Monday, December 7, 2015

5 Things Haggen Did Wrong When Entering Southern California

I went on an extensive visual rant about Haggen a few weeks ago as they were commencing their "going out of business sale." The question on everyone's mind is how could a large grocer fail in such a short period of time? It's a case study that I'm sure will find its way into college business courses for years to come, but in the meantime we're left with the scattered pieces of a failed business, multiple lawsuits, and a whole lot of questions that don't have answers. What we can do in the meantime, like all good Americans without rhyme or reason, is speculate.

Although it's now closed for good, the empty aisles within these walls aren't much emptier than they were when the store was open

In my fascination of this failure, I've been researching Haggen for a few days trying to find clues as to what the hell happened. I've uncovered some interesting tidbits about the company as well as a handful of corporate conspiracies, like this was all preordained. While I lean more toward it being a failure of general idiocy and incompetent management, all of Haggen's 146 stores ultimately suffered the same fate. 


5 Things Haggen Did Wrong When Entering Southern California 
(and Nevada and Arizona)

1) Entering Southern California

Yeah, just entering Southern California was a dumb move from the beginning. No research of the market, no understanding of the demographics, no clue on anything. You know why everyone makes fun of us Southern Californians? It's because we're crazy. We're nuts. We panic at the first drop of rain but then wear sandals during a storm. We pay large amounts of money to fill up our gas tanks and then sit in traffic for two hours on one of our 57,895 freeways. Why Good Will Haggen felt compelled to join us down here is as surprising as Ted Cruz saying something that doesn't sound like it originated from a can of horse feces. 

I've never actually been inside a closing supermarket; it's a surreal and eerie feeling

2) Expanding from 18 stores to 164 overnight

I don't know if these Albertsons and Safeway stores were a packaged deal or if Haggen just went all in when acquiring them, but what kind of dumbass expands tenfold overnight? Even if those 18 stores were more successful than a pig that shits bacon, why even flirt with that kind of disaster? Heck, even if those 146 stores WERE a packaged deal, WHY WOULD YOU DO IT? I used to work for a retail company that operated two successful stores for many years. One day they decided to expand and opened three new stores within the span of five months and have struggled ever since. Now, let's do the math; if that family-owned retail business were to expand like Haggen did overnight, then they would have gone from those two original stores all the way to EIGHTEEN. How can a business sustain that kind of growth in such a short period of time? Answer: they can't. 

The aisles became narrower and narrower as the going out of business sale dragged on

3) Cut employee hours and pay

Having somebody take over your company and then cut your pay is like giving money to someone who just bought your house. Click this link to shimmy over to Haggen's Glassdoor page where you can read rants and reviews from Haggen employees where one of the most common complaints is that shortly after arriving, the company immediately cut the hours and pay of its employees. According to Glassdoor, many full-time employees were demoted to part-time as schedules were randomly shifted and paycheck numbers gradually decreased. How can you expect your work force to give a shit if that's how you're going to show your appreciation right off the bat? 

The first time I entered a Haggen was a couple weeks after it transitioned from one of the local Albertsons. Immediately upon entering I noticed that employees seemed unhappy and I think Glassdoor confirms why. You may need to sign up for an account, but it's worth it if you want to read firsthand accounts of those who were trapped in the hull of the ship as it sank.

Shrinking produce

4) Jack up the prices

Haggen was frickin' EXPENSIVE. Who the hell conceived this pricing structure? Haggen was so expensive that it wasn't until their going out of business sale hit 40% off that their prices became moderately competitive - and even then it was a stretch. The other thing is that these stores were operating in neighborhoods that simply couldn't afford that kind of a price increase and those who could didn't bother because hey, I could get the same product for 50% less right down the street! A Naked juice and small thing of blackberries goes for about $8 at Haggen. I drive up the street to Sprouts and the price drops to $4.50 for the pair. It was like that ALL THROUGHOUT THE STORE!

I guess this dildo banana keeper is one of them Trader Joe's-esque items Haggen was so proud to carry

5) Zero marketing upon arrival

I don't know, maybe they did have marketing but it was probably so dumb that I never noticed. I think they sent out an insert or two in the beginning but outside of that we may as well have invited Kevin Bacon from Hollow Man to stand on a street corner waving a sign and the results would have been the same. Dude, how do you even pronounce Haggen? Is it Haggen like HAHAHA or is it Haggen like HEY HEY HEY? One of the articles I read today actually answered this question: it's pronounced HEY-gen which means I've been saying it wrong like an asshole for eight months. See, if they had any kind of introductory campaign to the community then we could have learned how to say the damn place's name properly. 

At least they weren't in short supply of 3 Musketeers bars!

Nobody even knew what this place was about. The general thought was it would be like a Trader Joe's or something but it didn't really carry any new or unusual products. It also tried to pride itself on having great-tasting fresh produce but let me tell ya: their produce tasted like donkey shit and looked worse. The worst watermelon I ever tasted was from Haggen and their berries looked like they had tuberculosis crawling on them. Oh, and their Honeycrisp apples went for nearly $4 per pound, but you could find the same apples for 99 cents a pound right up the street at Sprouts. Boom. 

8000 people were in danger of losing their jobs. Some managed to find work but many were let go just in time for the holidays. Oh, that's another thing: the original closing date for our local Haggen stores was two days before Thanksgiving. They extended it 10 days into December, but eh. Who gives a shit? You'd like to think that maybe this was a mistake based on pure ignorance but the reality is Haggen operated like a bunch of assholes. Employees didn't find out about the closures until they heard it on the news or read it on the Internet. 

Currently Haggen is suing Albertsons for, like, selling them failing stores or something. Albertsons bought back a lot of their original properties but anti-monopoly laws may prevent them from setting up camp. Even if they do win their case, it'll be months before these stores are up and running again. Unless your local store was purchased by a Gelson's or a Sprouts then chances are you're gonna have a large vacant building to stare at for a while. Oh, and it also seems that Haggen is selling off their original 18 stores in Washington and Oregon. They claim the stores were doing well but who the hell knows? I guess the idea is they'd sell them but maintain the Haggen name but who really cares anymore?

Thank you Haggen for providing future business students with a fascinating case of corporate greed and idiocy. Also, congratulations on being inducted into the Greg's Gourmet Hall of Shame where you'll join Vons, Jack Link's Beef Jerky, Wendy's, and Blue Buffalo as true demonstrators of incompetence. Kudos from all of us at Greg's Gourmet!

There's something oddly poetic about where the stop sign is framed in this picture, like, stop being a jackass, Haggen!