Category Archives: Retail

Saint Francis Hospital, Stop & Shop Teaming Up With Supermarket Clinics

by Categorized: Health Care, Retail Date:

It’s time to roll out the old one-liners about throat cultures in aisle 2, right next to the peanut butter. Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center said Tuesday it will open permanent clinics this fall in Stop & Shop supermarkets in Simsbury and Manchester — accelerating trends in both industries.

The clinics, branded Saint Francis FastCare, will open at the Stop & Shop locations on Bushy Hill Road in Simsbury in September and on Broad Street in Manchester in October. They’ll be staffed by advanced practice registered nurses, who are licensed to prescribe medications.

The clinics “will provide care for common, non-urgent illnesses and ailments such as cold and flu symptoms; administration of flu and shingles vaccines, or vaccinations for children going to summer camp or school; ear infections, insect bites, poison ivy, minor sunburn, sinus infection, and sore throat. On-site tests for rapid strep, urinalysis, urine pregnancy test, monospots and TB skin tests will also be available,” Saint Francis said in a written release that makes clear they are not for life-threatening situations.

The clinics, with extended hours to 8:30 p.m. on weekdays, will be the only primary care clinics in supermarkets in central Connecticut, Saint Francis said. They will take insurance and Saint Francis and Stop & Shop intend to open more locations in the future, hospital spokeswoman Fiona Phelan said.

Unlike larger, free-standing clinics, the supermarket locations do not need state approval. They are popular in some parts of the country, part of the supermarket industry’s effort to offer more services such as banking to attract customers, and the hospital industry’s effort to expand community-based offerings as a lower-cost, higher-profit option.

The two clinics would add ten full-time positions in total, employees working for Saint Francis Care, the hospital’s parent organization.

FastCare is a brand developed by a third partner, Bellin Health of Green Bay, Wis., in 2006. Around that time, health care providers in Connecticut and elsewhere announced partnerships with supermarkets. But the trend did not explode as some people predicted, perhaps because customers prefer to buy their food and treat their flu in separate places, and perhaps because of concerns by physicians that the clinics were not generally staffed by medical doctors.

“Immediate referrals will be made to a physician when symptoms exceed the clinic’s scope of services,” Saint Francis said Tuesday. “After each visit, a report will be sent to the patient’s primary care physician.”

Plan To Charge Stores For Paying Low Wages: Flawed But Has Merit

by Categorized: Economy, Jobs, Labor, Politics, Poverty, Retail Date:

Connecticut is already one of the three states with the highest minimum wages and it’s the only one with mandatory paid sick days. Now advocates for the working poor are pushing for a novel plan to address the crisis of below-poverty wages: Penalize employers that pay too little.

The controversial plan isn’t in effect in any state and was narrowly defeated in Washington D.C., where Wal-Mart threatened to pull out. The idea is to extract money from low-paying retailers and fast-food companies to help the state compensate for the income supports that low-wage workers receive.

Fair is fair, the logic goes. Why should taxpayers subsidize Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts?

Tina Conners, a McDonald's employee in Manchester who lives in her car. Dan Haar/The Hartford Courant

Tina Conners, a McDonald’s employee in Manchester who lives in her car.
Dan Haar/The Hartford Courant

Care to get upset? A recent report by the Connecticut Association for Human Services showed that a family of four with two adults working a total of 60 hours a week at $10 an hour would be eligible for $29,147 a year in public assistance — much of it Medicaid. And that wouldn’t even include the earned income tax credit, which would push the total higher.

That means you the taxpayer are subsidizing you the shopper to the tune of thousands of dollars for every low-wage sales employee. Still feel good about those 12-packs of socks for $6?

Under the Connecticut version of the wage penalty bill, which had a hearing Tuesday before the legislature’s labor committee, any company with at least 500 employees in the state would have to pay $1 per hour per affected worker into state coffers if it paid less than the “standard wage” for its lowest job classification. For a minimum wage worker in fast food, for example, the standard wage is $11.31 an hour — 130 percent of the $8.70 minimum.

The idea has big problems, illustrated in the story of Tina Conners, who’s from Manchester and told lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Tuesday, in a meeting in his office, that she lives in her car.  Conners, 21, works between 10 hours and 20 hours a week  at a local McDonald’s. She’d like to have more hours but can’t get them.

Conners was at the Capitol to push for the low-wage penalty and a higher minimum wage, which Malloy wants. But what she needs more than a slightly higher wage is many more hours. She told me she’d prefer to log 20 to 30 hours a week, leaving her time and money to go to college and eventually, a career as a dentist.

The $1 an hour penalty wouldn’t come close to paying for the public subsidies that we the taxpayers have to shell out for low-wage workers, but it would be a start. And it wouldn’t help Tina Conners add hours to her workweek; if anything, it could lead to fewer hours.

Another problem: Franchisers such as McD’s and Subway are not the employers. No worry, advocates say. Franchisers would be liable even if they didn’t own the stores in question.

Bills like this come up precisely because low-wage employers are abusing the public trust. We as greedy, shortsighted consumers are the ones letting them do it — all the worse in the case of the poison we’re buying and ingesting from the fast food industry.

And so the bill is politically brilliant if only for the point it makes: The fines would not go to the workers, in effect an enforced wage; rather, the money would go back to the taxpayers.  “Politically, it’s a no-brainer. It’s a home run,” said Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group and a leader of the effort. “Morally, it’s the right thing to do.”

It’s not a home run for the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, who argue that the bill would raise costs in the state and drive out retailers that pay property taxes and offer opportunity to workers. “Our employers do the best job they can,” said Tim Phelan, president of the retail merchants group.

Well, no, they don’t. He can say that about his small retail members that are just getting by, but not about the big national chains and franchises that are transferring billions of dollars from taxpayers to shareholders by shortchanging workers. McDonald’s employees alone receive $1.2 billion a year in public assistance, an October, 2013 report by the National Employment Law Project showed.

Phelan and CBIA advance the idea that low-wage jobs are entry level. “They provide the learning experience,” said Eric Gjede, assistant counsel at CBIA, the state’s largest business group.

Certainly any specific worker can get ahead, but by definition the system will screw most people, simply because the wage structure at many big retailers is so bottom-heavy.

Both sides flash numbers showing why states should, or should not, force employers to pay higher wages or penalize those that don’t.  But ultimately, the states are just bystanders in a private-sector pay system that creates opportunity for a few and poverty for the many, to the benefit of us the consumers.

Maybe we should try the penalty. Flawed as it is, nothing else is working.

Auto Dealers Upbeat But Face Pressure As President’s Day Nears

by Categorized: Economy, Retail Date:

The region’s auto sales industry heads into the crucial President’s Day push with hopes of approaching an all-time sales record in 2014, but with pressures that are squeezing profits.

That was the assessment Monday by three industry executives in Connecticut and Massachusetts, who spoke with media outlets about the recession that wracked the auto industry and the recovery since.

Connecticut lost 17 percent of its dealerships, 16 percent of dealership employees and 34 percent of sales in just two years from 2007 to 2009, according to BlumShapiro, the West Hartford-based professional services firm that released a report Monday. That sales plummet was about the same as the nation’s 35 percent drop.

Courtesy of BlumShapiro

Courtesy of BlumShapiro

Nationwide new car and light truck sales reached a peak of 16.9 million in 2005 and fell to 16.1 million in 2007 before collapsing to 10.4 million in 2009, the report said. This year, sales are expected to top 16 million again for the first time in seven years.

Connecticut is also nearly fully recovered in sales, but hiring is not all the way back, said Chip Gengras of East Hartford-based Gengras Motor Cars, a multi-brand seller. “I’m excited about 2014, there are certainly a lot of challenges,” he said. “The low interest rate has been very helpful to us.”

Gengras has about $35 million in inventory at any given time and must pay interest charges on that, he said — so the rate not only affects sales, but costs as well.

And as for employees, each person in sales must move 15 percent to 20 percent more cars now than before the recession, to make the same money. That’s because profits on each car are tighter as a result of Internet databases, but online information also means buyers come in closer to a decision.

The comments echoed those made in November at the Connecticut International Auto Show by executives in the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association.

Gengras and Warren Waugh, head of a family dealership group in Massachusetts, bemoaned automakers requiring them to upgrade showrooms at huge cost, sometimes even after recent renovations. A BMW showroom rebuilt in 2010 must now be done over again, Waugh said, “and it breaks my heart … it’s just never-ending.”

Also never-ending is the search for service technicians, who can make $45,000 to start and up to $60,000 after just three years. Right now, Gengras said, “We could use a half-dozen to 10 technicians.”

With the slump in new car sales a few years ago, used cars are harder to find, making them more expensive — a good trend for new car sales, said Rick Parmelee, a BlumShapiro partner who works with auto dealers. “The new car is incrementally not that much more expensive,” he said.

  2009  10.4 million
2010  11.6 million (11.1% increase)

  2011  12.7 million (10.2% increase)

  2012  14.4 million (13.4% increase)

  2013  15.3 million (7.6% increase)

  2014  16.5 million (projected)

  2015  17 million+ (projected)

Bob’s Discount Furniture To Hit 50-Store Mark With Three Locations Near Philly

by Categorized: Consumer, Retail Date:

Bob’s Discount Furniture, climbing the ranks among the nation’s largest, will hit the 50-store mark on Feb. 13 with the opening of three locations in Delaware and the Philadelphia suburbs.

The move will give Manchester-based Bob’s at least one location in every east coast state from Maine to Virginia — basically, the 13 original American colonies, plus Maine, minus North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

The new locations will bring to seven the number of new stores Bob’s will have opened in the last 12 months, as the company pushes down the eastern seaboard. They are as follows:

King of Prussia, Penn., 30,000-square feet in the DeKalb Plaza.

Cherry Hill, N.J.,  31,000 square feet in the Garden State Pavilions Center.

Wilmington, Del., 45,000 square feet in the Brandywine Town Center.

Bob’s said the company and the Bob’s Outreach program will donate $50,250 to 18 schools in the three areas to celebrate the openings.

Rapid expansion can be perilous for some retailers as they take on new debt, but Bob Kaufman, who co-founded the chain in 1991 with Gene Rosenberg, said recently that the balance sheet remains very strong at Bob’s.

Moreover, Bob’s recently announced that Bain Capital, the large private equity firm, will become the majority owner. The company is now owned by KarpReilly/Apax, a private equity firm whose predecessor bought the majority stake from the partners in 2005.

The expansion is not related to that transaction.

“We’re proud to be 50-stores strong with the addition of these three locations near the City of Brotherly Love – with no gimmicks and the same low prices every day,” Kaufman said in a written release.

Furniture/Today, an industry publication, reported in October that Bob’s — No. 16 on its Top 100 list — had $685.3 million in sales in 2012.


Busy Scene After Slow Start As Retailers Stretch Christmas

by Categorized: Commerce, Retail Date:

The doors were open at Spruce Home & Garden in West Hartford Center, literally wide open the way manager Mary Goodwin likes it, well before 9 a.m. Thursday. And the markdowns were plentiful.

But customers were slow to arrive — and that’s pretty much how it shaped up in stores around the area, whether they were big boxes like Target and Toys R Us, independent shops or the mothership of Westfarms Mall.

Miranda Basley, store manager at Second Time Around in West Hartford Center, places a sign outside advertising 50 percent off Thursday -- morning only.  Basley said December sales are up 50 percent compared to last year in the consignment store.  John Woike |

Miranda Basley, store manager at Second Time Around in West Hartford Center, places a sign outside advertising 50 percent off Thursday — morning only. Basley said December sales are up 50 percent compared to last year in the consignment store.
John Woike |

That seems odd considering that the day after Christmas is yet another landmark day in the mass cultural activity of shopping. Between returns for those pajamas that were too small, to gift cards that are now sold in racks with multiple options at places such as Walgreen’s, to clearance sales with fully stocked shelves, “Boxing Day” would appear to have the ingredients of a retail madhouse.

Maybe it was the light dusting of snow, maybe the quiet start was a continuation of the mixed retail season of 2013, maybe shoppers needed the morning off.  We could be seeing the effects of prosperity not widely shared, and we certainly are seeing a breakout year for online sales.

But if merchants were worried, they didn’t say so in Thursday’s Christmas afterglow. And by afternoon, the parking lots were jammed.

“We had a very successful season,” said Goodwin, at Spruce. “I measure it on the relationships I formed with my customers and the people I’ve met.”

Uh-oh. That sounds like a nice way of saying sales were flat. But no, Goodwin said, on the contrary, the store is up 14 percent for the year and this month already matched December of 2012 with six days remaining.

And that doesn’t even count the increase of 40 percent to 50 percent in online sales at the seven-store chain, based in New Milford, according to Joe Bittner, Spruce’s e-commerce director.

As we will see in the coming weeks, sales at national chains were not so robust in part because the season was shorter than usual.  Although store figures aren’t available yet, firms such as ShopperTrak have reported declines in year-over-year totals in recent weeks, and an alarming drop in foot traffic averaging 24 percent in each of the two weeks before last Sunday.

The National Retail Federation Reported a decline in overall spending during the Thursday-Sunday long weekend of Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and, like everyone else, has reported sharply higher online revenues overall.  But the trade group has not yet reported on how the season fared compared with 2012.

MasterCard Advisors said Thursday that “holiday spending” rose by 2.3 percent from 2012, a decent but not outstanding bump, Reuters reported. MasterCard’s measure shows sales of items such as jewelry and home furnishings, which may or may not be gifts.

For retailers, the season had only four weekends — one of which brought a snowstorm in the Northeast — along with the permanent rise of online and mobile-site shopping that hurts any store not participating. And with deeper discounts this year, profits are likely to remain squeezed.

At Toys R Us, the returns desk was quiet at 10:30 a.m. and a clerk said it had been that way all morning. The whole season has been “more settled down” than in years past, said the clerk, who did not give her name because she is not authorized to speak for the company.  One shopper, Bari DeBenedette, brought in an indoor tricycle for her 3-year-old, all assembled, and quickly returned it for a larger model in a new box.

“He’s growing faster than I thought,” said DeBenedette, who lives in Long Island and was visiting family.

The same can’t be said of the Connecticut economy, though it is headed in the right direction, gradually. We will never know the effect of holiday sales on the state’s economy because there’s no state measure of volume, and, anyway, the stores that are based here add up to just a small fraction of the industry.

At Westfarms, where most stores opened at 8 a.m., traffic was picking up but still resembled a typical Saturday, if that, and certainly not one during the holiday season. “It’s a long day,” Westfarms general manager Kevin Keenan said. “People are not in a panic mode the day after Christmas the way they are before Christmas…Today will be right up there. Today will be in the top five.”

Hard to imagine it wouldn’t be, and that punctuates the season in retail overall: Not bad, not great.

And underlying all of it is the attitude of shoppers like Vilma Castro, who was looking for discounts, but also brought back some games she had purchased as extra gifts at Toys R Us and never even gift-wrapped.

“I’ve got teenagers. They didn’t need it,” said Castro, of Hartford. “They were very blessed.”

Anytime the word “need” finds its way into a conversation about retail, it’s a bad sign for the folks at the cash register.


New Haven Independent: J. Press Building To Go

by Categorized: Commerce, Economic Development, Real Estate, Retail Date:

New Haven isn’t quite as bad off as Hartford when it comes to its history of tearing down historic buildings, especially the ones that are not landmarks, but rather contributors to the street life of the city.

The New Haven Independent reports that the J. Press building on York Street will be demolished because it’s structurally unsound.  The upscale clothing store will rebuild on the site — and another little piece of urban color will vanish.


Cyber Monday Sales Up 21 Percent, Led By Smart Phones

by Categorized: Retail, Technology Date:

After a holiday weekend that was less than anticipated in many bricks-and-mortar stores, Cyber Monday came in with a 21 percent sales gain over 2012, IBM’s analytics unit reported Monday.

Mobile devices accounted for 17 percent of sales, an increase of 55 percent over last year, the report showed.

The overall increase sounds big and it is in some ways, but it’s the smallest online sales gain for the Monday after Thanksgiving in at least three years.

Accusation: Kohls’s Selling The Real Thing, Advertised as Fake

by Categorized: Commerce, Retail Date:

Attention shoppers: When you buy a Nicole Fabiola handbag supposedly trimmed with faux fur at Kohl’s, you might be getting the real thing — not fake, as advertised.

The fur, that is.  The Humane Society of the United States, in a release Monday, charged that the Wisconsin-based retail chain is falsely labeling its fur trim as “faux,” when tests show that the material is in fact real rabbit fur.

That’s a federal violation punishable by as much as $16,000 per incident, the Humane Society said.

A Nicole Fabiola bag on the Kohl's web site, advertised at $53 Monday.

A Nicole Fabiola bag on the Kohl’s web site, advertised at $53 Monday.

“We’re calling on Kohl’s to adopt a fur-free policy and more robust quality control program, and urging consumers to learn how to tell animal fur from fake fur so they can shop with confidence,” said Pierre Grzybowski, research and enforcement manager for the society’s Fur-Free Campaign, in a release.

Kohl’s didn’t immediately respond with a comment Monday afternoon. A look at the retailer’s web site showed one of the bags listed at $53, marked down from $89, a deal available online only.

This is far from the first time the Humane Society has accused retailers of selling the real thing and advertising it as fake. The release Monday lists several legal settlements involving the nonprofit advocacy group and enforcement actions by the Federal Trade Commission between 2010 and this year. Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and others were named.

Congress and President Barack Obama closed a loophole in 2010 that allowed fur-trimmed items to be unlabeled if the value of the fur was less than $150, said the Humane Society, which publishes a guide on how to know whether you’re getting the real fake thing.

Black Friday Weekend Spending Down, Online Purchases Up

by Categorized: Consumer, Economy, Retail Date:

More Americans shopped over the holiday weekend but they spent less per person, leading to a 2.7 percent decline in total spending from 2012, the National Retail Federation reported.

In all, 141 million U.S. adults spent an average of $407 apiece in stores and online from Thursday through Sunday, for a total of $57.4 billion, the trade group said. That compared with 139 million people who spent an average of $424 in 2012, for a total of $59.1 billion.

Click here for details on the weekend’s results.

Separately, ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based retail analytics firm, reported brick-and-mortar store sales up 2.3 percent on Thanksgiving and Black Friday to $12.3 billion, as foot traffic in stores increased by 2.8 percent. Black Friday alone showed double-digit declines in sales and store visits, ShopperTrak said.

Both the retail federation and ShopperTrak agreed that online spending was up. The federation said it spiked by 4.3 percent to $25 billion over the four-days, and that doesn’t even count today’s Cyber Monday spending, which was predicted to rise.

The results might seem to fall short of the retail federation’s 2013 forecast for the “holiday season,” which called for a spending increase of 3.9 percent to $602 billion this year, bigger than last year’s 3.3 percent increase.

But no one should worry about the declines for several reasons. Retailers say they are seeing deals spread out longer over the holiday period, so the so-called crucial Black Friday period matters less than it did before.

“Retailers will continue to aggressively promote their in-store and online offerings, looking to entice today’s very budget-conscious and value-focused shopper,”  retail federation president Matthew Shay said in the federation’s press release.

More to the point, Christmas shopping is not as large a part of the economy as the retail industry would have us believe. Spending in the holiday season under the retail federation’s definition includes most retail sales in November and December, including groceries, home medical equipment and auto parts, though it excludes restaurants, vehicle sales and gasoline.

Even that larger definition of retail spending accounts for less than one-fifth of the U.S. economy, and spending for Christmas gifts is about 1 percent or less of the economy.

So, while the overall up-and-down figures do matter, the spending is not a main driver of the economy – especially considering the value of retail goods that are imported, the low wages paid by the industry and other factors.

It does matter to community development — how we feel about where we live — and it’s certainly a reflection of how the economy is doing. To that end, we already know we are living in times of economic growth, with record stock market values, but not shared prosperity.

State-by-state numbers are not available and anecdotal evidence about how retailers are doing in Connecticut is highly unreliable. A recent UConn/Courant poll showed that 10 percent of Connecticut shoppers said they would have higher holiday spending this year, while 30 percent said they would spend less.

The Northeast is clearly lagging the rest of the nation according to ShopperTrak, which said the region had an in-store sales decline of 7 percent Thursday and Friday, while the South, Midwest and West all showed increases ranging from 3.3 percent to 6 percent.

By all accounts, retailers’ margins are squeezed by more online shopping and more promotions, and certainly we’re living in difficult times for retailers that aren’t online. The weekend survey by Prosper Insights & Analytics showed that 55 percent of U.S. adults, or 132 million people, planned to shop online on Cyber Monday, up 1.9 percent from last year’s total.

But the myth that they’re spending work time buying stuff remains just that, as 87 percent said they would use a computer at home, compared with 12 percent who admitted they would shop from the office.

Will Oremus of posted a great screed on why Cyber Monday is “the dumbest fake holiday of the year.”

It’s hard to believe the vast majority of Cyber Monday shoppers were buying from home.  But looking at another trend for 2013 — shopping on Thanksgiving Day — it wasn’t worth the trouble for retailers if we believe the retail federation’s report. The decline in overall weekend sales, came despite 45 million shoppers trekking out on the holiday itself, a 25 percent increase.

Maybe we could see some collusion next year among retailers: They stay closed on Thanksgiving and we all benefit.

Finally, this nice reminder from Connecticut ubiquitous tax man, Revenue Services Commissioner Kevin B. Sullivan: Regardless of whether your online retailer collects the state sales tax of 6.35 percent, you owe it.  So be sure to declare that purchase on your 2013 returns.

Online Buying Spree in China, Debt In US

by Categorized: Commerce, Consumer, marketing, Retail Date:

What’s the biggest online shopping day of the year? Cyber Monday? How about the last weekday before Christmas when shipped gifts can arrive by the 25th?

No and no. According to Chinese web sites including Xinhua, Monday had the world’s highest volume of online sales of goods. That’s because it was 11/11, or “Singles Day” in China, a sort of anti-Valentine’s Day that started on college campuses, according to Business Insider.

And on this day, singles celebrate — by buying lots of stuff.

More than 200 journalists waited for data at, a huge shopping site, Business Insider reported, based on a dispatch by Xinhua.

Here in the United States, we’re just starting to rack up debt — but that’s what we will do is great numbers, a new survey shows.

Fifty-seven percent of Americans with children said they’re willing to take on debt to make their children happy this holiday season, according to a Harris Interactive survey released Monday by Lexington Law, a law firm specializing in consumer credit.

And the picture will get ugly for low-income families, the survey suggests.

“Those with a household income of less than $35,000 are willing to accrue an average of $700 worth of debt in order to make their children happy for the holidays,” Lexington Law said.

They’ll have to put it on credit since 55 percent haven’t saved for this year’s gift-giving, the survey showed. As for households with more than $75,000 in income? They’re willing to take on an average of just $300 in debt.