Monday, August 17, 2009

The Other Side of the Coin

Of course on the same day I killed three tourists and dumped them in the harbour for taking pictures of the artwork.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

busy busy busy

It's high season here and I have about as much time as a mosquito at a flyswatter convention. This is not a complaint as I know in February I will regret every dollar I did not make if I slow down for even a minute. I just took my boots off and put my feet up for the first time in weeks and am pouring a large gin to toast the gods of retail. This has been our busiest year yet despite early recession worries. I don't get it as our neighbours are reporting slower sales and many parts of the province are in a desperate state. A customer told me it was because we are a very human store. Yesterday a little girl came up to the cash with a few small items she was buying for her friends back home. One item was a bit more than the others as it was for her best friend and it was perfect. She was short about ten bucks and crestfallen. As she went to put the item for her best friend back I stopped her and gave it to her. She lit up. Her Mom was in shock and began to protest but I told her that her daughter was such a thoughtful little girl and so well behaved it would be an honor to provide the perfect gift for her best friend. I did it spontaneously and I often do small things like this especially for kids. The family came back later and dropped a couple of hundred bucks in the store and I could hear them them saying good things as they walked out the door. I didn't give away the item thinking it would make me money but it did. You get what you give, like people and care about them and it all comes back to you. That's whey we are up.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Rant if You Please

I paid our store power bill at the bank as usual in April. The May bill did not reflect the payment so I queried the Power Company and they said they had received no payment in April. I got out my records, found the receipt of payment and faxed it to them. Whatever they said, we did not get the money go to your bank and find out what happened. OK, I thought but upon reflection I thought they could liaise with the bank, they had all the required paper work etc so I asked them to handle it as I was the customer and I had paid the bill. Meanwhile we are getting collection notices even though our bill is completely up to date except for the missing April payment. We got a phone call from the power company that said the bank had sent them a letter saying we did indeed pay the bill but an error occurred and they would solve the problem in due time. We got another collection letter from the power company. We got a hand delivered cut off notice from the power company. Of course I called and the gist of the conversation was this: We, the power company, don't give a crap why we didn't get the money or whose fault it is, send the money by tomorrow or we will cut off your power. I produced all the receipts and correspondence from the bank and they said: We, the power company, don't give a crap why we didn't get the money, send the money by tomorrow or we will cut off your power. I explained the situation again and again as I went up the food chain at the power company until I reached the prime customer service person who said: We, the power company, don't give a crap why we didn't get the money, send the money by tomorrow or we will cut off your power. Did I mention that our bill is completely up to date except for this missing payment. I called the bank who told me the money was wrongly sent to Revenue Canada and they were doing their best to get it back. Good luck with that I thought. Once again I called the power company etc etc. The bank, realizing my power was in jeopardy actually paid the bill for me and said they would recover the money from Revenue Canada at a later date. Thank you Royal Bank, actual service. Newfoundland Power is run by people who have no idea what customer service is about and frankly I think they are not very bright (no pun intended) This is what happens when there is a monopoly. If I could choose another power option they might be forced to treat me with a little respect.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Wandering staff

If you have a working knowledge of our store or have ever worked for me it's best to stay away during business hours. Many years ago we hired a high school student on a work term. She was young and fresh and periodically over the years she helped us out, often, as she recently pointed out, by being abandoned in the store the moment she walked in. I'd see Elizabeth coming and dart out for coffee or some small errand. I hadn't realized I did this until the other day when she came in after a long absence. I hadn't seen her for a year or so and the moment she came in I stuck her behind the counter with not much more than a hello and went to the drugstore for packing tape. When I came back and saw her there I realized she is far from being the girl that worked for us way back in high school. I basically conscripted a grown woman and she says she doesn't mind; she likes feeling at home in the store. That's success. I am very proud of that but more than anything I like to score a few minutes of free labour now and then. It helps make up for all the idiots I've suffered over the years.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Talking to Children

I always address kids when they come in the store as separate individuals from their parents. It freaks them out. Kids are not used to adults talking to them. Often they hug Mom or Dad's leg hard and shyly hide. After a short time, when they observe and decide I am not actually dangerous they will come out and start talking. Sometimes we have a great conversation, much to the shock of the parents as kids can be very candid and often say delightful and embarrassing things about their lives and their families. When I was a kid I often felt marginalized and not taken seriously and all of my life I've tried to give kids a chance to share their views and like Art Linkletter used to say, kids say the darnedest things. A little girl opened up the other day to tell my Mommy liked Jack better than Daddy and they had to live in a new house. She said it was fun because everyone was buying her things and they never got mad but Daddy doesn't like Jack anymore. Dad was right there, turning red but I knew this was a revelation for him; his five-year-old daughter was way more self aware than he thought. He learned a lot that moment that I hope stuck with him: kids hear everything and understand a lot more. It happens quite often that the parent is surprise by what their kids say. Maybe they should talk to them more too.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Don't touch

A man and his son came in the store and the father was doing a very good job of stopping his six-year-old son from touching anything. I appreciate it very much when people take responsibility for their children but after a while this guy was getting on my nerves. He hovered over the little guy like a force field, moving things, pushing hands away, blocking with his body to the point the little guy can get no enjoyment at all out of all the colorful things. Finally dad makes a quick turn and his fanny pack knocks a wooden sculpture off the shelf. I walked over and said to the dad, in the same tone as he had been using, "look with your eyes not with your butt." The little guy almost peed himself with laughter. He was a smart cookie. I think I made a friend for life. Dad wasn't as impressed but he took it well enough. I wish I was a fly on the wall at that dinner table that night.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

One phone line blues

Imagine a situation in which you are talking to your Mom or your brother or spouse and a person anxious to give you money is waving a visa card: it's the one phone line blues. We're way to cheap to spring for another line and until we do we must rudely cut off any conversation when a sale is pending. The phone line is required to complete the transaction. As any good retailer knows you get the money when the gettin's good; never give them time to change their minds. Most of our friends and family know and accept this as I have more than once hung up on them if the sale was big enough to demand all of my attention. I have to admit to some satisfaction in doing this. In the name of service (not to mention profit) I am allowed to be rude, if only sparingly, to almost everyone I know, with impunity. Sweet. Maybe it's why I can be jovial most of the time. The customers are often surprised at the speed we will snag their visa card while hanging up the phone before the "gotta go" gets all the way out. People appreciate being more important than the phone but actually it's their money... Oh well..gotta go..

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sum Sum Summertime

Although the rain is pelting down today summertime is here. I can tell by all the strange faces in the store and by the size of my wallet. Apologies to my peers who are out there suffering a recession but here we have the good fortune to be sitting on millions of barrels of oil and are the "it" location these days as a unique and not too expensive destination in North America. Living in one of the poorest places north of the 49th that has suddenly become a wealthy one makes for an interesting transition. We have fresh produce in our supermarkets; the only things that will grow on our boggy soil are turnips, cabbage and carrots. Of course when you get to the cash with your eggplant, avocado and leeks no one has any idea what they are. By far the best benefit is good coffee. There was a day when in the center of your table at the restaurant was three jars: one with instant coffee, one with sweetener and another with coffee whitener and the server would simply pour you a cup of hot water. Now I can spend 5 bucks on a coffee in pretentious surroundings and 4 bucks on a muffin just like everybody else. Luckily we have maintained our authenticity (nothing has changed around the bay) and travellers can get a good look at places that are still stuck in time, full of friendly hard working people who unfortunately still drink instant coffee. Every year we are off the Kraft Dinner and homemade wine earlier so as my summer heats up I salute you all and wish for a great season.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Where Did That Come From

You may have asked yourself what the previous cartoon was doing in a retail blog.

I bumped into an acquaintance the other day and I wondered why he wasn't at work. Sick day he replied. He wasn't sick. He was on the golf course. Apparently he is allowed 23 sick days a year and if he doesn't use them he loses them. I always thought a sick day meant you were sick but according to his shop steward they are just days off, he gets them whether he was sick or not. Well there goes the gross national product. I believe all people deserve a fair wage, good benefits and safe working conditions. As a matter of fact I pay people more than the minimum required but as a fiercely self employed entrepreneur it makes me angry when a hard fought union demand for fair treatment of sick people becomes another excuse for laziness. The founders of the workers rights movement would fire every one of these idiots who think they are owed something for nothing. I don't think Woodie Guthrie would have written a song for them.

I think every generation makes the same observation about the generation that follows but this time we are right.

Unionizing the Worlds Oldest Profession

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The toy story begins

A lady stood before me today with an item for refund. It was a toy, the fabulous diabolo, which has been feeding us well this spring. I've never been on the front lines of a fad but hope to be there all the time. Money was flying from all directions but the reverse side of sales is refunds and when a lot of any item sells you can count on a percentage of people who will want to bring the item back. The toy the lady wanted to return was about 6 weeks old and obviously played with constantly; a bolt was loose and it was coming apart. I tightened the bolt but the lady still wanted her money back because the diabolo, a yo yo like toy, might come apart and someone could get hurt. It's rubber with an aluminium axle. In order for someone to get hurt by it you would have to stuff it into a cannon with a bunch of shot. She assured me her son was not the type of boy who would maliciously loosen a bolt. All of the kids take the diabolo apart and exchange parts but not this boy; he was a good boy who might get hurt. I looked into her doe like eyes and felt an immediate pain for the poor sad boy who had to suffer this overzealous, overprotective and annoying woman. "Ma'am," I said, " he is a boy and there will be blood. Stop being paranoid, if your son can not handle the dangers of a federally approved rubber toy his chances in the big world are zero." There was a moment of silence. "Perhaps you are right."she said. I had to give her the money back. That kind of self awareness has to be rewarded. I still feel sorry for the kid but at least there is hope.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Electric Money

In the modern world it does not matter how much money you have if the power is out; you can't get at it so your as poor as the next guy. Most transactions now require electricity to move some numbers from one place to another, consequently when the power goes out, especially on a busy day, pandemonium ensues. I need every dollar I can swipe into my POP machine and the thought of losing even one makes me as antsy as Pinocchio at a toothpick carving contest. The solution, of course, is a gas powered generator in the basement. The partners have resisted but they were not there the afternoon I had them six deep impatiently waving visa cards and the power suddenly went out. I ended up just writing down the customers card numbers and hand entering them later which worked out great. Some people were a bit leery, as if writing the number down was suspicious but printing on a machine was on the up and up. What can you say, people are afraid to use their cards online but have no problem handing to a criminal adolescent at a pizza joint. I could have lost a few bucks but all the cards came back authorized; still, I'd love that generator, nothing like a few exhaust fumes to make people part with their money and in the skinny times of winter I could be bolder with the power company when they call to collect. I guess I'm just a boy scout, always prepared.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Couterfeiting Money

Those of us in the art print business don't like to mention it out loud but selling prints is like counterfeiting money; I sell pieces of paper that have an arbitrary, perceived value but really are only worth the paper they are printed on. When I travel I often buy local art in the form of prints and have even purchased limited editions which have an even higher perceived value because, theoretically, there are a limited number. I noticed in our local market that if a print edition ran out we would see a number of "artists proofs" as if the artist slaved over the digital printer making manual color corrections. Then there will be some "remarques" on which the artist has made some kind of mark to distinguish this print from the regular run. While at the printer the other day I ran into a colleague who after running out of all the options was just printing more anyway. What the hell? I started with limited editions because of the cache but I have found that most people buy a picture because they like it and don't care about the pretension of limited editions. Exactly; if you like a picture (oh please) buy it. Of course the high end guys really buy into this as their prints can go as high as a couple of grand. They are geniuses of course, guys like David Blackwood (google him and you will find the spirit of this place) who still pull their own prints instead of making a glorified photocopy; still, I sell my happy little glorified photocopies for $14.95 and make a modest living doing what I like. I am a counterfeiter. It is completely legal and by the way, I do accept counterfeit money in the store. I spend it at Walmart on the way home.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Speaking of old jobs

I built a sandwich board sign for the store about 5 years ago. I wanted to let people know we were open from a distance and to advertise new stock and specials. The sign gets put out everyday. It is bright yellow. It is completely blank. I never got around to finishing it. What amazes me is not one person has ever commented on our blank sign. They stop and look at it and come in the store anyway thanks to our windows, which do get some attention. I am also amazed that we have put the silly thing out everyday for five years. Rain, snow or shine I haul it out and it weighs a ton, the weight protecting it from blowing away in the strong winds we often have. This is a windy place at the best of times and I often have to wedge the sandwich board behind a parking meter to keep it in place. Well hurricane season is here and the other day I discovered the real advantage of a blank sign. A 100K gust peeled the sign from behind the parking meter and it tumbled into the street, whacking into the door of a rented car that was toddling down the street. It made a noticeable dent. The guy got out of the car outraged. I watched from the safety of the store as he examined the sign and looked around. WTF. A blank sign. He kicked it not realizing it weighs 50 pounds, yelped and limped back into the car. I waited a few seconds and snuck out to get it. I left it in the stockroom for a few days but now I put it out everyday, blank. And that's the way it's going to stay. It slows down the shoppers anyway and any future accidents will cost us nothing in liability. I hope that guy never reads this blog.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Service is everything

What can you say to a customer that walks in the door and says they ordered an item two years ago and they never received it; you can't say wow, it took you two years to mention it, snooze you lose. Why is it that some jobs fall through the cracks. My service is excellent (contrary to the above) but once in a while an order just gets forgotten. The woman was very forgiving, as I was supposed to call when the item was done to receive payment, she was not out of pocket which can make even the mildest folks nasty. I never take deposits. I make what I want with a few suggestions and if the customer does not like it they do not have to buy it and we can still be friends. Often when people ask me if I take orders I respond by saying if I could take orders I'd probably be able to have a job. When people can take control they often do with a vengeance and make my life miserable with their petty demands, so I only take orders from the kind of people who show up two years later cheerful and ready to try again. After all, a little folk art is hardly worth getting the blood pumping. I am working on the customer's piece right now, red painted fingers typing this blog. I think I'll finish it this time.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Japanese Tourists

One night I caught out of the corner of my eye one of the local shoplifters running out the front door with a large framed print. I gave chase as he headed up the stairs in the alley beside the store. He was having difficulty running with the big frame and my violent threats as I gained ground caused him to toss the painting. It actually landed without damage, glass and all but I wasn't done. I called the worst expletives you can imagine after him as he disappeared out the other end of the alley. Satisfied I picked up the print and turned around. There was a group of Japanese tourists at the bottom of the alley who immediately began to chatter and take pictures. At least I haven't seen it on utube yet. I was speaking the universal language, understood around the world. My Mom would be very upset.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Some one elses shoes

Just for something completely different and because I can I'm fixing up a Ford pick up. I need a truck and my mechanic has graciously allowed me to work at his place of business. I'm not one to slag mechanics as mine is honest and excellent and I have gained even more respect for him not just because he patiently answers my stupid questions but because his day is nothing but a constant barrage of stupid questions. I thought the gift industry held the papers on stupid questions but automobile users are even more uneducated about the nuts and bolts they use to haul their carcass from A to B than they are about tastes of their loved ones. And they expect an even better deal from a guy who actually works for a living slogging in the gunk that is your car than they do from me, picking my nails behind a counter. Oh well, we pay the people that fix our toilets a hell of a lot more than people who take care of our kids so why should we want to pay for our cars; after all, in so many ways our lives depend on them. ( I'm not saying plumbers should make less but childcare workers should get paid more) Any endeavour in which you take money and people really don't understand what's going on will bring out the worst in a few of us, over reacting to a lack of knowledge with bombastic ignorance. It's been interesting doing something so outside my regular routine and seeing it's not so far outside after all.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Do I look like a gravy train?

Business owners everywhere are used to people parading into their stores looking for donations for their particular cause. It's difficult because often the cause is very worthy, helping a family with a sick child or a benefit for someone who is ill. Last year we were solicited over 600 times for donations for causes as lame as new jackets for a hockey team or a junior high basketball trip. Any cause involving healthy youngsters should include a little work and not just begging for cash, but it's a modern world and not once have I been offered something in return for my donation. If I only gave a twenty dollar item 600 times that's about 12 grand worth of retail product a year. But a good store is a good community supporter and we often give. I have finally figured out how to decide which causes to support. I ask the person for a receipt for a purchase from any store in the downtown area in the past month. Because most of these idiots shop at the mall ( it is so hard to type that word as mall is a four letter word to a downtowner) and the mall does not allow soliciting so they venture downtown for their free bucks. They usually have a stunned look in response. Some of them, even after I explain my position, do not understand. I have a nice looking store and I guess it looks like I have money. Governments and utilities seem to think so as they charge more for business services. My business phone, exactly like my home phone costs five times more per month. Why? Because I must have money, I'm in business. How about the donation seekers go to some government offices and walk around the cubicles asking for free money. I'm sure this happens to some extent within an office but it is usually because the cause is associated with a person who works there, there is a connection. We are always willing to help the causes of our regulars. But shouldn't our governments be helping people in real need. Call me a socialist but shouldn't my taxes go to helping my fellow citizens, to ease their suffering. Until then I guess I'll keep giving a little because I make up for it by ranting at the lazy dolts who expect free money for their bowling team.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Did you make that?

For a time we did what I call guerrilla retail: manning an outdoor booth at some kind of festival or event. The atmosphere is festive and sleazy and the crowds generally are happy-go-lucky with a few drunken fools thrown in for flavour. At a few of the more low rent events we have even slept in the street to guard our wares ( they never have outdoor classical music festivals do they and you probably wouldn't sell too many bongs) On one of these glorious weekends we hooked up with some old friends and sat in lawn chairs all night long solving the problems of the world and enjoying the stars. Consequently I was a little tired the following day, the big sales day, and a little less likely to nod and smile when confronted with an obvious moron. This fellow was very interested in a mask we were selling. Back in the day we did the good old Asian import thing, when these things still seemed exotic and not tawdry and did not remind everyone of child labour. The mask clearly, as required by law, said made Indonesia on the back. The fellow looked at it, looked me in the eye and asked. "did you make that?" Of course, I told him. I jumped on a plane, hewed down a tree, carved out the mask. shipped it back here just so I could sell it to you. He bought it. That was the true start of my sales career. I've never looked back. Now I create and sell my own art and proudly say I made it but can't shake the niggling feeling that I am a fraud, that I'm pulling the wool over every body's eyes. Of course some people, like the aforementioned gentleman, come with their eyes prewooled and would buy poop wrapped in cellophane if you told them the right story. God bless them all. Tonight we eat.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Great Boomerang Disaster

We found a supplier that sold wooden boomerangs, nothing fancy, just a working boomerang and I tried one out in a field and sure enough after a short time I could throw it and it would come right back to me. Totally impressed I bought a case for the big local trade show thinking kids and parents alike would have fun with it and they sold like crack (no one buys hotcakes anymore). Great, I did good I thought as I watched the happy customers rush away anxious to try their new boomerangs. It wasn't too long before the first one came back. A sad child with chocolate ice cream stains all over his face placed a boomerang, now in two pieces, on the display in front of me. What could I do? I only paid a few bucks for them; I gave the kid a new one. A few minutes later another one came back in two pieces. Wait a second here, I played with one all day and it didn't break. What was going on. I saw two more sets of parents with sad children and broken boomerangs approaching. I closed the booth and went outside. In the paved parking lot of the trade ex were what appeared to be hundreds of kids flinging boomerangs high in the air and watching as the plummeted toward the hard pavement. Not satisfied if they didn't break they'd try it again, the odd time bouncing off a car or two. There was not a parent in sight. I scuttled back into the show to find a line up at my booth. Disgruntled parents not satisfied that the five bucks they spent hadn't translated into enough babysitting time were openly aggressive about my poor quality products. I had mentioned to EVERYONE that this toy should be used well away from obstructions out in a playing field perhaps; there was a school soccer field right next door for example. My pleas for rationality fell on deaf ears as they all held out their hands for their money back. Instead of suggesting it was their low quality parenting and not my low quality product I took a kid off guard and excitedly asked him how many tall throws it had taken to break it. "Three," he said without thinking. A few parents got it and looked sheepish but there is no stopping a true boor so I refunded a bunch of money and kept the rest of the boomerangs for myself. I have yet not managed to break one except the one I used to try and kill the SUV that belonged to the fattest boob of all as he left the parking lot. If he'd been a kangaroo I would've been eating fresh meat that night. Live and learn.

Monday, April 27, 2009

What am I doing

Self doubt is a very normal human response even when all is well. It takes little to put us all into thumb sucking stupors of dread and doubt. In retail, especially a specialized market that depends on people getting off their couches, on an airplane and out on to the street near my store, one bad day can have me wondering why I quit my union job to throw my future to the whims of the buying public. There are days when I truly believe I will never make another dollar as I watch a parade of customers walk right by my door with the competitors bags swinging in the breeze. It is a fragile business that requires constant attention. I must know what I am doing, 13 years in this location and there is always food on the table ( much better food in the high season ) but I still never believe the tourists will come back. In April we begin to see some life on the street but it only takes one bad day, like today, before I am nose first in the classifieds looking for the gravy train of civil service employment. But just in the nick of time some hapless goof from Ohio, struck on this beautiful place, lays down his visa on a pricey original painting and I am a god again. Just in case, please don't hire me if I do get foolish enough to think I could survive in a cubicle. I'll take fragile autonomy for wage slavery any day.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Know your Town

As tourism is a great deal of my business it is important that I know a few things about my town. I am always asked which restaurants are best etc so I go out and spend locally from time to time so my recommendations will be fresh and authentic. Last night was such a night and I learned two things: The Yellow Belly Brewery is a great restaurant and many of our lesbians look shockingly like our Premier, Danny Williams. I know it is probably just a similar haircut and glasses but also there is the implied tenacity in their stance: our Danny is a Pitt Bull too.

The Yellow Belly made up for being dragged to see KD Lang at, as she called it: a hockey rink - albeit a really nice one. I amused myself people watching and that's when I saw all the Dannys out there. KD herself has the haircut but she is so comfortable with herself she has no anger. I like her, just not her music. My only complaint is people kept clapping and waking me up. Still, a night out is a night out and I did get a couple of pints of the house brew and a steak and cheese wood fired pizza that was the perfect blend of pretension, comfort food, culinary ingenuity, presentation and price. Everyone at the table was satisfied.

A night out is also a night of shameless self promotion as I plugged the store with about 5 thousand people. It is great to know your town but it's really great if they know you. Next week Monster trucks with the grandson, no point schmoozing those people, there are all unemployed. Perhaps it all can be redeemed buy a bucket of beer and a few hot dogs.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The sun is shining

The sun (that big yellow thing in the sky if I remember correctly) is shining today and already the store is bristling with happy spending customers. This happens every spring and I think it's the vitamin D boost we get when the first spring sun settles on our pasty white winter skin. I feel happier today but that might be just the beautiful sound of the cash drawer opening and closing. Perhaps real economic stimulus would occur if everyone was prescribed some vitamin D from time to time. At the very least the pharmacist would make out like a bandit and we might see some trickle down from him. It is very optimistic of me to assume it is spring. We always get a snow storm on May 24th weekend - for those non-Canadians this is the weekend we get drunk in the woods and pass out in the fire to celebrate Queen Victoria's birthday. A snow storm is tradition and with typically Canadian weather lunacy we would be disappointed not to have one. Today the sun is shining on the icebergs in the bay and everyone has a grin on their face. Feeling good on a sunny day, it's all you need...and a few quality products from Keystone, the finest gift store in the northern hemisphere (I'm being objective, I've never been to the southern hemisphere) Now if it would only get warm too.

Friday, April 17, 2009

How's Your Recession

I never worry too much about recession as I believe most of us can only go about nine months tightening our belts before we lose control and buy a motion activated gnome that sings It's a Wonderful World every time you pass it in the garden or any other happiness bobble that allows us to forget about the abyss for a few seconds. I have no real problem with consumption, as it essentially is my living, but I worry when people buy because of outside influences or to please or impress the crowd instead of themselves; most of these people are not self aware enough to have any real personal tastes. They go see a Disney movie and then by a dalmatian or penguin or whatever the creature of the month. They drive a Hummer that never sees a gravel road and actually worry that they do not have as much as their neighbours. Personally, I can hold my head high driving a Pinto, wearing second hand clothes and collecting interesting pieces of wood. Some things matter: good food and wine, a warm hearth, the satisfaction of creating something that did not exist before, family and friends. If the economy depended on my spending habits the only two business that would exist would sell building supplies and liquor.

Whenever a recession hits I always wish I had a liquor license as hard times drive up sales but I would never want to deal with the hassles of selling booze. It is our worst social problem after all. That's why we decided to put a grow op in the basement of the store. The clientele are pretty docile and we're unloading singing gnomes at an alarming rate. It makes them laugh, well so does anything. There's a recession cure for you, a nice little drug habit. Over-all it's probably better all around than filling up the world with dalmatians and Hummers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Our Return Policy

Behind the cash at Keystone there is a small sign. When asked about our return policy I point at it. It says "Hire a Lawyer." We sell nice little gifts, mostly handmade, and spent our meagre earnings on food and fuel on the way home. I have never returned a gift in my life. When I receive a gift I do not like (it is neither food nor alcohol) the item goes straight on to eBay. Who returns a gift? Stop giving the crackheads in your circle a present they can try and redeem for cash. I will cheerfully give you a credit note knowing a large portion of them will end up going through the washing machine. Credit notes are like gift cards and lay-a-ways; we can only hope the recipient is transferred to Uzbekistan never to return. I have mellowed as I used to cheer for traffic fatalities and natural disasters on gift cards of $100 and more. I'm sure there is some ridiculously liberal consumer law that allows a person to bring back an item for refund and in the case of equipment and useful things it makes a lot of sense but as everything we sell was not needed in the first place how can not needing it now be a cause to get your money back. Sometimes I am weak. We do have some faithful regulars that feed us between the tourists and consumption holidays and I have been known to give back small sums of cash. It really hurts but hey, service is everything.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Jesus and the bunny

The secularization of religious holidays has brought us two of our favorite cultural icons: Santa Claus and the Easter bunny. At least Santa somehow relates to the religious origins of the holiday; he embodies the spirit of giving. How does a rodent doling out chocolate relate to the Resurrection? I always thought the Easter Bunny was a second class holiday icon. I imagine Santa on a beach in Cancun refusing the Bunny's calls. Actually the Easter bunny no longer comes to this jurisdiction as last year we skinned and ate his family, this being the home, at least in spirit, of Elmer Fudd.

Two things disturb me about Easter: It's not really a gift giving holiday and I have to be closed two days on the weekend. I hate being closed. Last year I proposed a Resurrection sale. You would have three days to bring sale items back for a refund. Of course making fun of other people's beliefs, although amusing, is not great for business. Luckily my religious friends and family are used to me and allow me to celebrate with them on these important occasions. Peace love and brotherhood are worthy values no matter why we celebrate them. And in the end it does not matter what you believe; it is what you do that counts.

So if I'm gorging myself on chocolate and hunting eggs with the kids I'm sure Jesus would approve. After all I give a seniors discount and have free delivery.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What is your time worth?

I make my own product and it was literally years before I actually figured out how much it cost in time and money to make each piece. I have now priced things appropriately, asking much less then a heart surgeon and a little more than a retired geezer who goes to work at Home Depot (love those guys by the way as they still know how to work) So when a person walks in, picks up a hand made, hand painted jewellery box that is priced at 20 bucks and says with disdain, 20 bucks! I could make that for 5 bucks, I sidle on up and and agree with them, say it does seem like a lot and confirm once again what they said: so you can make this item for 5 bucks. Their guard is down as I have been a friendly and agreeable fellow and they say sure, I can make that for five bucks. So I order 100. I'll pay cash! When can you deliver? The smart ones, and they are few, get the point right away and sometimes are apologetic; we all say things we don't really mean once in a while so I cut them some slack and we can still be friends. The dumb ones can be strung along for quite sometime as they slowly become even more ridiculous, actually making excuses as to why they couldn't make them right now. I have gone so far as to offer them, and their children. an application for employment in a sweatshop in India where I'm sure it would cost even less than 5 bucks to produce a cheap knockoff. Everyone values their time but often not the time of others. We should all be paying more for our consumer goods (shoot me now) Luckily more and more people support their local economy to the benefit of their community. They understand that 20 bucks spent at home stays at home and really represents more than that as that same 20 gets spent all day. I'll use it for food and my local grocer might then use it for repairs and so on. How you spend your money is a political statement. Do you want your decedents working in sweatshops to provide consumer goods for the Chinese middle class because we forgot how to make anything. Of course no one actually needs a hand painted jewellery box so perhaps I'll shut up but if you can make them for 5 bucks let me know.

Monday, April 6, 2009

I refuse to sell it

I can wax on cynically about our industry and our prospects in hell for creating more landfill but I believe in my gift store. I believe a small, hopefully locally made gift that shows you know a person, that you have heard them and care about them, actually makes the world a better place. Everyone wants to be considered and thought of. So when a man walked in to the store, literally grabbed the first thing off the rack, plunked it on the counter and said that will do I guess I got angry; we are all a little on edge this time of year. I asked him who the gift was for and he had a right to say none of my business and I had the right to say I'm sorry sir but we do not serve people with attitude problems who do not fully appreciate the meaning of a well chosen gift. The look on his face was well worth the five bucks I was now not going to make on the stuffed puffin. Listen he said, I want this, and he actually thought it was my legal and moral duty to sell it to him. I stood fast, no longer angry, actually enjoying myself. It was fun. He panicked and his hurt pride meant he was not leaving the store without the Puffin. I told him I could sell it to him if compensated for his attitude by making a donation to our SPCA jar, a donation made of paper not coins. He ranted about how he would never shop in my store again as he stuffed a fiver in the SPCA jar, paid for the puffin and stormed out. I think I'm going to have a "refuse to sell it to you day" every now and then. It's great for business. Sure made my day.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Little out of Hand

Apologies for the vehemence of the last post. It's an issue close to my heart.

The Worst Part of Business

The hardest part of self employment is not the incredible amount of time and energy it takes to create a successful business but the short amount of time it takes for some unprincipled slacker to steal your ideas and dilute the market until no one is making any money. For those of us that drive the market with our energy and creativity it is the worst part of business. One of the partners suggested we only put slow moving product in the window display so the neighbours will only steal bad ideas. It's obviously a good thing they have me because that ridiculous suggestion would have the potential customers walking right by. So how do you solve this problem? My suggestion, much more proactive than the partners, was to grind up the sandwich boards of these intellectual property thieves and stuff them down their throats. Unfortunately this kind of negative energy can twist you up inside until you are attacking customers if they are carrying the competition's shopping bags. Recently I discovered product in another store that is a direct ripoff of my artwork. They were unapologetic, even dumbfounded that it might be wrong. I could hire a layer, get a cease and desist, get grumpier and grumpier until I drive everyone away. I'm still making a living so what the hell. Every now and then I put on a ball cap and sunglasses and with wet painted hands go handle a little merchandise. It's immature and probably even wrong but man it feels good. The only real solution is to keep having good ideas and hope these idiots get hit by a bus.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Who is the bellwether

Sometimes the buying public, and it is glorious, decides one particular item is a must have. These fads, like Webkins, Tickle me Elmo and cheap Australian wine (oh to have a liquor license) can bring an unexpected sales spike if you happen to be in the right place at the right time. Recently a toy we have sold at Keystone for many years has been flying out the door. Why now? I decided to survey the kids as they dragged their tired, confused wallets (translate parents) into the store to buy the new fad. Their answer was that everyone had one so they must have one too. I'm paraphrasing, they would not think it is that simple as even a child doesn't think they are just a sheep following the crowd. But who started the parade? Who is at the front leading? Who is the bellwether? Obviously it is the coolest kid in town. After more directed questioning of the kids I got a name and a description and at last he came into the store. I gave him a different toy, convinced him it was the coolest toy in history because I can fake being cool myself and sent him out the door happy.

Notice I never told you what the toy is. Not under threat of torture baby. I always want more than my fair market share.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Men shopping

I received a comment that my profile photo made me look like a deer in the headlights. Since I've never claimed any sentience higher than a light struck ungulate I will not take offence. Actually it reminded me of men shopping.

It is a rare occurrence when a lone man stumbles alone into Keystone looking for a gift for his partner or mother, the only two gifts that really matter. Luckily men have been such crappy partners for so long that most women's expectations are so low you could glue elbow macaroni on a card in the shape of a heart and they would probably cry tears of joy. The secret of course is that we men cultivate this incompetence in order to keep expectations at an historical low. Really, how could it be possible for a man to have heard absolutely nothing for 15 years and have no knowledge of his partners tastes. It doesn't really matter what you buy your Mom as long as she gets it at the appropriate time with a little mushy emotion. Moms are good like that

This rare opportunity, a man shopping alone, is the retailers chance to test his professional gift selling expertise and move a little dusty product. Often all you have to do is put something in their hands and they are so grateful they just pass over the Amex with a stupid grin. At Keystone we pride ourselves on selecting the perfect gift for a total stranger; oddly we are better at it than the people they love.

Well, a good cliche, one that keeps women from expecting too much from us, must be perpetuated; still, the energy it takes to keep up this level of apathy can wear you out and the result of actually caring might surprise you. I have some lovely handmade jewellery you might find interesting...sir...sir...put down the squirt gun.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The death penalty for shoplifting

I believe in social justice. I believe in an equitable civil society where the needs of all are met without judgement or recrimination. I believe in the death penalty for shoplifting.

Self employment in retail does things to you. Before I created and sold my art at Keystone Quay I would never have considered electrocution as a solution to petty theft. Now, in the darkest days of the winter lull when a sale literally means tonight we eat I can't help these malevolent feelings from bubbling through. I am very fond of old ladies but when one of the old dears bags even the cheapest trinket it's all I can do to not crush their toes with a hammer.

When I finally snap and am writing this blog from a prison cell I hope you will all be kind. My fellow retailers will send me cakes with files inside and post my picture near their cash registers for inspiration. (post as in manually stick an actual photo on a real machine in real time)

In the meantime, for those predisposed to generalization, teenagers are good customers. You have to watch out for the middle aged ladies. A little theft is the only thrill they get.

You hold their arms, I'll take their wallets!

Welcome to blog one.

After reading all the drivel, some very interesting nonetheless, I've decided to blog about the retail trade, specifically flogging future landfill to unsuspecting tourists. I'm standing in the store right now flogging and blogging. The store, Keystone Quay, is located in fabulous Pickle Harbour out here on a rock in the North Atlantic. Here we enjoy tourists although it would make things simpler if they would just stay home and send their Visa cards. I love them though, wide eyed and so struck by this unusual place that they give me money for my art. Sure it's Kraft dinner and homemade wine in the winter time but in the summer I can live in a style unaccustomed, pretending to be important, even talented. It must be the Guinness.

People are vulnerable on vacation and I do my best to respect this vulnerability by offering full disclosure: everything I sell is guaranteed useless, although I paint on wood so you could burn it and stay warm for a little while. I sincerely thank people for saving me from having a job but this does not stop the niggling feeling they all need psychiatric help. I don't think I do unless happiness is a mental illness, which in a crazy world like this it probably is.

That's my intro. Stay tuned