Duggan Sisters Attacked by Whole Foods Thug

By Mary Duggan

Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned
Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.

by William Congreve, The Mourning Bride, 1697

As a young woman I entered into a really sick marriage. Well educated, meaningfully employed and facing a red-hot future, I walked head long and innocent into an abyss that derailed me – heart and soul – for over 14 years.  I know from abuse. Exposure now to interpersonal toxins registers with me physically: a bitter, metallic taste fills my mouth; my solar plexus swells and painfully tightens. My reaction is visceral, insistent and king-sized. I have successfully healed on many levels from that experience and I have painstakingly steered clear of abusive relationships ever since. I never imagined that business partnerships could so easily replicate the abusive model I had so struggled to overcome. Boy, was I wrong.

Our first kiosk and a supportive team leader. High hopes on DAY ONE.

In March of 2011 the Duggan Sisters loaded our lifestinks® deodorant products into our first Whole Foods Market, led an inspiring and informative training session for the staff, and filled a kiosk with our treasured products; an environmentally responsible and lymphatically sound deodorant system that represented the combined efforts of the three of us for the better part of a decade. When the kiosk finally looked as perfect as we could possibly make it, I turned to a stunned Clare and said “I have to get out of here NOW. Please, get me out of here!” On what should have been one of the happiest and most fulfilling days of my career, I was having THE REACTION and I was having it strong.

I am so powerfully attuned to abusive energy that I knew in one day what it would take our company collectively 10 months and a lot of anguish to comprehend. Many the bride knows the feelings of doom I was experiencing. They know they are making a terrible mistake; but, for a myriad of reasons, they walk down the aisle anyways. My journey this time was down the grocery aisle; but surviving and recovering from marital abuse gave me the insights and frame of reference I needed to identify the same beast in a new role.

EYES WIDE OPEN

Like a handsome and charismatic groom seducing a plain but accomplished bride, Whole Foods Market (WFM) had the cachet and wow factor that our humble little company so desperately needed. Or so we thought. Faithful fans and followers of our grass root initiative were thrilled for us and this added to our joy. But wise observers and victims from every direction came to us with scary stories about this organization. We listened and believed and sought legal counsel. Powerful, prestigious and practically pro bono, our attorneys reviewed the WFM contract to no avail. With this organization it was their way or the highway – a take it or leave it arrangement that was the first of so many red flags.

Our trusted trademark attorney had done her job well. Our registered trademark arrived so far ahead of schedule that it felt like a blessing, an omen, and a talisman. This grand new partnership inspired us to fulfill a dream and so with borrowed funds we increased and completed our flight of products with multiple strengths in each infusion and marked the achievement with new labels touting internationally recognized (INCI) terminology. Those were heady and busy days, months actually, totaling almost six, as we dutifully prepared for the coming union. Having experienced rigorous sales and passionate launch parties with previous partners, we braced ourselves for the growth that an established chain with a marketing machine could generate. Our production and raw materials schedules honed and re-honed, we had our ducks in a row and had completed the rigorous application process to prove it. The bride was fertile; but the groom proved to be impotent. We soon discovered what an unpleasant fellow an impotent groom can be.

REGIONAL ON THE LINE: STRIKE ONE

It’s not uncommon for abused wives to reflect that there was no honeymoon. Our union certainly afforded none at all. The heady load in of products was squelched almost immediately with a phone call from REGIONAL. The buyer, inspired we thought by our proven and successful track record had purchased too much of our product. WE were never to allow that again. One sample of each item would be sufficient. We pressed our case that years of marketing our product had taught us some valuable tools for presenting it. We were begrudgingly afforded a modified case size – 3 of each item. But the delivery of the message was so harsh that the entire team sat in stunned and pained silence while Clare navigated the ins and outs of the conversation.

A heady experience for hometown girls. We're on the shelves at Whole Foods!

Sometimes you can simply witness someone answering a phone call and know that they are being bullied. I had THE REACTION again, but I had to defer to the wise counsel of my incredibly skillful sister. We can work with this, she assured me. We can make this work. It will be okay. I had seen her work successfully with bigger and more powerful clients. I had seen her negotiate in foreign lands. I had seen her negotiate in multiple languages. I pushed down my gnawing suspicions and followed her lead. In that one phone call, we had met the Midwest Whole Body Regional Representative. I like to give folks code names so let’s just call him Eminem. No reason, I just like the gangster thug sound of it. But I didn’t like the smell of him. I smelled was the beast. That nasty conversation proved to be the most pleasant one received over a period of ten months. Ten months that were to leave us exhausted, stressed, confused, isolated, discouraged, and with little to show for relentless organizational efforts and commitment.

NOT A SPIDER, NOT A STARFISH, IT’S A SCORPION!

Each store within the WFM Chain is a separate and often confusing experience. Some were a rapid fire yes; others required determined salesmanship on our part.  Some embraced the training and took an inspired and spirited approach to selling our line.

Fresh out of training, turned-on staff sells their first can of lifestinks®.

Some refused training altogether. Others scheduled it months into the future or cancelled at the last minute with little or no explanation. The thought of our very different products being serviced by an untrained staff concerned us deeply. Training sessions ended with a thank you to each staffer for taking part in our training sessions, and a gift of $20 worth of free product. Oftentimes our thank you was met with an expression that we began to hear more and more, “No problem, I’m paid to be here.” It was delivered to us so often as we thanked staff for assistance that it seemed to be their corporate mantra and not at all reassuring to a new partner. And those were the happy times; the honeymoon, so to speak.

Our strategies and projections for ramping up were replaced with a slow down of production as we attuned ourselves to WFM’s idea of acceptable sales and their clear lack of commitment to personal care products. At their peak, 18 of their stores combined did not equal one of our other independent stores! And yet, we were receiving calls from other regions within their chain about our products. They wanted the Duggan Sisters in their stores because they were seeing such wonderful “flow” and hearing great things about our brand from the Midwest buyers. It was all very confusing and exhausting.

We tried to keep our focus on the many wonderful members of the WFM family who enthusiastically embraced our message and sold our products with all the fervor that WFM allows its frequently harried staff. We personally launched store after store, met our WFM customers face-to-face, participated in every WFM event we could manage, even dedicated specific Blog posts to Whole Foods staffers who were embracing our health suggestions. All the while though, almost every start up order and many of the refill orders were botched by their staff and required time-consuming assistance and patience from our team. We stretched ourselves thin and found the time to get into the stores to launch and support with demos, as the buyers and team leaders made it clear that they wanted it to be the sisters themselves. But behind the scenes support required on a daily basis to correct and manage the itsy bitsy and inefficient reorders we were receiving took lots and lots of time and energy.

This team rocked the lifestinks® message. What can they offer confused and disillusioned customers now?

It even got fun for a brief moment. Duplicate invitations arrived requesting us to appear in the stores as Walter Robb, co-CEO of WFM, was coming to town. Staff made a simple and sensible case for us to be there. It is important that we have a strong showing of local vendors. You really have to meet him, we heard. We just know they are going to take you global, they gushed. And so, of course, we made those appearances as well. And we did meet him and he was gracious and complimentary and so encouraging, saying all the things we had been told would indicate the nod, the subtle kimono opening to become a global brand. And so there was some excitement and the feeling that maybe by opening 300 stores we could actually make some headway with this partnership. But it was not to be. The beast had other plans.

HINDSIGHT IS 20/20 AND OTHER FRUSTRATIONS

With October and the demands of Breast Cancer Awareness month, came the descent into the belly of the beast. We were to learn all that we needed to know, and more than we wanted to know. We should have walked then but we didn’t. Grass roots initiatives like ours are tough. If we were to run from every adversity we would never get anywhere. It is also in the nature of entrepreneurs and we are that, as well, to simply view each problem as it reveals itself as just the next hurdle to jump. We tried to jump; but we should have run.

I was the one most responsible for what came to be known as the October debacle. Months in advance we had committed to participating in a ladies spa night at a West Suburban store. In the intervening months we had learned much about these spa nights and the complete ineptitude of our partners to effectively market their events. I was hoarse and weary from the demands of accepting speaking engagements as a breast health professional during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I asked Clare to contact the store and ask a favor. Could we possibly come on the following Saturday and do our demo then? Clare made our sensible case as best she could. Everything she said was true. I was hoarse and exhausted. I would be rested by Saturday. Didn’t it better serve both of our organizations to be in the store on a Saturday when there would be crowds of people we could sell to than to appear at yet another sleepy spa event? We reminded her that we were not sending a demo person. We were sending the owners of the company. She would have none of it. A curt and demanding email made clear to us that our bid for flexibility had gone unheard.

The Sisters generously shared their comprehensive lymphatic wellness message at WFMs far and wide.

We keep our promises. We went. No one turned out. The event was the dismal failure that we had predicted. Fellow vendors reached out to one another in anger and frustration. Particularly vendors who were owners with crazy busy schedules and entrepreneurial smarts that caused them to recoil at ridiculous events that were doomed to fail. I knew we were in trouble though as the Whole Body Buyer stood across the room and glared at us, failing completely to take the opportunity to strengthen the bonds of partnership that could have and should have informed the event.

THE ONLY PIRATE WE LIKE IS JOHNNY DEPP

Then the night took a terrible turn. The employee responsible for marketing the event came to my display to chat. I did my best to remain convivial and engaged though the stink of the failure was oppressive. She began to tell me how truly blessed the Duggan Sisters were by the Buyer in this particular store and how brilliantly she had presented our product line at an all-store meeting for staff beyond just the personal care staff we had trained. As she described the session, beaming with pride in her friend and colleague, I almost fell off my stool with shock and discouragement.  She proceeded to tell me that she had taught them how to pirate our product, bypass our carefully selected decanter, buy our replacement bag and dispense it among salt and pepper shakers to share. I could hardly breathe as she went on and on and on. Finally I found my voice and tried to hold to my calm center as I explained to her how upsetting that was to me on so many levels. She was instantly angry and defensive as I explained how many levels I was horrified on:

  • Our product is protected, for God’s sake, by trademark.
  • Years had gone into finding the perfect decanter free from deadly aluminum or toxic tin and with just the right size of wire mesh – were they vetting their alternate containers carefully?
  • Her defense that the shakers were glass left me dumbfounded. But botanicals can’t be exposed to light or they lose their efficacy, I wailed. They’re damaging our product and our brand!
  • She defended her colleagues’ in-house pirating seminars, saying, “Mary, these kids only make $10/hour.” To which I replied hand over mouth, I haven’t drawn a salary in over 5 years to bring this product to market! It sells for $3/month and drops to $1.50/month with a refill. How can she sell it to the public if she can’t sell it to fellow staffers? If she is teaching her fellow employees to pirate our products, how can I trust her that she isn’t doing the same with customers?

I went home as tired as I have ever been.  The beast was wearing a bra! I was having THE REACTION big time. I knew we were in trouble just as surely as I’d known when I’d found another woman’s lipstick in my car those many years ago. We called our attorney immediately. He advised us to reach out to Eminem in Regional for a low-key discussion of issues, stressing our shared interest in nipping this in the bud. Before we could dial the phone, fires were burning in other stores.

GRASS ROOTS SCORCHED AND BURNED

Our nephew had gone into a WFM location on the North side. He needed a travel container. There wasn’t one in our display. He approached a team member to see when there would be more arriving. She was terribly rude to him and made some sort of unhelpful response. He completed his shopping and was in the check out line when she popped into view with a refill bag to which she had affixed a TRY ME tag! An $18 ONE-YEAR REFILL given out as a sample! What dispenser was she presuming he would use? He’d been seeking a lavender extra strength traveler. How about offering him a cedarwood extra strength traveler? Now a Try Me label on that would have made sense. Incredulous and confused he took the bag, left the store and called us immediately. Guys, you have real training challenges going on here. A small glitch, but I trust my nephew completely. He was really shaken by how rude she had been to a Duggan Sisters customer and then how stupid. I agreed that while a small problem, little more than an annoyance in the larger scheme of things, it would need to be addressed. I didn’t smell the beast on this one until the next morning.

That’s when Try Me Tallulah, let’s just call her that for convenience, called us. You people is generally not one of my favorite ways for a sentence to begin and there she was saying you people have a labeling problem. Of course Try Me Tallulah was having an employment problem and so Clare patiently explained to her how her own system worked and offered to take back the products she had ordered in error and replace them. While she had her on the line, Clare attempted to build on the good will of having just taught Try Me Tallulah a bit more about her job and having bailed her out of her problem with no expenses incurred. She wanted to softly correct her giving out refill bags as samples. But there was to be none of that. Try Me Tallulah went on the attack. Attacking our nephew, insulting our nephew, defending her right to do as she pleased in her own store and then wrapping up with the oh so popular, and while I have you on the phone. She wanted to make sure that Clare knew that she was quite the unpopular figure among Try Me Tallulah’s colleagues and that she might want to tone it down a bit as was becoming known as someone who was quite harsh to do business with. I don’t even remember how the conversation (which I witnessed) ended, as I was overwhelmed with nausea and dread. Another beast in a bra and the stench was unbearable.

While WHOLE FAMILIES were saying YES to lifestinks® and the Sisters' message, WHOLE FOODS was putting up road blocks.

REGIONAL CALLS AGAIN: STRIKE TWO

Try Me Tallulah took action immediately and triggered number 2 of the 3 calls that were to solidify and ultimately end our WFM experience. Eminem was on the line and he was spitting mad. How dare you abuse my staff! You people (there it is again) are impossible! That was the good part of the one-way conversation. It went down from there. In fact the threatening, bullying, and belittling went on for close to 45 minutes. At one point Clare even asked him to stop so she could catch her breath. It was that brutal. When it was over she cried in front of our staff. For weeks, I could see that she had sustained a real blow. She told me later that in 20 years of work in over 18 countries for some of the biggest brands on the planet, no one had ever reduced her to tears. Her attempts to tell our side of the “story” was met with I don’t care what you have to say. No, I don’t want to meet you. No, I don’t want to discuss this. You need to back off and stop bullying my staff.

And that’s when we learned about Empowerment. WFM places real importance on the empowerment of their employees. We were to be told about this core value frequently from Eminem; well, as frequently as 3 one-way conversations allows. His staff’s integrity was infallible and we were abusive, intense and there on borrowed time. Okay, I added in the last three words; I was educated by nuns and that was a threat I was used to. “Miss Duggan, you are here on borrowed time.” Eminem I was not used to. Eminem I couldn’t believe. I felt like somehow I had been assigned a parole officer, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember my crime.

GIRL POWER GONE SOUR

Now empowerment is one of those catch words that sounds great on the surface. When we donate to Organizations like KIVA we are trying desperately to empower women to make real strides to heal the lives of their families and their communities. But this empowerment was proving to be really different. This was the kind of empowerment more closely related to scape-goating. This was the kind of empowerment you use when you’ve screwed up really bad and taught folks how to pirate a product you’ve been paid to sell. Yeah, this is the cover your butt kind of interpretation of empowerment that healthy organizations see through in a hot second. This is the “who do these ladies think they are with their little product and their self-employment and how rich are they” kind of empowerment. This is the danger of all dangers. This is power without wisdom, dialogue, or discernment; hell, basic fairness was out the window. This was the kind of power that made me think of the movie “Shawshank Redemption” where frustrated, angry inmates with ruined lives brutalized and tortured an innocent man.

Yikes, what a horrible way to have the inner dynamics of your business described. But, that is the best description I can provide. That was THE REACTION that flooded through me the day of our first load in. It raced up my spine to the base of my skull. We are not safe here. I could feel the jealous stares from the lifers (I mean staffers.) The resentment from day one was palpable. And nothing we would ever do in the way of training, or service or demo would ever change that. It was endemic to the organization and enforced by Eminem. In the vernacular, we were screwed.

WE LIKE YOUR PRODUCTS, BUT WE DON’T LIKE YOU

To launch our brand, we spent thousands on staff samples, signage and display pieces. Big bucks for a small business.

Remember the spa girl with the ethics of a pirate? Well, she also reached out to Eminem with a characterization of us that confirmed my worst fears and that defied belief. We were not supporting our brand. We were refusing to participate in events with other vendors present. Our display had been dismantled as a punishment. Remember, with a legal mishap like pirating a brand protected by Federal Trademarking laws she had a pretty big ass to cover and cover it she did.

Now bullying children is evil. But the same dynamic applied to innocent adults is also pretty harrowing. The stakes, namely a brand you have mortgaged your home, your health and your life to build is being libeled. And it’s being libeled within an organization that allows you no recourse, no ombudsman, no voice whatsoever. You are being slandered by an organization that is publicly invoking local and artisan and all sorts of other popular buzz words when privately they are threatening you that you had better put a distributor, and a sales rep and demo teams in place PRONTO because while their team likes your product they “don’t like you.”

Like me? What does that mean? Like me? Rarely one to wave a flag of sexism, I have to wonder if they have ever summarily dismissed a male owned and operated company by telling the owners that “we don’t like you!” Tell me that my products have arrived improperly packaged. Tell me that I can’t maintain high enough volumes. Tell me that my product is failing to capture the imagination of shoppers and is sitting on the shelves. Tell me that my labels are crooked or my mother wears army boots. But, you don’t like me? What in the world is a responsible, tested, creative, respected and professional business owner supposed to do with that? People, someone needs to be called to the principal’s office and they need to be called there now.

Our bra-wearing pirate made her move and Eminem played right into her hands. Her butt was covered and nicely so. Now the threats were on steroids. We were being instructed on how to run our business by Eminem himself. We had broken the rules again. We were defying him. We were abusing his staff. We needed to put people in place immediately so that his victimized staff (who didn’t like us) would no longer suffer at our hands.

Whole Foods team members can be real troopers. A 7 a.m. start time for training didn't dampen their enthusiasm for our story.

That Whole Foods Market had recruited us didn’t matter. That we had never been presented with a set of rules was irrelevant. This was not going to be a dialogue. That small artisan shops can’t afford sales reps and demo teams to support sleepy little toxic accounts didn’t matter. That we had encountered lots of team members who expressed enthusiasm and support and genuine excitement about our products being carried was an illusion. We were told that we were so abusive towards the staff that they were afraid to speak the truth to us. The truth was saved for Monday morning meetings and elicited only by his Eminence Eminem who made multiple references to just pulling our product right then and right there. God, I wish he had done that and saved us the final futile efforts to save our doomed endeavor.

VALENTINE’S DAY AT WFM: NO HEARTS ALLOWED

Instead, we interviewed Sales Reps and demo staff. We sought Venture Capital to pay their salaries. We trained a current employee to be our first demo lady and spent untold hours scheduling six weeks of aggressive in-store demos. We got lots of great feed back on her skills and orders started getting bigger. We were invited to participate in events at other stores, including a panel discussion on International Women’s Day. It seemed that things were looking up when an innocent call to a far-flung store to schedule a demo shift was met with an angry staffer threatening to pull our products. We asked for a meeting to hear their grievances and see if we could remedy the situation. We were selling strong in a neighboring store, but we wanted to maintain as stellar a performance as possible so that we could win the coveted global prize. And we just didn’t like anyone to be unhappy with our product presence in any store.

The meeting went, we thought, quite well. The buyer had never met us and knew absolutely nothing about our brand. The Team Leader had met with Clare, been fully trained on our products and our story, but somehow had not felt inclined to share any of the selling techniques she had been taught with her staff of five. She had cancelled training with a day’s notice and was relentless in reaming us for not having “harassed” her about a reschedule the way all the other vendors do. I’m thinking, is that the key? Were we supposed to be harassing instead of abusing? I was super confused and really sick and tired of the entire joyless, barren and time-wasting endeavor; but I did my best to inspire and left with newly scheduled training and the begrudging respect of the buyer who recognized middle aged entrepreneurial exhaustion when she saw it on my face. I really respect you ladies was her parting comment.

She and the Team Leader relayed an entirely different description of the meeting to Eminem. So now I want to nickname them Squirrely and No-go, but I don’t have the heart anymore to play this schoolyard game. Suffice it to say that they quoted us as saying Regional had characterized their store as the Red Headed Step Child. Actually it was one of our customers who lived in the area but I can’t blame them for getting it all wrong. The store was ice cold and pretty much empty and they were having cookies for breakfast and they must have been feeling really bad about themselves because they felt the need to be relentlessly arrogant and suspicious in their interactions with us. In retrospect I can see all of the innocent remarks I made about wanting to become a global brand and the like being so easily twisted and used against me. The stink of the beast in a bra was so bad that I only got five minutes from the store when I asked my sister to get me to the nearest bathroom as I was going to be really sick really quick. And I was.

IT’S THREE STRIKES YOU’RE OUT AT WFM!

And that was Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, and not my lucky day in recent years as last Valentine’s Day my dog died. But I bought my sisters roses and chocolates, nonetheless, from the Red-Headed-Step-child’s store and headed home. By 10:38 AM the following day Eminem had sent an email that it was over. Seventeen months of exhaustive focus and work for a really small local company to engage in. The phenomenal expense of really costly insurance that WFM required for sure wasn’t going to protect us.  All 18 accounts were closed effective immediately, even brand new accounts in other states. To put that loss in perspective, you need to realize that our entire business that day was comprised of 26 accounts!

And the shock and hurt and grief (yes, we grieved) were compounded by relentless abuse by Eminem that continued even after we’d been dumped. It was all too much. And so we called our lawyer and cancelled the table full of orders going out that day to various Whole Foods and assured our employees that we would be okay. Only to have our employees, who fully understood that their salaries were now in jeopardy, tell us how thrilled they were that they would not have to deal with all the rudeness and ineptitude that personified their Whole Foods experiences. Let’s get on with the real work was their clarion call and I have never felt more loved or proud at any job EVER.

We followed the chain of command and of course were never afforded the courtesy of a response or explanation. All that was available to us was more abuse from the delusional Eminem who finally made me laugh when he explained that some of our materials might go mysteriously missing and not get returned to us but that we should just take that in stride because of all the support the Midwest Region had given us in getting “our line off and running.” It was good to laugh at the absurdity of it all because mostly we did not laugh.

R.I.P – W.F.M.

Mostly we anguished. Anguished that we had let our followers down. Anguished that somehow we had made some sort of terrible mistake. Our post-mortem was excruciating and thorough and then finally and gratefully we put an end to it. There was business to be done. We had lost time and momentum – both as precious as cash to a start-up. We absolutely had to survive and to do that we had to work around the clock for weeks and weeks and weeks. And so we all got sick and that was to be expected, as well.

We conscientiously directed our valued customers to purchase at their local Whole Foods.

The recovery period too reminded me of the journey to heal following a heartbreaking divorce.  Coming to painful terms with how other women always seem to be available to partner with creepy guys in taking down decent, hard-working, loving, committed women. Trying to figure out what kind of jealousy or ignorance or rewards system makes women hurt other women. And then realizing that the counselors are right; you aren’t grieving the end of the marriage. The marriage was sick and had to end. You are grieving the end of your dream for the marriage.

Here’s what we finally came to know. We can’t let a handful of women obtuse about the unbelievable sacrifice, effort and commitment we’ve made, and the cynical corporate phony baloneys they work for, get in the way of our life work. Our product and our message in 300 Whole Foods Markets nationwide would have been a wonderful starting point. Combined with three Ma and Pa stores for each WFM, as was our plan, would have really gotten our message somewhere. We’ll never know. What we believe is that we’re better off in the long run without the greedy groom.

IN CONCLUSION, A FEW QUESTIONS

What angers me in all of this is the senselessness. Why damage a young business at the very time our nation is calling for small businesses to hang on? If small business is the backbone of the nation and the backbone is broken, why in the world would a corporation create this bitter scenario? We are being called upon to manufacture (done), export (on the verge) and build jobs (done.) To continue in that vein, we need funding. Why damage the public face of a small business actively engaged in that process? We are being challenged by the likes of Whole Foods to take responsibility for our health by cleaning up our food and product purchases. Then why deprive consumers ready access to a local company doing that and doing it well? Only a cynical or delusional jerk could claim, as Eminem did, to have gotten us “off and running.” Unless Whole Foods has some other agenda entirely in the offing. Time will tell.

Until then, see you at the farm stand, if that’s what it takes.

Duggan Sisters were recruited by Whole Foods at local farmers markets.

 

 

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56 Responses to “Duggan Sisters Attacked by Whole Foods Thug”

  1. Nancy says:

    I am so sorry for your horrible experience. I have a WFM in my town, but I don’t shop there. I have heard from employees how badly they are treated and I don’t like to support such a business. You have given me just one more reason not to shop at WFM. I will stick to my local co-op. I will also continue to order from you online. My whole family (daughter 22, son 19 and I) uses your products and love them! Thank you for a wonderful product and for all of your hard work.

    Best wishes for you and your employees.
    Nancy

  2. Anne France says:

    Hello Duggan Sisters,

    I am so sorry to read this sad story. But, I have to admit – Mary, I loved reading it- you are a truly talented writer! The metaphor, the drama, the bolded print. It was gripping. I guess I would have enjoyed the read more if I thought it was fiction…… Have courage Duggan Sisters. Good things are coming soon.

    Your fan,
    Anne France

    • Mary says:

      Thanks so much for the kind words. This is not a piece I was excited about writing; but I have come to believe that we are responsible for our silence, as well as our words. But, like you, I wish it were fiction. Though I am certain we can look for plenty of WFM mouthpieces to call it a fiction, a lie, and much worse. Yikes, it’s never easy. Stay well.

  3. Jill says:

    I am sorry to hear this awful story and that it had to happen to you. Can’t believe WFM is so anti-small business. I love you girls and your stinking. My sister and SIL now use life stinks-they both bought online. I did buy my latest refill at the Schaumburg WFM and they were very nice. They showed me where it was and got me the Lavender I wanted. That was back in January. You have a superior product and you will grow from this. Hard to believe now but there is a rainbow at the end of the bad road.

    • Mary says:

      Hi Jill,

      Thanks for the encouragement. We, as well, were crazy about the team at the Schaumburg store. It is a particularly lovely Whole Foods and their Whole Body team is just top notch: informed, helpful, and just plain tremendous. I don’t want to get them in trouble by saying the Duggan Sisters thought so highly of them. Within the WFM culture I am afraid it could bring trouble to them. Yikes.

      Waiting on that rainbow,

      Mary

  4. LYNN DEJONG says:

    Wow. What a disappointment. I have been trying to buy product at the Lincoln Park WF now for a while, and finally someone told me that they were not carrying your product anymore. I said, are you kidding? It is the best product on the market!!! She pointed out some other powder and said, this is essentially the same thing. I don’t know what that was, but you may want to check it out to make sure your formula has not been pirated. Well, don’t worry about me. I will continue to order online.

    There is a natural food store here in Lansing, IL, where I live, called Sunrise Food Market. You may want to contact them about placing your product in their store. Everything I tried there prior to getting your product still had me smelling. So sorry you had such a bad experience. I must say that the girl in the Western Springs WF store who showed me the product was very nice, very well informed, and really was positive about it. That is the reason I tried it. Really too bad WF were such d*%*s.

    • Mary says:

      Hi Lynn,

      Thanks for the info, support and shock. We were very disappointed as well. So glad you had a great experience with a girl in the Western Springs store. All across WFM we met wonderful people and are grateful for all they did to keep our product and message alive. I have to remember those wonderful people and not get too discouraged by the women who were anything but. All the best.

  5. Allison Biek says:

    I for one am amazed at your products and I am thankful for the opportunity to buy direct and buy small. We have a whole foods coming to our area and I’m concerned for our local grass roots retailers of wholesome products and foods. I will not give them my business based on this alone!
    My love for your deodorant has turned me into a bit of an “underarm evangelist”. I hope you see more orders coming in because of my stink-free pits. :)

    • Mary says:

      Howdy Allison,

      I just love that you have become an “Underarm Evangelist!” So many days I can’t believe I make my living and fill my days with armpit talk. It’s just so funny. Happy to be a part of your health paradigm. – Mary

  6. wfm employee says:

    This is ridiculous on your end. YOU were rude to employees countless times and warned that we do not allow employees to be treated in such a manner. You were not allowed to demo because you went against DSHEA regulations and made statements to customers that should not have been made. People, many of us loved their products and still do, but this story they are portraying is inaccurate, they mistreated us and when we finally did something about it they decided to get back at us by writing this. It is very unprofessional and shows how manipulative and forceful they are. Remember, there are two sides to every story and if you know whole foods, you know this story seems exaggerated and fluffed. I am a whole body team member, and I do not speak for everyone, but this is not right, this is cruel on their end.

    • Mary says:

      Hello WFM employee,

      Wow, that was fast! You are not even in our database, and so you did not get this email directed to you and yet, here you are within no time! First and foremost, from the Rude Sisters, Welcome to Chicago – we hope you are transitioning nicely to the climate change! A quick Google search on your real (hidden for privacy purposes) name helped us to locate you working for WFM down South and quoted in local papers through January 2012. We never met you during our 17 months of dealing with WFM and yet that is neither here nor there. Here is how I see your job within WFM. You are here to monitor the blogosphere and take on some nifty backpedaling for your employer. Nice try. WFM has damaged a worthy endeavor, namely lifestinks® deodorant and the health message of the duggansisters brand. Your job is to retrofit a sloppy justification by slinging around scary sounding acronyms like the DSHEA and accusing the sisters of breaking their rules. Pleeeeease. The Duggan Sisters have always run a transparent operation, been judicious in how we speak, careful to not make false claims and vigilant in not allowing folks to put words in our mouth. Like we are not “the answer to Cancer” and the like.

      At 58 years of age, I am pretty clear on my shortcomings (and those of my sisters, as well.) We are late for everything. Clare talks too fast. Annie talks too loud. I have terrible teeth and no abdominal tone. The list of faults and shortcomings goes on and on. But we are not rude. We weren’t raised that way. We would never have gotten as far as we have if we were. Remember, as women who run a business we are a minority. So like all minorities, we can’t be clean, we have to be immaculate, it is not enough to be prepared, we have to be uber prepared. Cripes, we have to be UBER everything. You get the picture.

      So, when words like rude and forceful and too intense start coming into play describing women owned and run endeavors, instead of words elucidating concrete resolvable business misunderstandings or disputes or disagreements, one just has to wonder. What is really going on here? Men are forceful, savvy, skillful, aggressive, calculating, persuasive. They get all the really good words and a pat on the back at the end of the day for their business successes. Women get the short shrift with words that diminish and lack information. Don’t you think if we had violated The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, that WFM would have put it in writing, and acted on it in one hot second? I can only imagine how much disinformation is being spewed daily by well-meaning WFM staffers. I know I’ve heard plenty. And hey a personal care product like deodorant does not even fall under this jurisdiction. Enough.

      You have slung your mud, go straight to Eminem’s office and collect your gold star. I have offered a well-written and carefully constructed explanation to our customers. Let the people decide.

      Again, welcome to Chicago.
      Home of the Duggan Sisters
      Creators of lifestinks® deodorant

  7. K. says:

    *sigh* Yet another huge chain which underpays, understaffs, and mistreats everyone in their midst. I’m so sorry this happened to you.

    I was totally gobsmacked when that woman freely admitted to you that she taught the employees how to copy your product (or so she thought). Unbe-LIEV-able! “Mary, these kids only make $10 an hour” – like it’s YOUR responsibility to make up for WF’s lousy pay! While, I’m sure, their executives are rewarded with bonuses beyond belief. This is why I avoid chain stores as much as possible – their ethics are usually deplorable. And frankly, as a two-time breast cancer survivor, I really appreciate the research you put into your containers with their lack of carcinogens. Had some WF employee nonchalantly told me I could put it in glass or some other metal container, just to save some pennies, I’d be REALLY angry.

    I’ll continue to buy your products at Merz, and recommend them to everyone I know. Hang in there, Sisters, it WILL get better! Much love and care to you.

    • Mary says:

      Thanks for the support. Gobsmacked pretty much sums up how we felt about the pirating, as well. When we tried unsuccessfully to bring it to Eminem, he turned the tables on us and said, “Are you telling me your product is unsafe? I’ll just pull it from the shelves right now.” How in the world do you respond to that sort of crazy talk? Alas, we are free of Whole Foods now, and like you, can enjoy the Merz experience instead.

      Keep up the good work. When folks leave Merz Apothecary, Abdul, the owner tells them, “If you like this product, tell 10 people about it.” God Bless Abdul and the power of grass roots efforts to heal the planet.

      Mary

  8. Sue Scott says:

    I am so sorry for you sad, bad experience. I have to go outof my way to go to WF – I won’t. I will continue to purchase from you online.

  9. Laura Brainin-Rodriguez says:

    I love your products. I am so sorry you were treated so poorly, but I think WFM are all about the profits and are green washing their tactics and some of their products. Your products will often keep me smell free for a couple of days at a time! I will continue to support and promote you. Thank you for all you do and for sharing your journey, including the hard parts that show us that the best revenge is to live well!
    Know that you are intact and that they can never sully the parts of us that really matter.

    • Mary says:

      Wow, Laura! What a wonderful message. I have to remember your wise advice, they can’t sully the parts that really matter. Thanks as well for allowing us to share the “hard parts.” I wrote this blog entry quite awhile ago and debated long and hard about whether or not to post it. I knew there would be accusations about being spoil sports and sour losers; but for me, having our customers well-informed outweighed the embarrassment of having to admit defeat. Thanks for listening.

  10. Joanne Potts says:

    Hello ladies, I am appalled at your story. That guy is an a_ _ h_ _ _. I wish he would get fired. You guys are anything but abusive. I have used your products for years now and will continue to do so. You remember me I have mastized breast cancer and met you at the farmers market and Merchandise Mart. Hang in there when one door closes another one opens and it will be a better one.
    love Joanne

    • Mary says:

      Hello Joanne, thanks for encouragement. Indeed we are waiting for the next door to open. Stay tuned, as we always try to share our good news along with the bad. Stay Well!!!

  11. Mary Senn says:

    This explains why I couldn’t find your product in Evanston at the South WFM. Ironically, that’s the store where I was introduced to Life Stinks when you were demoing it one Saturday. I’m so sorry that you have had to experience this. I know it doesn’t replace those accounts, but please know that there are a lot of us out there that are appreciative of you and your products and will continue to buy them, either online or at other stores. And, I’ve taken it upon myself to make sure everyone I know knows about Life Stinks! Hang in there and know that lots of peeps are pulling for you.

    • Mary says:

      I loved your message. And yes, knowing that we have the support of so many really keeps us going. Grass roots efforts to change the world are entirely dependent upon the Mary Senns of the world spreading the good word. From my heart, I thank you.

  12. Mary EO says:

    WFM “stinks” in a way that cannot be dealt with using your product. They ate up or merged with other more consumer conscious organizations, and have simply gotten too big for their britches. I am sad for your experience. You are resilient women. I wish you continued success.

    • Mary says:

      We will do our best to not disappoint our followers. We keep a sign posted in our office with these inspiring words from Abraham Lincoln. Our supporters have always kept us going. Thank you for your support.

      “I am a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn’t have the heart to let him down.”

  13. Jennifer Perry says:

    I am very sorry to hear about your bad experience with WF. I have only bought your products from them once, though. I will continue to buy at Mertz Apothecary or from you directly. Your products are great. I have been using Life Stinks for almost three years now. I even got my husband hooked. You don’t need WF to be successful. It’s really their loss.

  14. Michelle says:

    Ladies, let the healing begin!
    I’m so glad you shared this with your customers. I think I’ll be giving my two cents to the customer service counter at my local WF, which is to say: “Big Mistake!” (think Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman :)

    I’m still a stinker for life! :) I’ll look forward to seeing you at the One-of-a-Kind show at the Merchandise Mart.

    God Bless!
    Michelle

    • Mary says:

      See you at the One of a Kind Show, Michelle. Good on you for not being afraid to make a little noise at WFM. It was hard to share this bad news with our customers. Your gracious response makes it so much easier to “Let the healing begin.”

  15. PattyC says:

    Don’t mess with the Irish! James Joyce would be proud of you and your writing!

    I shake my head all the time about the fact that WF is the only place to shop in the burbs for organics, etc. BUT what is funny is that some of the stuff on the shelf..well, good consumers will read up on those labels and KNOW what those ingredients are. We need some co-ops and competition to take these guys down a “peg-leg” or two!

    I think of all the stores around the U.S. that have great foods for people to buy that PAY their employees good salaries and treat them well and here in the MIDWEST we only have one choice! Then again we have to remember this is CORPORATE enterprise at the helm and we are the rowers! So time for a bit of MUTINY on their BOUNTY!

    Acacia Organics in Barrington carries Life Stinks and some other great body products. They are a local business worth visiting!! They adore the sisters too!

    Like the old song: My mama told me, ya better shop around!

    • Mary says:

      Patty, as a former English teacher I JUST LOVE YOUR RESPONSE. Thanks for the insights on “choice and using your voice.” And yes, let’s drive some folks to the good ladies of Acacia Organics.

  16. Brenda says:

    I bought your product at the One of A Kind Show. I absolutely love it. I bought the refill bag as well so have as yet, had to go to a Whole Foods for replacement, which, it would seem, won’t be possible now. Big Box business has always had a bad reputation for abusing the small entrepreneur. The my way or hit the highway mode of thinking makes them no better than a grade school bully. Your product is wonderful, keep growing it with the boutique stores. There are those of us who prefer to support them rather than the larger chains.

  17. sfstinker says:

    Sounds like quite the ordeal. You raised a question for me – If putting your product in clear glass is an issue due to the negative effects caused by exposure to light, how do I prevent the same from happening with your clear plastic refill bags? Does it have some sort of UV coating on it to prevent the impact of exposure to damaging light. I want to make sure the product maintains its effectiveness so can you please make a suggestion for storing the refill?

    Thanks!

    • Mary says:

      Not to worry. You will notice that we have gone for dark full coverage labels FRONT AND BACK to deal with the dangers of light exposure. Keep your bag in a drawer or linen closet to further reduce light exposure. Thanks for the question. We love a fully informed and confident customer base. Mary

  18. Stephanie says:

    WFM – their loss. I would love to see what you have closer to me (in Oregon) and could see your products as a perfect fit in the lifestyles of many “out here”. I don’t shop WFM – for good reason – but have found friendliness and some excellent products made by small family businesses in a store called Market of Choice – basically a small chain grocery store in Oregon. They are the only store I will go out of my way to shop at and I often see my neighbors doing the same. http://www.marketofchoice.com if you’re interested. I would buy from you more often just to support your business, but your refills last so long!!!! The best I can do is recommend your products to others. Keep up the awesome work. My Mom continues to tell me, “When one door closes, another one opens,” and is always encouraging me to have faith…perhaps escaping this “opportunity” with WFM will enable your products to be marketed elsewhere, by people and businesses who actually care. Best wishes to you.

    • Mary says:

      You have a wonderful and wise mother and I couldn’t agree with her more. Thanks for the info on Market of Choice. Be sure to show them your preferred deodorant sometime when you are shopping.

  19. Terrie says:

    Wow, I’m so sorry for what you have been through. I found your products at the One of a Kind show and love them! I am now in Southern CA and there are several local natural stores that I would love to see sell your product! There is Hansons, San Clemente, Marbella Farmers Market, San Juan Capistrano, and Farm to Market, Dana Point. In the meantime I will continue to tell everyone about your product and how wonderful it is!

    • Mary says:

      Thanks for the referrals and keep spreading the word. We ship all over the world to help your friends and neighbors get started until we are “local” to you. Mary

  20. Dawn in New Lenox says:

    I am so sorry to hear about your experience. My husband and I love your product. I always shop at Whole Foods but am so turned off about your experience I hope to find some other place to shop. It is time for the American Citizens to regroup, organize and fight this cooperate choke-hold. Small business is the only way the middle class will be saved.
    Power On, ladies. I will support always!!

    • Mary says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more. Small business always was and always will be the way to go. As you can imagine, we too are trying to find substitute locations to purchase the items we used to buy at Whole Foods. Thank you for your support.

  21. Diana K says:

    Found you at One Of a Kind show in Chicago (Nov 2011). Will purchase again! It appears on line. It is okay – your product is the best I have found.

    • Mary says:

      We love the OOAK. Come by and say hi! Or feel free to order online – we ship world wide and can often give you free shipping! Thanks, Mary

  22. Meredith says:

    Met you at the Wilmette Farmers Market… love your products…so sorry to hear about your debacle with WFM…will continue to buy online or at Merz. Best wishes for the future.

    • Mary says:

      We love the French Market in Wilmette. I can’t think of anyone finer to stand beside than apple growers like “Uncle Mark” Lavanway or Nate and Louann of Jake’s Meats. I miss them terribly. If we end up back at square one, working the markets like we did for three years before WFM “discovered” us, we will be more than okay. Thanks for your support.

      Mary

  23. Kathy Nordmann from Long Island says:

    You go girls!!!

    I just read something by the Dalai Lama today and it is so apropos… ” The world will be saved by the Western woman”.

    I love you guys! Stick to your convictions.

  24. Rachel Smith says:

    Dear Duggan Sisters,

    I read this email and the entire blog post. I have become a recent devotee of your products, of the effectiveness of the product (finally! a natural deodorant that works), of your commitment to healthy living and environmental concerns, of the quality of your customer service (Ann CALLED me to discuss my order, reading between the lines that I was having trouble with the dry deodorant) and of the business/cultural paradigm shift your company, products, and philosophy represent.

    So, upon reading your blog post I want to respond to a couple comments you made in particular:

    1. “Mostly we anguished. Anguished that we had let our followers down.”

    You haven’t let any of your followers down. You have stayed true to your ethics, you keep making amazing products, you continue to fight for what you believe in. It is WFM unfortunately that is letting us all down.

    2. “And then realizing that the counselors are right; you aren’t grieving the end of the marriage. The marriage was sick and had to end. You are grieving the end of your dream for the marriage.”

    WOW. Having recently been through an abusive relationship this point deeply resonates with me. Thank you for sharing your stories with us. Your healing helps us all heal <3

    3. "Our product and our message in 300 Whole Foods Markets nationwide would have been a wonderful starting point. Combined with three Ma and Pa stores for each WFM, as was our plan, would have really gotten our message somewhere."

    There are so many takeaways from this situation. WFM started off as a small business doing good for their community. Like many "natural foods" stores and co-ops, they were on the outskirts of "traditional" values. Change comes from the outskirts and moves inward, becoming more and more mainstream. Now I think it's safe to say that WFM is mostly mainstream, especially in middle to upper class neighborhoods. In fact, in the public perception WFM has become more of a gourmet market than a "natural foods" market. What this tells me is that as they scaled the business unfortunately they did not scale the principles. They are not – as you became so painfully aware – concerned about educating the public about healthier ways to live so much as making money on the "green" trend.

    One of the major issues involved in this healthy living paradigm shift is that people have grown accustomed to a certain level of convenience in their lives. They don't want to put work or effort into anything, especially diet and exercise…or perhaps putting a tiny bit more effort into their personal care regimen. It would seem that WFM also doesn't want to put the necessary effort into training their staff (routinely the cashiers and salespeople at the WFMs I go to in NYC have no idea about anything). Change cannot happen until people recognize that the only things worth having are those things you have to work for. Our health above all.

    I know I'm just preaching to the choir here. It just makes me so angry that this value isn't alive and thriving at WFM. Large companies have so much power to create change, yet they have allowed themselves to become just as complacent as the people who go to McDonald's. Very very sad.

    So the major takeaway I see here is that the mainstream (i.e. WFM) isn't quite ready for the paradigm shift your products represent. We on the outskirts will continue to use your products and champion your brand. Continue to seek out the people who truly care about what you stand for and sell to them. Change is difficult. The others will come around in time.

    Rest assured, your fans and followers stand by your side. If there's anything I can do to help, please let me know!

    Sincerely,

    Rachel Smith

  25. Sue in Crystal Lake, IL says:

    Hey, good for you! This another reason not to drive to whole foods. Ok I didn’t really go there as I had no need to. My stinky stuff lasts for a long, long time. I get mine at The One of a Kind Fair.

  26. Roxie says:

    WFM has run all the little natural food stores out of business. And most people ASSUME they are even following organic principles, to which, they are NOT! Any food prepared by them, whethere it is their high priced salad bar, hot bar, deli items, or prepared meats, all used with convential products. They are a sham! They are beholden to profits. Nothing else. The last straw for me was their chicken. I’m in the Chicago land area, and their best selling chicken is from Indiana, Pine Manor. One day, I noticed there was an organic chicken from Pine Manor, and just by looking at the labels, I could see NO difference. So I called Pine Manor. Their response was, It’s in the feed. So I asked, “If it’s not organic feed, then is it free of GMO’s?” Their answer was NO. So I called my local WFM manager, and asked the same questions. He affirmed that the main chicken they sell is from chickens who eat GMO corn and soy or as it says on the package “vegetarian feed.” He told me, “It’s what’s in demand.’ I told him it’s NOT. And that if it were labeled so that we had a choice, we wouldn’t buy it. It’s no different than Purdue or Tyson we get at the local Jewel. We expect organic and quality when shopping at WF and you are lying to people that the chicken is quality.”
    The lesson from this is that I shop at Farmer’s Markets and belong to a coop and a CSA. I will gladly look for your product too at my local farmers market (Park Ridge) because I’m tired of being lied to.
    Go get em girls!!!

  27. Kathy T says:

    My God ladies, I am so sorry to hear that. Just a small bump in the road I would say.

  28. Joan Levin says:

    While I appreciate that Whole Foods is a fairly reliable source of organic produce, I am terribly disappointed about the way they treat small vendors. It’s a shame they cannot be more supportive of small companies that take exquisite care to produce fine, healthful products. Yesterday I was in the Lincoln Park store, in the Whole Body area, and asked if they carried “Life Stinks” deodorant. The “Team Member” there pointed to the empty space (with one lone canister of Life Stinks sitting there) and said in a cheery voice “oh, we got rid of that!” I was appalled! I just answered “well, you lost one of the best products of its kind around today” and left.

  29. Lizz the Runner from Tampa, FL says:

    I’m so sorry you all had this experience. I’ve never shopped at WFM, on the basis of many principles, and this only strengthens my resolve. Your deodorant changed my personal hygiene life, and I will always be a loyal mail-order customer. I tell all my fellow runners about your company. When I got my first order and found the handwritten thank you on the receipt, I was completely sold. Nothing makes me happier than confirming that the best products are made by real people who love and believe in what they make.

    Keep fighting!

    –Lizz Angello
    Tampa, FL

  30. Carrie Gates says:

    I’m so sorry. I never liked that place and your product was the only reason I even set foot in there after all of the Gluten-Free issues I saw.

    Their loss. Take you product elsewhere, take it to new heights. For what it’s worth, I believe in you and your product.

  31. Christina says:

    Thank you for sending this! I wanted you to know that I love your product and I will be happy to continue to buy it at Merz (whose employees also love your product!) I am happy to support both your product and Merz.

    • Mary says:

      Thanks a million for your supportive message. We are encouraged by the outpouring of support from across the lifestinks family. Thanks, too, for your continued support. Merz is an outstanding business partner with impeccable ethics and supportive employees.

  32. Nancy Murphy says:

    My family and I owned a small local hardware store in small rural town. It is extremely exhausting and downright heartbreaking dealing with the big boxes, Home Depot, Lowe’s etc, every single day. These big boxes and Walmart are the bullies in the world. Walmart is a perfect example – they call the shots and they know it. This is no different it appears here for you with WFM. We can’t change turds, we can only change how we let them stink up our lives. Perfect segway for lifestinks deodorant which I am a huge fan. Keep fighting the good fight! I am a fan, and a Chicago girl, for life!

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