Haggen is one of the swiftest, most spectacular corporate crash-and-burns in recent history. It should provide cautionary case studies at business schools for years to come.

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A year ago, Haggen was an 18-store grocer virtually unknown outside of Western Washington and Oregon.

Today, after a botched expansion that added 146 former Albertsons and Safeway stores in five states, the Bellingham company is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. It has sued Albertsons, which had previously filed a claim against Haggen for nonpayment of inventory.

Haggen is one of the swiftest, most spectacular corporate crash-and-burns in recent history. It should provide cautionary case studies at business schools for years to come.

Here is the back story.

The grocery chain was founded in 1933, the depth of the Great Depression, by Ben and Dorothy Haggen, with Doug Clark.

But in early 2011, Comvest Partners acquired a majority stake in Haggen. The Florida private-equity outfit is not a classic “rip, strip and flip” firm. It had success patiently turning Allegiant Air into a publicly traded company, cashing out in 2010. According to media reports, Comvest wanted to make Haggen more competitive and increase its market share.

It got its chance when Safeway and Albertsons were forced to divest stores as a condition of their colossal merger, one that arguably was anti-competitive.

Last December, Haggen said it would pay $300 million to acquire 146 Safeway and Albertsons stores in Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona and California. A month later, the Federal Trade Commission gave its approval.

At the time, Haggen Chairman John Caple, a partner in Comvest, said, ”With this pivotal acquisition, we will have the opportunity to introduce many more customers to the Haggen experience. Our Pacific Northwest grocery-store chain has been committed to local sourcing, investing in the communities we serve, and providing genuine service and homemade quality since it was founded.”

Caple was an alumnus of Bain and Co., whose onetime chief was Mitt Romney.

Overseeing this huge expansion were John Clougher, CEO of Haggen’s Northwest Division, and Bill Shaner, CEO of Southwest operations.

Overnight, Haggen quintupled its workforce to around 11,000. Yet it was entering territories of which it had little knowledge. Would “Northwest fresh” translate well?

Red flags came early.

A pricing snafu hit one of the first new stores to get the Haggen name, in Carlsbad, north of San Diego. The higher-than-intended prices caused bad reviews on social media for a chain that had been highly anticipated.

In April, The Orange County Register reported Haggen was getting mixed reviews. One shopper said he found the store “underwhelming.” Another complained about the prices: “If I want to pay more, I’m going to go to Whole Foods,” he said.

A retail consultant warned that Haggen would need more than 50 stores in Southern California alone to gain competitive scale. It had acquired 82 in the entire state, where it was facing Safeway and Albertsons, in addition to Von’s, Ralph’s, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and a host of others.

The situation was similar in Arizona, where the razor-thin margins of the grocery industry were complicated by overall lower household incomes. Arizona, Nevada and inland California were epicenters of the housing crash, whose troubles still linger.

I also wondered how anything Northwest would go over in deeply conservative Arizona, which associates our region with godless, pot-smoking socialism.

By July, Haggen was cutting staff hours. In a prepared statement, Shaner said, “The competitive activity launched in response to our entry into the marketplace — while expected — has been unprecedented.”

In early September, Haggen filed for Chapter 11.

In the $1 billion lawsuit against Albertsons, Haggen claims that the bigger chain deceived it on the deal and then sabotaged its entry into the new region, including giving misleading price information for products on the shelves.

But at least some of the damage may have been self-inflicted.

Hart Hodges, director of the Center for Economic and Business Research at Western Washington University, said the reasons behind Haggen’s significant loss of customer traffic at the acquired stores “is a key piece of how this turned out so badly.”

Haggen “didn’t tell their story,” he said. The chain’s marketing failed to communicate the “sweet spot” that Haggen enthusiasts here know: service, friendliness and affordability.

“They let sales drop. Why?” he asked. “They created or let misperceptions grow. It’s hard to make up a 20 percent drop in sales.”

The train wreck also is a reminder of the axiom of Hugh McColl Jr., who built a modest Charlotte bank into such a behemoth that it eventually acquired and took the name of Bank of America. The most difficult challenge for any business is growing, he repeatedly said. Especially growing fast.

Picking up the pieces won’t be easy. Reorganization will likely result in the closure or sale of more than 120 stores. Lawsuits notwithstanding, Haggen is working with Albertsons to rehire at least some of the employees who have lost jobs.

Back in Bellingham, people are wondering if their hometown market will ever be the same.

“Earlier there was a belief that we’ll be OK,” Hodges said. “But bankruptcy-court judges don’t view things that way. Can they retreat back to what they were? I don’t know if the courts will let that happen easily.”