Saturday, January 17, 2015

The End of Target

Target died in Canada this week, for a lot of reasons. Here, I'll point you to the Globe and Mail, though I did not think that its story was particularly good. It stresses prices, speed of rollout and locations. All of these are important, but in each area it was stepping into the shoes of an existing retailer, Zellers.

The exception was one of adding groceries to the mix. So, uhm ha, ha! Harder than it looks, isn't it, losers? Grocery might prove to have been a category error, and an explanation for chainwide problems, but the  focus on Target Canada's terrible Out-of-Stock conditions has been on durable goods. The pictorial that should still be up at the last link was taken last spring. Target has been floundering for months.

I'm going to, very briefly, offer an alternative explanation. Sometimes, you run out of time to do something, so it doesn't get done. For example, it's 2:30 in the afternoon, and I got too ambitious with another project earlier in the week, and now I've run out of time for fiction this week. Hence this brief post. (Which may have taken longer than four pages of fiction, but never mind.)

Running out of time is a normal thing. Jobs get skated. Here's a slightly whimsical meditation on Canada's current below trend inflation rate as an index of things-getting-skated.

The trend is 0.05% below the Bank of Canada target, so, I'm suggesting, the Canadian economy is 0.05% behind the amount of work that is budgeted. Don't press me on causality --this is magical thinking, here.

Why does a work force skate the work? Because its target in productivity per hour is unrealistic. In stores that have been open for more than one year, this is because the target has been cut beyond what the work force can deliver. In stores that haven't, you have a problem.

Target, as we know, is a non-union workplace. By keeping the Zellers locations it bought closed for a year, it avoided being classified as a "successor employer" and opened free of the encumbrance of the United Food and Commercial Workers, with what it deemed market-place competitive wages. So far, no-one has suggested that it was because the work force it got at the rates that it paid wasn't up to the job.

But, come on, $10.50/hour?  This random site claims that a one-bedroom in Vancouver "outside city centre" is going for over a grand a month. Math: 40 times 10.5 times 4.5 is $1800/month. You can pay your rent on a Target wage, or you can eat, but not both. 

This isn't to say that people aren't working at Target. Remember that old horror story about the familly with the child locked in the attic because [insert scary bit here?] In the retail sector of our modern age, the cash registers are increasingly staffed by those kids, because the families have found that they can let them out for the day and they'll make $10.50/ hour at Target.

Or they're desperate immigrants. Employers like Target hope that they'll be houswives and students, but then they write schedules that people with outside commitments can't meet, and you're back to relying on people-who-experience-life's-challenges-more-intensely-than-some-other-people. And that's why jobs get skated.

The key thing is to not skate crucial jobs. The failure of Target shows that they're already being skated. I won't get into my work place, but I will say this: I heard a story the other day about a burst colostomy bag in the produce department of one of our stores back in 1986. They had a janitor and two service clerks to help clean it up back then. I'm sometimes down to  three people in the store, period, these days! (For all of five minutes when night crew is late and it's the relief janitor, but still.)

In twenty years or so, at the rate things are going, it'll happen in a grocery store in, oh, say, Prince Albert, and a typhus epidemic will start and sweep through the old age homes and exterminate my generation and give Canada a fresh new start.  You, me? We're going to die, alone, in a cot on a concrete floor in an overcrowded arena under triage in Victorian-style quarantine rules, and a nurse from Cameroon or the CAR, or wherever there's left for Canada to draw immigrants from, will take the bedding out one door, while the orderlies take your body out the other, both for burning. 

It's going to happen. That's the end game. Unless someone does something somewhere. Note that this is really easy to fix. We did it without even hardly noticing in 1939--45. Not fixing it now is a choice we're making.