#6 Red: It's the Color of Romance.
Racist Star photo/Matt Kryger
SAD internet obsessives may recall a few mentions of Marsh Supermarkets, an Indianapolis-based regional grocery chain. In particular we've asked how it is that "normal", everyday Americans--let alone supposed beneficiaries of her fancier educational establishments, such as Meganjane McArdle-Galt--could follow a weekly regimen of grocery/drug store visits without understanding, and likely screaming about, the vast gulf between the high-school text version of How Your Economic System Works they're regularly fed--or regularly feed others--and the grade-school-playground shenanigans not just baldly pulled on them, aisle after aisle, but rubbed in their faces, in the name of Retail. Although with Meganjane we figure it involves "having The Help do the shopping".
One could not shop at Marsh for the better part of a month without understanding that the portion of Free Market Theorization which involves the Customer--namely, that the Business tries to please him by providing the product, or the choices of products, he votes for with his dollars, at the Lowest Possible Price--is in reality so far down the list that it qualifies as a sick joke. What determines 90% of what's on your grocers' shelves is vendor relations; either how much money national brands spend on advertising, or (and this was clearly of more importance at Marsh) what they're coughing up in terms of ducats, freebies, skybox invites, kickbacks, and free golf clubs, and what brand of golf clubs, in exchange for shelf space. My local Marsh has six framed head shots of the management team above the office window. The only time you ever see any of them is when they're out schmoozing some sales rep. If you see one engaging an actual customer in conversation it's either a friend, relative, or someone with some golf clubs to give away. You can't even get those guys to run a cash register for five minutes at Holiday time while one of their preternaturally cold-sensitive cashiers gets treated for chilblains.
Couple this with the fact that these guys know, or imagine they know, exactly what makes you buy something, how items sell in each and every shelf position in the store, the exact amount of aisle space, in millimeters, they can take up with "special" displays before people begin hurling jumbo bottles of ketchup at the apparently abandoned children who are taking up the rest of it. The last time You, the Customer, were given the slightest thought was back when they were scouting the real estate, and even then they were only interested in how much you paid for your house.
I've detailed some of the results at Marsh: the disappearance of national brands; the rapid transmogrification of a brand of deli products from The Greatest Ever Produced to Something We've Never Heard Of; the day I--then forbidden the dark and Arab delights of coffee, turned again into the tea aisle for my regular purchase of Twinings Prince of Wales, only to find a) English Breakfast, b) Earl Fucking Grey, and c) 72 cubic feet of flavored chais. Tell me, please, what sudden Free Market outpouring of Hoosier New Age Aquarian consumer demand was behind that one.
The other spur for bringing up Marsh was that, beginning in 2005 or so, its business problems (generally blamed, in the local press, on "outside Big-Box competition with its Unfairly Lower Prices"), which led to it seeking, in order, a White Knight, a Soiled Knight, a Desperate Suitor, an inheritor of vast larders of cash even more gullible than the Marshes, and, finally, a capital-investment firm willing to take the thing off their hands. It was during this time that the Big Secret leaked out: that the descendants of those Marshes who had founded the thing in the 30s, taken it public in the 50s, managed to survive the national-chain invasion of the 60s, and started one of the first convenience-store chains were lying so thick on the ground at company headquarters that you could walk across 'em, like the dead at the Somme. And a couple hundred of them were bailing out with parachutes made of million-dollar bills.
Full disclosure: a certain portion of my attitude, not large, is probably also due to the fact that Don Marsh, second-generation patriarch of the clan, is not merely a right-wing extremist--which is only to be expected--but an extremely loud one. He took the operation over in the late 70s, spent the 80s and 90s buying up regional businesses--an ice cream producer/retailer, a caterer, convenience stores, restaurants, and opening a pharmacy operation and various "concept" groceries designed to compete with various Vague Economic Threats like Cub foods or natural food stores. All this, of course, made Don Marsh an Heroic Reagan Entrepreneurial Achiever, and, like apparently every other one of those geniuses, the minute business conditions changed he was cooked.
So Marsh finally locates a buyer in leveraged-buyout specialist Sun Capital, and Central Indiana rests easy, secure in the knowledge it has seen the last of Don Marsh sniffing Larry Bird's or Peyton Manning's jocks in his own commercials. Until this week.
Indianapolis Racist Star, March 31:
The new owner of Marsh Supermarkets has hit the former CEO with a lawsuit, claiming Don E. Marsh improperly spent millions of dollars of the Indianapolis grocery chain’s money to pay for a luxury lifestyle before he retired in 2006.
Claiming the grocery executive spent as much as six months of every year traveling for pleasure, the lawsuit contends the former CEO ought to reimburse the grocery chain an unspecified amount for breaching his 1999 employment agreement with Marsh Supermarkets.
Indianapolis Racist Star, April 1:
According to the lawsuit, Don Marsh made personal use of the corporate jet for hunting trips, business meetings and jaunts to the four family vacation condominiums at Aspen, Colo.; La Romana, Dominican Republican [sic]; Naples, Fla.; and Saugatuck, Mich.
In addition to the Macy's 2005 parade, the lawsuit says, the CEO used company money to pay for his son's family excursions in 2004 and 2005 to Africa and New Zealand at a total cost of $149,000.
The CEO also attended what were called executive outings in Alaska that the lawsuit claims were fishing trips that involved few employees and cost $100,000 or more per outing.
According to the lawsuit, the CEO often flew on the company jet "to take female employees on vague business trips to places such as Chicago or New York City" and New Orleans, where he sometimes "spent significant amounts of money at various department stores.''
And it's been a rough week overall, but I gotta tell ya, when you live long enough to hear Don Marsh use "out-of-state venture capitalist group" as a pejorative, every day is just a little sunnier.