Sunny
47°
Sunny
Hi 75° | Lo 51°

Market Basket customers show their devotion by backing embattled CEO

  • A hand drawn sign created by Market Basket employee Sarah Schneider rests in the break room at the Storrs Street Market Basket on Wednesday, July 17, 2013 in Concord. The sign had been propped up in front of the store with a petition asking customers to sign in support of current CEO Arthur T. Demoulas to bring to the company's board before a vote to consider removing Demoulas from power. The meeting and proposed motion are a result of a family feud between members of the family that owns the chain of New England grocery stores.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    A hand drawn sign created by Market Basket employee Sarah Schneider rests in the break room at the Storrs Street Market Basket on Wednesday, July 17, 2013 in Concord. The sign had been propped up in front of the store with a petition asking customers to sign in support of current CEO Arthur T. Demoulas to bring to the company's board before a vote to consider removing Demoulas from power. The meeting and proposed motion are a result of a family feud between members of the family that owns the chain of New England grocery stores.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Arthur T. Demoulas waves to some of the hundreds of supporters gathered outside the Wyndham Hotel in Andover, Mass. where Market Basket Board of Directors held their court ordered meeting; Thursday, July 18, 2013. The Board did not vote to remove Demoulas as some thought.<br/><br/>Photo by David H.Brow  / The Lowell Sun

    Arthur T. Demoulas waves to some of the hundreds of supporters gathered outside the Wyndham Hotel in Andover, Mass. where Market Basket Board of Directors held their court ordered meeting; Thursday, July 18, 2013. The Board did not vote to remove Demoulas as some thought.

    Photo by David H.Brow / The Lowell Sun

  • Alice Chase, of Concord, tries to decide between milk options while shopping at the Storrs Street Market Basket on Wednesday, July 17, 2013. Chase has been coming to this Market Basket location loyally since her daughter was born 44 years ago. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Alice Chase, of Concord, tries to decide between milk options while shopping at the Storrs Street Market Basket on Wednesday, July 17, 2013. Chase has been coming to this Market Basket location loyally since her daughter was born 44 years ago.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • There are only seven checkout lanes at the Market Basket on Storrs Street, which is few compared to the company's flagship location in Chelsea that touts 32 lanes. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    There are only seven checkout lanes at the Market Basket on Storrs Street, which is few compared to the company's flagship location in Chelsea that touts 32 lanes.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • On the day before what was supposed to be a board vote on the fate of Arthur T. Demoulas, the CEO of Market Basket, the Storrs Street location displayed a full page ad it ran in the Union-Leader outside its doors. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    On the day before what was supposed to be a board vote on the fate of Arthur T. Demoulas, the CEO of Market Basket, the Storrs Street location displayed a full page ad it ran in the Union-Leader outside its doors.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Robert Brown, 78, of Concord, totes his Market Basket stationary and shopping bag while on a trip to the Storrs Street location on Wednesday afternoon, July 17, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Robert Brown, 78, of Concord, totes his Market Basket stationary and shopping bag while on a trip to the Storrs Street location on Wednesday afternoon, July 17, 2013.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Wendy Gould, right, smiles as her lobsters are packed away at the Storrs Street Market Basket deli counter on July 17, 2013. Gould, who lives in Penacook, comes to the Storrs Street Market Basket because of its smaller size and friendly staff. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Wendy Gould, right, smiles as her lobsters are packed away at the Storrs Street Market Basket deli counter on July 17, 2013. Gould, who lives in Penacook, comes to the Storrs Street Market Basket because of its smaller size and friendly staff.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Sarah Schneider, of Laconia, worked up from a cashier to managerial position at the courtesy counter in her 14 years working at the Storrs Street Market Basket.  <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Sarah Schneider, of Laconia, worked up from a cashier to managerial position at the courtesy counter in her 14 years working at the Storrs Street Market Basket.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Robert Brown, 78, of Laconia, cracks jokes while checking out at the end of his shopping trip to the Storrs Street Market Basket on July 17, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Robert Brown, 78, of Laconia, cracks jokes while checking out at the end of his shopping trip to the Storrs Street Market Basket on July 17, 2013.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Arthur T. Demoulas waves to some of the hundreds of supporters gathered outside the Wyndham Hotel in Andover, Mass. where Market Basket Board of Directors held their court ordered meeting; Thursday, July 18, 2013. The Board did not vote to remove Demoulas as some thought.<br/><br/>Photo by David H.Brow  / The Lowell Sun

    Arthur T. Demoulas waves to some of the hundreds of supporters gathered outside the Wyndham Hotel in Andover, Mass. where Market Basket Board of Directors held their court ordered meeting; Thursday, July 18, 2013. The Board did not vote to remove Demoulas as some thought.

    Photo by David H.Brow / The Lowell Sun

  • A hand drawn sign created by Market Basket employee Sarah Schneider rests in the break room at the Storrs Street Market Basket on Wednesday, July 17, 2013 in Concord. The sign had been propped up in front of the store with a petition asking customers to sign in support of current CEO Arthur T. Demoulas to bring to the company's board before a vote to consider removing Demoulas from power. The meeting and proposed motion are a result of a family feud between members of the family that owns the chain of New England grocery stores.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Arthur T. Demoulas waves to some of the hundreds of supporters gathered outside the Wyndham Hotel in Andover, Mass. where Market Basket Board of Directors held their court ordered meeting; Thursday, July 18, 2013. The Board did not vote to remove Demoulas as some thought.<br/><br/>Photo by David H.Brow  / The Lowell Sun
  • Alice Chase, of Concord, tries to decide between milk options while shopping at the Storrs Street Market Basket on Wednesday, July 17, 2013. Chase has been coming to this Market Basket location loyally since her daughter was born 44 years ago. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • There are only seven checkout lanes at the Market Basket on Storrs Street, which is few compared to the company's flagship location in Chelsea that touts 32 lanes. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • On the day before what was supposed to be a board vote on the fate of Arthur T. Demoulas, the CEO of Market Basket, the Storrs Street location displayed a full page ad it ran in the Union-Leader outside its doors. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Robert Brown, 78, of Concord, totes his Market Basket stationary and shopping bag while on a trip to the Storrs Street location on Wednesday afternoon, July 17, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Wendy Gould, right, smiles as her lobsters are packed away at the Storrs Street Market Basket deli counter on July 17, 2013. Gould, who lives in Penacook, comes to the Storrs Street Market Basket because of its smaller size and friendly staff. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Sarah Schneider, of Laconia, worked up from a cashier to managerial position at the courtesy counter in her 14 years working at the Storrs Street Market Basket.  <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Robert Brown, 78, of Laconia, cracks jokes while checking out at the end of his shopping trip to the Storrs Street Market Basket on July 17, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Arthur T. Demoulas waves to some of the hundreds of supporters gathered outside the Wyndham Hotel in Andover, Mass. where Market Basket Board of Directors held their court ordered meeting; Thursday, July 18, 2013. The Board did not vote to remove Demoulas as some thought.<br/><br/>Photo by David H.Brow  / The Lowell Sun

Paul Brogan of Concord visits Market Basket on Storrs Street every day at 7 a.m. He knows the name of “his” cashier and appreciates seeing a smiling employee at the entrance to help him find that day’s purchase. Brogan so loves the store, he once wrote an ode to it.

So, Brogan didn’t hesitate to sign a petition this week protesting the potential ouster of the company’s president, Arthur T. Demoulas, a man he’s never met. Brogan loves the store’s famously low prices, but that’s not all.

Market Basket “is the way Main Street used to be in the 1960s and 1970s,” said the 58-year-old Brogan. “No offense to Shaw’s or Hannaford, but Market Basket has a real sense of community. I know the people by first name, and you chat about your families.”

Turns out, Market Basket has a lot of Paul Brogans, and they demonstrated last week that a grocery chain can enjoy the same brand loyalty of, say, Apple.

Employees and customers mobilized after the Boston Globe broke news that some in the Demoulas family, legendary for its in-fighting and court battles, were considering firing “Artie T.” as president and chief executive officer. Cousin Arthur S. Demoulas has led the fight, reportedly because his side of the family is outraged by generous retirement packages Artie T. has put in place for rank-and-file employees.

There were dire predictions that an ouster would lead to increased prices and a corporate chill at the chain’s 71 stores in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Within days, more than 80,000 people in the two states signed petitions online and at their local Market Baskets supporting Artie T. The Market Basket on Storrs Street collected nearly 1,000 signatures on its petition in two days. Employees in the Concord stores and beyond made T-shirts and posters that cried, “Save Market Basket.”

Newspapers in both states ran editorials calling on the Demoulas family to leave its CEO in place and celebrating Market Basket as a friend of the community.

The congressional delegation from Massachusetts, where the company is based, joined the chorus, writing public letters to the Market Basket board.

And when the Demoulas family gathered in Andover, Mass., on Thursday to vote on company policies and its leadership, customers and employees took time off to line both sides of the street for 2 miles. Artie T. arrived by car, sitting in the passenger seat, so he could shake hands with supporters along the way.

An outpouring

In the end, Artie T. survived the meeting. Late Thursday, the board chose not to take a vote on agenda item 13, removing the CEO. And while the board is scheduled to reconvene Aug. 22, company spokesman Harry-Jacques Pierre said yesterday it “is not expected to discuss the removal of the CEO.”

It was quite a grassroots campaign for a grocery store, a place most people associate with a chore. Particularly a grocery chain that, compared with its competitors, invests less in aesthetics.

But this outpouring of adoration wasn’t much of a surprise to Jon Springer, associate editor at Supermarket News.

First, Market Basket is well-known for having very low prices, Springer said, something it achieves by selling items for less but selling more of them than its competitors. It’s also exceptionally generous to employees, he said.

The company hands out bonuses, usually twice a year, and shares profits with employees by contributing to a pension-like account. Long-serving employees who rise to manager can reportedly retire with $1 million in their retirement accounts. Employees were happy to return that generosity last week to the CEO, who visits his stores often to talk with workers and customers.

“That kinds of sets Market Basket apart from other supermarkets,” Springer said. “Market Basket is a $4 billion company operated by a family, where most supermarket chains began as family enterprise but very few get to a second or third generation and stay in the family.”

Mike Berger, senior editor of trade publication The Griffin Report of Food Marketing, said the fact that the company is family owned is particularly appealing here.

“They’ve been around for decades, and regardless of the family fights, people in New England will always back families,” said Berger. “They always have and they always will.”

Making careers

Local employees and shoppers were eager to confirm those theories in interviews last week.

Robin Jarvis of Gilmanton Iron Works joined the company 35 years ago, as a 15-year-old bagger. He’s now the assistant manager of the Storrs Street location.

“My intention was to make money and go to college and get an engineering degree,” Jarvis said. He found himself struggling to keep up with his bills after his car was destroyed by fire. “I ended up staying with the company for years and years.”

Many years ago, Artie T. visited the store Jarvis was working at and learned he and his wife and their kids were renting an apartment because he couldn’t afford the down payment on a house. Demoulas told Jarvis to take the day off and search for a house.

Once Jarvis found one, Demoulas arranged for him to take out a loan on his profit-sharing account at an interest rate that was lower than what he would have gotten at a bank.

As Jarvis paid the loan back, Demoulas continued to lower the interest rate to ensure it was always lower than the market rate, Jarvis said.

“He never notified me; he just did it,” Jarvis said.

When Demoulas learned another employee had lost an infant son, he attended the funeral and paid for the services. And when the company’s profit-sharing account lost $46 million after the economy tanked, Demoulas replaced the loss with the company’s money.

Jarvis said it’s that kind of generosity that has endeared Demoulas to employees and customers and angered some of his relatives.

Sarah Schneider joined the company 14 years ago for what she thought would be a temporary job. When she went from part time to full time, she appreciated the health benefits, profit sharing and vacation time.

Now she’s an assistant manager at the Storrs Street store. “I like the company,” she said. “I like the attitude of this company.”

Brian Boucher, the manager of the Storrs Street store, has been with the company 36 years. His wife, Gloria, works at the Fort Eddy Road location and has logged 42 years with the company.

When the company gives out bonuses, managers are instructed to give the checks to employees personally with a word of thanks from Demoulas. Boucher went to Andover on Thursday to show his support for Demoulas and got there in time to shake Demoulas’s hand as he drove in.
“It was very emotional being there,” he said.

Employees at Market Basket wear nametags that also say how long they’ve been with the company. Customers notice.

“You see four years, five years, 10 years and you realize that this is obviously a good place to work,” said Brogan, the daily Market Basket visitor. “There is something they like about working at Market Basket, and they exude that when you walk in the door.”

But the first reason most people gave for shopping at Market Basket was the low prices.

Brogan said he notices a 25-cent to 50-cent difference on the individual yogurts he buys between Market Basket and other grocery stores in Concord.

Doris Ballard of Concord joined the online effort to support Demoulas and said she and her husband get groceries at the store for their home and the ice cream stand they own in the South End of Concord.

“You can’t beat the prices, which is what I think is the draw for everybody,” Ballard said.

Helen Lemire of Concord started shopping at Market Basket about 10 years ago after a job change left her with a smaller paycheck.

“I started saving $15 to $20 a week shopping there,” she said. “If I was making more money, I would not go back to another store. Some people think that if you spend more money you are going to get a better product, and that is not always true.”

And, Lemire said, “they have great customer service.”

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323,
atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

There are no comments yet. Be the first!
Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.