Last updateThu, 22 Feb 2018 4pm

Chuck Koehler

The Retailer’s Perspective My new found love affair with the bulldozer...

I was born a long time after the great depression, but have known countless people in my life that actually lived through it. Many of our grandparents were shaped by it. But 3 or 4 generations later it's just ancient history... til now.

A man I knew very well was raised during the depression and it never left him. In many ways, even 70 years later, it was still a dominant part of his life. He became a miser after the depression and continued that way of life right up until the day he died. He had millions of dollars saved by the time he died, but never took his wife to Paris. Never took her on a weekend getaway to New York. Hell, he only took her out to dinner once or twice a year because they needed "to save money."

Someone asked me once why he wouldn't take his wife to Italy when he had so much money. I replied that if he and his wife went to Italy, he wouldn't do anything but complain about how much money it cost. He'd be too scared to spend any money and it would be the worst trip to Italy in the history of the world. The great depression ruined a lot of people's lives.... and I mean their entire lives, not just the years of the depression. But that leads to my point.

The Great American Recession is ending. Albeit slowly, it's ending none the less. What I wonder is how our generation is going to be affected by this major catastrophic incident? I know one thing for certain right now. I have a new found appreciation for the bulldozer. Let me explain:

For as long as I can remember, I've loved watching bulldozers work. It's a ‘guy thing' I know, but bulldozers are just totally cool. Moving tons of earth with ease. Then a big Caterpillar with a scoop shovel loads it into something called an articulated dump truck that moves it somewhere else for another bulldozer to push around. Sweet. Like most guys, I can sit and watch them work for hours. Then about a year and a half ago my fun ended. The bulldozers got parked.

All around my store is a huge new shopping center development being built. It's about half finished overall, but the buildings that were finished before the recession are 100% occupied (yes, that's where my Target is).

One of my favorite things to do every morning on my way into the store was drive through and see what work was done the day before. What pile of dirt got bigger. What pile of dirt got smaller. What building had a new facade, what building got the new steel. In at least 10 different places on this property was big heavy equipment doing what big heavy equipment does... building things. Then about 15 months ago, I started noticing 18 wheelers going into the development, loading up the big heavy equipment, and taking it away. Then one day all work stopped and it's been that way for well over a year.

I don't know exactly what happened, but I can guess. I'm assuming it was the same thing that happened to every other major development across the country. The financing got pulled and it was game over. A total work stoppage. I never realized how fast weeds would grow on a big pile of dirt that has been abandoned. Pretty fast and pretty tall, let me tell you.

It was during this 15 month period that I formed a whole new appreciation for the bulldozer. It has shaped my outlook and changed the way I see a lot of things. A bulldozer is not a piece of equipment. A bulldozer is an economic machine.

After a long period of inactivity, the bulldozers have started showing up again. Here's what I see now:

When the first bulldozer showed back up about 3 months ago, it was by itself. Just one man and one machine... or so it seemed on the surface. In reality it went something like this: The owners of the center got a new financing package in place. The owners called the bulldozer company and ordered one bulldozer and one operator. The leasing company got a check and paid the note on the equipment, the mortgage on the building, and they paid their staff. They in turn called a trucking company to come and move the bulldozer to the job site. The truck driver then got a check and delivered the bulldozer and then made a payment on his truck. Finally, the heavy equipment operator drives to the job site, starts the bulldozer and spent about two days scraping the lot clean. Since heavy equipment operators make a pretty good hourly wage, he probably paid his mortgage and took his wife out to a nice dinner and tipped his waiter handsomely. And that was the first two days.

Over the course of the last 3 months, there has been over a million dollars spent on the job site building a new grocery store, bank, and retail building that are going up. Every day, there are at least 40 pieces of heavy equipment on that job site and over 100 workers. The concrete guys are on one side of the site laying foundations for one building while the bricklayers are putting up bricks on the foundations that were laid last week. The steel erector crews are busy at work earning high salaries. The site excavation crews are in full swing at the back of the lot trying to stay on schedule for the next building going up.

But my mind goes even farther now. In 6 months or so, those buildings are going to be occupied. They are going to hang "Now Hiring" signs in their windows. They are going to order stock to fill their shelves. The factories that make the stock are going to get orders. Then customers are going to start coming in and spending money. Employees are going to get paid. Suppliers are going to get paid. Rents are going to get paid. For the next 20-30 years, this development is going to generate jobs, goods, services, and tax revenues.

It's not a shopping center, it's an entire economy that I've taken for granted my entire life. Not now. Within one mile of my store there are three major job sites with heavy equipment on them pushing dirt and materials around. Now, when I drive by and see a big Cat Bulldozer, I see progress and I see economic recovery. And I see a bright future for all of us again.

So, the next time you drive by a job site and see a bulldozer at work, don't just see the bulldozer, see the future.

Now, if they'd just start hiring some better looking bulldozer operators....

Chuck is the owner of Anthony Jewelers in Nashville, TN. Chuck also owns CMK Co., a wholesale trade shop that specializes in custom jewelry and repair services to the jewelry industry nationwide. You can contact him at 615-354-6361.

The Retailer’s Perspective: September 15th...

Yeah, I know to most people it's just another day. But this September 15th is one of the most important Tuesdays of the last couple of years. Why you ask? Let me explain.

For most people, the fourth quarter is the end of the year. Not for me. My fourth quarter is what I consider the beginning of my year. I've always been busy as I can be in the fourth, first, and second quarters. And, I've always been dead in the third during June, July, and August. So for the last couple of decades September 15th is the end of my fiscal and mental year. And, just like in the spring when the first buds are appearing on the trees, around the middle to the end of September some retailer is starting to advertise something about Christmas and it shocks me back into reality and my entire routine and mindset change back to work again.

The Retailer’s Perspective: It’s a Brave New World

You know, I've been doing this jewelry thing for over 30 years now (yes, I started when I was 2). I've often wondered lately what my life would have turned out like if I hadn't answered that ad for ‘warehouse help needed' that Best Products placed in the Dallas Times Herald in 1978. Where would I have ended up if I hadn't looked at the paper that day? What do you say we explore that... kind of like ‘It's a Wonderful Life,' - starring me.

The Retailer’s Perspective: And you looked so normal walking in the door...

Sometimes you can spot ‘em getting out of their car and sometimes they just outright surprise you. Yep. It's the crazies. They're baaaaccckkkk.

I had just perfected my new barbecue chicken recipe - I pre-boil my chicken for about 30 minutes in any number of spices that I have laying around (I change this every time), then I take it off the stove and set it aside til it cools, then put the stock pot in the fridge to chill overnight. In the morning, I pour off the water and put the chicken in a zip lock baggie and put it back in the fridge til that night - just absorbing all of those flavors. Right before dinner I put it on the grill to heat it up and just barely burn the BBQ sauce and it's a "no knives needed" masterpiece. The leftovers come to work with me for lunch because it's even better the second day. It was right here, just as I was taking my first bite, when she walked in!

The Retailer’s Perspective: Recession Recovery 101

Man, what a crazy ride we're on lately. I don't know about you, but I'm just tired of it! I am soooo ready to just get back to "life as I once knew it".

The other day when I was having a "to hell with all of this... I quit" moment, something occurred to me. What would I do if I just walked out? No one's hiring. Anywhere I could find a job would be way worse than what I'm doing now. The proverbial "I can just get a job flippin' burgers at McDonalds" is no longer valid unless you've got a masters degree in finance or psychology because that's your competition right now. Life as we once knew it is not the reality right now. Will it get back to normal? I think so, or at least some reasonable facsimile thereof. But here's what's going on in my mind at the moment.

The Retailer’s Perspective: Made in America Part II

After my first 30 days of trying to buy only American made products and services, I've learned a few things I‘d like to share:
  1. There are no artist paint brushes made in America.
  2. Wal-Mart and Target carry no jeans, t-shirts, or polo shirts made in America. Here's how I found this out.

After many years of remodeling my house, I'm down to doing minor touch up painting in the front half of the house (yeah!). Just a spot here and a spot there. I decided to buy a set of artist brushes and I would just walk around and touch up all the various places and colors at the same time, just like Picasso. I'm excited because in about a week I'm going to be able to dust my house and then not have to dust it again the next day. (Okay, maybe that's not true... I didn't really dust it the first time cause remodeling is such a mess, so why bother?) Wal-Mart should have what I need, so off I go. I started in the school supply aisle, but the only ones they had were cheap plastic ones... plus they were made in China. I think I've already established I ain't going there anymore. I went to the paint department and found something close, but not exactly what I wanted, but once again... made in China. So I go back a couple of acres to the hobby section and asked the lady working there to point me in the right direction. Cha Ching! There they are... just what I want. High-end brushes, long handles, 15 brushes to the set... oops. Made in China. Other than that, they were perfect.

I went and found the lady again and asked her if there were any more. She took me right where I had already been and pointed at them like I was blind and couldn't see the 15-20 choices they had. I informed her that they were all made in China and I would only buy brushes made in America. She actually asked me: "Why?"
In my previous column I wrote how I thought it was going to take about 547 people to ask that question at a store before it started making any real impact. I'm now certain that I was her first. I hope she remembers me because we all know you never forget your first.

"I'm just not gonna buy them unless they are made in America," I informed her. She just shrugged and we had nothing further to say to one another, so we went our separate ways. But, since I was already there I may as well grab some things I needed anyway, right? Normally, the things I needed would have taken me about 10 minutes to throw in a basket. That day it took me over an hour. I realize now that most companies bury the made in America label. We need to change that!

For the first time in my adult life I was not selecting products based on the price. I was making my selection based upon the country in which it was manufactured. And if it wasn't manufactured in America, I didn't want it.

By most accounts, Americans are creatures of habit and we buy the same products and the same brands over and over again. Once you've read the labels and know which items are made in America you can just grab it off the shelf and be done. By the second or third time of reading labels, shopping will be back to normal again. It's just the first couple of times that you really have to read the labels.

After I got home I made a note of what I purchased so when I go back I won't have to spend an hour scanning the fine print on the products. By the way, Febreeze is made in America. My store smells soooo good right now.

On this particular trip, I feel certain that a new world record was set. I left Wal-Mart with 18 items, all Made in America. I know, I didn't think it was possible either, but I did it. And you know what? You can do it too. A little bit of your time is all it takes to begin to stimulate our struggling economy. But I still don't have those darned paint brushes I need.

I went to the Lowes next door and found out they only carried a made in China option. Stopped at the Target... same thing. Stopped at the local hardware store... finally... nope... made in PRC (Peoples Republic of China). Now don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against China. It's just right now we've got to put our own oxygen mask on first and get our factories and our workers working again.

After about a week of diligently trying to find a set of artist brushes made in America, I realized I was now only helping the Saudis with all the gas I was burning on my quest. I finally gave in and went back to Wal-Mart and bought the ones I saw a week ago. They're just what I wanted, and I'm glad I bought them. I'm also glad I at least put forth an effort to try and help an American company, I just couldn't find one. Which brings me to the next phase of my quest.

As Captain Gus McCrae (Robert Duvall) said to Deets (Danny Glover) in Lonesome Dove: "Deets ain't one to give up on a garment just cause it's got a little age on it."
He could just as easily have been talking about me. I almost look homeless when I wear jeans and a polo shirt to work these days with as many times as I've burned them or spilled acid on them. I had to go to the store and buy some new work clothes, so I headed over to Target to get some new duds.

While there I learned a great trick I'd like to pass on. I hid my glasses in my jacket pocket and grabbed a sales lady to help me. I pretended I forgot my reading glasses and asked her if she could help me. Hah! I made her look for the made in America options instead of me. She knows the inventory better than me and could do it faster anyway. After my Wal-Mart trip I know how long it can take. We (okay not we... she) looked at a lot of tags on a lot of clothes because I really wanted to just buy the clothes and be done with it for another three years. After about 30 minutes, she'd gone through every option available and did not find one single garment that had been made in America. I thanked her and left without making a purchase, but I accomplished a couple of things. One, she's now a convert to my cause. She was very nice and understood what I was doing and why. Secondly, she was going to inform her manager about the lost sale and the reason.

So now, when the next 546 of you walk in that Target, and get the same sales lady and ask her the same question, she's gonna tell you there are no made in America options at the moment because she already looked and doesn't have to go through the inventory again.

Somewhere down the line though, the manager of that department is going to have a conversation with the store manager, who's gonna have a conversation with the garment buyer, who's gonna say she's been hearing that from a lot of stores lately.

The garment buyer will tell all the store managers that she has found a few factories in America that manufacture garments and she just placed a large order, but it's going to be a couple of months before they can deliver because they have to hire 300 workers in order to fill the order. Damn. All of that because I made the sales lady look at tags for me.

I'm telling you, it's gonna work, but I can't do it alone. When you go into any store to make a purchase, make the store personnel help you find a made in America option because then you can recruit them to our cause and ask them to always recommend that option to their customers in the future.

If you're on board with me in my quest, please write and tell me your story. Hopefully it will encourage others to follow suit. And remember, in these troubled times, it is the patriotic thing to do.


Chuck is the owner of Anthony Jewelers in Nashville, TN. Chuck also owns CMK Co., a wholesale trade shop that specializes in custom jewelry and repair services to the jewelry industry nationwide. You can contact him at 615-354-6361, www.CMKcompany.com or send e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Why buy American?

About 3 o'clock the other afternoon I was hungry and wanted a snack. Turns out the only thing I could scrounge up was a package of those cheese and peanut butter crackers. Man, I love those things... except now they'll kill you. I put them back in the cupboard and went to the mini mart for something non-lethal, but it got me to thinking.