On Occupation and Ownership

Mitch Morrison, Vice President of Retailer Relations

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A line of predominantly disheveled loiterers laces the historic Trinity Church just a block from the New York Stock Exchange. Some are remnants of the amorphous cause known as Occupy Wall Street; others are newbies hoping to draw attention.

“Church = Greed,” one sign shouts.“Occupy Religion” reads another. Cardboard signs, sleeping bags and a foul stench blanket this Episcopalian Church that once supported the occupiers’ cause.

A day earlier, two editors and I headed to Wawa in what was a slight variation on “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”Before heading to company headquarters, we visited a renovated—and customer jammed—site in Philly’s historic Arch Street during lunch hour. The store’s resplendence is the result of a three-month renovation that cost Wawa a half-million dollars. (Watch for our exclusive cover story on Wawa in the September issue of CSP.)

Today’s cover feature marks our eighth annual partnership with mystery shop specialists Service Intelligence. We shopped hundreds of stores operated by many of our industry’s largest and best unchains. And for the third time in four years, Wisconsin-based Kwik Trip took first. That said, we found something else: All of the retailers finished with an overall score topping 80%. Pretty impressive.

I’ll let you read the stories, starting on p. 44, for the details. It’s the contrast of occupiers and owners that garners my attention.

I ’m a huge First Amendment proponent. During my years as a political and investigative reporter, I was nearly sentenced to prison a few times for refusing to reveal sources. I support the right of demonstrators to demonstrate, and protesters to protest.

Yet there is something about the entire Occupy enterprise that has disturbed me. I couldn’t find the precise words to describe it until I read the mystery-shop coverage by our editors Angel Abcede and Melissa Vonder Haar, and visited Wawa.

It’s all about occupation and ownership. Occupiers assume personal privileges over property that belongs not to them, but to others. They care little about those who invested in and have cared for the property. And they care even less about those who patronize the site of occupation, whether they be pedestrians, churchgoers or customers.

Occupation, all too often, represents the height of arrogance and selfishness, a tragic irony for a group that purportedly speaks on behalf of the “99 percent.”

Ownership is entirely different. It’s about personal pride, projecting a value and, yes, earning profits, from owning an idea or an asset. During this year’s mystery shop of hundreds of stores, what is most striking is that every chain in our study, without exception—Kwik Trip, 7-Eleven, Stripes, Kum & Go, Casey’s, Thorntons, QuikTrip, Quick Chek and Sheetz—is upgrading its design, offering and quality of service. Some are growing through acquisition, others are rolling out new ground-ups. Some are investing in healthier food options, others are facilitating customer transactions.

True, our mystery shop is not perfect. We include aspects such as up selling and loyalty programs, which may not be core to some of our subjects’ retail strategies. We place our subjectivity on the attributes we consider most relevant at this time.

But what is not subjective is that our biggest retailers are representing something critically important not only to our industry but also our nation: The pride of ownership.

A Personal Note

Speaking of ownership, CSP, as of this issue, has new owners. As Paul writes in his column on p. 10, we are very excited to now be working for Redwood Acquisitions. We fully expect to continue meeting—and exceeding—your expectations.

Allow me to offer a personal note. I joined CSP nine years ago this month, for one reason: to work for Paul Reuter.

Paul has not only been my boss. As I’ve shared with my staff and colleagues, Paul has been a mentor and father figure. He is the embodiment of high ideals, enthusiasm and integrity; he represents the values and principles we espouse. It’s been an incredible honor and privilege to work for Paul and learn the many life lessons he has taught.

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