Last week I wrote an article here on Ways to Make a Living about my early days in retail management, back in the 1980s. I was working for a company called T.G.&Y and started out with them when I was in High School. When I started, I was a stock boy, but I ended up working in management, both store management and regional management. I have to say, being a store manager was one of the most fun parts of my life. I was able to do things that perhaps I should not have, but because I usually made money with some of the wacky things that I did, I got away with it.
As I said last week, the first store that I managed was in a ghetto neighborhood. Because of the store’s location, some of the “in the box” strategies did not work there. There was a different mindset in the neighborhood, and I had to shift to thinking outside my box, and inside the neighborhood box about many things. As I did that, I was able to increase the sales of the store, and make a profit in the store, something which had not been done in decades.
One thing that the stores in our company used to sell was live plants. I mean like potted plants for use inside your house. In the neighborhood where my store was, the most popular plants that I sold were “Ivy” plants. The people them called them “Ivory” plants. Not sure why, but every customer called them that. All I knew was that I sold a ton of “Ivory” plants, and I made a lot of money with them. We had a live plant vendor who would come to our store once or twice per week to make sure that we had plenty of supply of the plants that sold well. My store was among the best stores in selling live plants in the area where we were.
Many of the stores in our company had a problem with live plants. They did not take care of them. Therefore, after a few days of having the plants delivered, the plants would start turning brown and dying. Problem was, the staff in these stores did not water the plants or take care of them in any way. It led to a lot of money lost due to dead plants. I did not have this problem in my store for two reasons:
- We took care of the plants daily.
- Because plants sold quickly in my store, they did not have time to die before they were purchased.
Those two things meant that we made a good profit selling live plants.
One day, the District Manager came to visit my store. When he would come, we would tour around the store, and he would point out to me what changes he wanted me to make to improve the store. Sometimes I agreed with his ideas, sometimes I didn’t. If I agreed, I would quickly implement his ideas. If I disagreed, I would say “Yes, sir” and then I would drag my feet for a while before implementing his plan. I usually found that this strategy worked well for me.
So, on this given day, the district manager came. When we walked past the area where the live plants were on display (mostly “Ivory” of course), he stopped and told me that he had a new policy that none of the stores in his district were to sell live plants. He instructed me to call the plant vendor and have all of the plants picked up. I pleaded with him and told him that I made good money selling live plants. He told me that there was too much loss due to dead plants. I explained to him that I had no losses because they sold very well in my store. My pleading finally ended when he said:
Martin, get rid of these live plants immediately. If I ever come back and see that you have live plants in the store, you will be fired.
Well, he was direct! I didn’t want to get fired, but I also didn’t want to lose the nice profits that I was making with live plants. So, I thought about it and tried to figure out what I should do. I came up with a plan.
The next day, I called the plant vendor and he already knew about the new policy. He was quite upset, as it would really take away a lot of business from his company, but there was nothing he could do.
I asked him, “Do you have a nice sized trailer from one of your trucks, which you are not using on the weekends?” He said that he did. I told him to come and get the plants in my store and take them away. However, I told him that every weekend, I wanted him to bring his trailer to my parking lot and have it full of live plants, including a LOT of “Ivory.” I told him that I wanted that truckload of plants early every Saturday morning, but it had to be picked up on Sunday night. Whatever we sold on Saturday and Sunday he and I would both make a profit on. No plant sales during the week, though, only on weekends. You see, the District Manager rarely came around on Saturdays or Sundays. If the district manager did come, though, I had a plan.
For about 6 months everything went great. My customers knew that I had live plants on a truckload sale every weekend. They came on the weekends to buy plenty of live plants. I sold a lot of “Ivory” you can be sure of that. But then it happened. My district manager showed up on a Saturday afternoon, unexpectedly. I saw him when he drove up. He stood outside watching that truckload of plants for about 10 minutes. He then came into the store, and approached me, and said:
Martin, I should fire you right now. Remember, I told you that if I ever found you selling plants again you would be fired? Well, what do you have to say for yourself?
You are exactly correct, sir. You did tell me that I would be fired. But, what you told me was that if you ever found live plants in my store again, I would be fired. Those plants are not in my store, they are outside!
His face started turning red. I could almost see steam coming out from his ears! He was pissed. After a few minutes, he asked how long I had been doing this. I told him that I started the next weekend after he gave his instructions about live plants. He asked if I was making money, and I assured him that I was. I even showed him all of the facts and figures. His anger turned to happiness. I could tell that he was actually proud of me. I was making money for the company, and technically, I did not disobey what he instructed me to do!
He never punished me for what I did. He told me it was OK to keep doing it, but he also told me to “never get caught.”
I didn’t ever get caught by anybody else, and I kept making good money on the live plants!
The old adage applies here – “If it isn’t broke – don’t fix it!”
So true, Mitch.
Great story, Bob! Sounds like that manager had forgotten what it was like to run a single store.
Hi Tom – Glad you enjoyed the story! I think really, he was just following orders from above… so many people blindly do that when it is not always the best way to go. Perhaps because I feel that way, that is why it’s better for me to be self-employed! 😉