Menards apologizes but gets a new warning

After being accused of price gouging cleaning products and safety masks during the widening of the coronavirus pandemic, Menards has received another warning from Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Last month the attorney general sent Menards a cease and desist order, which alleged that the big box home improvement retailer was doubling the price on some products. The accusation was based on numerous customer complaints and in-store observations made by the attorney general’s office.

Menards has since issued an apology for its pricing.

But now the company is under fire from Nessel for enticing customers to shop for non-essential items during the coronavirus pandemic.

On March 31, the Michigan Department of Attorney General sent a letter to Menards following reports that the company’s stores have been engaging in business practices which might endanger the health of customers and employees during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, including marketing and sales practices designed to increase customer presence in Menards stores.

The letter instructs Menards to cease any and all activities that run contrary to the spirit and intent of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order. The Stay Home, Stay Safe order requires businesses to temporarily limit or suspend on-site operations to only those necessary to sustain or protect life.

Nessel is taking the matter seriously and issued a video regarding the essential retail.

According to the attorney general, her office has received complaints about consumers casually browsing stores and not taking the current situation seriously.

“Just because one of these businesses can still be open to the public, it's not just business as usual,” Nessel said, while urging state residents to only shop for essential items – such as safety and cleaning product – but not linger in stores.

In a separate statement, Nessel also said, “The current climate should not be viewed through the lens of business opportunism where dollars drive decisions over the good of the public’s health.”

Nessel’s office said willful violations of the Stay Home, Stay Safe executive order can result in a $500 fine and/or 90 days in jail for each offense. Violations should be reported to law enforcement agencies overseeing the jurisdiction in which the alleged offense occurred.

“We have asked that Menards cease any and all practices that run contrary to the spirit and intent of the Governor’s Stay Home, Stay Safe Order, including marketing sales to draw large numbers of the general public into their stores for non-emergency purposes.”

Regarding the previous cease and desist letter, Menards responded with spokesman Jeff Abbott telling the Detroit Free Press (DFP) that it has been “a very chaotic time,” but the retailer believed its pricing strategy was “reasonable.”

The company has since apologized for the matter. In an email to the DFP, Abbott said, “We are all working under a great deal of anxiety and stress and believe that in normal times this most likely would have never happened.”

"We are very sorry for this mistake," he added, noting that the retailer will l offer a higher rebate to customers who bought the overpriced masks.

Menards could not be reached for contact regarding the latest cease and desist letter.

Based in Eau Claire, Wis., Menards operates more than 300 stores in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.