The Parable of the West-Rose Bakers
Author's Note: I was frustrated, so I wrote a thing. It may be a euphemism for real life frustrations.
Once upon a time there was a bakery: West-Rose Bakers. This bakery made the most delicious bread you could ever imagine: a round, old-style, poppyseed sourdough, baked in traditional wood-fired ovens. The crust was just the right amount of crispy, the insides were soft and tasty, and cracking open a fresh-baked loaf produced such a maddeningly-yummy smell that no mouth could resist watering.
The bakers that made the bread didn’t have a store: rather, they operated in a small warehouse. To sell their bread, they partnered with a grocery-delivery business, FoodTube, which brought groceries to customers’ homes by truck.
The problem was that, to get West-Rose bread delivered to their homes, customers needed to meet a “minimum order” with FoodTube, which meant buying a lot of other things those customers didn’t necessarily want or need. The fruits and vegetables FoodTube provided weren’t the freshest, nor were the meats and fish. Nevertheless, the delivery company turned a great profit, because they knew that the only way for the customers to get West-Rose Bakers was through their grocery delivery.
One day, a fed-up customer showed up at the West-Rose Bakers warehouse and banged on the door. One of the bakers answered:
“I’d like to buy some bread, please,” said the customer politely.
The baker shifted uncomfortably, “I’m sorry, ma’am, we only sell bread through FoodTube delivery service.”
“I don’t WANT to buy through FoodTube,” the customer complained, “They make me buy things I don’t need, their fruits and veggies aren’t fresh! Why can’t I just buy some bread from you?”
The baker thought for a moment, “Well, we’re not really set up to sell directly to end consumers. And we do value our partnership with FoodTube. Without them, we wouldn’t have any customers at all!”
The customer blinked, “But… I’m standing right here!”
“Sorry,” the baker shrugged.
The customer drove away, bewildered and frustrated.
Over the next few months, customers would show up at the West-Rose Bakers warehouse regularly, money in-hand, and wanting to buy bread. Over and over again, the bakers would turn them away.
One day, one of the bakers posited: “Maybe we should just sell them bread?”
“I dunno,” mulled another of the bakers, “FoodTube might not like that. At the very least, we should talk to them first.”
So the bakers of West-Rose called up the directors of FoodTube, and explained that their customers wanted to buy bread directly. FoodTube’s directors were skeptical:
“We’re not thrilled by the idea, I can tell you. I remind you that FoodTube and West-Rose have an exclusive delivery and resale agreement. However, since you’re not really delivering food, FoodTube can be flexible and allow you a factory store.”
“We appreciate that,” said one of the bakers, sincerely.
Both parties agreed to some basic terms, and within a couple of days, West-Rose Bakers had set up a register and basic retail front to their factory. They didn’t have to advertise: little by little, customers showed up to ask to buy bread directly, and were elated to find that they could now do what they had expected to have been able to do in the first place.
A few weeks went by, and with each passing day more and more customers were buying food from the warehouse storefront. The bakery’s popularity soon became problematic. The warehouse had a tiny parking lot that had only been designed with employees in mind, not a horde of customers on a busy shopping day. The retail space was tiny, and lineups began to regularly snake around the cramped space and out the front door.
Around two months in, on a busy day, an exasperated man came to the cashier:
“Hi, I’m from Canada. It’s only a 30-minute drive over the border, and it’s worth it for your bread. But it took me almost an hour just to find parking and get through this crazy lineup. It didn’t used to be this bad! Is there any way you could open a bigger store? Maybe even a second one closer to the border?”
“Sorry sir, but I don’t think we have any plans to open a second location. Maybe you could have FoodTube deliver bread to you?”
The man shook his head, “FoodTube doesn’t deliver to Canada.”
Another woman behind the man chimed in, “Can you at least invest in a larger storefront with a second register? These lineups are ridiculous!”
The cashier was flustered, “We have limited space here, unfortunately.”
The first customer was silent for a moment. Then he smiled slightly.
“Give me twenty loaves of the poppyseed sourdough,” he said, somewhat conspiratorially.
From that day on, the same man would return every few days, and buy twenty loaves at a time.
Soon, the bakers received an angry phonecall from the directors at FoodTube.
“Do you know that some guy in Canada has opened a kiosk to resell your bread? ‘Essoh’s Bread’?” one of the directors sputtered accusingly.
Taken aback, the bakers looked at eachother. “No, we weren’t aware of that,” said one.
The FoodTube director continued, “This is an outrage! It’s a violation of our exclusivity agreement! We’re going to file a lawsuit and stop them!”
Once again, the bakers of West-Rose were shocked. Another baker chimed in: “Well, we wish you wouldn’t! What harm can one little kiosk do? Your company doesn’t even operate in Canada.”
“But we might! Someday… if we wanted to. It’s about principle! We have to protect our contractually-granted rights!”
“Please don’t sue our customer.”
“You’re enabling him. You’re lucky we don’t sue you too for breach of contract!”
The call ended thus.
The directors at FoodTube hired a sharkish Canadian legal firm and sent out a cease-and-desist notice to the man, Essoh, who had been running the bread kiosk. Essoh’s legal costs made fighting the case unsustainable, so he was forced to shut down. News travelled quickly and soon enough West-Rose bakery was inundated with angry phonecalls and e-mails condemning them for using heavy-handed legal tactics.
The bakers were dismayed, they hadn’t sued the kiosk vendor, their partners at FoodTube had, yet all the blame seem directed at West-Rose. Business began to dry up. Customers who liked West-Rose’s bread but didn’t like FoodTube’s other offerings got tired of settling for bad produce to get good bread. Direct customers decided that hunting for parking spots or waiting in line wasn’t worth their time.
Worst of all, pumpernickel was suddenly en vogue. Sourdough was passé.
When the term of the exclusivity agreement ended, FoodTube opted not to renew their contract with West-Rose Bakers. The bakery went out of business shortly afterwards.
FoodTube survived, and expanded. They continued to pedal lots of mediocre groceries - overripe produce and stinky seafood - by bundling them with a few quality goods from small producers; whom they bound with exclusive distribution contracts.
bread photo by Bo Starch via