It’s been a week since I last wrote about the saga of Market Basket – its long, bitter history of family rivalry, its unbelievable hijinks in the state court system, and how Arthur T Demoulas was unseated.
A lot has happened since I wrote those articles (and a heck of a lot of people read them). And, most surprisingly, a lot hasn’t happened on the Market Basket side of things.
As protests continued last week outside all 71 stores, everything seemed frozen in time. The new reality – no produce, a dwindling amount of fresh food and generic brand foods, and few shoppers – was setting in. Nothing was happening. Everybody went elsewhere for food, no one bothered to even see what was left at the Basket. The only fresh faces seemed to be the ones coming to experience what the fuss was about, the ones asking questions, and the ones explaining to their kids what worker strikes were and how they happened. The employees are sticking to their guns – and even upping the game. Cars with posters of Arthur T Demoulas’ face taped to them are driving all over Gloucester, eliciting honks and cheering. The bellwether dog statue at the corner of East Main and Bass Ave is now adorned with a Market Basket uniform and a pro-Artie T sign. In Danvers, dozens of young protesters on Monday braved fierce rainstorms to support their former CEO.
At the end of last week, the employees’ loyalty and their unorthodox revolt started to hit the national news. Heck, even Robert Reich is writing about the Basket now. This is huge. A non-union workforce walked off the job. They said “fuck it” to the very real threat of cuts in benefits and squeezing of the blue-collar workers, and the also very real threat of raised grocery prices – hitting those who rely on the chain’s low prices to make ends meet. Aside from the Occupy movement, which is obviously a pretty different scenario, this is the only time in any recent history a protest this massive has taken place against a corporation in the US – and it’s COMING ALMOST ENTIRELY FROM INSIDE THE CORPORATION.
The board met this last Friday after Arthur T Demoulas gave the board a buyout offer. But they made no major announcements aside from admitting they got the offer, and sticking with the “get back to work” refrain. This is how inept the board and management is – they’ve completely lost control of the company, they are positively hemorrhaging cash on a daily basis, and their only takeaway from a meeting is calmly asking employees to return to their jobs. Who is on this board, Spongebob Squarepants and a bunch of six year old kids?
Are they fucking HIGH? Do they not understand the depth of the problem facing them right now? This ship is sinking like a stone and they’re acting like it’s a slight delay in the maiden voyage to New York. No, motherfuckers, you hit a fucking iceberg, and you didn’t act in time. It’s been a month since Arthur T was fired and all you did was stay the course and hope that the employees would tire themselves out and return to work. I’ll mention again that one of the current CEOs is Jim Gooch, whose former leadership position was fucking RADIO SHACK. Turning this ship around and bailing water isn’t going to get easier with every nightfall.
Market Basket’s PR is abysmal. Known for being one of the few companies that entered 2014 WITHOUT A WEBSITE YES I AM SERIOUS THEY DON’T HAVE A GODDAMN WEBSITE, they are now playing catch-up. What, did they think the Internet was a fucking fad? Literally they survived for decades because some guy bought domain space and scanned the flyer every week. Their opposition – teenagers with twitter, tumblr, vine and facebook, mind you – beat them to the punch by weeks. Their side of the story was everywhere long before the board could even release a statement on why they fired Arthur T Demoulas. You snooze, you lose, or whatever the Urban Dictionary version of that saying is these days.
The acrimony between Market Basket and pretty much everybody else deepens with every passing day. Their supply chain of dairy, vegetables, meat, etc is now a full-scale disaster – those smaller companies who rely on Market Basket to buy their goods are struggling right now, and they are rightly pissed. Some of them may not survive if this board doesn’t get its head out of its ass and do SOMETHING.
But what is this ineffectual leadership going to do? Fucking fire everyone? Yeah, no. Disaster. Not even just in a logistics sense, but from a PR standpoint, it would be a headache to attempt to hire an entirely new work force for every store. Customers are protesting along with the workers, and the fallout from such a move would be drastic. It would take months for a new workforce to get up to speed, if they could even find enough people willing to work there. Do they think robotic minions grow on trees? Not since we told Monsanto to cut the crap with the robotic minion GMOs.
Is replacing the new CEO team not an option? Don’t look at me, I have tattoos, pink hair, live in relative poverty, and I’m writing a freakin’ blog. I’m not exactly in Harvard Business School here. But with these two dipweasels at the helm, it’s not going well for Market Basket. This shitstorm may not be entirely under their control, but they’re sitting there with stupid looks on their faces just letting it happen with no real solutions.
Should they sell? Their options are running out – any other offers on the table that aren’t related to Arthur T Basket are going to start to fade out once the potential buyer realizes the magnitude of the employee “problem” and how much it’s going to take to right the ship – it’s not a turnkey operation. It’s a mess. Another week or two of stalemate, and everything’s going to be in far worse shape and we can probably all pool our pennies together and buy it ourselves.
But half the board hates Arthur T Demoulas. Family values, y’all! Selling the company to him would be the ultimate burn for them. They’d be giving in and he’d be getting what he wanted. And these aren’t exactly the type of folks to put employees, customers, and their supply chain ahead of their own pride. But if the other option is supreme, utter, public failure, selling to Arthur T and taking the huge wad of cash isn’t that bad of an idea, now is it.
I think the Basket might be fucked if nothing happens soon, and that’s tragic. But this is capitalism, baby. If you’re ineffectual these days, you’ll be eaten alive. For decades, Market Basket was anything but ineffectual, but damn if the tide hasn’t turned. You hit the iceberg, now deal with it.
Customers, employees, suppliers and whole communities are looking for the lifeboats here. The board bitching with each other over ancient grudges can’t be the thing between them and survival.