Monday, 28 September 2009

Supermarkets and the cost of living

I spent last week working on a tender to get work from a supermarket.

Sadly enough I must admit that sometimes I get a bit of a kick about putting these things together – it’s a throwback to the days of writing essays – with the same essential ingredients of bluffing and bullshitting. With an added frisson, albeit a self deluding one, that if successful we are getting one over on ‘The Man’ – and of course paying the bills for a few more months.

The quasi-profession of ‘procurement’ has its own bullshit ethics of ‘fairness and transparency’. One consequence is that if any of the parties tendering have a question to ask then it is published, along with the answer, for all the other tenders to see. So after a week of bullshitting away on my tender I got to see the questions from ‘the competition’.

The answers let slip a few things that the supermarket hadn’t been quite so transparent about initially. Such as for every piece of work they gave us - we would have to pay them an ‘admin fee’ ; or that we had to employ a couple of staff to work in their head-office at specified wages way below what we would normally pay. Or that we would also have to pay the supermarket rent for the space taken up by the desks of our staff in their building. Or finally that they wouldn’t actually be paying any of the bills themselves – their suppliers would be picking up the costs and it was down to us to get the money out of them.

Imagine trying to negotiate such a deal in any other situation, say when buying a car or a house. Particularly if you weren't told about the 'hidden catches' up front - you would be sorely tempted to punch the cheeky fucker's lights out, or at the very least you'd walk away as quickly as you could. So I did the next best thing and immediately pulled out of the tender. The Bastard Supermarket seemed genuinely perplexed and offended.

I feel sorry for the poor sods who do win the contract - it will go one of two ways; if the company is a medium sized one – like ours - it will run the work at an increasing loss and so grind itself into the ground within a couple of years. Or if it’s a large one it will try to off-shore the work to a studio in India , Eastern Europe or wherever else labour is cheap that month. That's precisely what's going on in our industry when small businesses have to swim with the sharks. In any case, in a couple of years the Bastard Supermarket will have sucked everything it can out of the relationship and declared a new tender for fresh victims.

Blake’s 'dark satanic mills' may have been the universal symbol of old -style capitalism.If you want the equivalent for our own ‘post-industrial we’re all consumers now’ society – it’s the supermarket.

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