Reprinted from September 1992
You can spot her as a lady of distinction the moment she enters your store. She is well dressed and every hair is neatly in place. She walks with confidence and flashing on her fingers are several costly diamonds. As she continues her promenade across the floor to the counter, you also observe that she is wearing expensive earrings and a fine wristwatch.
Already you have made a mental judgment about her and you can hear the jingle of the cash register as you anticipate the big purchase which you are sure will be forthcoming.
Now she’s smiling-like she knows you and you’re embarrassed because you just can’t seem to remember this particular lady. You decide to “bluff it.”
“Hello-o-o there!” she sings so merrily, and you reply, “Good morning!” It’s so nice to see you…(again?)..” You let the last word sort of fade off in a mumble, spoken all right, but not quite pronounced, it can be interpreted either way.
“Mrs. Williams?” she asks. Suddenly, there’s that old familiar sinking sensation and you know you’ve been trapped.
“Yes-s-s.” (Keep smiling, you tell yourself. There is still hope. Perhaps a good customer sent her in.)
“Mrs. Williams, I’m Lulubelle Doogood from the Ladies Society for Pimple Prevention, and I’d like to ask you to take an ad in our little newspaper.”
Your spirits fall. You feel like a pricked balloon – if a pricked balloon has feelings.
She rattles out her spiel. “See, here you get a 3×5 for just $6, or an 8×10 for just $12.50. Isn’t that a marvelous bargain? And I just know all the girls in the Pimple Prevention Club will just love you for it, Mrs. Williams! And you’ll just get loads of business from our pimple prevention members, I’m sure! Why, Mrs. Williams, did you know that if with your help we could just prevent one tiny little pimple…”
As she goes on and on and on talking about what a worthy organization she represents, you squirm around trying gracefully to avoid paying out what you’re hardly taking in.
Mentally you push the “NO SALE” button on the register, while at the same time you realize that you are relenting to a mild form of blackmail. If you don’t take the ad, you can picture this lady telling all her cronies to avoid the place like the plague. If you do take the ad, you feel it will be a waste of time and money, but worse, the word will get around that you’re an easy touch and others will be back for more.
You were right about one thing – you never saw this woman before in your life, and you’ve never heard of the Camptown Ladies Society for Pimple Prevention. Yet, you fear for your public image with the group. So you shell out for the ad. The lady accepts, smiles and departs. You notice that she didn’t even stop to admire your colored stone ring display on the way out.
“Oh well, it was only six dollars!” you say to yourself. Perhaps you’ll reap six dollars of good out of it – if not in sales, at least you’ll be able to sleep well at night knowing you’ve done your fair share to help those nice proper ladies proudly pick their pimples.
Deep in your heart, though, you know that this scene is going to be repeated again and again each and every month you stay in business – unless you learn how to control what is paid out for donations!
As long as you’re a neighborhood independent jeweler, you’ll be asked to buy brooms, mops, cookies, pens, pencils, peanuts, light bulbs, chances on merchandise to be given away, year book and school newspaper ads, ads in the football programs, ladies club yearbook ads, tickets, etc. You’ll be asked to donate merchandise for auctions, orphan’s home, hospitals and more. Believe it or not, we have been solicited for funds to have a boys club run up the American flag four times a year.
A creepy looking fellow came into the store. He had long dirty hair, and his eyes were glassy and out of focus. He snapped his fingers and did intermittent body convulsions in time with what his crowd called music that streamed from a pocket radio.
I hoped for the best. “May I help you?”
He rolled his stupid eyes and made a crooked grin: “Like man, I’ve got tickets to sell for the Grumbling Groans. It’s a blast at the coliseum on Saturday night.”
I sized up the situation in a hurry and stammered, “Yes, “I’ll take one!”
After all, in this day and age, he might have been the bank president’s son. What’s more, I mentally calculated the chances of having a brick sail thought my front window. The youth, like the lady, represented another type of blackmail.
Once RB came in and found a quart of chili on top of his watchmaker’s bench.
“What’s this?” he wanted to know.
Ask a silly question, get a silly answer.
“It’s a quart of green chili,” I said.
“I can see that without my loupe,” RB snapped back. “But where did it come from?”
‘The PTA was selling chili, so I bought a jar.”
“But neither of us ever eat chili,” he protested, making a sour face, “let alone green chili. Ugh!”
“I know, “ I said, “but it’s a pretty jar and will be sort of attractive on the shelf with the peanuts, calendars, light bulbs, greeting cards and cookies which we don’t eat or use either.”
We looked at each other with trouble frowns, then all of a sudden RB laughed, and I started laughing, too. We didn’t say a word, but we both knew it was time to put a stop to all that nonsense right then and there. So I planned my strategy to handle the next “worthy cause.”
Now all these organizations are worthy, legitimate and deserve your support. Take for instance, the Ladies Society for Pimple Prevention – you do agree that pimples are ugly and should be prevented don’t you?
But you can’t let yourself get carried away by giving to each one or you’ll soon be out of business and unable to give to any. So where do you draw the line?
The very next day, a refined lady strolled into the store and asked for an ad in her program book. I let her finish her spiel, all the while amazed at how calm I felt because I had confidence in my recently formulated policy, which I intended to recite to her just as soon as she finished with hers.
“We have an advertising budget,” I explained very politely. “We spend a specific amount each month on various forms of advertising, and when the budget is depleted, we do not allot any more funds until the following month. Right now, our budget is depleted, however, if you wish to come back next month, you are welcome to do so.”
“The lady wasn’t too happy, naturally, but she left smiling. And I noticed she even stopped to admire the colored stone ring display, probably because she felt she didn’t want to leave before I changed my mind.
This approach, of course, is not suited for the younger generation, the kids who sell cookies, peanuts and the like. So if you aren’t hungry for cookies, better tell the kids you’ve already bought some or you’ve already committed to buy from a neighborhood kid.
Recently, I bought an ad in a high school yearbook. The cost was $30, but already 28 rings have been sold to just one club as a result of the contact made when buying the advertisement!
We have a friend in the furniture business. Some time ago, the Mormon Ladies Group approached him to buy an ad in their paper. He was not enthused, but did take a small ad “to get them out the door.” Several months went by, and the ladies returned to ask for a renewal. With them they brought sales slips for merchandise, which members of their congregation had brought from his store! Some of the purchases were quite sizeable, and this proved to his satisfaction that the Mormon Ladies Group really did back up those who advertised with them! He was delighted, naturally, and is now a charter member in the “I’ll Scratch Your Back and You Scratch Mine Society.” I’m sure all of us would be happy to join clubs like that.
So be careful with your advertising dollars. Put them to work in places where they will help you prosper. And if the Ladies Society of Pimple Pinchers asks for your help, forget it.
Don’t let ‘em put the squeeze on you!