Dischem leadership would have been wise to consider a much-quoted comment from Warren Buffett in a memo to some of his subsidiaries a while ago:
"We can afford to lose money - even a lot of money. But we can't afford to lose reputation - even a shred of reputation."
Dischem’s reputation is burning at the moment. At a time when people are searching for good news, they kicked us when many of us are already on our knees.
Crises are extraordinarily difficult to navigate, even more so when there is no precedent like the one we are navigating right now. But what they do is shine a bright light on our underlying values. And Dischem has been shown to be wanting, not once, but twice.
They had the perfect opportunity to burnish - not burn - their reputation. They were deemed an essential service from day 1, being able to trade almost as before. However, their first response was to stop paying or pay reduced rent to landlords in April. You could perhaps understand that from retailers who have not been able to trade at all. But essential services?
And now being reported to the competition commission for price gouging on face masks seems to be saying that they value making the most of this situation, overcharging for essential goods whilst questioning their obligations to suppliers.
And so far as of 09.30 this morning, they have been rather quiet. Their Twitter page still has a poll asking “what makes you feel calm and centred?”
The choices are yoga, meditation, reading and exercise. This response kind of sums up the overall sentiment “It’s hard to stay calm when we found out you inflated your prices during this horrific time.” #dischemmustfall is the hashtag. And we’ve seen before how quickly people coalesce around these calls.
It can’t get worse than this. This is a failure of leadership. They either have no good counsel or choose not to heed the counsel of any alternative points of view.
They might argue that that’s business, but it's very clear that right now it’s not business as usual.
As my wife said to me this morning “I just don’t think I can shop there anymore.”
This can hurt them for many years to come. How they respond is another test of what they value and have learnt in this time. It’s quite simple: reputation is everything.
Total Exposure is a modern PR agency that subscribes to that maxim.