Recap: Boston.com Biz Writer Talks Market Basket on Reddit

Boston.com

Boston.com business reporter Adam Vaccaro, who has been covering the Market Basket story since the June firing of former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, took questions on the situation on Reddit Thursday in an “Ask Me Anything” discussion. Here are a few highlights.

Question:

It seems like Market Basket has lost confidence from its workers, its customers and its suppliers. What do you think will be the toughest relationship for Market Basket to repair after this ordeal is cleared up?

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Answer:

Well, that’s going to depend on how it’s cleared up. If Arthur T. is back in charge, I imagine a few employees who have since taken new jobs (part-timers) might just stay where they are, and same with customers who may have reached a new habit (but, then, if MB stores are fully stocked and prices are still low, they’ll probably be compelled to reform new habits anyway). Note: I’m not talking about the passionate, boycotting customers there, who obviously would rush back to stores. I’m talking about a few who may have fallen by the wayside and may not even know what’s been going on at the company, except that they can’t get veggies there anymore.

That said, from both an employee and customer perspective, I think there will actually be a fairly big PR rub if Arthur T. comes back. I’d expect lots of new applicants who have now heard about the company’s benefits, and lots of new customers who will at least want to see what the buzz is all about. Obviously, that’s speculation.

As for vendors, I think they’ll rush back. Every vendor I’ve talked to consistently says MB, under old management, was far and away the easiest company to work with. It’s interesting, because many of them say MB would “beat them up on price” to an extent, but in a way that seemed fair. Most importantly, they got their bills paid fast and, I’m told, put a lot of time in on a personal level with many of their local vendors.

That’s all if Arthur T. comes back. If not, it’s a lot harder to call, but I’d expect that whoever is in charge will basically need to rebuild the whole thing. Thinking it through, maybe some employees stick around, maybe some customers come back as stores get restocked, but the consistent message of protesters has been since the start that they are shutting the company down until Arthur T. is not brought back. And they’ve done a pretty good job of that to this point.

Question:

As a reporter, you’re supposed to be unbiased. On Reddit though, you can say whatever you want. How do you feel about the situation? Which side do you agree with?

Answer:

Ha, you’re putting me on the spot!

As long as I’m reporting this as a news story, I’m trying to keep my opinions to myself. But here are some of my thoughts:

I try to acknowledge the gray area in the story when it’s called for. Maybe that’s because it is my job, but also, we might as well try to understand Arthur S.’s side of things.

Here’s the one thing I think we can be certain of: Arthur T. had a hell of a system set up, that employees, vendors, and customers valued highly. Arthur S. and his reps board didn’t love it so much—perhaps because it wasn’t his side of the family that was benefiting from real estate deals, and perhaps because he wanted more money to go his way as a shareholder. (Some would say that Arthur S. was getting plenty as it was, and that if his side of the family wanted more they should have been more involved with the company. That’s an argument Arthur T.’s supporters make often. Others say Arthur S. would have liked to be part of it but was essentially shut out by litigation.) We have a good amount of proof at this point that Arthur S. has at least been interested in cashing out for a few years, so employees’ concerns that the system they’ve had in place could be under threat appear pretty valid.

I don’t think it’s a controversial opinion at this point, regardless of how you side, to say this summer’s situation has been a disaster, and if the board foresaw what happened when they fired Arthur T., then they shouldn’t have done it, or they should have handled it differently--for the good of the company. And I tend to think the workers have shown a whole lot of bravery and a hell of a lot of aptitude in organizing this summer. If this ends in their favor, with Arthur T. buying it, I think there will be an effort from some to say it wound up being a story about millionaires making a deal, but I think to do so would be an insult to protesters who have at the very least forced the issue.

One other opinion: I decided I was done making predictions about how this ends when the replacement trucker took out his hammer.

Question:

Is there any end in sight? It seems like there is no hope or rescue for the situation anymore. How much longer can ASD hold out? How about the employees? How about the shoppers?

Answer:

There’s not a good answer to this one. I’m sorry. But I really am done trying to project when this ends. I do have some sourcing with a sense for how things are going at the highest level. Every time it’s looked like we might be on the verge of resolution, it hasn’t quite come. I think the notion that they want to get to a resolution this week is true--the governor echoed it yesterday--but that doesn’t mean it will get done. I also think the company’s finances might be getting to the point where it might be now or never. But this story has been wildly unpredictable, so I’m hesitant to give much more of an answer on this one.

One thought: The silence this week has been pretty dang deafening, in my opinion. For the last few weeks, it’s been (or at least seemed like) nary the day that some directive from the CEOs to workers wasn’t front page news. I confirmed the CEOs were in the board meeting Monday. That things have been quiet this week, and that they haven’t acted on last week’s deadline to return to work, makes me think they’re at least sitting tight until the end of the week in anticipation that there might be resolution by then. That is informed speculation.

Check out the full AMA here.