Last night I had the craziest dream, where I was actually interviewing Martha Stewart herself. Of course it was all just a dream and it never actually happened, but it seemed so real! (Must have been a damn Rachael Ray recipe that made me dream this; I knew I should stick with Martha’s.)
I asked her a lot of questions I’ve been dying to know the answers to, and, well…here’s what I remember from the dream:
Warren: So, Martha – you don’t mind if I call you Martha, do you? You recently announced you were putting your namesake company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO) into play, making several executive changes, and seemingly taking on a larger role in management. Your business has been caught in the twin vortex of both the retailing and media meltdowns of the past few years. Can you tell the readers of The Robin Report why exactly you’re putting the company up for sale?
Mega Media Merchandising Mother Martha (MMMMM): Robin, hmmmmm? You know, Robin’s Egg Blue is one of my favorite colors – I use it all the time when I decorate. It’s particularly great on walls, on ribbons, and, of course, on egg shells. But you seem to be flesh-colored. Would you like my people to dye you the color I know you should be?
Warren: No, but thanks anyway. And my name’s Warren. Anyway, why now to be putting the company up for sale?
MMMMM: Well, you see — I’m sorry, what was your name again? – I believe the stock market is undervaluing the company which I own and manage and which is, by the way in case you hadn’t noticed, named after me. And rightly so, since let’s face it, I am the company. More chamomile? I had my people grow it on my estate in Bedford.
Warren: But you have to admit your business is not what it used to be. Your big Kmart merchandising deal is over and all the smaller ones you’ve cobbled together with Macy’s (M), Home Depot (HD) and even Pet Smart (PETM), they’re just not the same. You used to have your TV show on the big networks, even a prime time reality series, but now you’ve got to search the really, really high numbers on cable to find your show.
Warren: Huh? Oh, sure. Anyway, your flagship Martha Stewart Living magazine has suffered like all the rest of the home and shelter magazines, but it’s not really feeling much of the rebound some of them are having this year. You’ve got a lot of competition, now. It’s not a great story to take to a potential buyer, is it?
MMMMM: Would you like to try one of these Meyer lemon squares? I had my people make them themselves. Notice the evenly sprinkled powdered sugar, and how they’re perfectly shaped.
Warren: But what about the shape your company is in?
MMMMM: Listen, I invented the entire idea of integrating media and merchandising. All of these websites combining content and product – like Gilt Groupe – think they’re so smart, but I’ve been doing that since 1995. Nobody else understood you could use media to promote your merchandise, which would promote your media, which would promote your merchandise.
It’s not my fault that that putz Eddie Lampert came along and bought Kmart. He wouldn’t know the difference between a spatula and a spittoon. He thought he didn’t need me. Everyone needs Martha.
So, who’s he left with, Jaclyn Smith? Pleeeese. Maybe she was a Charlie’s Angel, but my people could make an angel food cake she would die for. Oh, and have you seen the Christmas tree angels I had my people carve out of real aspen wood from Aspen and embellish with glittered wire-framed tulle wings?
Warren: What about the Macy’s (M) program for home you have? It’s not doing badly, though the volume can’t be producing anywhere near the royalty checks you used to get from Kmart.
MMMMM: That’s a lovely notebook you have, but did you know my people can make paper out of rutabaga and prune waste, and press it with rosemary blossoms? It’s eco-friendly, long lasting and very tasty.
MMMMM: I sat down with Terry Lundgren and told him, “Don’t screw this up like Eddie did.” As a result, Macy’s is a good program. And if a lot of the designs look pretty close to what we did for Kmart, hey, that’s my people who did that, not me. I told Macy’s they should open another 1,500 stores so we could do the volume we did with Kmart, but they don’t seem to be listening. I don’t know why they don’t listen to me. I’m never wrong.
Warren: Not everything is working the way it should with your licensing. Your deal with Bernhardt for furniture has ended and there’s no replacement licensee in place yet that we know about.
MMMMM: Would you like to try one of these credenzas? I had my people make them themselves. You know, I could have my people make all my furniture themselves, that’s how good I am. Maybe that’s why I’ll do.
Warren: So, what’s next? Anything you can share with us? Any new recipes? Gardening tips?
MMMMM: I’m thinking if Rupert Murdoch or Si Newhouse buys me, I can give them lots of tips, help them straighten out their companies. Lord knows they could use my help. Conde Stewart? I like the sound of that. But they won’t get me cheap.
Warren: Throughout your entire merchandising career, you’ve been one of the most successful names ever to segment the marketplace and place your brand at multiple levels and into multiple channels of distribution. Hardly anybody has been able to pull that off. How do you do it?
MMMMM: Well, I am, after all, me.
Warren Shoulberg has been reporting on Martha Stewart since the early 1990s and is now editorial director of several Sandow Media business titles. He is working on his new book, Stupid Business. As is the case with the above interview, neither Martha nor her people are in it.