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A Slice of the Pie
Enjoying being a part of an American tradition
During the 1980's, there was a popular 30-minute sitcom entitled "Happy Days". It involved a mother, father, daughter and son. As a part of the story line, the father owned a business. The son, played by Ron Howard, worked part time in the store, and in several stories was charged with the responsibility of closing the store for the evening. The show presented an enjoyable view of an American lifestyle that the show's writers probably thought was only a memory of days gone by.
For your consideration, we suggest that this lifestyle continues to flourish today. One of several places where we can find this is with the people that own, manage, work in the office supply businesses, and some of the people in related fields: wholesalers, manufacturers, and sales representatives. These are among the fortunate few to enjoy this unique and wonderful lifestyle of the independent retailer. An experience that many retailers have been fortunate to have is to hear a customer remark how much they enjoy browsing through your store, and how much they think they would enjoy working in, or perhaps owning a store similar to yours.
From my personal experiences, my wife requires that I give to her my money and credit cards whenever I go into a store. I have always had a hard time leaving a piece of clothing on the rack of the store after I saw something I wanted to own. And put me in a store where the sales help is friendly and outgoing, why I can help them reach their sales goals in a flash. Why does this relationship develop between a store and a customer?
It will happen in the store in which the owner recognizes what he is truly selling. It is not clothing and many related products. What the best merchants are selling to their customers are "feelings" in the form of fun, self-esteem, satisfaction, and pride.
It was during lunch with a friend, and through comments that he made that started this story over a year ago. He had made a career move, a senior vice-president, leaving after 15 years what had grown to become a cold and impersonal bank for a position with a children's hospital. He took a pay cut of 40% in making the move, but during the decision making process, gave serious consideration to purchasing a retail business.
Like our example, he was a frequent shopper and browser of businesses where he could meet and visit with the owner or manager. He liked what he saw in these stores, and the enjoyment that these people have in their work. There is some kind of special appeal in owning a store. Being a fourth generation retailer, it is hard for me to define that appeal. It has always been there. But I can understand and appreciate others when they attempt to explain it. Being somewhat of a traditionalist, I believe that retailers that sell these unique "feelings" are fortunate enough to enjoy a slice of the proverbial "American pie". Or, perhaps as my friend uses the cliché, it is "being able to smell the roses".
Either way, like many things in life, when you stop to smell the roses, you can find more roses to smell. Throughout the year, you have the opportunity to experience a number of events that prove this theory to be true. One event that you can all experience is a trade show or educational seminar. No matter what size your store, the opportunity to share a meal, or an afternoon break with a fellow retailer, shows a kinsmanship like no other business. Retailers share their plans, experiences, and problems.
Many dealers are even willing to share financial data with each other. There are groups of dealers around the country that meet to share on a monthly basis.
This type of experience isn't common to most industries. Ask someone you know in another profession, to find out what happens when they get together, and what assistance they give each other. Why this fascination with the independent retailer? Check any local newspaper and you will find great human interest stories about stores and the people that own them.
In our town, the newspaper with a Sunday circulation of over 400,000 featured an article about the southern part of our city. The story talked about the needs, assets, and people of our area. The writer stated that there were several "institutions" which held the people of our community together. He named a church, a college, a family owned restaurant, a locally owned bowling alley, and a neighborhood store. Owning a store is as American as it gets.
We are able to find so many stories that are told about stores and the people that own them. In country music, you can hear Kenny Rogers mention the corner drug store that he worked in. You can also hear the fondness for the neighborhood store as a part of the song "Twenty Years Ago" sung by Alabama. The long running show "Cheers" talked about the place that Sam Malone owned and how it was "where everyone knows your name". Today's number one television show, "Friends", has occasional episodes that take place in the neighborhood coffee shop. Small businesses seem to be able to get more than their share of human interest stories, as shown by these examples.
One of NASCAR's most popular drivers, Bill Elliott, is the son of a retailer. The story is told that the Dad and his family are very loyal to the brand of cars that the son uses to race. So loyal that they will gladly tote the merchandise to your car, but only if it is the same brand of car that the son drives.
And, one of the nationally syndicated humorous newspaper columnists was commenting about the problems with movies today. He thought that viewers had a hard time relating to heroes that were spies, renegade police officers, or unique professions. The writer stated that movies would be more realistic if we got these stars "back into the neighborhood stores".
The independent retailers are usually the most responsible members of their communities. I have heard the stories of my grandfather and his store. Many times a factory worker would come into his general store explaining he had been laid off. My grandfather would always make sure that all the family members had the clothing they needed. From a financial point, this bill was often left unpaid. But, it was considered paid in full because it was an opportunity to repay the community for allowing my grandfather to be a part of it and to make a good living.
Today, we can often hear or read the story of an independent that was there to help. Perhaps it is a situation similar to my grandfather. Often it occurs as the Make a Wish Foundation helps a terminally ill child or youth to fulfill a dream. I have seen the pictures and heard the stories of that child being beautifully outfitted by a local retailer so as to make the dream as enjoyable as possible.
How many times have YOU heard someone come into your store and comment how much he or she enjoys looking around your store? And, have you noticed that when you add a new employee in your store, how quickly they become a part of the community? Our employees had told us of the number of times that customers had stopped them in a grocery store or at the mall, to say hello or ask if something new had arrived at the store in their favorite color. We hope that you enjoyed our reminiscing. Aren't you glad you're an independent retailer? You are a rare and proud part of Americana, of which more people want to become. We hope you enjoy your piece of the pie.
This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.
Profits Plus Solutions, Inc.