Justin Atwater Asks, “Would You Rather?”

Anna and I often find ourselves navigating Interstate 15 with a caravan of boys in a car that is far too small for their growing frames. Whether we are taking kids to school, driving to a sporting event, or visiting family, the conversation invariably turns to a game of “Would You Rather?”.

Have you ever played this game? We love it because it provides our boys with opportunities to consider alternatives, make hypothetical choices, and consider the possible consequences of their selections. Our version of the game requires that each player make a choice and explain their rationale.

On a recent trip to St. George, our oldest son, Coleman (16 years old), dropped the question, “Would you rather be eight inches tall or 11 feet tall?” Instinctually, Wilson (9 years old) answered, “Eleven feet tall, because I would be the greatest basketball player in the United States.” True to form and without blinking, Lincoln (11 years old) promptly retorted, “Eleven feet tall, because I’m faster than Wilson so I would be the greatest basketball player in the world.”  As Hudson (13 years old) deeply considered the consequences of his decision, Coleman boldly answered his own question by stating, “Eleven feet tall, because I’m faster, smarter, and more athletic than both of you so I would be the greatest basketball player of all time.”

You can probably discern the pattern of our boys – always trying to one-up the other. (They get that from their mother!) I could tell Hudson might think all day so I started the countdown: three, two, one . . . “Eight inches!”, he said with a shrewd smile. Following the gasps and critiques, Hudson explained his choice. “If I were eight inches tall my possibilities aren’t limited. I can’t think of anything an eight-inch person can’t do. But, being 11 feet tall has many limitations. They don’t make doors, cars, clothes, or beds big enough for someone who is 11 feet tall. And, what would be more incredible than an eight-inch person who is the greatest basketball player of all time?”

As a lawyer, I was ready to pick apart Hudson’s analysis, but I uncharacteristically paused. While his logic was flawed, there was something in his thought process that amazed me. His three brothers saw what they thought was obvious – being 11 feet tall makes a better basketball player. However, Hudson believed he could be the greatest basketball player regardless of stature and a superficial weakness (being eight inches tall) is not an impediment, but an enhancement to the accomplishment.

For years, at Associated Food Stores, we’ve heard the narratives:

  • “Independent stores are losing the battle against chain operators”
  • “As online grocery rises, independent grocery chains struggle”
  • “Smaller grocers struggle to secure a sufficient supply of high demanded products”
  • “The top four retailers claim approximately 43 percent of all sales”

Grocery chains are 11 feet tall, with many clear advantages. But today, we are reading headlines such as:

  • “As costs soar, small grocers have an advantage”
  • “Independent grocers reach record sales and profits”, and
  • “Independent grocery stores have emerged as a winner from the supply chain debacle.”

These headlines are no less remarkable than an eight-inch person becoming the greatest basketball player of all time. Mark Twain, who I imagine would have been an exceptional “Would You Rather?” player, said, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Nowhere is this statement more true than at Associated Food Stores.

Associated Food Stores’ independent retailers have achieved great heights in the past several years, including a banner year in 2022. The very real disadvantages we faced make their accomplishments even more remarkable. Congratulations on the historic results! We have much to celebrate and many reasons to be grateful. We also have much to prepare for and build upon. Let’s put our collective resources together and become even stronger in 2023.

Considering Hudson’s approach: Would you rather be an independent grocer or a publicly traded grocery chain? How would you answer? Why?


Justin Atwater is an executive vice president and serves as Associated Food Stores’ general counsel.