It’s been a year since the family struggle for control of the Market Basket chain began brewing again here in New England. And on Monday, June 23, the hammer came down hard on Arthur T. Demoulas (ATD), the longtime revered leader of the formidable grocer. I’m not sure anybody was prepared for what came next.
What began as a protest and a rally in support of ATD has turned into a public relations nightmare and a potential train wreck for employees, shareholders and shoppers. The past week’s events have resulted in virtually the entire Market Basket operations team being fired—and the rest have simply walked out. The weekend of July 18 alone resulted in the termination of eight senior operations managers and directors with a collective 280 years of service to the company…280 years! Thousands and thousands of rank-and-file employees have walked off the job in protest of ATD’s firing. As a result, the stores are suffering badly—sales are down 40, 50, 60, 70 percent—the shelves are bare—no produce, fish, meat, the list goes on and on. On a typical business day about 70 trucks service the 70-plus Market Basket stores throughout Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire; this week, all but four drivers had traded those trucks for the protest line. Currently, the Facebook pages created by protesting employees have more than 73,000 fans, and more than 80 political figures throughout New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts have signed petitions requesting the company reinstate ATD as president. And it appears that the new co-chief executives, Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch, are completely disconnected from the situation. They ran a full-page ad in The Boston Globe last weekend apologizing to customers for the controversy—all the while criticizing the protesting employees who (for most shoppers), happen to be the friendly faces of the company they know and love. Not too swift.
While this Greek tragedy (and billionaire feud) unfolds before our eyes, the Market Basket company is in trouble. It doesn’t take long for frustrated grocery shoppers to go to a competing retailer when they can’t find the items they need. The erosion of customer loyalty can happen very quickly. Neither Arthur S. Demoulas (who gained control of the company’s board and ousted his cousin ATD in June), nor the executives Demoulas picked to replace ATD (Thornton and Gooch), have appeared in public. Why have we not heard a peep from Arthur S. Demoulas when the company he controls is falling apart before his eyes? How much more damage does he (and the board) want to inflict? This is painful to watch—a spectacular grocery chain come unglued because management has been dead silent in its response to employee concerns that are being shouted from the parking lots of corporate HQ and every Market Basket location. I just don’t get it.
Somebody please do something…Clean up on aisle 9!
Kevin Griffin, author of this column, is the publisher of The Griffin Report of Food Marketing, a sister publication of The Shelby Report. Both are publications of Shelby Publishing Co.