Saturday, April 26, 2008

I'm doing just fine, Thank You.

You're on the street and you meet an old friend.

"How you doing?" he asks.

"Pretty good, but I have this really bad cold."

"Well, I hope you get better!"

A few days later, you see the same friend and he exclaims,

"I thought you were dying!"

I have just got to stop talking about business at the store: when someone asks how I'm doing, I need to say, "Fine!"

Customers don't hear the nuance, the yes, buts.... They don't know from sales versus profit. If I say, "Things are slow, business is down because of the recession," they apparently hear, "Things are dreadful, we're doomed." If I say, "I have made adjustments, and we're doing fine," they apparently hear, "I'm taking this medication that is experimental."

Oh, well. It's a lesson I just needed to relearn. If enough time passes between incidents, I forget. I can sort of understand it: when most businesses won't acknowledge the slightest weakness, the fact that you mention any kind of negative is alarming to them. They don't realize it's a personality quirk that signifies more my running off at the mouth than it does real weakness.

I think its O.K. to say something like, "Well, you know it's the slow time of year," or something innocuous.

At any rate, I'll explain here once again -- sales are only one measure of health. And in fact I'm making more profit now than I was during the boom years. So there...

I've always said, it's the businesses that don't talk about it who are the most dubious; but really, I don't think talking about it or not talking about it is a true measure. Unless it's the end of the road. Then businesses DO tend to talk about it, either because they are giving up, or in a forlorn hope that they'll guilt people into spending.

That's probably why my being honest is so alarming -- because they connect it to that phenomenon.

There is some small measure of benefit from being straight-forward, but probably not worth the misunderstandings.

Had a sport guy in yesterday. After explaining the difference between 'hobby' and 'retail' brands; how baseball has cleaned up it's act and rookies are now rookies, and brands have been winnowed down, and how cards aren't released until spring training; and how the newer cards are better than cards from 5, 10, or even 15 years ago, I sort of gave up on him.

I could tell he was having none of it. Sports card collectors have been burned so often that they have built in B.S. detectors. I wasn't him, but he couldn't know that.

So, instead, I started talking to another customer, and mentioned that sales were down 11%, and that I attributed it to the recession, and so on. I could see the sport card guy perk up; it was as if I had shown I was credible.

He ended up buying a box of cards.

Interesting reaction.

But, overall, I'd be better off saying, "We're fine, thank you. How are you?"

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