Reprinted from February 1998
There were fewer days to shop between Thanksgiving and Christmas so I was sure business, which had not been impressive through the fall, would pick up after Thanksgiving. So, on the evening before Thanksgiving we decorated for Christmas anticipating the flood of business that would be waiting for us after Thanksgiving with the family. After Thanksgiving, things didn’t seem much better, but I knew things would pick up, they always did, so I wasn’t worried. During the next few weeks I read the papers and watched television where people were encouraged to buy from QVC or catalogs or over the Internet. It seemed like every time I had the TV on the local stations and the national stations were busy telling people not to buy much, to hold in their impulses to shop and if they did buy wait until after Christmas and even then to shop the internet and catalog sales or shop over the television.
Starting in December, one jobber or manufacturer after another called us. I was sure they just wanted to chat, but they were always asking if I needed anything. Of course how could I need anything when I wasn’t selling anything? It also occurred to me the local newspapers and television stations were doing their darndest to hamper business. All the free spots and interest stories were done on folks traveling through the area like Gypsies selling antique jewelry, cheap watches and gold chains in motels or civic locations. I also noticed all the customers who came in who had bought anything from anywhere were buying from pawn shops or those great folks from out of state who have huge discount stores in our city.
I knew however, that we had about 15 really good customers who always come in and make our season merry. Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Smith, Mr. Willis, Miss Hamilton, etc. I knew they’d be in, they always shop late in the season, but they always bought jewelry items and they are like family.
Somewhere around the 15th I started to worry a bit, but the weather wasn’t good and people were not in the spirit and it had always been that at the last moment folks would come in to buy in great numbers. I looked across the street at the 2 discount stores and I realized their lots were not busy so I thought folks hadn’t started buying yet.
Every day the phones rang with our suppliers back east and west wanting to sell me something. I figured other jewelers must be buying lots for them to worry about my small account. Finally, on the 21st I figured out to take on some extra help to be here to handle the stampede of buyers which were sure to show up before the 25th. I put that idea on hold however. I just knew Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Smith, Mr. Willis, and Miss Hamilton would still be in as usual to make our season merry.
The folks who collect for various charities called and got their usual donation, but by now I was wondering who was going to be making my season such that I could afford to give to these various good causes. One of the high school girls asking me to take an ad in some school publication paused to ask us to adjust her new watch her parents had purchased at Walmart. I had to wonder why she hadn’t asked them for the ad, but I thought, Lordy they might just buy a battery for it from us one day.
I was shopping at the grocery store and saw Mrs. Smith and I smiled brightly, knowing she would be coming in shortly for her gifts. I made small talk asking how she had been and she told me her husband had been laid off from his great job and they were leaving El Paso, moving to Dallas so he could get work. I was sorry, but I knew I had other good customers.
I was encouraged when I saw my really good customer, Mr. Willis, coming in the door. I noticed he had a package and when I addressed him, he said he needed money and was wanting to sell some of the items he’d bought from us in the past to get money to buy something for his mother and children. He said he and his wife had decided to not exchange gifts that year.
I saw Miss Hamilton at the bookstore and said we’d been expecting her to come in, after all it was nearly Christmas. She looked depressed and said she’d taken early retirement and was going to have to sell her home and move in with her elderly mother.
As bad as this was, we have scores of shoppers who always come to us and I just knew at the last minute they’d be in. I saw another customer we normally saw frequently in the past, noticeably scurry away from me at the cleaners and I ran after him. I mentioned he had not been in and he told me that his wife had become addicted to QVC and now ordered many things there. He shrugged, but explained going out now was dangerous, she’d gotten mugged and her purse snatched and she just didn’t shop as much anymore.
I remember the service station owner we’d done business with as I passed his station and recalled he’d been in for a repair job and told us he had some unfortunate disease, so I surmised he wouldn’t be needing jewelry any more. I went back to the store and sent him and his family a nice card anyway to remind them we cared about them whether they were in a position to buy or not.
I think the shock of not having a big year didn’t set in until the 24th, but then I was sure after Christmas people have bonus checks and if they failed to get what they wanted they would still shop. After Christmas, we see a good cross section of what people have received as gifts which have to be adjusted, shortened, lengthened, sized or whatever.
If what people in jewelry sales out there sold only what came in the sore in the days following Christmas, they didn’t do much better than we’d done. I went back in my office where I keep RB’s photo and whispered, “I’m really happy I didn’t go in debt for merchandise honey!” When I went to the park to walk the dog, I ran into a competitor who said to me that I must have done all the business this year. I assured him I had. Why feed his ego!
The real answer to the lack of sales is as follows. There have been so many pass around gifts over the years that there are thousands of them out there including a dozen or so fruitcakes. This ratio of pass around gifts now accounts for about 90% of the gifts being exchanged, so we’ve reached a saturation point. This means only 10% are new gifts and if one figures how many gifts were bought from QVC and catalog sales, the internet and pawn shops, this leaves about 1% of the gifts to be purchased from places like local stores such as ours. That’s about right!