in containers by the trainload, sort the contents, and pack merchandise into the 53-foot trucks that deliver full truckloads to each supercenter three or four times a day. But they are far less efficient when it comes to loading 28-foot trucks to deliver to urban grocery stores, and even less so in loading 16-foot trucks to replenish inventory at convenience stores. Walmart is trying to cope with this challenge, Mr. Estrada said, by using its supercenters for the purpose. The small-format stores will receive deliveries from a distribution center only once or twice a week; the rest of the time, they will be resupplied by vans coming from the nearest supercenter, often with merchandise picked directly from the supercenter’s shelves.

This means, of course, that goods headed for a smaller store will be handled more than goods going to a supercenter. Can Walmart do this and still offer the low prices its customers expect? Or will the small stores come to be treated as an inferior sort of Walmart, with higher prices and less selection than the real thing? Its distribution costs may determine whether the company succeeds in loosening the chains that bind its chains.

The Limits of Co-ops

I recently gave a talk to some retailers with a problem. For many years, these mom-and-pop shopkeepers have belonged to a cooperative. The co-op functions as their distributor: it supplies them with merchandise cheaply enough to make them competitive with chain stores, it controls brand names that consumers know, it advises them how to display their merchandise and plan special events, it represents them when new government regulations pose a threat.

So what’s the problem? The co-op hasn’t been doing terrifically of late, as competition in the retail market is changing. The shop owners want to keep it, because they value its services. But they also are the co-op’s shareholders, and they know that their personal wealth will take a hit if the co-op goes into decline. The question is what to do.

This is actually an old question. Retail co-ops have been around since the industrial revolution; Britain’s Co-operative Group dates its birth to 1844. In the United States, they began around World War I, when chain stores began taking a significant share of the grocery market. Chain grocers, back in those days, could underprice mom and pop largely because they could buy directly from manufacturers, obtaining volume discounts and avoiding payment of commissions to wholesalers. Some of them, such as A&P, a company I’ve written about, also developed powerful brands. Co-ops provided these same benefits to small stores. By banding together, small retailers could buy in quantity, and the co-ops could build brands just as chains did.

The co-op movement was highly successful in some areas of retailing, notably groceries, drugs, and hardware. IGA–the Independent Grocers Alliance–was a household name in the town where I grew up. I suspect that few of the people in New Jersey and Connecticut who buy their food at ShopRite realize that it really isn’t a chain, but a group of separately owned stores that all receive their goods from, and use the brands of, Wakefern Foods, which in turn is owned cooperatively by the store owners.

Co-ops thrived for decades, and they arguably helped mom-and-pop stores survive the chain store onslaught. But many of them have gone by the boards, largely for reasons beyond their control. Their retailer-members, largely small merchants, often lacked the cash to build big, modern stores like the chains owned. If a retailer-member failed to keep its store looking good, the co-op could usually do little about it. With the arrival of television advertising in the 1950s, consumers were persuaded that nationally advertised products were better than the goods in their local store. As a result, co-ops’ brands became associated with outdated, down-market stores and low-quality products.Some retailer-owned co-ops have managed to overcome these obstacles, but many have not.

Today, the incredible rate of change in retailing poses a daunting challenge for co-ops. Almost by definition, co-ops move slowly. Management cannot make major changes without the approval of a board comprised of retailer-members, many of whom may not see the need. Repositioning the brand requires convincing the members of the urgency of drastic change, a process that can take years.

So while I’d like to be optimistic about the future of retailer co-ops, that’s not easy. Co-ops have played an important role in retailing, and in helping independent retailers stay in business. There are a handful of exceptionally well-run operations, which I very much admire. But for the most part, the retailer co-ops’ day has passed. I think it’s better to recognize that, and to look for alternatives, rather than to wait for the good old days to come back.

Can WalMart Shrink Its Stores?

Chain stores have some obvious advantages, such as well-known brand names and the ability to command volume discounts from suppliers. But they have some less obvious disadvantages. High among them is that having a lot of stores makes it hard to change direction when things aren’t going so well.

An interesting article in today’s Wall Street Journal, in which WalMart Stores obviously cooperated, discusses CEO Doug McMillon’s effort to reshape the company in the face of customers’ changing tastes. WalMart has been the leader in developing gigantic stores, which it calls supercenters. In the United States, it runs more than 3,300 of them, averaging more than 180,000 square feet in size. Three football fields could fit into a store like that, complete with end zones and goal posts, and still leave room to spare.

Trouble is, customers don’t want to go to a supercenter every time they need a can of bug spray, or even a television. Some shoppers prefer to visit smaller stores, at least some of the time. Others would rather shop online, but might be persuaded to pick up their online purchases in a store if that’s faster or cheaper than having them delivered to the house.  As a result of shoppers’ fast-changing preferences, WalMart owns a lot of real estate that isn’t very productive. It needs to reshape its portfolio.

I wrote about this problem in my book The Great A&P. The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, then by far the largest retailer in the world, was slow to develop supermarkets in the 1930s. The innovators were wild-eyed marketers without much to lose, not established grocers. But by 1936, A&P’s president, John A. Hartford, was convinced that larger self-service stores would prove more profitable than the relatively small outlets A&P owned all over the country. His more conservative brother George, the company’s chairman, initially disagreed. But by early 1937, the brothers ordered a concerted effort to replace small, underperforming stores with supermarkets.

And then…nothing happened. Although the Hartfords owned almost all of the company’s shares and exercised total control, their executives knew that opening big stores would hurt business at small ones, forcing the layoffs of loyal managers whose stores would be closed. They stalled until the Hartfords pounded the boardroom table. In late 1937, in the face of diminished profits, the reluctant executives began to yield. Over a two-year period, the Hartfords relentlessly drove their team to open 750 large stores and close 4,000 small ones, lowering costs and prices, restoring growth, and winning back customers who had abandoned A&P for the likes of Big Bear and Big Bull.

Walmart will have to achieve something similar.  It’s a good bet that managers of its biggest supercenters earn a whole lot more money than managers of its much smaller discount and grocery stores, and won’t be eager to take a step down the ladder. And regional managers and execs in the supercenter division may not have incentives to see their sales wander off to other divisions operating other store formats. Mr. McMillion may have the right strategy, but convincing his own employees to embrace it may be even harder than jousting with Target and Kroger.

How to Destroy a Brand

Not too long ago, in need of a flash drive, I dropped by my local RadioShack. I picked out the cheapest flash drive I could find, went over to the counter, and paid cash. Only as I was walking out the door did I look at my receipt, which revealed that I’d just paid 93 cents for “insurance” on my $10 drive. The young woman behind the counter tried to convince me that I’d be glad I had insurance if I ever lost the drive. She was more than a little unhappy when I demanded she refund my “insurance” premium.

I recalled that incident the other day when I read that RadioShack is closing 1,100 U.S. stores. Management blamed the closings on its customers, which is a pretty good sign it doesn’t have a clue about how to fix the problems. Yes, we know that the Internet has changed the way people shop, etc., etc. But RadioShack’s problems go well beyond the Internet. It’s a company whose managers have systematically destroyed the value of its brand.

If you’ve ever dropped by my local RadioShack, which the suits from Fort Worth headquarters clearly have not, you’d find a couple of bored-looking teenagers hanging around behind the counter. Do they welcome customers? Nope. Do they offer to help you find what you’re looking for? Not a chance. Do they convey the impression of being knowledgeable about the products sold in their store? Absolutely not. And so I associate the RadioShack brand with untrained clerks who earn minimum wage and were instructed by their boss to rip me off of 93 cents by charging me for “insurance” I was not asked about and did not want. I’m willing to tolerate that environment if I need a $10 flash drive in a hurry. But would I go there if I were looking to spend, say, several hundred dollars on smartphone or a sound system? Not a chance, no matter how good the merchandise might be.

Management, of course, is in denial about the mess it’s made. Just check out its website:
“Through our ‘It Can Be Done, When We Do It Together’ brand positioning, Radioshack is inviting customers to collaborate with our expert associates to discover the unlimited possibilities of technology, while experiencing our new interactive store environments.” Right. Maybe the “expert associates” are in some other store. And you might note that in the website text I just quoted, the company wrote its own brand name incorrectly, with a small “s” in RadioShack instead of an upper-case letter. If a company doesn’t care enough about its brand to use its style consistently, that’s not a good sign.

RadioShack is by no means the first retailer to destroy its own reputation. A&P, then the world’s largest retailer, became an also-ran almost overnight when it allowed its stores to get dingy and its prices high. Sears used to cultivate an image of solid value for your dollar; now, its image is hard to figure out. Winn-Dixie’s executives at one point tried to promote their fresh meat and produce while simultaneously removing light bulbs from the ceiling; that only drove customers away and hastened the company’s trip to bankruptcy court. Circuit City’s bosses had the brilliant idea of firing their highest-paid salespeople, in the process destroying the chain’s reputation as a place to get good advice about electronics. Predictably, that did not end well.

RadioShack has done much the same. Now, having made its brand a negative, the company is in a difficult spot. It’s hard to mount a comeback when the very mention of your name makes prospective customers want to shop elsewhere.

Bad Brands, or just Bad Management?

“Brands are finding it hard to adapt to an age of skepticism,” The Economist declared a couple of weeks ago. “Brands have never been more fragile,” James Surowiecki agreed in The New Yorker. I don’t buy the story. In an age when consumers suffer under ceaseless blather and excessive choice, brands matter more than ever–unless their owners devalue them.

In my book The Great A&P, I wrote about one of the very first brands, a tea called Thea-Nectar. It was introduced in 1870 by The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, which operated a chain of tea stores and also sold teas by mail. The company’s challenge was that its young hyson and Souchong teas, sold loose by the pound, were identical to the teas sold by others. Thea-Nectar, by contrast, was sold prepackaged, in half-pound or pound boxes with a picture on the front. It was said to be a unique mixture of teas that were dried on porcelain, with no coloring or impurities. Thea Nectar was a hit, throwing the tea trade into turmoil and helping the Great Atlantic & Pacific distinguish itself from dozens of competing tea companies. 2012-03-20_TheaNectar

The arrival of other branded products from companies such as H.J. Heinz and Kellogg allowed  grocery stores to offer something besides bulk products. It also permitted chains to prosper, as they could take advantage of volume discounts in dealing with manufacturers. By the early twentieth century, the Great A&P was already using store brands to segment the market, offering its customers a choice of good (Iona lima beans), better (Sultana lima beans), and best (A&P lima beans). House brands like Ann Page and Eight O’Clock Coffee became powerful tools for drawing shoppers into A&P’s stores.

Obviously, a few things have changed since those days, and the new case against brands is that consumers don’t need them. Once, brands stood as guarantors of quality, the argument goes; now, however, consumers can check reviews online before they go shopping, so brand names are no longer necessary to provide a signal of quality.

I think that analysis is off base. Brands lose value not because consumers no longer want them, but because managers abuse them. Let me offer a few examples.

One is Sony. In the 1980s and early ’90s, Sony’s Trinitron TVs were among the best on the market, and were priced accordingly. Sony tried to extend its brand into personal computers, which it sold at a premium price. Unlike its TVs, though, Sony computers were not demonstrably better than other computers. Sony might well have built a successful business by selling its branded machines at the same prices as its competitors, picking up volume that would allow it to lower per-unit manufacturing costs. But rather than offering a name brand at the same price as a no-name, its managers persisted in charging a premium price without offering a premium product. Consumers walked away.

A second example stems from the recurrent cases of salmonella in ground beef, which have caused numerous illnesses and too many deaths in recent years. In one of those episodes, a couple of years ago, it was revealed that beef suppliers’  standard contracts with supermarkets prohibited the retailers from testing for salmonella. I understand why a meat processor would propose such a contract, but I don’t understand why a retailer would sign it. It’s in the retailer’s interest for shoppers to assume that it goes to extra lengths to sell only high-quality merchandise. For a retailer to admit that it cannot monitor the quality of the goods it sells is to tell customers to look only at the price, which in general is not a wise business strategy.

A third example concerns a shoe manufacturer, for whose products I used to pay dear. One day I was in its store and found men’s dress shoes, made in China, selling for $49 under the same brand name as the $250 shoes I was contemplating. Naturally that set me to doubting the quality of the $250 shoes I was about to buy. I left the store. I still by brand-name shoes, but from another company that does not bestow its brand on cheap shoes from China.

In each of these cases, the issue was not that the brands lacked value, but that their owners  succeeded in devaluing them. The same, unfortunately, has been true of A&P. The company is still around, but after decades of mismanagement it has pretty much destroyed the value of its brands. The giveaway: at most of its stores you’ll be hard pressed to find the A&P name on a single product, much less above the door.