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.