Schnucks bans solicitors from outside its stores

Discussion
Salvation Army bell ringer outside of Kroger, Ypsilanti, Michigan - Photo: Wikipedia/Dwight Burdette
Sep 01, 2016
Matthew Stern

The Salvation Army bell-ringers will not be making an appearance outside of one Midwestern grocery chain this coming holiday season. Nor will the Girl Scouts be setting up tables to sell their cookies. St. Louis-based Schnucks has banned solicitors from the front of its 100 locations for the time being, ostensibly to provide their customers with a more pleasant shopping experience. But some suspect that there is more to the new policy than meets the eye.

The Salvation Army and the Girl Scouts may be casualties of a political back-and-forth that has embroiled the chain for some time, reports the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Earlier this year, the grocer brought in a third-party logistics provider to replace 200 of their recently laid-off union warehouse workers with non-union workers. The Teamsters, who have been boycotting and picketing the grocer, filed an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board in order to be allowed to hand out literature in front of the store. They argued that if the Girl Scouts and the Salvation Army could set up outside the building, they should be able to as well.

Now nobody is allowed to hand out anything in front of Schnucks, though the chain is not confirming the relationship between the new policy and the labor dispute.

Regardless, some customers in areas that Schnucks serves are not broken up about the absence of seasonal solicitors. Discussing the Schnucks situation on his blog, WQAD meteorologist Eric Sorenson described the uncomfortable feeling of pressure when accosted by a Salvation Army ringer, especially when one isn’t on the same page as the organization politically.

The Salvation Army, on the other hand, considers having to put the brakes on a years-long partnership with Schnucks a “big blow,” according to an interview with a representative in the Belleville News-Democrat. Last year the organization raised $478,000 from its bell ringers in front of Schnucks stores in the St. Louis area alone.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you find solicitors outside retailers’ doors to be an intrusive or appropriate part of the shopping experience? What do you think of Schnucks’ decision?

Braintrust
"It's a mistake for Schnucks to close its doors on these groups."
"Creative minds can always find acceptable alternatives to ringing bells and red buckets."
"But how many of those same folks would be upset if a legalized marijuana group set up in front of their local grocery store...?"

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23 Comments on "Schnucks bans solicitors from outside its stores"

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Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Do Schnucks’ executives actually think that their customers are threatened by the tinkling bell of Salvation Army volunteers, or Girl Scouts selling cookies or university students collecting diapers for destitute teen mothers? So much for the concept of grocery store as town square.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

Bah Humbug! I agree with Cathy — how can this possibly be positive for Schnucks? If you don’t want to give or buy, don’t. If the person is overly aggressive, complain to the manager.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

Schnucks is astutely considering the “blended branding” that comes with allowing solicitation at its store front. Such permission is a tacit endorsement of the soliciting organization, be it girl guides, cadets, Salvation Army or any other organization. It tells patrons something about the values and character of the retailer, and the degree of importance that the brand places on community involvement. Those not involved in valuable community service and development should not be allowed the privilege, and managing this is to manage the store brand. Such soliciting should enhance the retail brand, which is a fair reward for the contribution of the space provided.

Tom Dougherty
BrainTrust

There are many variables. The retail brand itself, the brand of the solicitor’s cause and the season. During the Christmas season I don’t think that the Salvation Army volunteer hurts any brand. It might even be seen as a nostalgic reaffirmation of the season.

But a series of solicitations, one after another regardless of the season, feels like an intrusion and the shopping experience is adversely affected. No one wants to be bombarded with guilt when seeking a shopping experience as entertainment.

Ross Ely
BrainTrust

It’s a shame that organizations like the Salvation Army and the Girl Scouts are a casualty of Schnucks’ labor problems. Providing a venue for these organizations enables Schnucks to become part of the fabric of the communities it serves.

Retailers like Schnucks need to form an emotional connection with their shoppers, and partnerships with charitable and community organizations can be an important part of that. It’s a mistake for Schnucks to close its doors on these groups.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

I see this as a goose and gander issue. No doubt many will decry the decision to ban the Salvation Army and the Girl Scouts because they are “good organizations.” But how many of those same folks would be upset if a legalized marijuana group set up in front of their local grocery store and would demand that the store either banish them or face the media barrage and calls for boycotts sure to follow? We’re either tolerant or we aren’t. (Caveat: I have no idea whether any of this played into Schnucks’ thinking — or rather if they are just putting up a stonewall to the unions. It could very easily be the latter.)

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Good riddance. Just like those perfume sample sprayers acosting you when you’re trying to go to the escalators at a department store, people trying to make you feel bad to support their cause isn’t welcome by most people. There are plenty of places people can donate that didn’t exist 180 years ago other than a grocery store.

A grocery store is not the only place to do this; there’s this thing called the internet. To say the ban happened as a response to unions passing things out is a bit of a reach.

Tony Orlando
BrainTrust

This is a unique situation for Schnucks, as it involves a labor dispute or we wouldn’t be talking about this right now. The labor union forced their hand, and it is sad that the casualties of this are the Salvation Army and the Girl Scouts. None of this is good for their image, but I can understand why they had to do it. The business world can get ugly at times, and this might spread to other places but hopefully not. Our small town supports the bell-ringers whole heartily whenever they are here.

David Livingston
Guest
5 months 26 days ago

Lets face it, no one likes solicitors. Whether it be at the grocery store or the Las Vegas strip, it feels creepy and unsafe. I might give the Girl Scouts a pass because they are being supervised. However protestors, the homeless beggars or bell ringers do nothing to improve the shopping experience. The people at Schnucks are smart people and they know what they are doing.

PJ Walker
Guest

With the over-commercialization of the holiday season, organizations like the Salvation Army are a wonderful addition to the shopping experience. The very ringing of the bell and red kettles are part of the excitement around shopping. It also shows that the retailer supports their local community. Personally, I’d never set foot in their store until they eliminated this policy.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
The answer to the first question, as noted by my friend Ben Ball, is that it depends on what cause they represent and how aggressive they are in pursuing that representation. If it’s the Salvation Army at Christmas time, I have no problem with them. If I don’t like their politics, I don’t have to contribute. Now, if it’s some rapid fanatic cause group that is harassing customers on the way in and out of the store, I might have some issues. In the case of Schnucks it appears that the only way they could avoid the union protestors was to toss everyone out, which is — of course — their right. Clearly, the law doesn’t allow you to pick and choose, so it really is an all or none decision. That said, while the new policy solves one problem, or perhaps even more than one since I don’t know who else use to be in front of their stores, it creates several others. What about groups like the Salvation Army or the Scouts — Boy, Girl, Cub and Brownies? What about local school groups doing fundraisers? Or neighborhood clubs? Clearly the list of potential PR “black eyes” is longer… Read more »
Christopher P. Ramey
BrainTrust

Oddly, I’ve never found Girl Scouts or the Salvation Army to be creepy. Nor have I ever considered them “solicitors” accosting me. They are integral to the time of year that makes it special for me.

This is a leadership and values issue.

Equating unions with Girl Scouts and the Salvation Army tells me a lot about what matters to a retailer and how they perceive the experience of shopping at their store.

Richard Layman
Guest
5 months 26 days ago

What’s bad about the Girl Scouts is that the cookies keep getting smaller, cost more, and don’t taste very good. I’ve finally committed to not succumbing to their suasion, including in front of grocery stores, because the value equation is so negative.

Christopher P. Ramey
BrainTrust

It’s not about the food. With every box we’re helping girls learn to myriad of lessons that will help them grow up to be productive individuals. A pretty good investment for $3.00.

Mark Heckman
BrainTrust

It would be easy to hang Schnucks out to dry for this new policy, but actually given the situation with the union picketers, I would have made the same decision. What I would recommend Schnucks doing, however, is create an at-the-checkout coupon that adds a few dollars to the shopper’s purchase that would go to the Salvation Army. These programs are easy to implement and very commonplace, particularly if you shop Publix, where they seem to have a checkout charity program going every week. Creative minds can always find acceptable alternatives to ringing bells and red buckets.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

Solicitors are intrusive depending upon how aggressive they are. Having groups such as Girl Scouts selling cookies or Cub Scouts selling popcorn has been seen as developing good community relations. Creating a policy to eliminate all solicitation is an easy solution to intrusive solicitation, but could damage community relations. A more nuanced policy would be more difficult to create and/or enforce so Schnucks may have to find another way to show their support for the community.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
BrainTrust

I’m with the other Scrooges — I don’t like to run the gauntlet of volunteers, hangers-on, samplers when trying to get in (and out) of the grocery store. Schnucks is getting caught in politics given their decision is impacted by their union situation.

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

At the risk of being a labeled a scrooge, I actually don’t see the retail store having an obligation to allow groups to solicit in front of stores. Yes, there is an element of community involvement and charity, but when I am going shopping, I sometimes see a gauntlet of solicitation and it doesn’t improve my shopping experience. Maybe because I grew up and live among high rises which solicitations don’t happen as much, I don’t have a nostalgia about it and it is a cultural thing. I do donate to charity, but I never donate direct to the solicitors.

Richard Layman
Guest
5 months 26 days ago

Giant did this a few years ago in the DC area. According to a web search, Target made a similar restriction around 2004.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

One of the ways a retailer can connect with their community is through allowing Boy Scouts to sell candy bars, Girl Scouts to sell Girl Scout Cookies and the Salvation Army to raise funds just outside of the doors. And, there are kids’ sports teams and other great organizations that can participate. I have a client that has groups sign up to sell their goods or have a bake sale every Saturday. It’s part of their connection with the community. And, the community seems to accept this. I can’t speak to the reasons (good or bad) behind Schnucks’ decision, but they may be missing an opportunity to build better community relations. All that said, Schnucks does an outstanding job in their community — recognized as a great employer and very civic oriented.

Naomi K. Shapiro
BrainTrust

Most of the commenters who lambasted Schnucks (and other commenters) for the decision to keep EVERYONE away from soliciting seemed to have ignored the key premise of the article that this was due to potential union demos, solicitations and approaches. When it comes to choosing all or none, as Schnucks apparently had to do, the arguments for no one surely outweigh those of those who appear to be wonderful, welcome, and community-building solicitors.

John Karolefski
BrainTrust

Gimme a break! If it is the Salvation Army at Christmas or Girl Scouts selling cookies, that obviously is non-threatening and should be fine with any clear-thinking grocer. Aggressive solicitations by anyone should not be tolerated. Be selective. Any grocer advocating a wacky ban on everyone outside their stores needs to re-think the situation.

Lesley Everett
BrainTrust

They will lose far more by taking this stance than they will gain. There may be a few customers who welcome it, but many more who will view the publicity generated by such a move as lacking in holiday spirit, empathy and care. Not a good brand to create!

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"It's a mistake for Schnucks to close its doors on these groups."
"Creative minds can always find acceptable alternatives to ringing bells and red buckets."
"But how many of those same folks would be upset if a legalized marijuana group set up in front of their local grocery store...?"

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