The Insider - Heard on the Street
Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market began terminating selected store-level employees, mostly but not exclusively regular grocery clerks called Customer Assistants, today at 33 of its 199 grocery markets in California, Nevada and Arizona.
I learned this while visiting a number of Fresh & Easy stores in two states yesterday and today.
I also verified it with a number of store-level Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market employees, including two who were fired today.
In this July 26, 2012 piece, Fear and Loathing in El Segundo: Mass Firings, Reduction in Store Hours at 33 Fresh & Easy Stores ... and More, I reported exclusively that Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market planned to reduce the operating hours at 33 of its stores from the retailer's normal 8 a.m.-10 p.m. hours to 9 a.m-8 pm, beginning soon.
That day is here: I also learned during my store visits yesterday and today that the reduced hours at the 33 stores are effective today. Instead of the previous 8 a.m.-10 p.m. operating hours, the doors to these 33 Fresh & Easy markets now officially open at 9 a.m, and close at 8 a.m.
I'm not aware of one grocery chain (read competitor to Tesco's Fresh & Easy) in California, Nevada and Arizona. In fact, many stores operated by the leading chains in the three states, such as Safeway, Kroger Co., Supervalu, Save Mart, Albertson's LLC, Stater Bros. and others, keep many of their respective stores open 24-hours. The stores not open 24-hours close generally at 11 p.m or midnight and open at 7 a.m.
Grocery stores that are doing well don't close at 8 p.m., unless they're doing so well that opening them any later would prove to be an embarrassment of riches to a modest grocery retailer. And grocers who want their stores to do well don't close them at 8 p.m.
Additionally, for those not experienced in the food and grocery retailing business, if a grocer decides to close a bunch of stores, like 33 of its 199 units, at 8 p.m. rather than the previous 10 p.m., you can take it to the bank the company CEO has very little if any faith in the future potential of those stores. If that's not the case, then he just doesn't understand the grocery business.
The selected store-level layoffs are a part of the reduction in hours program at the 33 Fresh & Easy stores.
Since the stores are opening one hour later and closing two hours earlier, less employees are needed.
Some of the workers at the affected stores are getting transfers to other Fresh & Easy markets.
Other employees at the 33 stores are getting their hours cut, in many cases down to 20 hours a week, which is the minimum they are required to work in order for the grocery chain to pay the 70-75% employer contribution for the workers health insurance policies.
Over the last five years of its operation (the first stores opened in November 2007) most Fresh & Easy Customer Assistants, who are hired part time and guaranteed 20 hours a week at the time of hire, have worked more than the minimum guaranteed hours at the request of either store management or themselves. Few employees have worked just 20 hours a week over the last five years Fresh &Easy has been in operation.
The reduction in store operating hours and related reduction in store employee hours, along with the layoffs of the Customer Assistants and others I'm telling readers about today, is all about reducing labor and related costs for Tesco's Fresh & Easy.
The store-level cuts go hand-in-hand with the termination of about 50 employees in one day at Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's corporate headquarters in El Segundo, California, which I wrote about here on July 26.
Battles and wars
The cost-cutting comes now, in my analysis and opinion, because Tesco's fiscal half-year ends in about a month. Tesco must show its making at least a minimum reduction in its losses, $245 million for the most-recently-ended fiscal year (ended February 2012), when it reports its fiscal half-year results this fall.
Prior to making the cuts at its corporate headquarters in late July and the store-reductions I'm describing in this piece, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market was not on track to show any significant improvement in its half-year performance over the previous half-year, based on my reporting and analysis.
Since the cuts come so near the end of the half-year, I don't expect Tesco to report a major reduction in losses for the half-year in relation to the $245 million it lost in its most-recently ended fiscal year. It will be interesting to see - and more cuts are coming - what Tesco does report as a loss for Fresh & Easy for the half-year.
Breaking even with Fresh & Easy, which Tesco says it will do so by the end of its 2014 fiscal year, which is less than two years away, is only part of the story for Tesco - it's the battle but not the war. And it's the war that truly matters. Despite winning many battles a war can still be lost.
For Tesco, continuing my battle vs. war analogy, the war boils down to this question: Does Fresh & Easy have a future as a viable and profitable grocery chain?
That's a question I will be addressing in one of my next columns.
[Editor's Note: 'The Insider' isn't a literal or descriptiive title for our columnist. Fresh & Easy Buzz is an independent Blog, and is not affiliated with Tesco, Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, or any of its competitors. No member of the Fresh & Easy Buzz editorial team has ever or currently works for Tesco or its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market chain.]