Sunday, August 31, 2014

Say goodbye to greedy bastards...

Lessons learned.  Missed opportunities.

In an amazing display of solidarity, Market Basket employees and customers alike stood behind ousted CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas.

As CEO, he always kept the prices affordable for his customers.  Generally speaking, the prices are always lower than Stop & Shop and Shaw's.  On top of their already low prices he committed to taking an additional 4% off all sales until the end of the year.  He decided that his customers needed the savings more than the shareholders needed their bonuses.

'Artie T.' (as he is lovingly referred to) also offered competitive wages and a profit sharing plan for his employees (all of them).

When rival cousin Arthur S. Demoulas convinced the Board of Directors to fire Artie T., the management and other employees knew that their workplace culture was about to change.

When the employees went 'on strike', the customers were supportive of their decision and went 'on strike' too!

Notice I write 'on strike' in quotes.  That's because MB doesn't have any union employees.  This is very unusual in the grocery store business.  It would be like having a trucking business with no union.  The MB employees never felt the need to unionize because they always felt safe and secure with Artie T. at the helm.

So what happened wasn't really a 'strike'.  What happened is that the employees walked off the job in protest.  (Most of them) giving up the only paycheck they receive, to support the man who has always looked out for them.

Arthur S. and the Board of Directors set several return-to-work "or else" deadlines, but they all passed with no consequences because the remaining leadership staff had no 'juice'.  They had nothing going for them.  They had nothing without their employees.  That is because when they lost Artie T. and the other employees, they also lost their customers.  And all their MONEY!

The greed and complete lack of respect displayed by Arthur S. and the Board of Directors completely backfired.

They tried several times to sell the company once they realized their mistake, but it was too late.  By the time they tried to sell, the customer base had already walked away with their money.  The company was worthless without them.  The stock tanked.  Anybody wanting to buy Market Basket, wanted to buy at the Fire Sale Price of practically nothing.  The greedy bastards didn't want to sell for the discount price and decided that their only way out was to sell out to Artie T.

They tried to bring him back in before the deal was sealed in order to recoup some of their money, but he wasn't coming back until they sold their shares to him.  He gave them much more than they deserved because in six short weeks they managed to run a hugely successful grocery chain into the ground.

If Artie T. was a spiteful guy, he could have walked away and opened his own grocery chain.  He would have had a built in staff and a loyal customer base that would have followed him.

But no, he was more concerned with his employees and the fallout for their families.  Some of them were really starting to feel the economic pinch.

So he finally comes to terms with the Board of Directors and his greedy bastard cousin, buys them out and is back in action.  All the employees are back (including the eight management folks who actually got fired with Artie T.).

They are in the process of rebuilding the supply chain.  Teams of drivers will be making non-stop trips to California and back to replenish produce and other supplies.

The employees are happy to be back at work.  And the customers are happy to be shopping at Market Basket again.

This is not the first time that customers have made a stand against corporate greed.  A few years ago, Netflix found a way to make a few extra dollars from their loyal customers.  The company decided to split the business into two separate entities:  the mail order customers and the online customers.

The problem was that many of the customers ordered both online and by mail, so it would have actually  been less convenient and cost them more.  The customer base was outraged and decided to quit the program altogether in protest, canceling their membership subscriptions.

It cost the company a fortune in a very short time.  The management quickly rethought the plan, went back to the original program and apologized to their customers in the hope that the customer base would have mercy on them (and their bank account).  It turns out that the customers really like Netflix so they did come back, but on their original terms.  Mission accomplished.

Lesson learned.

Sadly, not everyone learns these lessons.  Obviously not the Market Basket Board of Directors.  Sometimes it is good to learn from the mistakes of others.

Not only were lessons not learned; opportunities were missed.

Competing grocery chains Stop & Shop and Shaw's missed the perfect opportunity to say, "Welcome Market Basket customers!"

For the first week or so, area grocery stores ran out of supplies and it took all their efforts to keep up.

Once they figured out what was going on, they did a much better job of handling the overflow of new customers.

But were the Shaw's and Stop & Shop employees any 'friendlier' to attract the customers who go to MB for the friendly personable service?


Did they lower their prices (even just a tiny little bit) to attract the customers who go to MB for the low prices (knowing that they would make up the difference in the higher sales traffic)?


They took the opportunity to gouge all of their own customers as well as the MB customers, knowing they had a captive audience.  Very similar to the way that stores in the airport over-price gum and books (and everything else); and the way that stores at the beach charge three times more for a bottle of water, knowing that you don't have anywhere else to go!

This would have been the perfect time to woo the Market Basket customers.  The perfect time to create a positive shopping experience for these displaced buyers.

If Shaw's or Stop & Shop had taken the time to create a positive experience for the MB shoppers, some of them might have said, "This is not so bad.  Why have I been going all the way to MB when this is closer?  The prices aren't that different and the people here are pretty friendly, too."

Even if it was just a small percentage that made the transition, it still would have been worth it for them in the long run.

Instead, their short-sighted profit-oriented management teams just proved that the MB shoppers are doing the right thing by sticking with Market Basket.

I have such respect and admiration for all the people who stood up and did the right thing, even at great personal and economic cost for many of them.

I can't guarantee it, but I would almost bet that somehow, over time, Artie T. will repay each of them what they lost.  That's just what kind of guy he is.  And that is why a bunch of non-union grocery store workers stood up to the greed mongers to bring back their beloved Artie T.

My schedule is packed full today, but I'm going in to MB tomorrow to buy some 'stuff' just to be supportive.  Who knows, I might even hug the employees while I'm there!

Update:  I did indeed go into Market Basket the next day.  I only bought a few things but I was mostly pleased with the experience.

The first thing that you see when you approach the store are all the signs thanking the customers for their support.

Once inside you could see an overflow of smiling employees.  Every one happy to be back at work.  No doubt they are overstaffed in an effort to give them extra hours to make up for six weeks of missed paychecks.

Don't get me wrong, these employees were not standing around goofing off.  There are plenty of empty shelves to restock.

Most people think of grocery shopping as a chore that needs to be done.  I don't know anyone who admits to enjoying grocery shopping.

Personally, I miss the days of 24-hour grocery stores because I was one of those people who would rather shop during the late night hours to avoid the crowd.

Maybe I'm just not a 'people person'.  Certainly I am not overly social.

The reason I mention all of this is because in all my years of grocery shopping (that would be many years), I have never spoken with so many strangers as I did on this one visit to Market Basket.

My fellow shoppers were talking to each other (and me) as if we were old friends.  They were congratulating the employees and each other for doing such a great thing.  Figuratively patting each other on the back as if they just won some sporting event.

As I was next in line to check out, the young lady was changing out the cash drawer and politely asked me to wait 'just a minute'.  I told her I've been waiting for six weeks, I think I can wait just one more minute!  That got me a laugh and got everyone in the line talking about how happy they were to be back and it turned out that this was EVERYBODY'S first time back in six weeks.

Side note:  If you ever happen to be shopping at the same store as me (and are in a hurry), never get in line behind me.  Seriously.  No matter which line I get in, the person in front of me will have some sort of dilemma.  It might be a 'price check' or mis-marked item, something that doesn't scan, a declined credit card, or one of a million other challenges that causes the cashier to flip the switch to make the light blink, calling the manager.  Not sure why this happens.  Maybe it is karmic balance to  make up for the fact that I get a front row parking spot... every time.

Anyway, I am glad the Market Basket fiasco is over.  And I am pleased with the outcome.  I love it when people pull together for a great cause and the 'good guys' win.

I hope that this event encourages people to do the right thing and also DIScourages people from being unnecessarily greedy at the expense of others.

I also hope that this event reminds us all that we really do control the economy with our dollars.  Sadly we forget this.  Too often we let businesses take control and dictate the terms of how our money gets spent.  But the reality is, in most cases, it is our own fault that prices are too high and that the quality of our products has caused us to be a disposable society.  Things wear out, I get it, but with the technology that we have today you would think that we could make things that last more than 3-5 years.  Of course if that happens, businesses lose future income.

It is completely ridiculous and we allow it to happen.  But that is a topic for another post.

Congratulations to Artie T. and his loyal team.  I want to give each of you a big hug, but I won't, because I don't want to get kicked out.  Six weeks away was bad enough!

Shop wisely.

Peace and Love,
--------- Nick