Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Very "Eh" Outing to Studemont Kroger

I am often talking people away from the ledge when it comes to expectations regarding a new restaurant. I have to explain that a patron must significantly lower their standards in at least the first month. It's a general rule of the service industry. For some reason, no matter how much you train and prep, things will be rocky. You can hire a great staff and have a clear vision, but it still takes time to get it all running in a way that will satisfy the expectations of even the average customer, never mind the picky one. Having been part of a restaurant opening staff, I know the challenges first hand. I was an excellent waitress with lots of experience. I studied my menu and my wine list. I had great people skills. Until opening night... You would have thought I just learned to walk, had a 5 word vocabulary and had never eaten in a restaurant, never mind worked in them for a decade!

Things are not going to go perfectly. This is the very reason reastaurants have soft openings and it is also why I will always always defend the staff until they reach "should have known better" territory. 

I haven't found that this rule applies to many other industries. There is just something about restaurants and what we expect from them. However, after a trip to the new Studewood Kroger, I was left wondering if an establishment like a supermarket deserves the same courtesy? 

Certainly the staff at a store opening is new, although some of the better employees from other locations are often pulled to help get through the opening rush. I wouldn't expect many mistakes in terms of general operations, though, as Kroger has over 2400 stores, including 200 in Texas, according to their Kroger 2011 Fact Book. I would imagine they have it down by now. 

I would be wrong. Here is a little look at what I found inside the new store.

Let's be nice and start with the plusses.

1. It's new. That means everything is clean and sparky and in working order. Who doesn't like that?

2. Many of the aisles are nice and wide. Notice I didn't say "all." I am not going to judge that the aisles are different sizes. Maybe everyone isn't as in to symetry as I am? Still, the wide aisles in frozen food were nice and comfortable even as several shoppers stopped their carts and opened the freezer doors. Why canned veggies don't get as much of a berth, I don't know.

Some aisles are wide enough for 4 carts to fit down comfortably, while others force 2 people to have to jockey to pass.

3. They have price scanners. While I don't use these often, I do see them used and think they are a nice       convenience factor for people.



4. They have lots of little signs that really break down the aisles to even smaller categories. For example, in frozen foods they have frozen meals broken down by type, so there is even a sign for "lite meals" rather than just regular frozen dinners. For a 1st time shopper, these little designations did help.

But this is where the positives stop and the topic of organization gets me to the cons. 

1. This store is not well organized. While I realize it was my first time in, it should not have taken me 15 minutes to find Pace Picante Sauce, aka salsa. I looked at the large, marquee style aisle signs and saw "Salsa and dips." Great. However, that aisle was all full of chips. It did have "salsa and dips" but only the Tostitos brand that goes with the chips. I walked the whole aisle to be sure I wasn't missing something, and finally stopped to ask a woman stocking shelves if she knew where I could find salsa. She said there was some on that aisle but I said I was looking for Pace or other brands of [real] salsa. She suggested I check in "condiments." This made sense because that is where salsa is at the 11th St store. I walked up and down the condiment asile. I looked very carefully at all the shelves. I asked a fellow shopper just to make sure I wasn't missing something that was right in front of me. We saw barbecue sauces and salad dressings and hot sauce and ketchup and marinades. No salsa.



A chain with 200+ stores in Texas should know this is probably not what people are searching for when they want "salsa."


Searching the "condiments" aisle won't yield anything spicy for your tortilla chips, either.

I finally found the salsa, after asking another employee who also didn't know where it was, in the "Latin American" foods aisle. Really? This makes sense at Kroger Corporate? This section had a small sub-section sign reading "salsa & dips" but wasn't under the marquee of "salsa & dips" like the Tostitos brand.

No, this isn't the end of the world. This is just one thing I was looking for, but I could bet that there have been other people looking for things other than salsa that had this same experience. It's grocery shopping. It shouldn't be hard but this was brutally annoying.
Salsa: now found with Latin American, Asian and Kosher foods.

2. The way things are shelved doesn't seem to make any sense. The cooler along the wall in the adult beverage section mysteriously morphs in to kefir and then in to the organic milk and cheese. But not the organic yogurt. You have to turn the corner for that.

All the non-orange juice "Simply" products- lemonade, limeade, pink something- are together. These are wedged between the other real orange juices on the left and and the Sunny Delight and mixed stuff on the right. "Huh?" I say to myself. "Would they really not carry the Simply Orange?" They do, but it's not with the orange juices and the other "Simply" products. It's all the way to the left, after a wall in the cooler. Again, not life shattering or even really news worthy outside of the fact that I am writing about what a disorganized mess this supermarket seemed to be, but it's counter-intuitive and makes a mundane task more frustrating than it should be.

There it is. All the way to left. Not between the orange juice and the other "Simply X" products.

3. But here is the real issue: quality. This is the 2nd biggest complaint I hear about the Kroger on 11th after the rotten customer service. There are always issues with the food. I should have known when I hit the produce department that I wasn't going to be happy with this store. I wanted a bag of butter lettuce. That's all. 

Every single bag I picked up looked like this: Brown. It was gross. And it wasn't just the butter lettuce. Check out 2 different romaines below. Not much else you can say about that.







Generally, it was just a big disappointment. This store seemed to be lacking the variety of the 11th St store in some sections like canned veggies. It wasn't very busy and the employees didn't seem very enthusiastic. There were no samples. The one sample station (for some yogurt drink) had no product and no one manning it.

I worked as a cashier at a Stop & Shop when I was in college and I was well trained on how to pack groceries. Because this has made me particular about how they are packed, I try to put some effort in to make it easy. When I started unloading to check out, I put my reusable bags and an insulate cooler bag on the belt first. I put everything on the belt in an order that should make it be easy to pack (Meat together, fruit together, frozen together, boxes/dry goods together). As I was unloading my cart on to the belt, the bagger put all my frozen stuff in a regular (reusable) bag and then held up my insulated bag and asked "What do you want me to put in here?" Despite putting everything frozen or cold on the belt together, I ended up with one stray frozen item thawing between a box of cereal and Goldfish crackers. The head of organic red leaf lettuce that I paid too much for, because the bagged butter lettuce was so bad, was found squished under a bag of Gala apples. Just like 11th Street, the cashier and the bagger gossiped with each other while I stood there. The cashier told me I saved $7 and some change and then wadded my receipt up and handed it to me. The End.

Eh.

If you had a better or similar experience, let me know.


30 comments:

  1. I did experience Houston's own "perfect storm" this weekend - the opening of Broger, in between Arne's and Party Boy on the Saturday before Halloween. I was stuck in traffic for 30 minutes and was almost late to a wedding. Refusing to go down Studemont or Yale from now on. I can wait for the train on Heights.

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  2. I have not tried it yet (I am addicted to the HEB Fresh Market on Dunlavy!), but your review is not making me want to rush in! Why can't we get a beautiful, shiny HEB in our 'hood?! They know from salsa around there! :)

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  3. And they don't have almond butter. what the heck?

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    1. I'm telling you! They do not carry as much variety as 11th St!

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  4. Agreed! When are we going to get a decent HEB? That little one on 18th just doesn't compare to the new Montrose location. I've stopped buying fruits and veggies from Kroger. If I can't make it to HEB, I'll stop at the farmer's market on Airline for produce then the little Kroger on 20th for packaged goods. It's a hassle, but better than buying lettuce that's brown before it hits your fridge.

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  5. All I wanted was some Moroccon Mint Honest Tea. Both the husband and I felt as if they didn't do a good job researching their neighborhood demographics before stocking their shelves.

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    1. maybe you don't get out much but the neighborhood demographics say there should be five or six tortillas and beans for every green mountain iced verde latte thing

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  6. My husband asked, after my virgin visit to the new Kay-Rogers, last Friday, if I would be shopping there again or continuing to visit the 11th street location......I am currently undecided:
    1) it was new, so I may give it another shot, on a weekend, not preceding Halloween.
    2) Where is the deli/cooked food area? All I could find was sushi, roasted chickens & deli meat/cheeses? Sometimes, Mama doesn't feel like cooking, Kroger!
    3) Dear Young/Old Sackers - you don't let cold or hot items touch the bananas, if someone goes through the trouble of unloading their cart for you, go through the trouble of sacking it correctly - they have almost done your job for you - or at least taken out most of the thinking process for you. I have been guilty, if the sackers are no where to be seen, of sacking my own groceries - at least I know it's done right.
    It's new - so we will see - definitely would love more variety of grocery shopping in the area.

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    1. As long as my kids aren't with me, I prefer to sack my own but the employees seem to get peeved by that. I know it's their job but it's so frustrating when I have raw meat in with my produce. This has happened more than once at 11th St. I have complained to the manager there about the bagging several times. Cleaning products in with food and raw meat in with produce is unacceptable!

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  7. No one knows how to sack groceries anymore. I was a sacker in high school, and I'm always appalled at how clueless they are.

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  8. Every time I go to a new store, it takes me a few days to get my "staples list" mapped to the store layout, so I didn't have any gripes about that in the new Kroger. I assume they'll start matching their target demographic soon as well. What I don't like is the structural layout of "up and down" combined with "back and forth". If you're going to design it like Central Market, put in the little arrows on the floor for pete's sake. Where do I go after the Meat section? hm? HM?

    For my part, though, I'm grateful that there's another close Kroger. Once upon a time, the Kroger on 11th smelled repulsively of rat infestation. After they redid it, it was fine, until last month when it started to smell like rodent pee again. Studemont was just in time for me.

    All told, though, like everyone else here, I still vote for HEB on Dunlavy.

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  9. I used to ask that perishables be sacked together- then realized no one understood me, so now say, "put the things that go in the frig/freezer together." somewhat better success all krogers...sigh...

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  10. I went to the Kroger last weekend and had the SAME problem with salsa. I couldn't find an employee to ask so I ended up hitting all the aisles until I finally found it. Otherwise I didn't have too much trouble finding what I needed. I found the produce to be fresh when I went, and the shelves were all fully stocked. I usually go to the 11th St. Kroger, and my biggest issue is that they don't stock enough of the more uncommon ingredients. Like you, I am very particular (enough that I actually know the good baggers from bad at the 11th location and purposely go to those checkout aisles), and also organize my things on the conveyer belt for greater bagging ease. Luckily I had an AWESOME bagger at the new Kroger and all of my groceries were snug and sound exactly where they were supposed to be. The 11th location is still a bit closer for me, and I agree that it's a little more organized, but it's nice to know we have another option.

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  11. they do have almond butter...I saw it in the natural foods section. FWIW.

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  12. I go to the HEB on 18th. I realize that it's small, but it has an incredible array of products. Nothing compared to the big HEBs, but still...lots of different products crammed in there. And I don't have problems with their produce going bad the way I do with any produce I get from 11th St. Kroger. One too many times of things going bad too quickly really soured me on that store (except for its beer selection). But mainly I go to HEB, with stock-up trips to Whole Foods or Trader Joe's for things like almond butter or tahini.

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  13. I had a totally different experience. There were lots of samples, tons of wine, chocolate, various cheeses & snacks (I was full & almost tipsy by the time I left. Had excellent service @ checkout (even had someone come unload my cart for me onto conveyer belt). Was asked at every isle if I had an questions where things were located. Found some good specials on crablegs & babyback ribs. And I had no problem finding a parking spot despite the mess on Studemont.

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    1. I had a good experience as well. Samples galore all over the store. I didn't need lunch, I was full! Many employees asking if I needed help. I ate a sample of fresh salmon, and I loved the marinade, so the guy working the fish counter gave me two small plastic containers of it, gratis!

      I loved the new Kroger!

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  14. Someday grocery stores will realize that we do not actually want a bigger store with every product under the sun. Hint to HEB - if you build a store with good produce and a manageable footprint, it will do very well in the Heights. We are all still driving to Dunlavy anyway!

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  15. I echo your take with one addition: They did carryout!! How long has it been since a sacker took bags to car? Not in this decade... I was told will be regular feature at this store.

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  16. Makes me pay to shop at WF and CM.

    WF sackers manage to get it right most of the time. CM has a few good sackers, too.

    It isn't the disorganization. It is the gross-out factors, like letting chicken packages touch fresh fruit. And, the mysterious way that Kroger meat goes bad as soon as you unsack it.

    It doesn't sound like a new building is putting a dent in Kroger's quality issues.

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    1. Ad far as the prices, I have to make a comment: My kids love the Australian style yogurt, specifically the Wallaby brand. It is almost $.50 MORE per container at Kroger than it is at Whole Foods! There are some other basics that my family enjoys cheaper at WFs as well. Kroger isn't the bargain it's cracked up to be!

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  17. I believe that the salsa belongs in the Texas or Tejas food section! We are totally KRogered out on this side of town. Don't know why HEB can't get a location over here and give us some options! I shop the little store on 18th, but it doesn't have a lot of specialty items that I need--so I go there only for basics. Some day!

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  18. I haven't been to the new Krogers but everything you wrote sounds exactly like my experiences at 11th Street. It took me a few months to finally figure out where everything was because it was so disorganized and completely indifferent to customer experience. I finally stopped going and am happy to pay more at either Whole Foods or Central Market.

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  19. I tried to find nuts at the new Kroger. They have five sections around the store with nuts. There are the "snack nuts", like salted peanuts. Then there are "baking nuts" which are tiny little nut pieces. Then "healthy nuts" with the organic products. "Bagged nuts" are with the produce on a big table. And finally, "bulk nuts" in the bulk bins. And yet, I couldn't find what I needed (unsalted pistachios, out of the shell). And why in the world are the frozen fish and shrimp NOT with all the frozen food in in the freezer aisles???

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    1. Enough to make you nuts, huh?

      Ba boom cha!

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    2. Did what's his name get on ya last night?

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  20. Loving the new Kroger on Studemont!!!

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  21. I wish we had an HEB closer too... I hate Kroger but don't have much of a choice! We would've had one, until Wal-Mart ruined that...

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  22. Glad I waited until after the Grand Opening to give it a try. I've been shopping at the Krogers on W. Gray for a year and unfortunately got used to cramped store. BUT at least their set-up and "flow" of the store made half-way decent sense! I've been to the new Kroger 3 times and I still have to ask for help finding products at least twice each visit. Why is pita BREAD not on the BREAD aisle? Nope, you have to go back to the bakery to find it. And why are the Stacy's naked pita chips behind the sushi counter next to Starbuck's and not by the hummus and other dips? And was a whole section for small kitchen appliances and cookware really necessary? That space could have been better used to spread out the aisles or approve upon product variety. Little annoyances that I guess I will have to get used to.

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