An Undercover Boss Loses His Bloom and His Job
Anyone who has viewed the show Undercover Boss just once, undoubtedly felt at least one tug on their heartstrings, and depending on the viewer’s emotional demeanor might well have had an inclination to shed a tear or two. Viewing several episodes likely provides context and lets the viewer know that this big-business based reality show is ultimately a feel-good campaign.
The ‘boss’ is often the CEO, Chairman or owner of a prominent, large company who is engaged on the show to appear in a professionally concocted disguise under an alias, complete with a well thought out cover story. Each show places said boss in a situation to meet with fairly low level employees as the boss is introduced as a new company hire. The boss then is ‘trained’ for several generally entry level positions.
The point of the show is to introduce an owner or top executive to the everyday issues and frustrations faced by company workers on the ground. As the bosses are trained for generally lower level positions, they are often more frustrated than their trainers with their own ineptitude and show a heartfelt appreciation for the efforts of much of their workforce.
Not coincidentally, it seems each boss tends to get to interact with several employees on a more personal level, as the show shares some of the worker’s outside the workplace challenges. Here viewers view life challenging issues these employees face, which most of us experience personally or through the trials of family members, friends or coworkers. These issues tend to center on family health, education and economic issues and are often personally frightening.
Each episode ends with the boss calling each of these employees to a private meeting, where the true identity is revealed and as if a superhero, a series of handsome, generous rewards are bestowed. Appropriately, these gifts solve most of the aforementioned problems challenging the now happily stunned coworkers. Company or divisional meetings are then often held where employee promotions and policy changes are announced as a direct result of the boss’s earlier interactions with said employees. The result is a feel-good experience shared by all; the boss, his featured employees and likely much of the viewing public.
Next month the US version will celebrate its fourth anniversary. Past bosses have included CEOs and top executives from prominent restaurant chains such as Hooters, White Castle, Boston Market, Subway, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Checkers. Industry icons included MGM Grand, United Van Lines, DirecTV, NASCAR and Norwegian Caribbean Line. The mayor of Cincinnati appeared in one episode. The Chancellor of University of California, Riverside was featured in another. One episode followed the heartfelt adventures of a co-owner of the Chicago Cubs. Winning a championship or even appearing in a World Series seemed to have been placed on the back burner, as the day-to-day problems of the organization’s relatively financially poor, often unnoticed workers were made the focus.
Oddly, not counting restaurant chains, few retailers have been represented in the series. Last December however, one was. The boss viewed in this episode was Michael Bloom, President and COO of Family Dollar Stores. Family Dollar has been one of the few national retailers that has consistently grown despite the recession. In fact many analysts believe much of Family Dollar’s recent successes came about because the company dealt so wonderfully with strong recessionary forces.
As the recession began to take a toll on local, then regional and national retailers, many retailers essentially quickly abandoned expansion plans. Soon, once thriving storefronts were emptied as well. At this time many dollar stores found themselves attracting new cadres of fans. Many consumers were now economically struggling. The traditionally poor alongside recently middle class and even those once relatively wealthy found themselves succumbing to the charms of dollar stores such as Family Dollar.
Brimming with surprisingly strong sales figures, as other retailers struggled with the recessionary economy, chains like Family Dollar found themselves with the resources to expand, especially in a strong buyer’s real estate market. While most retailers contracted or at best held their own, Family Dollar and its brethren eagerly decided on expansion, even at a rate normally considered aggressive during the most prosperous of times.
These well run, deep pocketed, bargain retailers quickly invested in real estate bargains, typically in historically economically challenged neighborhoods. The bargains however were not limited to economically depressed areas. It was discovered that even upper class denizens were attracted by dollar stores, often as a result of sudden unemployment or the threat of it. Once they experienced the perceived economic value offered by dollar retailers, they often became hooked on the proposition of paying less for essentially quality products. As retail real estate bargains appeared in top shelf neighborhoods dollar stores emerged.
Family Dollar and its brethren soon became heroes in lower class neighborhoods as they gobbled up real estate often at bargain basement prices. Suddenly there was a company showing confidence in communities that were often shunned and even sneered at by much of society. As these stores opened, they offered bargains to families and souls who could afford little including transportation. They offered local jobs so that now families could boast an additional connection to the retailer: employment and a paycheck.
Having just issued first quarter numbers for the current fiscal year Family Dollar is on track to net 500 new locations. The company opened 126 locations during the quarter while closing just one. According to the Chain Store Guide Database of Discount Stores & Specialty Retailers, Family Dollar store openings are actually up one compared to the first quarter last year, while the single closing was exactly the same. During its most recently completed fiscal year the retailer netted a whopping 474 additional locations. During the previous year the company netted 271 additional stores. The year prior that number was 386, as per the CSG database.
Michael Bloom joined Family Dollar in 2011, as aggressive growth was coming into vogue at the company. The pace of expansion has since increased at a breathtaking pace. One would assume that this alone would be a sign of at least solid operations.
The initial announcement of Bloom’s indicated resignation was unexpected to say the least. Shortly after however, Bloom’s boss, company chairman and chief executive Howard Levine, indicated that dissatisfaction with recent financial results had led to the departure. It seems that the company seeks to alter its merchandising strategy and that Bloom and his now ex-boss were at odds here.
Family Dollar is a company which takes the action on Wall Street most seriously. Recent quarterly financials have been disappointing and the company’s stock has been stagnant despite the impressive current record performance by stock market indexes.
Bloom’s exit seems sudden and Levine didn’t hesitate to denote the true reasons behind it. What must the recent undercover boss be thinking of his likely surprising fate? Nothing warm and fuzzy!