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 with Snoopy.
   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 impaired.
   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 "Macyís" malls.
   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 stores.
   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 in.
   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 to sell.
   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."

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