There are so many business lessons embedded in the current Market Basket upheaval, it’s hard to know where to begin. First, you have a 60 year old family run company with a decades long family feud. You have a remarkable employee engagement and customer loyalty story. And you see the power of social media in action, and the public relations nightmare created by the company’s lack of digital presence. Not only are they not active in social media, until today they didn’t have a corporate website.
For those of you not from northern New England, Market Basket is a privately held grocery chain with 71 stores in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Founded by George Demoulas in 1954, the chain is wildly popular with its customers for its low prices. It’s likewise wildly popular with its 25,000 employees – or it was until their beloved CEO Arthur T. Demoulas (ArtT) was ousted on June 23rd as a result of a power struggle with his cousin. He was replaced by supermarket veteran co-CEO’s Felicia Thornton and James Gooch,
In recent weeks, Market Basket employees have rallied behind their former leader, demanding his return and in some cases losing their jobs in return for their activism. Where is this loyalty coming from? For employees, it’s the better-than-industry wages and benefits they believe ArtT fought for on their behalf. For customers, it’s the low prices and good service. And customers are backing the well organized employee outreach driven largely through social media. On Facebook and twitter, employees and customers are sharing the reasons they love ArtT and rousing their coworkers and customers to support the cause of putting him back at the helm.
I pass several of these stores on my way to work, and this morning there were picketers in front of every one of them encouraging customers to support the workers by not shopping at Market Basket. Market Basket is managing through a crisis under the close scrutiny of employees, customers, politicians and pundits who worry that this change in leadership will result in higher prices for customers and lower wages and benefits for employees. I hope that Market Basket management can find their way to a solution that works for employees, customers and shareholders and lets them retain their reputation as an employer who does well by taking care of their employees.