OK FURNITURE BULLY BOYS
It is just over 16 months ago that Aubrey Karp, then CEO of OK Furniture/House & Home pulled the plug on HGR - on over five months of hard work, plus several thousand rands on a wasted and fruitless enterprise and blew a giant hole in our bottom line.
Which came terrifyingly close to sinking us. And as we came to realise shortly thereafter, for the most selfish and specious of reasons. In February 2016 after we published a particularly flattering article on Karp and his achievements at OK/House & Home and he had expressed his delight, we suggested that we compile, prepare, write, publish and distribute an OK/House & Home Company Profile. Karp was immediately interested and a few weeks later and in the company of his two lieutenants at the time, Deputy CEO (now CEO) Paul Fairhurst and advertising/marketing manager Sheridan Smit, the conditions and the timeline were agreed. Now HGR and it's antecedent FAS Retailer, has over the decades of their existence successfully published 21 such Profiles for both retailers and suppliers. These have included giants of the industry such as the JD Group (in its pomp), Ellerines (back in the day), Hirsch's, Tafelberg, Game, Tedelex, Defy, Van Dyck Carpets, Restonic, Masons and a host of others. Without exception, these Profiles were received by these clients with enormous appreciation.
We had honed our Company Profile Business Model so that it was attractive to the client and simultaneously rewarded us. Probably the key inducement to clients was the fact that we demanded no payment for such a Profile. We would do all the work, the interviews of key personnel, the writing of these articles, a compilation of the history of the company, timelines and the milestones of growth, the company's philosophy and ambitions, missions statements, interviews with long serving staff and with selected suppliers on their relationship with the client et al. All this editorial content usually illustrated with archival images, current images of interiors and exteriors plus photos of all interviewees. And anything else of interest which the client wished us to insert. Thereafter once client approval had been obtained, we would have it printed (laminated covers and prestigious gloss paper) and distributed. At our expense...
In return we asked that the client pays for just ONE advert –at our usual rate - on the outside back cover of the publication. That would be the client's sole monetary contribution and their necessary commitment to ownership. We would fund this publication by soliciting advertising support from the client's suppliers. These conditions were explained to Karp and his team and agreed to. We would get all the co-operation needed in terms of compiling this Profile. Interviews would be set up, images provided, a short list of preferred suppliers to interview in the expectation of generating testimonials, plus a more comprehensive list of suppliers who we could approach for advertising support. We were urged to complete this Profile as soon as possible. We were in April at this time and we committed to finalising by July IF we were given full co-operation by Aubrey Karp in terms of the agreement and in terms of promptly approving all copy written and sent through. He made an explicit promise that he personally would ensure that timelines were met on his side.
A letter was subsequently emailed to Mr Karp detailing and confirming the agreement reached. It was not acknowledged. Nevertheless all went smoothly. Interviews were quickly organised and written up. Stories were approved by the interviewees and more importantly, Aubrey Karp, and returned pretty promptly. If errors were made by us, they were attended to and corrected to everybody's satisfaction, if rewrites were required they were done. We received full co-operation even to the extent of receiving the artwork for their Back Cover ad and for their Front Cover.(We levied no charge on the Front Cover).
We had also received excellent support from the client's suppliers with enough secured ads to justify publishing a substantial and attractive Company Profile. Despite all this, by late June it became clear that we would not be able to meet the July deadline as requested. Stories were quite suddenly taking longer and longer to be approved, and Karp when pushed, made it plain in pretty uncompromising language, that he had other much more important priorities. We had to be patient. So July passed. Despite these delays and by sheer persistence, by mid-August we had every article that had been submitted approved, bar one. His own. It had been submitted in good time and was really an embroidered and expanded rewrite of the story we had published in February and which Karp had been so thrilled by.
At his explicit request too, we had written a Foreword to the Profile for him. This is always the prerogative and remit of the CEO. This too was withheld by Karp. At the end of August we wrote to Karp pleading that he approve his article and the Foreword as that was all that was outstanding. We could then lay it out to the design (already paid for and done by our designer), send it through for final approval and then on to the printers. We could have it out by mid-October. We received no response. We wrote again pointing out that if we delayed much longer we could not guarantee the Profile would be printed in 2016 as printers were heavily committed at year end and the Profile would only see the light of day in 2017. Of course too we were seriously concerned that our cashflow would dry up having committed all our sparse resources to the compilation and production of the Profile.
In September we received a one line email from Karp stating that he was going into hospital for a serious op and would not be in a position to proceed with the Profile. We were devastated at this news. We immediately informed him that everything was in place, that if he approved and returned the one outstanding article and Foreword immediately, we would have the Profile laid out and delivered to him wherever he was for final approval. No reply. In desperation we emailed a request that compensation be considered for all the work we had done and through no fault of our own were unable to complete. This drew a vicious and abusive response from Karp, labelling us as 'gold diggers' and declaring that we had assured him that OK would not be liable for any costs for the publication of this Profile. We replied that that was indeed so, but he had not allowed us to publish the Profile. He had waited until it was virtually ready for print and then pulled the plug. A few days later he dropped a hint that he may revisit the matter in February when he returned. At that stage we withdrew our demand for compensation as we felt he was dangling the prospect of completion and did not wish to jeopardise this possibility.
In January 2017 we were appalled to learn that he would not be returning to OK. At a small private business lunch at which HGR was present, Aubrey Karp phoned our host and another guest and confided that he would not be returning to his position as CEO of OK/House & Home. He was being retired by the Shoprite board. The penny dropped immediately. He had unquestionably known of this for many months, and had several months ago decided he was not interested in pursuing the publication of the Profile any longer. Nothing in it for him. In effect he had deceived us.
We immediately wrote to Karp's 2iC and presumably the heir apparent Paul Fairhurst, copying in Sheridan Smit, pointing out that we had learned from unimpeachable sources that Aubrey Karp had been retired, and must have known about his impending forced retirement for a long time. Naturally, we did not reveal the source of our information. We requested we be allowed to complete the Profile, with any necessary changes in view of the new circumstances, as we had invested the best part of the year on it. Fairhurst was away but we received a stinging rebuke from Sheridan Smit informing us that we had been misled, had been grossly misinformed re her boss's retirement, that he would be returning shortly, and that we should not listen to bitchy trade gossip! She also forwarded the email sent to Paul and her to Aubrey Karp. By return we received a ranting volley of vulgar abuse from the man, someone allegedly so desperately ill that he was unable to check and sign off final proofs! Pathetically, he was in full denial of the fait accompli of his enforced retirement. He ended his tirade by informing us that by virtue of our presumption, we had destroyed any prospect of this Profile being revisited and published.
It is now clear that Aubrey Karp, once he had knowledge of his upcoming retirement, had lost all interest in the Profile. For him it was a vanity project and his monstrous ego could not bear the thought of his successor(s) ascending his pedestal and claiming his kudos. Nevertheless, he severely and almost terminally compromised HGR by his reprehensible behavior. We are not letting this go and have resorted to publishing this account along with a demand that OK/House & Home acknowledge these facts and settle for an amount not less that the revenues we had secured.
OK Furniture's legal team have been instructed to resist all demands for compensation and to spin out as long as possible all legal avenues. They have been petty and obstructionist never dealing with the merits of our case but repeatedly demanding further information and further clarification. So instructed by OK Furniture with the primary objective of forcing our legal costs to escalate way beyond what they know we can afford. These are notorious Bully Boy tactics and OK's directorate know it. As do the Courts.Let us reiterate – HGR was not in violation of our joint agreement, not even to one degree. Every article submitted was approved (bar Karp's own) for reasons which we have made clear. This matter will not disappear and OK management had better know that. We will seek every avenue - legal, media and social media - to pursue our claim for rightful compensation. And we will continue until we are compensated.
Ian Hughes - Editor
As South Africa's leading independent retail publication, Home Goods Retailer seeks above all else to improve communication between the retailer and his supplier, because with successful communication both suppliers and retailers will achieve a far greater understanding of each other's needs, problems and the market in general.
Our editorial includes the people and personalities of the trade, hard news, both domestic and overseas, new products, services, developments and trends and regular product spotlights (advertorials). All of this is calculated to assist sales people, buyers and merchandisers to keep abreast of what is available in the local market, and to make informed decisions. 4500 copies of HGR are circulated monthly on a controlled basis to all retail outlets involved in the retailing of lounge, bedroom and dining room furniture, beds and bedding, major and small appliances, audio/visual equipment, selected hardware and home office furniture and equipment.
The distribution is national and also includes selected outlets in Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and East Africa.