Friday, September 5, 2014

Why Market Basket Is a Win For Everyone

A few weeks ago, I wrote about boycotting Market Basket due to the firing of CEO Arthur T. Demoulas and others loyal to his side of the family in the decades long feud over the supermarket empire.

Well, the saga is finally over and best of all the good guys won.

Why are Arthur T. Demoulas and his staff the good guys?

Let me count the ways.

1. Success. With a 71 store regional chain valued at 4 billion dollars prior to the 6 week walkout/shutdown/boycott, Arthur T. Demoulas proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that a corporation can be profitable, generous, socially and economically responsible and reward its employees with bonuses, promotions and incentives.

Going forward, Market Basket and Arthur T. Demoulas should be a case study for business models. The grocery business is cutthroat and highly competitive with razor thin margins. Yet Mr. Demoulas has successfully demonstrated that all of these things can be part of the corporate culture without damaging the bottom line.

Witness the 300 million dollar payout Arthur S. Demoulas and his fellow board members voted themselves last year. In spite of Arthur T's objections, the shareholders saw fit to disburse that money among themselves.

There was plenty of $$ in the kitty.

2. Employee Loyalty. When have we ever witnessed 25,000 employees including management put their jobs and careers on the line together with such resolve?

My best guess would be never.

Without a union these brave men and women took a stand vowing not to work for anyone other than Arthur T. Demoulas. That cannot be faked, manufactured or manipulated. Many of Mr. Demoulas' employees have been with the company for 30+ years.

In fact, one employee, Jim Miamis has been with them for 70+ years!!! Mr. Miamis is 86 years old and still going.

There's even a 94 year old gentleman who works at one of the stores in New Hampshire, Arthur St. John. Mr. St. John started working there 22 years ago, which means he was hired when he was 72.

Arthur St. John. 94 years young!
That comes from one thing and one thing only:

Loyalty

And folks, loyalty is a two way street. You can't have one without the other. These workers and managers all proved beyond any doubt that the company is being run correctly and compassionately.

3. Customer Loyalty. Again, this is a two way street and Market Basket passes with flying colors. I have never witnessed anything like this where customers from a broad range of geographic locations and income levels, all stayed away for 6 weeks.

Market Basket's business plummeted 90% during this boycott.

The city where I live has many folks who rely on Market Basket for two main reasons:

1) Prices
2) Locations

We have about 8 stores in close proximity to my city. Quite a few customers in this area do not own transportation and do not make the kind of money to afford shopping at Market Basket's competition.

Yet they did.
We all did.

My wife and were amazed every time we passed a Market Basket and saw very few cars in the parking lot where there would normally be hundreds. In fact, we typically went shopping after 7:00 on Saturday nights (yep, we have no life!) to avoid the crowds. We've since switched to Wednesdays (thanks to advice from my son who used to work for competitor Hannaford's) which seems to be an even less busy time to shop.

Tens of thousands of customers showed up in support in multiple rallies over the summer organized by employees..

You won't see people coming to a rally by the thousands for Starbucks.

4. Vendor Loyalty. Yes, even Market Basket's vendors began to jump ship when it seemed like there was not going to be a resolution. But once the agreement was reached and the stores were getting ready to be stocked, these vendors showed even more loyalty by making deliveries directly to stores to help get them back up and running.

You won't see that too often either.

Here's a quote from one of the vendors from the above link in the Boston Globe:
Another vendor, Extra Virgin Foods of Watertown, said it has ended its relationship with the company to support other managers who were fired along with Demoulas.
Extra Virgin Foods sells $2 million in Greek foods to Market Basket each year, said owner Paul Hatziiliades. 
“They’re about 60 percent of our annual business.
“But I’m just not going to deal with those people,” he said of co-chief executives James Gooch and Felicia Thornton, who were hired to replace Demoulas.
And finally, the man himself.

5. Arthur T. Demoulas. Just listen to his speech when the agreement was reached:


This folks, is how a leader sounds and acts. (Unlike others who announce they don't have a strategy...)

My wife and I (yes, we shop together) went back to Market Basket this week and it felt amazing to be back. The stores aren't quite fully stocked as yet, but you can bet they will be back to 100% in about a week.

When we were leaving we saw this sign posted over each door at the entrances and exits


Here's a shot I took of another sign on the way out


How will this serve as a model to other corporations and businesses? Time will tell. Market Basket has been around for a long, long time and is a very well established business. However, in spite of nearly 40 years of family infighting and feuding, the company prospered and grew and was profitable.

Arthur T. Demoulas had to pay a reported 1.5 billion to buy out the rivals to take complete control which now puts debt into the picture. Debt that the company never had before.

However, given the fact that there was enough cash to take a $300 million dollar payout to the former shareholders, my guess is Market Basket will be just fine. In fact, Arthur T. announced recently that they are planning to go ahead with expansion plans for four stores that were in various stages of completion prior to the shutdown.

Why is a supermarket, a grocery store so important?

To us, it was an eye opening experience. We split our shopping between WalMart and Stop and Shop (the largest grocery chain in our region) and it showed us how well run Market Basket is compared to their competition. Now in fairness, WalMart is fairly new to the grocery game and they certainly aren't geared up to the amount of customers that they suddenly gained. And neither was Stop and Shop.

The first few weeks were a nightmare. WalMart's cash registers just aren't setup to handle large grocery orders. And they have bag carousels at the end of each register with no baggers. The cashiers have to do all the bagging. It was a slow painful process to say the least.

On the other hand, Stop and Shop was actually a worse experience. I understand that they had to be cautious buyers, wary of overstocking and hiring new help with the threat of Market Basket returning, but shopping there was in plain words just a bad experience.

First the prices are just astronomical compared to Market Basket. (And Market Basket also takes another 4% off your bill through this year!!) Secondly, the store just seemed confused the way it was laid  out.

Grocery stores these days all follow the same cookie cutter layout, produce in the front as you enter and the rest all laid out in what the latest marketing trends tell them.

To us, Stop and Shop was disorganized and over priced. Yes, part of the disorganization was due to the increase of customers, but they are the largest grocery chain in the area. They should have and could have been better prepared.

To answer the question why Market Basket is so important, you have to look at a bigger picture than just grocery shopping. As important as saving money is with regard to what we all spend each week, what Market Basket is is a place where people who work hard can be successful.

We've somehow gotten way off that track here in this country. We place a value on higher education, which of course, is important.

But not everyone goes to college.
Not everyone can afford to go to college.
Not everyone is cut out to go to college.
What about them?

Not too long ago you could get a job right out of (or during) high school and make a decent living. In fact, we ran into one of neighbors at Market Basket the other night who did just that. He got a job at a local distributor right out of school and still works there 35 years later. But he almost lost that job because that distributor just happens to be one of Market Basket's vendors and Market Basket is its largest customer. Our friend told us that there were employees who were in their 70's and 80's who were callously let go and aren't coming back.

Kids (and their parents) these days come out of college with tens (and in some cases) hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and many do not have any prospects to find a job in the fields where they studied.

Market Basket offers opportunities to those who work hard and those who excel.

Which brings me to the latest insanity about raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

That is not what entry level employment is all about. We hear the disingenuous "Nobody who works full time should be living in poverty" tripe.

You should not be trying to support a family or yourself with an entry level minimum wage job as a career.

Ever.

What about those who aren't educated enough or lack skills?

Well, that's what ENTRY LEVEL means.

Learn some skills.
Get educated.
Work hard and advance.

But for goodness sake, please don't expect to be paid a "living wage" to stand behind a cash register or a drive through window at a fast food restaurant for the rest of your life.

That is insanity.

Aim higher.

That is what this country is all about. That is the basic principal of what democracy is. The freedom to become whatever it is you are capable of becoming.

You and you alone have that power.

Not the government, not laws that require employers to pay more money than what a skillset is worth.

You.

This is why a story like Market Basket is important. And this is the lesson that we as Americans should take away from this:

True success is earned.
It is not entitled.
It is not taken and redistributed.
It is earned on every level.

What this all shows is that there can be balance between corporate profits, customer and employee satisfaction. And the funny thing is, it's not magic, it's not some bold new age strategy never seen before.

It's just common sense.
Arthur T. Demoulas walks the walk and talks the talk.

And that's the difference.

The word unprecedented hardly describes what happened here this summer.

Thank you Arthur T. Demoulas, thank you Market Basket employees and thank you Market Basket management and administration.

You have shown the world how to work and how to live.




Thursday, September 4, 2014

Random Suff

I don't which surprises me more, the fact that there are (or were) actual Canadian punk bands or that someone wrote a song about former Boston Bruins goalie Gerry Cheevers. Warning, it's really bad...



Chorus: I feel like Gerry Cheevers (got stitchmarks on my heart)

I'm sure old Cheesie wasn't too impressed.

As my late great brother in law John LaPorte used to say: "Doggies are the cwaziest people".


This is one of the most insane websites I've ever seen. Apparently it tracks internet attacks worldwide in real time. Fascinating stuff.




34 More days until NHL hockey returns!!!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Amazing Story of Christopher Knight - A Tribe of One

Meet Christopher Knight.


Incredibly powerful story of a man who, for reasons he really didn't either understand or want to share, left society behind. In 1986 Knight drove his Subaru Brat as far as it would go into the Maine woods and wasn't discovered for nearly 30 years. Well worth the read.

The Daily Mail Online also has an update about Knight trying to follow court orders and assimilate back into society.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lauren Bacall 1924-2014

The great Lauren Bacall nee Betty Joan Perske passed away at age 89 on Tuesday. Ms. Bacall was nothing but class (at least onscreen), one of the last of the golden age of American cinema.

She was 19 years old when she appeared in To Have and Have Not with the great Humphrey Bogart. Bogey and Bacall went on to get married and make some of the most memorable films in history. Their onscreen chemistry was simply amazing.


This is the famous "You know how to whistle, don't you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow" scene from To Have and Have Not released in 1944, when again, Lauren Bacall was 19 years old.


"Slim" was Bogart's nickname for her on and off screen.


Here are some clips and photos:

Again from To Have and Have Not (1944)


The Big Sleep (1946)





Dark Passage (1947)





Key Largo (1948)





Ms. Bacall is quoted as saying: "I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that."




More quotes:
Actors today go into TV, which I don't consider has a lot to do with acting. They only think of stardom. If you photograph well, that's enough. I have a terrible time distinguishing one from another. Girls wear their hair the same, and are much too anorexic-looking.
We live in an age of mediocrity. Stars today are not the same stature as Bogie, James Cagney, Spencer Tracy, Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart.
A legend involves the past. I don't like categories. This one is great and that one is great. The word "great" stands for something. When you talk about a great actor, you're not talking about Tom Cruise. His whole behavior is so shocking. It's inappropriate and vulgar and absolutely unacceptable to use your private life to sell anything commercially, but I think it's kind of a sickness.

RIP Lauren Bacall. As my late great dad used to say "They don't make 'em like they used to."


Monday, August 11, 2014

Sad News. RIP Robin Williams


This was quite a shock. First off, I want to talk about depression. I've seen and heard comments that this was a cowardly thing to do, and who cares about a celebrity killing themselves, etc.

Depression is no laughing matter. It can happen to anyone, from any social status, rich, poor and in between, famous or unknown, it doesn't matter.

While it's likely that we may never know what drove Robin Williams to (allegedly) commit suicide, what's important to know that nobody is immune to depression.

There are reports that Mr. Williams had been battling major depression of late, and his drug and alcohol abuse are well documented.

I'm no expert by any means, but it seems to me that as giant a personality as Robin Williams was, he may have been battling personal demons all his life. It's very likely that whatever drove him to suicide is something he has been dealing with since childhood.

When I saw the first reports that Mr. Williams had passed, I remembered watching ABC Monday Night Football back in 1980 when Howard Cosell announced that John Lennon had been shot.

Hearing that Robin Williams was dead felt the same.

I was surprised at how hard it hit me as I began to read about it and hear more of the details. I was always an admirer of Mr. Williams talent, but not always a fan of his movies. In fact, I probably have seen half of the films he's been in.

That said, I'm not here to critique his career, the man was immensely talented and of course, a comic genius. What does get lost a little bit when we think of Robin Williams, is how good he was as a dramatic actor. He was amazing. It's pretty rare for comics to pull off dramatic roles, many have tried, few have succeeded. Robin Williams was a very good dramatic actor.

Here's a scene from the movie Insomnia where he more than holds his own with Al Pacino


It's a shame that he took his life, and it's a shame that we have lost such a great talent. As I said, we'll probably never really know why.

But what applies to Robin Williams applies to many, many others who suffer with depression. It is real and it can take someone down to the point where Mr. Williams went where someone can feel that they can go no further.

If you ever feel that life is too much or know someone struggling, please try to get help. You never know, it could save someone's life or even your own.



Monday, July 21, 2014

Boycott Market Basket

I'm not usually one for boycotting anything. Boycotts are usually some phony political movement that's designed to make everyone feel like they're accomplishing...something.

But in this case, I am boycotting Market Basket, I am supporting the workers and the ousted president, Arthur T. Demoulas.


For those of you who aren't familiar with Market Basket and the story behind what has gotten us to this point, please read here.

A quick synopsis:

Market Basket is now the company name of a regional chain of supermarkets originating in Lowell, Massachusetts. Formerly known as Demoulas, named after its founder Arthur Demoulas, Market Basket has grown into one of the largest privately owned grocery chains in the nation. Known for their low prices, Market Basket has become a reliable place to shop without having to worry about any games, membership cards or gotcha deals.

There are two heirs to the company's fortunes, Arthur S. Demoulas and Arthur T. Demoulas. (Yes, they are named after the founder) Arthur T. is beloved by long time employees, some with over 50 years with the company. Arthur S. is all about profits and many believe he is trying to sell the company.

For quite some time, Arthur S. has been trying to oust Arthur T. Last year, the board of directors narrowly voted to keep Arthur T. as president to the joy of the many long time employees of the company. This year, however, the tables turned and Arthur T. was finally deposed.Several long time employees walked out after Arthur T. was fired in protest.

The company brought in two CEOs to replace Arthur T., Jim Gooch  former CEO of Radio Shack, and Felcia Thornton, former CEO of Knowledge Universe to replace Arthur T.

Here's Forbes Magazine's take on Gooch, by the way. Calling his loss Radio Shack's biggest gain as the company took a huge nosedive in 2012 while Gooch was at the helm.

Thornton resigned from Knowledge Universe in June 2011 for personal reasons, according to reports.

Sounds like a real dynamic duo.

Workers protested the firing and subsequently staged a protest outside the company's headquarters in Tewksbury, MA. As a result, deliveries were stifled any many stores ran out of product.

Gooch and Thornton released the following statement in advance of the rally:

View image on Twitter

Predictably, Gooch and Thornton reacted by firing long time warehouse leader Dean Joyce and district manager Tom Trainor and predictably, more firings will follow.

Photo

What is going on here is amazing. For the first time I can recall on this scale, workers are loyal to a man who they view as an honest leader with their best interests at heart. You don't see or hear that too often. These people are willing to lose their jobs rather than sit by and let Arthur S. Demoulas destroy what Arthur T. has built.

Gooch and Thornton are doing the dirty work putting themselves in the crosshairs of public disdain when the real villain in this story is none other than Arthur S. Demoulas.

Arthur S. Demoulas.
You are a very bad man Arthur S
If Arthur S. was the sole proprietor of Market Basket and saw fit to setup the company to be sold, that's certainly his prerogative, which is obviously the end game now that he has full control of the company. But what he's done is not only steamroll his cousin, he's ignored the backbone of the very empire he oversees, the employees and chosen to push them aside in order to fatten his wallet.

I have no doubt that both Arthur S. and Arthur T. are very wealthy and could live comfortably for the rest of their lives right now if the whole thing collapsed.

That's not the point.

Arthur T. is all about taking care of his employees and his customers.

Arthur T. Demoulas
Arthur t. Demoulas
Arthur S. is all about greed.

This is the essential issue that is plaguing this nation right now. For too long, too many companies have seen profit and a fat balance sheet as more important than a happy work force and happy customers. The American worker has been cast aside as a spare part that must be replaced once a certain salary or age has been reached.

But it's not just greedy businessmen who are guilty, workers for their own part have also contributed to the demise of employment in America. For far too long, workers have demanded more from employers and expect to do less. there are far too many workers who perform well below their capabilities and feel they are owed something without earning anything.

This is disgraceful and has dragged our country down.

There needs to be a balance and Arthur T. Demoulas obviously found that. He not only created an environment where customers were happy with his stores, he created an environment where his employees are so loyal they are willing to walk away from their jobs for him.

This issue has galvanized people where now even local politicians are supporting boycotting the stores. It doesn't matter whether you are liberal or conservative, this fight is about what's right. And what's right is boycotting Market Basket.

What wins this fight is not Arthur S. or Arthur T. Demoulas, the board of directors, the CEOs or even the Market Basket employees.

What wins this fight is the customer.



By not setting foot inside Market Basket you have the power to send a message to Arthur S. Demoulas and his greedy board of directors, you send a message to the rest of corporate America that you will not be bullied and you will not stand by and let a wrong like what has happened to Arthur T. Demoulas and his employees happen.

Quote from Market Basket CEOs Jim Gooch and Felicia Thornton: "If you choose to abandon your job or refuse to perform your job requirements, you will leave us no choice but to permanently replace you."

Memo to the new CEOs and the board of directors of Market Basket: "You have chosen to fire Arthur T. Demoulas and now have decided to terminate several employees, you have left us no choice but to permanently replace you."

Send a message, boycott Market Basket.