Mud Bay, the pet store that got its start in Olympia and is still based here, recently announced a voluntary restructuring program for its workers — the business calls them “Muddies” — that prompted outcry on social media and emails to The Olympian.
The Olympian reached out to the company about the program and heard from founder and chairman Lars Wulff on Thursday.
“There are two factors that got us to this point,” he said. “We weren’t selling as much as we predicted, and we realized that we had not reduced our store staffing levels to pre-pandemic levels.”
The business ramped up its hiring during the pandemic because of the additional cleaning that was required and to monitor people at the doors of its retail locations, he said.
Mud Bay also experienced growth in 2021 and 2022, and although sales are 7 percent higher this year than last, that was lower than projected. Mud Bay leadership finally realized “we had way more people than we needed,” Wulff said.
“We never had to do anything like this before and we feel terrible about it,” he said. “So I get that people are feeling sideswiped.”
The restructuring program asks employees to choose from one of the following: a reduction in hours, an expectation to work split shifts, or a voluntary resignation with a severance payment.
Mud Bay also responded to questions submitted by The Olympian.
Why were sales slower than expected?
We think there are two big reasons: We’ve been too slow to create a great e-commerce program. A few weeks ago, we rolled out big improvements to our e-commerce site, and we’ll be making more improvements this fall.
Our prices are well below almost all of our online and brick-and-mortar competitors, but many pet owners visit attractive Mud Bay stores and get help from engaged, knowledgeable Muddies and assume we’re charging extra. We aren’t, and we’re hoping to change folks’ perceptions.
How many employees currently work for Mud Bay?
How many employees are being offered the Voluntary Restructuring Program?
How many do you need to take advantage of one of the three options?
That completely depends on which choices Muddies make and which stores and regions they are working in.
If you do not meet your target, what happens then?
Our next steps will vary from store to store and from Muddy to Muddy. About a quarter of our stores were already at the right staffing level. In some cases, one store has too many Muddies, but a nearby store can use another staffer, so we’ll be asking one or more Muddies to move to that store. There won’t be a one-size-fits-all decision.
Mud Bay also supplied some of its own questions and answers.
What’s Mud Bay’s financial situation?
Mud Bay is financially solid. The company has been profitable almost every year in its 35-year history. We lost money in the first three quarters of this year, but Mud Bay has money in the bank, no debt, and we expect to be profitable next quarter and next year.
How much does Mud Bay pay store staff?
The bottom end of Mud Bay’s pay scales for store staff in non-leadership roles range between $17.66 and $21.32 depending on the county Muddies work in. The average rate of pay for store staff in non-leadership roles is $20.35.
Other business happenings
Laura Alden, who owns the Lava Bowlz food truck at the food truck depot in Lacey, is set to open her first storefront at 4570 Avery Lane SE in Lacey, she announced.
She is aiming to open the Aloha Acai Cafe next month, but is still waiting to hear from the Thurston County health department before her opening date is set.
Once she opens the new storefront, she plans to change the name of Lava Bowlz to Aloha Açaí & Coffee Co.
So what does she serve? She prepares food bowls that use the Acai berry as a sorbet base. It is then topped with other ingredients, such as fresh fruit, granola, dark chocolate, peanut butter or almond butter.
Alden said the bowls are popular with those who want to recover from their workouts because of the bowls’ health benefits. The bowls can be vegan or dairy free and are considered a low-glycemic option, she said.
Want to try a bowl before she opens the store? You can find Lava Bowlz at 5700 Lacey Blvd. SE.
Le Voyeur, the downtown Olympia restaurant and performance venue, is calling on the public for a little help, according to a social media post.
“We’ve been working really hard the last few years to keep this special space alive and thriving,” the post reads. “We’ve recently reached a critical point financially where we need people of Olympia to show up if they want this space to continue to exist.”
Le Voyeur is at 404 Fourth Ave. E. The business is open 5-10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 5-10 p.m. Sundays.
If you know of a retailer, restaurant, coffee shop or other business that is opening, closing, expanding, remodeling, or changing its focus, send an email to reporter Rolf Boone at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story was originally published September 15, 2023, 5:00 AM.