Foodservice Equipment Reports

Why We’re Not Writing About FoodServiceWarehouse

A number of you have asked us why we’re not writing about FoodServiceWarehouse, the Internet enterprise started and owned by members of the PRIDE dealer marketing group. The company has fallen on hard times during the past 12 months or so. Since included among those asking are a former president of NAFEM and a former president of FEDA, I think time has come for me to address the issue. Note that I just switched from the editorial “we” to the personal “I.” I am president of FER Media and at the end of the day, it’s my call on whether we cover this—though I always seek counsel from Beth Lorenzini, our chief editor, and my new best friends and owners at WAI on issues such as these.

The first reason we haven’t noted the situation is that the story is not over. Those involved are still working things out. But that’s only part of my issue with covering this. I’ll tell you a couple of stories to better explain my position.

When I was chief editor at FES in 1982 and ’83, I wrote a story on the venerable New York dealership H. Friedman. Six months later, the company went belly up. I walked in to see my Publisher (later friend and mentor) Mike Wisner, and asked “So how do I deal with this? How do I write about it?”

He looked at me for a moment and said, “You don’t.” And then he asked a question: “What’s the purpose of a trade magazine?”

We were very well-trained at Cahners Publishing, so I responded, “To help our readers do their jobs.”

“Right,” Mike said, and added, “How is our humiliating the people at Friedman going to help people do their jobs? Everybody in any small town knows the bad news. Let it go.” Mike often called FES a small-town newspaper.

Everyone who has ever worked for me in all the years since knows this story. We actually have a term for it: The Wisner Test. And we apply it to lots of things we do, not just negative things such as bankruptcies.

Bear with me and I’ll tell another story. When I was a senior editor at Restaurants & Institutions in 1980, I helped coordinate and write a series of “what happened to” articles on fast-growing chains the magazine had identified over a 10-year period. We identified the big winners, the concepts that had done OK, and also did a section on those that had not done so well. I took the last one, because it was hard and I found it interesting.

I wrote about a chain called Jack August Steak & Seafood, a dinnerhouse chain based in Connecticut that had gone bankrupt. I did my reporting. I interviewed suppliers and the Massachusetts-based insurance company that had helped fund the chain’s growth. It became apparent there were some major flaws with the chain’s concept and its operations and I thought the mistakes they’d made were instructive. I tried multiple times to talk to Mr. August and others at the former company to get their points of view. No one returned my calls. So, noting that, we ran the story.

Fortunately, I kept very good notes because a few months after the article appeared, Jack August sued us for libel. Cahners was at the time one of the largest business-to-business media companies in the world. They had very good, and I’m sure very highly paid, lawyers. And the suit was quickly dismissed. But it was pretty nerve-wracking for a 30-year-old editor.

In retrospect, after the incident, I decided I shouldn’t have written about it anyway, even though I’d been professional. I began to question my motives. Was I trying to provide my readers with an object lesson, or just show off how much we knew about restaurant operations. After all, the guy had lost his dream. The market had been cruel enough.

Needless to say, when Wisner told me to leave the Friedman situation alone a couple years later, I was relieved.

I don’t mean to suggest that, when it comes to FoodServiceWarehouse, we are risk-averse. Heck, we started FER with the very high-risk concept of doing product comparisons and naming names in a publication almost completely funded by advertising. Every month we have to make sure we are extremely knowledgeable, fair and even-handed so we don’t inadvertently weight our comparisons in some manufacturer’s favor. It’s nerve-wracking, too, but worth it because it passes the Wisner Test: It helps people do their jobs and in ways that are totally unique in this market.

And this expands into something we’ve tried to build into the culture of this media company from the very beginning. To earn your trust, as a reader, customer or both, we must keep our facts straight and also never appear to ever pick winners and losers. And then, trust and credibility go beyond accuracy to being fair, to convincing folks we’re not out to undercut their businesses. We’re fond of saying we “love all our friends equally.”  Or as our Founding Editor Brian Ward once joked, “We give our readers all the information our advertisers let us get away with.”

And one more thing: Over the decades, we’ve hewn to this path well enough that lots of you share information with us in strictest confidence. We’ve also been known to say we “know lots of things we can’t tell anyone.”  Many people, both  key stakeholders in FSW and competitors, have given us info, privately and confidentially, on what went down. Some people made mistakes and things went south. Lots of people got hurt, including dealer members, suppliers and FSW employees. The full story will emerge over time and those with an interest will know it or find out about it. I want to honor everyone’s confidence in us, so we choose not to pile on. I just don’t see the point.

We’ve written in FER Dealer Report two weeks ago and again this week about the reorganization and new executive team at PRIDE. We wish them and the dealer  and supplier stakeholders of the group and FSW the very best going forward. We’ll all see how it plays out. But until I can see a way this story passes the Wisner Test, we’ll leave it alone.


Robin Ashton


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