'Undercover Boss': Visual Merchandiser Dresses Down Loehmann's To CEO Steve Newman

The last thing you want to do is tell your boss he or she isn't as good as one of his or her predecessors. Now imagine that you tell your boss the current strategy at their company would make the company founder "turn over in her grave." Because those were the exact words used Friday about Frieda Loehmann by Keisha, a supervisor for what's known as "visual merchandising" at a branch of Loehmann's in Washington D.C., to the CEO of her company, Steve Newman.

As can be seen in the video above, Keisha delivered the rebuke during the second episode of the fifth season of the CBS series, "Undercover Boss." And so of course Keisha could have no way of knowing she was slamming the company to the CEO's face; he was going by the name of, "Henry," an aspiring entrepreneur appearing on a second chances reality television show.

Keisha's calumny was directed at the company's merchandise strategy for its clothing retail which she described as, "We want to look like Bloomingdale's, we want to look like Macy's, we want to compare ourselves to Lord and Taylor." But the plan was falling short, according to Keisha, who said Loehmann's looked more like the "dump store."

"Visual Merchandising"
And while Keisha was quick to blame the lack of a corporate structure at her company, the blame for such a situation would also have to rest in part on workers like herself who were assigned to work in what's known as "visual merchandising." That activity is the work of making the clothing presentable, or making "things look pretty" in Keisha's words, by overseeing quality control on the company's racks. In practice that means moving around different lines and sizes to make sure Loehmann's is able to put forward its best feet for customers.

For Newman, "visual merchandising" was one of his pet projects since having taken over the 92-year old company back in 2011. Revitalization has been no small task at the $300-million-in-revenue-a -year retailer; when Newman took over there was no viable e-commerce business even though many competitors had already launched such ventures. And so such a dressing down of his virtual merchandising and other strategies was not something Newman was going to take lightly. Indeed earlier in the show he said it "will be hard to keep my mouth shut if someone has a bad attitude" with regards to the "visual merchandising" plan, given how important he felt it was.

And so when he revealed himself later in the show to Keisha he let her have it. "Keisha, you have to take personal responsibility for your actions. You can't blame other people. You own it," he told her, as can also be seen in the video. He also found her manner in dealing with "Henry" disappointing as well; she didn't seek to inspire her supposed trainee, according to Newman, but rather barked orders, "do this, do that." And at another point in the show he summed up her attitude as, "What about Keisha?"

But during "Henry's" visit with Keisha he learned other things about her. He is impressed by her knowledge of the merchandise and her work ethic. She's also had to work through Lupus and kidney disease, which for a single mother is particularly trying given the loss in hourly wages she has to suffer when she has to miss a shift.

And so his frank discussion during her reveal is accompanied by a pledge to keep her on and a request that she commit herself anew to the job. Newman even offered a gift of $10,000 to help with the medical expenses. Keisha agrees and breaks out in tears in response to the gift.

Standing Out
The first of four seasons of "Undercover Boss" have seen workers suffer much worse fates as a result of their unwittingly slamming their employer or boss on the show. Last season, for example, there was Jacqueline, an employee of a Retro Fitness gym in New Jersey, who defended her choice to play on her smart phone during her shift by saying, "I am not a f------ slave!" And then there was Ronnie, who also appeared last season as a worker for Boston Market. He openly explained how he "hates the customers" and referred to himself as the "the Kim Kardashian of Boston Market." Both Jacqueline and Ronnie were fired during their appearances.

The remainder of Newman's appearance featured the the ordinary display of the extraordinary work ethic and spirit of America's workers. There was Katherine, whose expertise and education in fashion design became vital to her lingerie sales efforts in Costa Mesa, Calif. Katherine also explained how the financial crisis forced her and her husband to start over. Yet she remained optimistic even if she will have to work through her 70's. And then there was Robert, who works processing orders well into the night at a Loehmann's distribution center in Rutherford, New Jersey, even if that means he can't see his kids at night.

But not everything about Newman's appearance was par for the course for the hit series. Newman happened to be the first openly gay executive to appear on the show's more than 60 episodes. Yet when he went undercover he posed as a straight man with a wife and kids. Was he embarrassed to fully embrace his identity on the show? He didn't comment on the choice, but maybe revealing his sexuality during the show would have actually led to his outing as the company CEO. After all it certainly doesn't appear that Newman, who lives an openly gay life with his partner who's also named Steve, feels like he has anything to hide. Or as he said during his introduction, "being gay doesn't define me."
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