Let’s Just Call It A Lack Of Enthusiasm

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Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Two of my three children are boys.  When they were young they went by Jimmy and John.  So how cool was it when a sub shop opened in my area that featured both of their names?  That first store was not in a really convenient locale so I didn’t patronize it much.  But with a name like that I certainly wanted to.

Which brings me to a bigger issue.  The company recently had a $1 sandwich promo which had long lines coming out of its stores.  A friend posted something about this on social media and drew a minor firestorm of criticism about the owner and the company.  The gist was that he is a trophy hunter, a Trump supporter and an all around jerk, three things that are not popular in my friend’s circle of influence.

This got me thinking about a couple of things.  What do we do when we don’t like the politics of someone who runs a company?  Those who know me know that I trend conservative.  There was a period of time when I made it a point to not buy Ben and Jerrys ice cream.  Ben and Jerry were well known for being champions of causes dear to the left and I was reluctant to support those causes.

But I thought about it a little more.  I eventually concluded that this is what a free society and private industry was all about.  Weren’t those men entitled to support whomever and whatever were important to them?  And if they also made some of the best ice cream out there, was I not entitled to enjoy it?  Excellence should be rewarded and what they do with their earnings is no more my business than what I do with my own is of theirs.

I realize that my approach may put me into a minority, which is why we seem to be constantly reading about some folks boycotting Chick-Fil-A and others refusing to shop at Target.

Which brings me back to Jimmy Johns.   I saw lines streaming out of more than one JJ location on Dollar Sub Day but had no intention of joining them.  This was partially because I’m not that wild about their sandwiches, but also because I’m not that wild about the way the company seems to be run.

My first brush with Jimmy Johns that did not involve ordering a sandwich was when I sued one of their delivery guys.  He was a college kid on a bike who was zipping the wrong way down a one way street.  My client’s driver was preparing to pull into traffic and was looking in the only direction traffic was coming from.  Or should have been coming from.  As she pulled out the cyclist slammed into her car, damaging it.  So yes, I sued the kid who ran his bike into a car.  Sometimes my career requires me to be an asshole, I know.  But the law is the law.

I called the young man (who, fortunately, was not injured) and he confirmed that he had indeed been on the clock for the sandwich shop at the time.  Well, thought I, this should be easy to resolve.  I will just call Jimmy John’s corporate office, get with its risk management people and we will doubtless have this sorted out Freaky Fast.  Or not so Freaky Fast, as things turned out.

“Thank you for calling Jimmy Johns, how may I direct your call?”  I asked to speak to someone in their risk management department or whoever deals with insurance claims.  “Do you have the name of the person you want to speak with?”  Well no, I did not.  Anyone in that department would do and surely that person could get me where I needed to go.  But no dice.  The steely receptionist made it plain that if I could not ask for someone by name, she was not permitted to transfer my call.

“OK” I naively thought.  “She must not understand.”  I tried to explain what had happened and that the next step was to get notice of the matter to someone in the company who deals with these things, and who was undoubtedly not aware of it.  I may have tried three or four different ways to get the point across that nobody wanted a lawsuit and that we could all save a lot of time and expense by just getting me to the appropriate department.  After all, this is normal stuff that I deal with countless times a week.  But it was no misunderstanding.  The lady on the telephone drew a line in the sand:  No name?  No call transfer.  “Those are my instructions.”  A last-ditch request to talk to her superior got the same response.

So I filed suit.  A couple of weeks later I got a call from an attorney and we sorted things out.  But I still wondered, is this really the way they run that company?

A few years later my oldest son took a job delivering for a Jimmy Johns store during his last semester in college.  He wisely avoided going the wrong way on streets and did not get sued, in case you are curious.  But his stories about how the place operated made me suspect that my earlier experience was not an anomaly.

My favorite story involved the bread.  At the end of each evening there would be leftover bread.  It was sometimes his job to throw it out.  This seemed wasteful to him and a couple of times he took the bread to a local food pantry to be distributed to those in need.  Then (as I recall the story) he asked his manager if this could be done “officially” so that the pantry could come and pick it up directly.  “Not allowed” was the response.  We have to throw it out.

My son is not easily satisfied with answers that do not make sense and he persisted.  “Why?”

“Because that is the way corporate says to do it.  We don’t want liability from people eating old bread” came the reply.

“You mean like the dozen loaves of yesterday’s bread that we don’t throw out so we can put it on the counter to sell for 50 cents?”  Which they do.  But there would be no deviation from the official JJ way.  No donations, throw it all out.  Which sort of confirmed my earlier experience of a heavyhanded, top down micromanaging culture that made any deviation from “the way” strictly prohibited.

Even with all of this, my lack of enthusiasm for the company has not resulted in a boycott (although the place does tend to rank fairly low in my hierarchy of fast food.)   (And doesn’t everyone have a hierarchy of fast food?)  But to fight the crowds on Dollar Sub Day?  No thanks.

11 thoughts on “Let’s Just Call It A Lack Of Enthusiasm

  1. Quite interesting about JJ’s. I’ve stopped there only in a pinch, but my wife seems to like them for convenience. Eating there is a reliable shot of salt to the system combined and their sweet tea (for the locations having it) is atrocious.

    You are a kinder hearted soul than I; with the gal on the telephone I would have taken her name and told her I was suing her as she was the sole representative for the company.

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    • I didn’t think to ask her name. It’s funny how a consumer products/services business can be such an impenetrable fortress. I know of one big insurer that does not disclose the physical location of its claims office. But then as tight as they are with claims, they probably have legitimate safety concerns.

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  2. There’s a great book about corporate culture that has a terrible name: The Reengineering Alternative by William Schneider. It describes a model for describing corporate culture. Without describing the whole model (try this: http://agilitrix.com/2011/03/how-to-make-your-culture-work/), JJ’s sounds like a control culture. Success there is all about following the rules. There really are people in this world who thrive in such environments.

    I am not one of them. The big health insurer in town is a control environment, and I did four miserable years with them. Blech.

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    • Very interesting. You are probably right about the control culture. I would guess them in a high corner of the graph you linked. I am a big believer in process and standardization, but would not make it for a week in an intense control culture.

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  3. Well that’s a chain I must say I’d never heard of. I find in the US the best food experience is to be found at Mom and Pop places with a lot of pickup trucks parked out front.

    The large company I work for is very controlling, it’s based in Europe and we’re a small branch office here. The culture that has evolved at out office is to as much as possible present the appearance of compliance while trying to do the right thing. It is soul crushing game at times but also real good feeling to have come through for a client despite ourselves.

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  4. Going anywhere on deep discount day is rarely worth it. Having worked in property and casualty risk management for almost my entire life, your story about the claim is infuriating at best. I agree that this says a lot about the culture of the company. No thanks to both!

    As to whether I would boycott a company for their beliefs. I think it depends on the beliefs first. Second depends on supply and demand. Honestly I wouldn’t boycott Hobby Lobby, but if another craft store was nearby I would gl there instead. I wouldn’t say a boycott but if there’s enough supply to make another choice I probably would.

    But I’m not taking on a pedestal here. We cover a horrible Cracker Barrel case study in my Econ class. But I still go there occasionally. Bad coffee and bad politics but delicious chicken fried chicken. 😉

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    • I suppose there might be companies that I might boycott under the right circumstances. But as you say, there are tradeoffs involved.

      You remind me of something I read about how there is Crate & Barrel and there is Cracker Barrel, and their customer bases are almost perfectly mutually exclusive.

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  5. My sub sandwhich loyalties have shifted over the years. In high school, I was a die hard Subway fan who ate it almost every week. Once I got to college, I switched to Jimmy Johns because they were open late (often till the wee hours of the morning) and were, believe it or not, often the way I capped off a Friday or Saturday night. Since my father introduced me to the magic that is Dibellas, I mainly go there these days; nothing fills me quite like one of their large subs. Your experience dealing with the Jimmy John’s corporate office reminds me of my time searching for a job, and all the annoying HR people I had to deal with. Whatever the intentions were, modern corporate culture largely excises common sense from their modus operandi, to the detriment of anyone not in their organization. The next great evolution for mankind will be when it’s not a pain to call HR/call centers/customer service.

    Also, while I’ve never personally had any bad experiences with Jimmy Johns, I’m never been a fan of the faux-hip philosophy (all those dime store quotes and lists offering supposed advice for life, all of it of dubious merit) that they plaster all over the walls of their locations. As far as I’m concerned, it’s pandering of a most annoying sort.

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