Tales for a fireside future
"Grandpa, Grandpa," little
Jimmy will say many years from now when Iíve retired from my illustrious
business career to my room in a tenderloin hotel. "Tell me again the
story about the stupidest thing you ever did in business."
"Stupid is a bad word, little
Jimmy," Iíll say as I bounce him on my knee. "Remember,
Grandpa prefers to be called an idiot when he tells this story."
"Iím sorry, Grandpa. Please tell
me the story again."
All right. It was along time ago, back
in the 70s, when Grandpa was in his early 20s. It was the era when the
concept of speciality retail stores was relatively fresh. The stronger the
identity, the greater chance of success, or so the theory went.
It was my idea Ė a chain of stores
exclusively selling gifts associated with characters for the wildly
successful comic strip, "Peanuts," by Charles Schulz. Snoopy,
Woodstock, Charlie Brown, Lucy and the gang had never been hotter. Snoopy
dolls were even outselling Barbie, or so it seemed. I didnít know anyone
who liked Barbie anymore, but quite a few girls I knew were infatuated
My market research completed (see above
paragraph), I brought in my life-long friend as a partner (whom Iíll
call Skippy to avoid embarrassment to his family), and we set about
looking for money and locations.
After the banks politely turned us down
for a loan (no vision, I told Skippy), we reluctantly turned to a wealthy
friend of ours and cut him in as a silent partner in exchange for seed
money. This fellow, unlike the banks, had plenty of vision ---it was just
Finding locations was surprisingly
easy. We found three mediocre malls actually eager to rent us
space. To solidify our choice of these three malls, we proudly noted that
all three had Macyís as an anchor tenant. We vowed only to go into
Our real estate plan out of the way
(see above paragraph), we set out to launch our first store. We opened
within two months and were rewarded with dismal sales. On to the other
All three were up and running soon, and
by golly, sales did indeed improve. Of course, Christmas was fast
approaching. Skippy and I were elated with the increases. On December 23rd,
the company shattered its record for single-day sales! Money was rolling
We couldnít contain our enthusiasm
any longer. We headed to Hawaii for a well-deserved vacation on the
company dime. The last six months had been tough, but after a pathetic
start and a painfully slow fall season, the business was finally showing
signs of the fabulous sales we always predicted.
Sipping mai tais on the beach in
Hawaii, we made plans for expansion. It was now mid-January, and sales had
taken a drastic dip from December, which we had predicted. Heck, we
laughed, after those Christmas sales thereís not much left in the stores
We went home, tanned and rested, and
rented a warehouse and hired a secretary. Now we were ready for the push
into the big time. Sales were still slow, but when morale dipped slightly,
the rallying cry became, "Remember December!" Unfortunately, it
was still only February.
As March rolled around, so did the
creditors. The secretary quit, telling us she felt kind of dumb buzzing us
on the telephone intercom to announce calls when our office was only eight
feet away and had no door.
April and May showed no improvement.
Christmas never seemed so far away, whether we looked backward or forward.
Easter had come and gone, and sales were just nudging past the Salvation
Army bell ringerís. The time had finally come for strong, bold action.
Being the leader, I was the first to
bail. I suggested subleasing all the stores, but Skippy became convinced
that the road to recovery was simply to change the use to Rainbow Shops.
I said no, Skippy said yes, the wealthy
friend said do something. When the smoke cleared, I was gone, the
friendship was in shambles, and Skippy was the proud owner of three
Rainbow Shops. For a few more months.
The sad tale completed, little Jimmy
will look up from the floor, wide-eyed. "Thatís a good story,
Grandpa," he will say, "but you have better ones that make you
look even more stupidÖI mean, idiotic."
"Shut up, little Jimmy," I
will say. "At least I recovered from this one."