Saturday, April 11, 2015

10 Years After: 2012 -- A Manufacturing Parable

The 10th blogiversary fundraiser continues with the Presidential Election year of 2012.

In 2012, I continued to write about work, labor, the problem of chronic underemployment/ unemployment, the problem of  my chronic underemployment/unemployment and manufacturing.

All of This Has Happened Before

All of this will happen again

Now that Hostess has been gutted and left for dead by by vulture capitalists (and now that it's asphyxiation is predictably being transformed by the Magical Power of Conservative Doublethink into another chance to demonize unions), I thought a rebroadcast of this 2007 post about the remarkably similar destruction of another flagship American brand at the hands of a remarkably similar vulture capitalist would be appropriate:
They’re Blowing Up

Tim Riley’s Bar.

In case you never saw it, the title refers to this famous episode of the “Night Gallery”, of which the above is the 7th and final clip (sorry that the sound is a little out of sync.)

It is offered in service of this short, Labor Day parable.

Once upon a time there was a company called Brach’s...

(Photo from here)

They made candy.

Now candy is a very...intimate...product.

It costs a few pennies, you put it in your mouth, and your toes curl up. You give it as a gift to the people you love. On long car trips, Ma Driftglass’ plan to make it across a American west without bloodshed included a thermos of hot coffee, a tea-towel to drape over her sunward arm, a stock of sing-alongs, car games, and a strategic hard-candy reserve.

Brach’s made that kind of candy.

Another thing Brach’s made was a Middle Class: by employing thousands of workers at good wages in all kinds of jobs, Brach’s created an engine of prosperity on Chicago’s West Side.

It was also key to making Chicago the Candy Capital of the Universe. (Oh yes we were!) Because once you reach a critical mass of skilled tradesmen in a particular field, you start to attract other companies – startups and relocators – because they know they can reasonably expect to find enough local talent to make their businesses viable.

And then along came a spider:

Klaus Jacobs of Jacob Suchard.

Who bought this venerable, viable company and proceeded to destroy it (emphasis added).

Wrecked the management:

Management styles and goals clashed, and Jacobs quickly fired Brach's top officers and gutted the leadership of its sales, marketing, production, and finance departments as well. Some of these positions were filled with executives from Suchard's European operations; other positions, including a large percentage of Brach's sales and marketing department, were staffed by people with little experience in the candy industry.
Refused to be bothered to understand their own customers:

To make matters worse, the Suchard-led company did not recognize the U.S. candy market's purchase pattern—in that the bulk of sales are made surrounding Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas—and failed to promote and, at times, even produce the specialized holiday candies.
Fucked with the geese that were laying the golden eggs:

Brach faltered through a series of poor decisions. One of these involved the scaling back of Brach's line, which had reached 1,700 different candies and packaging types and sizes, to only 300 SKUs. This proved disastrous for Brach, because the bulk of its sales continued to be made at the grocery stores and through other vendors that required the flexibility of Brach's former range to realize the highest profit margins.
Ruined one of the world’s most recognized brand names:

Finally, Suchard changed Brach's name, which enjoyed recognition by as much as 77 percent of the U.S. candy-buying public, to Jacobs Suchard Inc.”
Until it was abandoned by its oldest clientèle:
Brach's customers, including major chains such as Walgreens, deserted the company for its competitors. Sales dropped, and the company began posting losses, reaching $50 million in operating losses in 1988, and more than $200 million over the next several years
And they did all of this while aggressively disinvesting in their own people and their own company’s future.

This foreign billionaire wrecked the place, fired workers en masse, blew an economically crippling hole in the neighborhood, sold it at remaindered prices, and slithered away.

And unlike, say, buggy-whip or slide-rule makers who really have outlived their marketplace viability, the extermination of Brach’s was entirely preventable.

So, for reasons of vanity and profit -- arrogance and ignorance pulling in harness with great wealth and complete indifference to the lives of working people -- the brigands who bought the place chose to butcher it.



And for a long time, the deserted hulk of the crowned jewel in Chicago’s confectionery empire sat abandoned.



Until last week when it was finally blown up for the "Batman" sequel.

Here’s the video:

And here’s the story.

This 'Boom!' bittersweet

On the old Brach's Candy factory property, 'Batman' filmmakers destroy office building

By Kristen Kridel and Monique Garcia, Tribune staff reporters. Tribune staff reporter Gary Washburn contributed to this report

August 30, 2007

A ball of fire, a plume of smoke and almost all of Gotham General Hospital was gone.

A wave of heat swept over about 150 people who had camped out at the corner of Cicero Avenue and Ferdinand Street to watch the pyrotechnics go off for a scene in the upcoming "Batman" sequel, "The Dark Knight."

Hollywood came to the West Side Wednesday afternoon to blow up the five-story administration building that Brach's Candy abandoned with the rest of its sprawling complex in 2003.

Now that much of the city's candy industry has melted away, remnants like the Brach's factory are left as nothing more than props.

The plant was once an anchor for Austin, at its height employing more than 4,500 workers. Started more than 100 years ago by a German immigrant, Brach's outgrew its first small storefront and moved into the Cicero Avenue facility in 1923. The factory churned out everything from peanut and hard candies to coconut nougat and marshmallow confections.

Brach's abandoned plant quickly took on a derelict look, which made Wednesday's demolition no less troubling for Matt Hancock, director of the Food and Candy Institute.

"On one hand it's an indication of the way our society unfortunately has come to view manufacturing, that it's a relic and quaint and nostalgic and looks good in a movie," Hancock said. "But that's out of sync with the reality of today's high tech and sophisticated manufacturing, and what it means to a community in terms of economic benefit."
Blown up.

As a prop.

For a movie about a fictional industrialist…

…who works in secret...

…to save his dying city.

Thus endeth the parable.

1 comment:

LowerManhattanite said...

Amazing piece here, dad was a baker, nd we saw what was happening as early as the late eighties with the large companies like Hostess/ITT, Drake's & Sunshine—all local NY sweets giants, and almost all of 'em gutted like Friday's Catfish Supper the same way beloved Brach's went down. Your tying it all in to the war-criminal sourpusses who so gleefully cavitated this country in the run-up, run-around, and runny-shit-ending of the Iraq War is pitch-perfect.