Restaurant Industry Posts

Brad vs. Goliath

Brad’s role in a recently concluded DOJ investigation.

On Feb. 23, 2022, a Department of Justice press release sent shockwaves reverberating through the industry. Despite being well aware of the resolution, I sat quietly in disbelief as I thought to myself, “JUSTICE HAS BEEN SERVED!” My six-year journey to expose fraudulent government procurement activities was complete. Previously, my identity has remained anonymous, only known to the accused and to an alphabet soup of government entities—until today.

This story begins in 2016 when I began losing awards to a small entity that was somehow effectively competing with my company for small business set-aside awards. They were quoting top-tier brands at pricing levels typically held by more established companies. I was baffled at how they seemingly came out of nowhere and rapidly became a mainstream player in the small business government contracting arena. I began diving deeper and learned their size rapidly ballooned from insignificant to millions of dollars in sales. Further exploration revealed a large company was also listed as a member in their public corporate records. I speculated that I wasn’t really losing these set-aside awards to another small business; I was likely losing them to a large competitor in disguise.

In August 2016, I reached out to the Small Business Administration, becoming the very first person to share my concerns with the government. I felt there was a strong probability procurement fraud was occurring and provided my initial evidence. The SBA team was gracious, yet unable to take immediate action due to procedural rules.

I spent the next year-plus relentlessly documenting small business contracting awards and learning about various legal processes. By January 2018, I took my next shot by filing a formal size protest with the government in connection to a set-aside award for which I felt the entity was not legally eligible. Sadly, I was once again defeated as the protest was dismissed, not realizing it would later be adopted by the SBA and referenced as evidence in DOJ filings.

My determination and passion for exposing and eliminating this fraud continued for years. I had numerous phone conversations and extensive email communications with various government entities, each time providing more in-depth dialogue with recent findings. One notable event involved a mutual customer being confused as to why their large entity representative responded to a request they made to the smaller entity. All three of us were bidding the project, yet in reality, it was really just me and (both of ) them. It became clear the U.S. government and taxpayers weren’t being afforded the proper opportunity of receiving three truly independent bids. This event led me to conduct additional research, including assembling an electronic version of an old-fashioned police string chart—analyzing public profiles of employees from both entities to find matches with those simultaneously working for both companies.

In 2019, I received a call from the DOJ regarding all the information I’d spent years collecting and presenting to government authorities. Another complaint had been filed by a service-disabled veteran business and during the due diligence process, the DOJ recognized there was validity in the enormous amount of evidence I’d already provided.

Six years after my initial alert and three years after DOJ involvement, the wheels of justice have finally succeeded. My North Star has always been to do the right thing even when no one is watching. I hope my story inspires others to act if you witness wrongdoing. Our voices may be small, but we each have the ability to make a positive impact in the world when we stand up for what is right. My identity as the original complainant and government witness has finally been revealed, and now you know the rest of the story.

COVID-19 Recovery Begins

A few weeks ago, I presented a business analysis outlining how recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic would look based upon 20+ years of experience personally being involved in disaster relief operations. This is an follow-up analysis sharing details of real recovery happening now along with an updated outlook.

We are presently between the first and second stage, a time when folks are moving beyond the initial panic and fear as they begin to experience a cautious sense of relief. The world is starting to spin normally again which is a fantastic move in the right direction. This has taken slightly longer than originally anticipated as stay-at-home orders were issued which had not been widely implemented during historical disasters utilized as reference points.

Folks are beginning to get out and about again, traffic is increasing on the roads and parks are filled with people who are willing to risk leave their homes for the enjoyment of having interactions with friends and family members in safe social environments. There’s still a cautious feeling in the air with social distancing and wearing protective masks, but life is returning to the “new normal”.

Governments are slowly relaxing restrictive measures which are helping people get back to work, while businesses are hard at work to ensure safety guidelines are in place to operate responsibly. Everyone is keenly aware that failure to adhere to CDC guidelines (and common sense preventative measures) will result in a tragic relapse of this pandemic. The stakes are high and there’s no second chances to get it right, leaders are committed to making the right moves for the health and safety of others now more than ever.

So, what’s next? As I mentioned in my prior analysis, I provide expert consultation to some of the largest banks and private equity firms in the country. These deep connections have provided me insight into minds of those individuals who invest in a wide variety of industries. It is widely viewed that unlike the “U” shaped 2009 recession (two quarters of free-fall, four quarters of consistent trough recession and two quarters of recovery), this event will appear more “V” shaped in form.

The reason behind this “V” shaped view is two-fold. First, many folks such as myself who are in the driver’s seat during this pandemic are the same people who experienced (and successfully overcame) the 2009 recession. Collectively, we all moved too slowly in cutting and trimming operations back then, we acted much more swiftly this time around as we executed many painful decisions. Inversely, we are all experienced knowing the necessary recovery procedures and will implement many of the same actions learned from the past downturn as we begin to work our way out of this recession. Secondly, there’s massive amounts of money being distributed throughout the supply chain as well as directly to individuals in need. Politics aside, money is a proven driver of economic activity and there’s a lot of it beginning to flow with more expected to follow in the weeks and months ahead.

My current analysis is based upon facts versus pure speculative opinion, although none of us has a crystal ball so a healthy dose of thoughtful interpolation is necessary. I believe that we will see a negative 75%-85% decrease in many businesses for Q220. By Q320, this will be reduced to negative 30% as an anticipated 18%-30% of entities begin to fail, driving increased demand to those business who have survived. By Q420, we will recover to negative 15%, further accelerated by fewer having competitors in the marketplace. This is an important metric as folks will now be in the realm of a “known” recession environment, this is precisely the level we saw in 2009. Familiarity with being in a previously known economic environment will provide a feeling of, “We’ve got this, we know how to recover from this point.” This is the stage where projects will begin to be green-lighted and we will see business activity shift into full gear. That being said, projects and supply chains naturally take time to ramp up so we’re still several months away from truly seeing the effect of these initiates. By late Q121 to early Q221 these projects will get underway and we’ll return to the “zero” baseline, essentially the same place we begin prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’ve fielded more calls and e-mails than I can even count these past weeks. Interactions are filled with people reaching out who are overwhelmed and looking for hope and assurance that brighter days are ahead. My typical days are 20+ hours long and quite frankly are exhausting, yet incredibly fulfilling to be able to help others during this time of need. I continue my resolve to stay strong and confident by recognizing this entire event is just a bookmark in time in the grand scheme of life. There’s many amazing chapters still to be written as we create meaningful business and personal experiences long into the future.

I’m so incredibly proud of the care and generosity exhibited by so many people in this world during this pandemic so will conclude this update simply by saying thank you. I warms my heart and renews my faith in the goodness of the human spirit to see folks stepping up in ways beyond my imagination to help their families, friends, neighbors and loved ones. We are all walking this journey together, surrounded by everyday heroes by our sides, thank you for making the world a better place!

Godspeed to you all!

~ Brad Pierce

After Every Storm There is Sunshine

After every storm there is sunshine, I know this is always true. Our nation has a long and rich history of persevering during the most challenging times to successfully overcome adversity. I have confidence in the spirit of the American people and our friends throughout the world, caring people coming together in unity to help their family, friends, neighbors and co-workers in times of disaster. Know for certain that the resiliency of the human spirit and good in this world will lead us all to sunnier days ahead. ☀️🇺🇸

Brad’s COVID-19 Business Analysis

The following is my COVID-19 business analysis for those who are interested. My background includes military/warzone supply chain, disaster relief ops and as an expert consultant to some of the largest banks and private equity firms in the world. These thoughts are solely my own.

Before I dive in, know for certain we WILL recover economically. It’s in our DNA as a country, we’re a society of entrepreneurs and talented people who have overcome much greater obstacles throughout history. This situation has the wild card factor of unforeseen emotional actions (toilet paper) in play which make timetables more difficult to predict, yet I am confident there is always sunshine after a storm.

I’ve been traveling nationally this past week and have witnessed the shocking turn from 100% occupancy in hotels to below 10% ghost towns. These past nights I’ve been one of only two diners at major national chain restaurants – mind blowing for weekend evenings which are typically bustling with activity. Employees standing around, you could see the fear in their eyes.

Short term, I feel we’re in for a devastating slowdown, exacerbated by intense media coverage and social media. Fear of legal liability will drive even more closures of businesses to avoid negligence claims. I feel this free-fall will continue for the next 10-14 days, then begin a slight recovery. Why? We’re not a sedentary society, social interactions are what we do. We see this with natural disasters, people get stir crazy and say screw it, I’m going to risk it and go out to live life. Businesses will begin to re-open and a sense of cautious relief will follow as the world starts spinning again.

Mid-term (6 months out), I see us in a “new normal” economic environment. Industries such as foodservice supply will see a drop to negative 14-16% growth, similar to our past recession. By this point in time fear should begin to subside, everyone will have friends and/or family who have gotten the virus (and survived), lessening the doomsday worries and giving confidence that folks can carry on with normal life activities. This will begin the inflection point where real recovery begins.

Long-term (1 year out), we’ll be back in gear rolling into 2021, with the prior year being one we’d all like to forget. Sadly some businesses will not have survived. As their doors close, business will be absorbed by more stable competitors, fueling those company’s recovery growth at an accelerated pace. Longer term there’s lingering economic impact (including paying for aid, bailouts and other costs incurred), but these are less relevant to everyday business.

Final thoughts, I’ll admit It, I’m concerned. Not much in life phases me, a byproduct of spending a disproportionate amount of time in high risk situations and activities. This however does, simply because there seems to be no logic in play, emotional knee-jerk reactions (hoarding goods) are leading the charge. It’s frankly unsettling. Yet, I know for absolute certainty we will persevere and recover!

For those of you reading this who are business leaders, NOW is your time to shine. You may be terrified on the inside, but on the outside you need to exhibit confidence, be the shining light your team members are looking to for comfort and guidance. Be mindful of short-term needs, yet think and act long-term in your decision making.

Today, we face an enormous test of our abilities and resolve – which we WILL pass. Look COVID-19 challenges right in the eye, stand strong, take care of your family, friends and employees – WE’VE GOT THIS!

Godspeed to you all!

Hello, Dubai! The Story Behind Brad’s Dubai Adventures

Dubai UAE Downtown Artwork

As I sit here on the balcony in Dubai overlooking the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, I think to myself, how in the world did I get here?  The magnificent city, the friendships, the partnerships, the growth, the opportunities, and the limitless optimism towards a lifetime of dreams coming true.  The story of my Dubai adventures took years to make happen, but I’ll re-cap my journey as concisely as possible here.  Sit back, relax, and get ready to read about the wild adventure that’s taken me half way around the world time and time again.  The journey hasn’t been without challenges or obstacles, but I’ve loved every minute of the ride.

Several years ago, my primary business, Restaurant Equipment World, received a visitor from a Google search for the term “restaurant equipment”.  That visitor subsequently did an online chat with one of my young sales associates, simply asking a short series of general questions.  Next came the e-mail and order inquiry which was immediately brought to my attention.  The request?  Could we fill up two 747’s in 8 days with heavy restaurant equipment to be sent to the Middle East?  Surely this was fraudulent?  Surely this was a joke?  Surely we couldn’t have ever gotten this “lucky”.  As it turns out, luck is a matter of being at the right place at the right time and being well prepared to embrace the opportunity.  The total order was around $2 million US dollars, huge dollars at the time, but a huge risk as well.  I asked for a million dollar deposit to proceed.  This would undoubtedly separate the men from the boys to determine if this inquiry was legitimate.

A day passed and still no money, but there was regular communication from the customer which was a good sign.  The next day arrived and I was off to an industry meeting with several of my vendor partners.  I was excited about the prospect of this deal being legitimate, but too hesitant to share the good news with others for fear I’d be viewed as someone who was chasing a pipe dream.  Then it happened.  I’ll never forget the picture text message from my assistant – $1 million US dollars had just arrived in my account.  Wow, it’s real.  We’re really doing this.  I was quickly asked what to do now, my response was simple, “Ask for the next million dollars!”

The days that followed were wild and intense.  Our industry works on lead times of weeks and months, not days.  If we were going to pull off the impossible, I’d need to call in every favor from every manufacturer in our industry.  Turns out growing up in this industry and having friendships with President’s and CEO’s pays off in spades when the chips are down.  As luck would have it, I was already at a major industry buying conference at the time so much of the communications could take place face-to-face with our vendors.  This was a huge plus and ultimately would help to make for a successful outcome.  My sister (our VP) and I divided up responsibilities and engaged our vendors requesting immediate action.  One vendor in particular blew my mind with their handling of the situation.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t fulfill the order by my deadline.  Instead of accepting failure, the President of the factory personally called his competitors to determine industry capacity to meet my requirements.  I was amazed, appreciative, and honestly will send every bit of business I can to that company in the future.  A situation like this really shows you whom your true friends are in the industry.

Upon receiving firm deadline commitments, factories started churning out products.  We were providing our customer with a play-by-play of the progress of each item numerous times each day.  But wait, there was a holiday.  We’d gained an extra day to pull off this feat, or so I thought at the time.  We contacted our customer and asked if a day delay was acceptable due to the holiday.  I’ll never forget the response, “Weekends and holidays do not count.  A deadline is a deadline.  Deliver on time as promised or send back our money.”  I quickly learned the meaning of never giving excuses and always executing flawlessly with delivery schedules.

The deadline was looming and we still didn’t have the next million dollars.  Frantic calls to factories ensued with all hands on deck at my company.  While we’ve done plenty of large dollar orders, this one was different, this one smelled of opportunity and adventure.  I needed my best and brightest to all pitch in for a successful outcome.  Without exception, every single staff member stepped up to the plate and performed like rock stars.  I was so incredibly proud of my team.  As the final hours of the day before delivery counted down, we were all set with most products, aside from one major group of items.  Would we make it?  With the help of a valued partner, the answer was clearly affirmative.  The manufacturer sent one truckload of equipment out as they frantically raced to build the final pieces.  These weren’t small items by any means, they were full sized pieces of commercial cooking equipment.  To make their obligation, the vendor ended up shipping several massive crates on an airline flight to make the delivery on time.  I definitely owed them a lot of thanks and genuine appreciation.  Once again, a valued vendor partner would show me how much they valued our relationship by coming through when I needed them most.

The items were in place, we had delivered to the freight facility as promised.  I was at a conference in Austin at the time of delivery, so I temporarily abandoned my luggage in my rental car while I took off on a cross country flight to meet staff members of mine already at the delivery location.  This was an important order and it was imperative that myself and my team be personally involved to make sure everything was accounted for properly.  After all, at this point, I knew nothing about the folks at the freight facility we were working with on this order.  As it turns out, they are fantastic people who run a first class operation with a dedication to perfection.  Between my team and theirs, every crate was inventoried, counted, re-counted, and inspected.  Everything was perfect.  Life felt fantastic, we had pulled off a miracle.

While I was riding an emotional high of accomplishing such an impossible goal, we still had one slight problem – we were still lacking a million dollars.  It was go time, this was one of those moments in life you’ve got make a decision and take a risk if you want to reap the rewards.  Go big or go home.  I went big, really big.  I authorized the planes to be loaded full of equipment.  A tense day ensued, would we get paid, or was I the world’s biggest sucker?  Needless to say, the next million dollars arrived, right about the time the last pieces of equipment were being loaded heading to Dubai, on time, without excuses.  Victory at last!  We were home free.

I’ve never been an international traveler in the past.  That often surprises people who now know me for my global jet-setting on a regular basis.  I had only traveled to Canada and the Bahamas, but those hardly count as international since they speak our language and accept our money.  Heck, I had never even been to Europe.  On a wing and a prayer, it was time to head half way around the world to give a handshake and a thank you to our customer.  Flights took me to London and then onto Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  I was a complete fish out of water, I had no idea what I was doing, no idea about local customs.  My only “formal” education about the Middle East was derived from quick Google searches waiting for flights at the airports.  The customer meeting was fantastic, though was quite short after traveling 37 hours to see them.  I was none-the-less greatly appreciative of their order and my new friends in the Middle East.  Upon arriving back at the hotel, good news awaited.  It turns out they didn’t order enough fryers.  $150,000 to be exact.  Could we help?  You betcha!  I thought to myself, “wow, I’ll be back next week to do this all over again if this is how things are done here.”  I didn’t realize the full value of being here in person to build relationships and say thanks until this very moment.  Later in my adventures, I’d learn this is key to doing business anywhere in the Middle East.  Relationships and reputations are everything, that makes this story especially fascinating since this first order didn’t follow the normal course of business in the region.

In the months and years that followed, so did more trips back and fourth to Dubai.  Each trip brought new business partners, new friendships, and more business.  Before long, customers began developing a deeper trust and started requesting items other than restaurant equipment.  First, it was electrical equipment.  Next came plumbing, then medical supplies, then auto parts, then our world exploded with the diversity of requests.  Not only were there industrial types of items, but also items such as video games, Christmas trees (shocking for the Middle East), decorations, fire fighting equipment, body bags (yes, you read that right, morbid, but true) – you name it, we were selling it.  Suddenly, Restaurant Equipment World didn’t seem like the right name for our organization now that we had become a general procurement company.  We own roughly 220 trademarked “World” names so wanted to stick with this theme.  Critical Supply World was born.  Critical Supply World would be my company that would provide everything and anything required by my customers.  The premise behind this company is doing everything fast.  Extremely fast.  Rapid procurement with no excuses, ever.  We delivery on time and within budget.  Always.

After too many trips to count and solid relationships flourishing, it was time to take things to the next level.  I needed to get a local business license and open up an office in Dubai.  I’ve formed companies domestically in the US, so I really didn’t think this would be a big challenge.  Boy, was I wrong.  Eleven months later, countless phone calls, e-mails, stamps, signatures, banking matters, attestations and everything else imaginable, we had finally done it.  I often tell people what takes 10 minutes in the US takes 10 days in the UAE when it comes to business formation and getting the related services set up.  Finally, we were now a company with a business license in the UAE.  I can’t take credit for this process alone though, it was the work of many people on my staff as well as great friends in the Middle East.  This was truly a team effort which has led to the opening of Pierce Sales Company, Inc. (FTZ Branch) – derived from the name of the parent corporation of both Restaurant Equipment World and Critical Supply World.

So here I am, all these years later, sitting here on a relaxing weekend afternoon looking at the amazing skyline of downtown Dubai, getting ready for a busy week meeting with customers, vendors and business partners.  I’ve become a resident of Dubai, although my full time home is still in the United States.  Travel back and fourth from the states seems routine, even the 16+ hour Emirates Airlines plane ride each way seems “normal” to me at this point.  The local culture and interactions with Emirati’s and ex-pats from other countries seems routine and comfortable to me as well.  I’ve made great friends and people whom I trust and respect throughout the region.  Business is done with honor and respect, it’s not unusual to do high dollar deals with a handshake and a promise.  People’s word here means something and that’s a great way to do business and build relationships.  Simply put, I love the city, I love the warm and friendly people, and I love how business is conducted with valued partners throughout the MENA (Middle East Northern African) region.

So, there you’ve got it.  The story behind my Dubai adventures.  A lot has changed from those early days, but Dubai still holds a magical place in my heart and has changed my life forever.

* Be sure to click on the picture at the top of this post for an artist’s rendition of the brilliant Dubai skyline.  It’s truly amazing knowing that not too many years ago, this was all desert.