AGAWAM — The title of Dave Ratner’s 2009 book is “Creating Customer Love: Make Your Customers Love You So Much They’ll Never Go Anyplace Else.”
The second edition may require some revisions.
This week, Ratner, the owner of the Dave’s Soda and Pet City chain in Western Massachusetts, became known not for the depth of his customers’ love, but for the towering inferno of their anger. Cat food and human soft drinks make for an odd juxtaposition, but not nearly so awkward as mixing business and politics.
After Ratner turned up at the White House to watch President Trump sign an executive order outlining changes to the Affordable Care Act, many of his customers turned on him. See if you can tell which of these are the blurbs for Ratner’s book, and which are reviews from customers who did not quite love Dave so much that they’d never go anyplace else:
(A) Dave writes from the heart and has lots of practical ideas that you can try out today. His style is fun and informal.
(B) It is unclear to me how an ostensibly successful business owner in one of the most educated areas of this state could claim this level of ignorance.
(C) Any business person would be crazy not to listen to Dave.
(D) He is a rat and a hypocrite.
(E) There is ALWAYS a checkout line 3-4 deep with no attempt to bring an additional cashier to the front. Also, there’s no way to tell which line to stand in. Is there one or three lines?
OK, that last one from Facebook is unrelated, but I really hate that. There should be one line that feeds all the available registers — we’re buying lizards, not behaving like them.
Anyway, I was low on cat food and seltzer so I took a ride out to Springfield. I bought a few cans of Dave’s own cat food — it has his face right on the can — and a bottle of Polar ginger lime mule flavor seltzer from the surprisingly well-curated soda department. There are pictures hanging from the ceiling and the walls of Dave taking a nap with his dog, signs warning about surveillance cameras, and a snake, named Miss Snake, that is not for sale. The phone was ringing nonstop.
“It’s getting a little obnoxious right now,” said the young woman behind the counter. She answered the phone again. This time it was just someone checking stock on crickets.
“That one was just crickets,” she said. But some of the calls have been as bad as the online comments. Others have been supportive, which is kind of odd, too. Imagine cold-calling a business to tell whoever happens to answer the phone that you’re happy with the owner’s (allegedly unintentional) political statement.
The idea that politics has no place alongside pet food and soda pop has been featured prominently on Ratner’s apology tour. (He also said he was duped, said he wasn’t duped, called himself an idiot, declined to say whether he voted for Trump, said he didn’t vote for Trump, and more or less made certain everyone could find a reason not to love Dave’s quite so much.)
“I have never brought politics into my business,” Ratner wrote in a letter published in Western Massachusetts newspapers. But these days, politics doesn’t need an invitation. Politics was already in Dave Ratner’s business — and just about every other business — whether someone brought it in or not.
Today, in America, insisting on keeping politics out of your day-to-day life is an oblivious demonstration of privilege and/or ignorance. As a white (Hispanic) man, I’ve been guilty of this for years. But if you’re sick of hearing about people’s health care being put in jeopardy when you buy dog treats, or tired of being forced to think about race relations when you watch football, just imagine how sick and tired those directly affected are of thinking about it. Millions upon millions of people have no choice but to bring these “politics” with them everywhere they go.
I visited two more Dave’s locations, hoping to find a copy of his book. At one store, employees in the back room were talking about the eventful last few days. One woman said she’d been frightened by the deluge. Another sounded worried for her job. The only people a boycott would truly hurt, she told a co-worker, are the employees. Ratner, on the other hand, “can go live on an island in the Caribbean.”
I found fire skinks and red-footed tortoises and a soda from New Britain, Conn., called Monster Mucus.
There was no sign of Dave Ratner’s book.Nestor Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.