It remains to be seen how Market Basket fares in the long run. However, following six weeks of utter craziness outside store walls (but nearly complete inactivity within them), business has picked up quickly.
Within a couple of days of Arthur T. Demoulas regaining control of the company, stores were somewhere around 80 percent restocked. Store managers tell Boston.com they’re closer to 90 percent today, and expect be fully stocked by the start of next week.
From well before The Summer of Market Basket got started and through to its conclusion, the chain’s workers spoke in terms of a very inclusive ‘We.’ Employees, customers, and vendors were a collective group responsible for the company’s past and future success, protesters said. Fittingly, all three groups have played a role in getting things back on track—at least in the short term—as Market Basket looks to move forward. Here’s how.
1. The workers who walked off speed-walked back on.
Within hours, after Arthur T.’s signing of a deal to buy Market Basket was announced last Wednesday night, warehouse employees got back to work. They worked through the night, side by side with members of the management team that had been fired or resigned over the course of the summer. Headquarters employees were back at their desks the next morning, and truckers started hauling loads to stores as the sun came up.
The hundreds of workers who walked off the job had centuries of combined experience at Market Basket, and their move to stop coming to work set the company on the path to the summer’s intentional turmoil. Their institutional knowledge, not to mention motivation to get back to work, immediately kicked operations back into full throttle.
2. Everybody else was at the ready.
A couple of common misconceptions throughout the summer held that the entire Market Basket workforce had walked off the job, and that stores had closed. Neither was accurate. While the vast majority of truckers, warehouse employees, and office workers walked out, throwing supply chains into disarray, store workers and managers showed up at their locations, never closing their doors. With boycotting customers and little food coming in, workers were tasked with cleaning and organizing, day after day. The stores were spotless and ready to handle the major loads that began rolling in once Arthur T. took control.
Part-timers who had seen their hours cut to zero in early August were quick to come back to work in an ‘all hands on deck’ sort of situation following the announcement of the deal. Eric Haviland, a manager of the Lee, NH store, says workers from all departments have been hauling loads to wherever they need to get in the store. Usually, the produce department handles produce, meat handles meat, and so forth. But, Haviland says, “we believe right now that there are no departments, but one store.’’ Another manager says meat department workers have helped out in the bakery.
3. Vendors have helped make life easier.
There were at least a half dozen instances that seemed like ‘peak Market Basket.’ For example, when vendors began to publicly say they were cutting ties unless and until Arthur T. returned to the company’s helm. They meant it. As soon as he was back at the lead, those vendors not only reworked those ties, but also actively helped the company get off the ground.
Vendors began making direct-to-store deliveries, which is not common with sellers of perishable items. Boston Sword and Tuna CEO Tim Malley, whose company was the first to publicly cut off business, started making direct-to-store deliveries the day after the deal was struck. Malley said the company has made big warehouse deliveries every day since, far more often than even before the saga began. The demand from Market Basket has been high enough, Malley said, that the company’s owners were even behind the wheel delivering seafood themselves.
Paul Hatziiliades, whose Extra Virgin Foods sells Greek specialty items to the chain, said he received his first order about 30 minutes after Arthur T. delivered a victory speech to supporters. And the orders haven’t stopped coming; Hatziiliades has received several more since. In an effort to help out, Hatziiliades has offered Market Basket a 4 percent discount on his goods for the rest of the year, matching the 4 percent discount Market Basket is offering store customers throughout 2014.
4. Customers were eager. REALLY eager.
Part of the reason vendors have been so active is because customers have been, too. Several managers have told Boston.com that Labor Day weekend sales were higher this year than they were last year, even with stocks only at about 80 percent normal capacity.
Why? The company’s many boycotting customers were eager to pitch in and have made big grocery trips to restock favorite items and show their support. Many households likely needed to make big trips because they had been holding out on making full trips elsewhere in hopes the situation would resolve itself. Let’s face it, there are some items you just can’t buy anywhere else. The non-diehard loyalists who didn’t boycott are shopping, too, and have more to choose from as store shelves are restocked.
And then there’s the fact that the endless media coverage has resulted in the creation of a whole breed of new customers. People who hadn’t heard of—or shopped at—Market Basket are checking it out now that the story has reached what looks like its conclusion, for now anyway.
“It’s not how we wanted to get publicity, but the effect has been enormous,’’ Burlington store manager John Garon told The Boston Globe.
5. The man in charge is, once again, in charge.
Until the deal is closed, Arthur T. has full authority over Market Basket’s operations. While the company’s co-CEOs Felicia Thornton and James Gooch remain on, their role is basically a formality. A Market Basket spokesperson told Boston.com that Thornton and Gooch will have “signatory authority,’’ meaning they will be signing off on every decision made by Arthur T. The decisions, however, are his and his alone.
Thornton and Gooch can’t be seen as hampering his efforts to get the company on solid footing, the spokesperson said. All summer long, employees, vendors, and customers alike have demanded that Arthur T. return with full authority. Well, now he has it. The employees are back at work. Vendors are back delivering. And customers are lining up.