Over the past four decades, private equity has become a powerful, and malignant, force in our daily lives. In our May/June 2022 issue, Mother Jones investigates the vulture capitalists chewing up and spitting out American businesses, the politicians enabling them, and the everyday people fighting back. Find the full package here.
I’ve been with Bob’s Discount Furniture for a little over 10 years. Originally, Bob’s felt like a smaller company. We had managers that would support us. There were cafes in the store. They’d serve fresh cookies. There was a pond with actual fish swimming around. It was a nice place to work.
After Bain bought us, things slowly started to change. There was a lot more of a workload. Management changed, too. We lost our regional manager, who was in furniture and knew sales. We started getting new regionals who were ignorant to the industry and just started micromanaging.
Another big thing that changed was HR. We used to have an HR person who would come to the store. Now, HR is a number that’s posted on our walls—sometimes. I have reached out to HR and never had my call returned.
It’s like you go from working for this small company that cares about you to working for this corporation where you’re just a number and totally replaceable—just used and tortured in a weird way. I’ve never met anybody who works for Bain.
There was a lot more of a workload put on us. Instead of just focusing on sales, we were also doing customer service work. So, if I sell something to you, and it’s not available or anything happens, I’m the one who reaches out to you. I’m taken off the sales floor to do that kind of thing.
Before Bain, I would say an average salesperson made maybe $60,000 a year after commission. Then, with all the changes, there was a year that I dropped by $20,000.
It was probably about three years after Bain took over before we all started realizing that this is just getting worse and worse. There were other stores close to us that had already unionized. We decided it was something we wanted to move forward with. We had strong opposition from Bob’s.
A few weeks out from the vote, they had everybody come in. We got to meet our HR representatives for the first time. We had the vice president of sales. We had regional managers come in and tell us why we shouldn’t unionize.
We started seeing delays in merchandise when the tariffs started with China. Then with Covid it got to a point where our company can’t even supply furniture. We spend hours with a customer. We set up delivery. Then four months down the road you cancel because you’re frustrated. I get paid $0 for it. We don’t get paid anything until we deliver it to a customer’s home.
At the beginning of this year, I was just breaking commission, so just making $400 a week. Not because I’m not performing but because I can’t deliver anything. There’s been a huge turnover. I think the fact that there’s no furniture to even deliver is the final straw for most people.
They’ve lost a lot of their customers, too. There’s a review that’s sent to you after your purchase. The review says, would you recommend Bob’s to a family member or friend? Management says that’s based on you, so you have to get the review. If we get a bunch of positive reviews, it’ll take away all the negative reviews that the company has because of not being able to deliver. (A Bob’s spokesperson told Mother Jones that the company was just one of many affected by global supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic, and that the problems were not related to its private equity ownership.)
We’ll walk into a room and there’ll be a big poster that says like, “We only had five reviews yesterday. Obviously, you people don’t care enough. You don’t try.” It’s all in angry red markers. They’ll say, “I don’t know when you guys stopped caring.” They’re insane. They’re screaming in your face. They have no problem saying these things on the floor in front of customers. It’s coming from above and trickling down.
We are hoping that the union negotiations go through soon and it goes back to a simpler thing. But I don’t know.
I think they’re a sinking ship. If you’ve been there long enough, you know what it was like before. Now there aren’t any fresh-baked cookies. There aren’t any ponds left in the stores. Bain is going to suck every penny out of it and then discard it once they’ve completely ruined it. All of us salespeople, that’s how we feel. Once the last penny is out of the jar, they’ll sell it.