By Evan Henerson
Shortly after Labor Day, a segment of the consumer masses traditionally start flooding Brian Rich’s Facebook page, telling the Boise Idaho-based marketing executive what they will not be doing on Thanksgiving.
They will not be shopping, which is exactly the message that Rich, the founder of the Boycott Black Thursday movement, is hoping to send.
“We are getting consumers to stay home on Thanksgiving so retailers have no demand, and therefore don’t open,” says Rich. “There’s a business downside to opening on Thanksgiving and a huge business upside to making the right choice and staying closed on Thanksgiving.”
Four years ago, Rich began noticing the tendency of retailers like Toys R Us to start rolling back their pre-Black Friday hours to earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving Day proper. Out of frustration, he started a Boycott Black Thursday Facebook page, earning 47 likes in his first year.
In the ensuing years, the movement has caught on. Retailers have begun switching course, with several like Staples and Office Depot now opting to remain closed on Thanksgiving. The Boycott Black Thursday page highlights the responsible retailers, calls out the greedier ones and links to articles about holiday shopping practices and backlash. His page has surpassed 147,000 likes and his content continuously goes viral. Rich has been interviewed in multiple news outlets including the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and MSNBC. For the first time this year, Boycott Black Thursday is selling buttons, the proceeds of which will be donated to charity.
Labor 411 -- which posted its own petition urging Target, Walmart and JCPenney to close on Thanksgiving -- recently caught up with Rich to talk about the power of consumer activism.
Labor 411: At what point during the year do things get cooking for Boycott Black Thursday?
Brian Rich: As soon as Labor Day and school get under way, people are ready to start talking about the holidays and along with that, shopping and Thanksgiving. It really snaps closed after Thanksgiving. We’ll add hundreds to thousands of likes every day through November. Then, three days after Thanksgiving, it’s absolute crickets. They want to fight the fight and then move on and spend time with their families. We support that, and we let the movement go quiet after Black Friday every year.
Labor 411: What have been some of the milestones for the Boycott Black Thursday movement?
BR: 2014 was when everything hit fever pitch, when all of the malls and businesses and box stores were opening on Thanksgiving. It was bad. That was also the year we got an enormous amount of media exposure for this movement that I credit with helping to turn the tide last year and this year. The movement was getting millions of impressions across the country, and that really helps because last year we started to see some trends going back. This year Staples, Office Depot and Radio Shack have all completely reversed course and are closing for the first time in five years on Thanksgiving Day. The Mall of America and CBL and Associates which owns 72 malls across east coast and Midwest are all staying closed on Thanksgiving for the first time in years. Almost as importantly, we have not seen any business advance their hours even further into Thanksgiving except JCPenney which is opening an hour earlier this year than last.
We see that as a big sign of success when you look at what the executives are saying and retail strategists and analysts. They’re routinely chalking up one of the reasons as being the consumer backlash and the worker backlash and the reduction of demand on Thanksgiving. They’re not making enough money on Thanksgiving to offset the losses on Black Friday and to make up for the added holiday pay on their payroll
Labor 411: Does the Boycott Black Thursday page experience backlash? Do you hear from people who hammer you for being anti-capitalism?
BR: We have very few snipers and tolls. I’ve been on the Internet for a long time, and the troll to activist ratio is not in effect on this page and in this movement. We do get people who come and make snide remarks like, “Why should someone at Target not have to work when you’ve got police officers and doctors and firefighters?” It’s a very simple response. People who are part of infrastructures – safety, security, health and wellness, transportation -- those are the people who are we are most thankful for along with our family members on Thanksgiving. Their jobs are much easier when they don’t have riots at Walmart in the parking lot over TVs, when they can just have a skeleton crew and a couple of patrol officers. That does them a huge favor vs. saying ‘Hey, Mr. police officer you’ve got to go and break up fights for your entire day of Thanksgiving at Target and Walmart,’ not to mention we need every single officer on the force working on Thanksgiving because of the millions of shoppers out flooding the streets. Overall we have 147,000 supporters on Facebook and tens of thousands of people that aren’t part of our page that share and like our content out there. We have a lot of support from both political and social sides of the argument because of the specific stance that we take which is to work through the machinations of capitalism and eliminate demand on Thanksgiving.
Labor 411: Can you talk about the early days of the movement? How did you get here?
BR: 2011 was the first year that Toys R Us moved their hours from midnight to 10 pm on Thanksgiving and that was really irritating. It was philosophically frustrating because we’re a consumer driven nation. 2/3 of our economy is consumer spending, and unless we’re going to completely change our country’s power economically, that’s something you just have to accept. So it really means a lot to me personally to have one day of the year where we are not being materialistic and consumer driven. Thanksgiving is the only holiday left that is not about consumerism. You go out and buy some food and entertain your family. There’s very little retail impact. Then of course Black Friday is the exact opposite. It’s the most abusive, gluttonous day of the year and that’s OK. Whatever. That’s a separate issue.
I was very frustrated with it so I started this page. I said, “So much for Thanksgiving. It’s Black Thursday now” and after that first year, I had 47 likes. I posted maybe 7 or 8 things and most of it was family and friends liking the page. But it just grew organically. I don’t know where these people came from or how they found the page or anything. The second year I posted some more stuff and it got shared a little more. The third year was much bigger and we ended up with 7,800 likes and that’s really when I started seeing stuff take off. We did a meme for Discount Shoe Warehouse (DSW) that just went berserk and that graphic was seen by 18 million people in one month. And it caused the page to add 10,000 likes in one day. In 2014, I went from about 7,000 likes to about 120,000 likes and this is in five weeks. By definition, everything we’re doing is going viral. Our supporters are incredible. They like and share everything because they believe in the message. There’s no money and no ego tied into it. It’s pretty incredible.
Labor 411: How does the Boycott Black Thursday message resonates with you personally.
BR: I have a 3-year-old girl, so we’re definitely dealing with that as consumers and private individuals. I worked in retail extensively when I was in high school and college. I worked on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Christmas day one year. I worked on every Memorial Day sale and all that kind of stuff and it’s grueling, and it does tear away from your time with family and friends. So I really do empathize with the retail workers and their family member who are home without them.
Labor 411: Do you have a Thanksgiving retail-related anecdote from where you live?
BR: We had a Super Kmart that opened at 6 a.m. two years ago in Boise and the next year it went out of business. Nobody was there. We had a photo that I shared from our local news station and the caption was ‘Thanksgiving Day Sale Fail,’ and it was a picture of Kmart pitch black at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving with like five cars in the parking lot. It was really embarrassing. Our community is a little more traditional, but there are about 600,000 people here so a lot of the big trends still apply.
Labor 411: Any final thoughts?
BR: The thing I love the most is that the movement has been completely organic. I have never spent a dime on this or written a press release. Every single bit of exposure we’ve gotten is earned media because of the organic efforts of our supporters, and that’s something that makes me feel really good about the movement. We have no agenda other than to keep people home with their families. That’s all myself and my supporters want people to take away from it, and it’s been really rewarding to see the business community finally come around and see we’ve been right since the beginning. It’s in their best interest to stay closed and refocus on Black Friday if that’s what they want to do, but leave Thanksgiving alone.
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