Merry Christmas To Most

by jvaragona

As the year winds down and we are in the midst of the holidays, I count my blessings. My son made it through a scary Craniosynostosis surgery without any complications. We spent our first year in our first home without any huge issues. I may have lost my job, but we have survived, no thanks to those that put us and countless others in this hairy position.

I wonder if InkStop CEO, Dirk Kettlewell and his wife Dawn, who was a VP in the company, sleep well at night knowing of all the lives they affected by yanking employment from people and the money owed for their last 3 weeks worked as well as various vacation and expenses. This was not a sign of the times. This was not a product of the economy. Do not give me your bullshit lines of how the poor economy has hit many hard and blame the government for this group of unemployed, like I see so many times as I read through comments on articles about what happened at InkStop.

As a store manager in one of their stores, I saw otherwise that points to pure ignorance in terms of running a business and/or a great scheme for a handful of folks to make their money not caring what vendors, landlords, or employees they rip off along the way. A little over a year ago, managers were gathered to preview the upcoming holiday season. We saw merchandise that never came around and some that did, but a couple of weeks before Christmas. We were told that the company would turn a profit and we could expect great things. From there, we had ads in Sunday papers that showed products that we had small quantities of or none of at all. We were given orders to presell items on the first day they were advertised. i myself have never been to a retail establishment that offered to presell anything beyond upcoming video game releases, but we did this week after week. Hell, we needed some profit, and sometimes most of it was from items that did not exist in our stores yet. We had anticipated dates that would fluctuate. We would not only presell, but if you didn’t want to pay ahead, we’d still put you on a list and call you if we ever got what you wanted in. Most phone calls I would receive around this time were having to with when the product would be coming in that someone paid for or was put on a list for. Our binder of people that had prepaid or were waiting for product was pretty lengthy. This is not how retail usually operates folks.

When it came to Black Friday, I asked for assurances from people above me that we would have sufficient quantities, since we had previously had issues with that, especially items on the front page of our ad. I asked if we should hold items back for that day. I received mixed messages on that so we held back what we could and of course were still left in a bind. We had pink Kodak cameras advertised that we originally were told we would get no more of in for our Black Friday ad, which is crazy, but we ended up getting a couple last minute. It was still quite frightening explaining we had one less than advertised to the line of people that had braved the cold weather at 4:30 in the morning outside of an ink store. They should’ve known better.

Okay, so mistakes are made, but in my time in retail, I had never seen anything like this, and I’m sure the majority of consumers can say they haven’t either. Some have said, that’s the pain of being a startup. Well at that point, we were 3 Christmases in with this company. A company with “a management team that’s done it before” (a quote directly from Mr. Kettlewell) should know not to advertise product that they can’t meet demand on and to be opening the majority of its new locations during the month of November, which eats up funds and existing inventory when both of those are already in short supply.

As time went by, we entered the new year with all print advertising suspended and any shipments virtually non-existent. Obviously something was wrong, yet money was spent on canvassing brochures and coupons that we were to treat like gold. Instead that money could have been spent on keeping ink on our shelves, since we were, say it with me now, INK-Stop. We turned more and more customers away each day giving new excuses as we went along, because we were in the dark as much as they were. Sure, vendors would not give us product. You cannot receive what you do not pay for.

By spring, many vendors were suing InkStop already for non-payment and before summer began, landlords got on board. We were told not paying landlords would help them renegotiate leases. If I were the landlord, I would sue the piss out of them and go on my way, since they obviously were not good for anything. Traffic at my location was down to under 5 paying customers most days, since we were turning many away that we did not have ink for. They began advertising on the radio here, which seemed odd considering you are inviting people into a store that already is an embarrassment and instead of getting your act together and filling shelves with needed product, you waste money on another venue to bring people into our store and get ticked off. I only hope this management team that has done this before doesn’t get the chance to do this again. If they do, I can only blame the company that decides to hire them, not the economy or whatever else is convenient.

Just in case you don't see one sign, there are many...and a guy wearing one waving more signs.

Now my former store is finishing liquidating product as part of the bankruptcy of InkStop. Hopefully some money comes from that. I am owed over $3000 in wages and vacation pay. I imagine most of the 400+ that were screwed over in this mess are missing out on $2-3K that they rightfully earned. I wonder if the Kettlewell’s are having a Christmas at all. I’m sure they are, but it’s a shame if you figure all of the Christmases they’ve affected. I’m sure others on the board of InkStop, which include Dale Fuller, John Bulgarella, Mark Race, B. Charles Ames, Norbert “Nobby” Lewandowski, Richard Ames, Michael A. Clegg, James J. Hummer, James Mastrian, Michael Shaughnessy, Norman “Boomer” Esiason, William Heinzerling, and Harvey Sanders will have a wonderful holiday with their families. Even if they didn’t make most consequential decisions in this company, their hands were in the pot. If they paid more attention, this could have ended sooner with a warning so that folks could leave on a brighter note with all of their money. Good thing that towards the end (from “InkStop Started With a Bang and Ended With a Bust” by Janet Cho in the Cleveland Plain Dealer 12/21/09):

…even as revenue streams from investors were dwindling, the company issued nearly $5.3 million worth of checks and wire transfers to its directors and senior managers, according to court documents. Directors were repaid for their previously issued notes: $1.7 million to Richard Ames; $1.2 million to James Hummer’s Luxemburg Capital; $369,000 to B. Charles Ames; $350,000 to James Mastrian; and $109,268 to Norman “Boomer” Esiason.

Company executives were reimbursed for their expenses, including $143,495 to Dirk Kettlewell and $80,328 to Mark Race, vice president of real estate; and $10,451 to Dawn Kettlewell.

Doesn’t it give you that warm feeling? If you figure an average of $3K for each of the 456 employees that lost jobs when it all went sour, that would only make $1.37 million. I’m sure these multi-millionaires could afford to toss some money our way, but we’ll have to fight tooth and nail for whatever we can get instead in the courts. It’s a shame how these things work. All of these big wigs can go put their money into something else without paying much attention to it.

More signs. Hopefully something good comes from this ugliness.

Yes, I’m ranting here, and that isn’t what the holidays are about, but I only wish some couldn’t have any enjoyment out of this at all and others could have a much better holiday with all of their bills caught up on and being able to give their children and grandchildren everything they want for Christmas.

I have realized through all of this that the gifting does not matter. The fact that we all have friends and family and are thankful for each and every moment we can spend with them, even through those dramatic times, is great and is what this is all about. No matter if there is deep religious meaning to this holiday or not for you, it is about being with our personal support groups and eating a crapload of food. Enjoy that. And Merry Christmas to all most, and to most a good night (may the other crooks have horrible gut wrenching nightmares of their money evaporating).

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