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do you know where the rubber hits the road?

October 29, 2009

in communication

i’m a daily grocery shopper. it’s a remnant from our days living in the UK, and whole foods is where i typically land. i don’t want hormone-fed meat, milk, and cheese. i don’t own a car and it’s two blocks away. and until recently, the other nearby choices were pretty grim. every time i check out, i’m asked whether i’ve brought a bag. answer: yes. end of conversation.

except, it shouldn’t be.

whole foods has this really cool program to reward customers for bringing their own bags. it gives them $.05 per bag to give to a local charity. if you shop there, you might know about it. it’s their wooden nickel program (who came up with that?), and it has good ideas behind it:

  • it demonstrates the company’s brand. whole foods’ mission is not only to “assume their share of responsibility as tenants of Planet Earth,” but also to protect the environment and to be actively involved in their communities. nailed it, on all fronts.
  • each store supports local organizations. the program’s a great example of taking a companywide initiative and allowing for local customization. i imagine each store’s community manager—alongside, i hope, a few employees—reviewing all applications and determining which organizations to recognize. since they typically fund two at a time and rotate them regularly, that’s quite a lot of walking the talk.IMG_0242
  • the customer decides where the money goes. customers can put that $.05 right back in their pocket, or they can get a wooden nickel and contribute it. if there’s more than one organization to support—as there is at my store—they choose one or divvy up their nickels. basically, the customer becomes a community partner with whole foods. brilliant.

alas, this great program suffers from poor implementation:

  • strike one: back to that earlier conversation where i’m asked whether i brought my own bags and i answer yes. i should immediately be asked if i want any wooden nickels (had to, sorry). never happens. to get them, i need to ask for them. otherwise, the bag discount’s applied to my bottom line. somehow, the employee who’s been incredibly well-trained to ask if i brought a bag has not been as well-coached about asking if i want these nickels.
  • strike two: impulse buys are a retailer’s best friend. that’s why the checkout has all of those tasty items to catch your eye. yet there’s no signage about the program at checkout, alongside the CDs and other for-sale paraphernalia. nor are the wooden nickels even visible. if i wasn’t seeking out the program, i would have no visible cues to make me aware of or ask about it.
  • strike three: is the box where i drop my nickels prominently displayed? nope. the plain, unassuming wooden box sits on top of the garbage can for recycling plastic bags, which is shoved in a dead space between the exit and cases of seltzer water. for a store that thinks plenty about product placement, the placement of this one is saying plenty.

don’t blow a program that could speak yards about what your company believes in—and inspire customer and employee alike—by giving short shrift to implementation. during design, observe the environment where the program will live or die, and collect input on how to seamlessly knit it into the work flow from those who know—your employees. at launch, supply the necessary training, communication, and tools for those who will carry it out. and after you’ve launched, provide a tune-up from time to time to ensure all’s going according to plan.

implementation. it’s where the rubber hits the road.


Leave a Comment

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Hebert October 29, 2009 at 6:25 pm

You nailed it Fran – great strategy implemented badly. There are a lot of great ideas – but execution is key. I’m surprised some employee didn’t take this on by themselves.


fran October 29, 2009 at 10:24 pm

paul, let’s hope they iron out the rough spots. maybe i’ll go take it on!



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