PRODUCE PETE AND MORE...

Pathmark continues to pursue company-building initiatives originated under Jim Donald, its previous top executive leader. Working closely with Donald, Eileen Scott, now chief executive officer, said that she and Frank Vitrano, president and chief financial officer, were part of the decision-making team that developed the following programs:ssigned corporate executives to work with the management teams

Pathmark continues to pursue company-building initiatives originated under Jim Donald, its previous top executive leader. Working closely with Donald, Eileen Scott, now chief executive officer, said that she and Frank Vitrano, president and chief financial officer, were part of the decision-making team that developed the following programs:

ssigned corporate executives to work with the management teams at stores to find opportunities for improvement, and then to develop plans of action to implement them. Each executive mentors two stores. While not all stores met all goals, "we were very satisfied with the results," Scott said. The company identified 29 more focus stores this year.

According to Vitrano, "We are there to coach, to challenge stores, and help identify opportunities beyond day-to-day management. What the executive-sponsors ultimately bring is the ability to clear up possible logjams at headquarters."

Asked to pinpoint some of the opportunities that have been pursued, Scott said, "One of my stores in central New Jersey had a problem understanding what they were supposed to do in terms of production control in one department. We found that one of their problems, which was pulling paperwork together, was also a problem at other stores. We corrected it companywide."

Vitrano said the learning works both ways. Working with one of his assigned focus stores, he realized that some of the information technology reports his office was generating were poorly formatted, making them difficult for store personnel to use, "so we changed the format at the corporate level to make it easier for the people at store level."

The switch from Sunday to Friday ads. "That's something we studied for a long time," Scott said, "and it took us six months from the day we decided to do it until we could implement it because of the logistics and systems changes that needed to be made.

"We did a lot of due diligence and studied our customers and saw their shopping patterns today were different than they were 20 years ago, yet we were still running sales programs the way we did 20 years ago.

"So, we did a phone survey to see what day customers preferred we run our ads, and 73% said they had no preference. And when we looked at our busiest shopping days, we realized we were not doing justice to customers by changing the ad on Sunday, which was the busiest day of the week.

"With the exception of two competitors, the retailers in this market run ads that break on Saturdays, so we decided to break our program on Fridays."

Asked about the results, Vitrano said, "We made the change on Feb. 7, and our comparable-store sales for the first quarter rose 1.9%, compared with the 1.7% decline in 2002. That was a significant change, and while we give some credit to winter snowstorms, the change in ad strategy was also a major contributor."

The "Best Ball" cost-control program, which uses the golfing term "best ball" to refer to best practices. "We identified a handful of categories to focus on in an effort to lower costs, including workers' comp, general liability and supply costs," Vitrano said. "Then we ranked each store, taking those in the top 20th percentile and identifying best practices that made them over-performers, then trying to implement those practices at stores in the lowest 50%.

"The beauty of this approach is, as we continue to improve results at the lower-performing stores, it raises the bar overall."

Produce Pete. As Pathmark sought to raise its produce profile, it hired a local produce retailer as its new spokesman. The retailer, who uses the name "Produce Pete," was known from his local TV segments offering advice on how to buy produce, and his tie-in with the chain supplemented its new emphasis on training in the produce area.

A chainwide emphasis on food safety and sanitation. "Three corporate sanitarians visit each of our stores twice a year, and rate them on sanitation and food safety. During the first quarter of this year, we had our highest scores ever on both counts," Scott said.