Lessons our politicians can learn from the experience of the High Point Market and a good fruit salad.
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Michael Greene (Grandpa Mike-e-e at 90)
Just look at what's happening in the l'il ol' State of South Carolina these days with national political figures. The things I see on TV, in the newspaper and online make this geezer, a devoted “Northern Tar Heel,” remember what I wrote about the High Point Market in the grand o’l State of North Carolina in 2002, exactly 10 years ago.
There was a lot of grumbling about the High Point market back then. Many reps and retailers at the time were complaining about how High Point wasn’t listening to it's guests. There wasn’t good transportation. Hotel and car rental costs were out of control and people seemed to just not be as nice as in the old days. The problems appeared to be structural. The powers in High Point surely heard the complaints, but lots of folks thought that they weren’t listening.
If you stop and think about it, that's just what is happening in South Carolina. No matter what your views are about the the guys who are running around in South Carolina right now, you must agree that they are hardworking politicians. A-n-d they are skilled at delivering their talking points. But the sad truth is... that the good people of the USA are listening while the candidates are mostly talking.
A-n-d people really want to have it the other way around. They want the politicians to be doing more listening. Yet, day after day, they come to see the people who run things as “apples” and they come to see themselves as “oranges”-- and, it seems, oranges don't always trust apples.
So back to the furniture industry of yesteryear.... when buyers with aching feet growled about the lack of accommodations, the scarcity of parking spaces and zero handy buses. This bothered me no end because I knew the fine people on both sides of the fence.
What happened? Well a great furniture politician Brian Casey emerged who went on a listening tour to every furniture association and, every retailer, manufacturer and interested bystander he could find. He listened, he acknowledged the Market’s shortcomings and promised to do better. Then, he went home and delivered. And that turned the High Point experience around. If only more of our politicians were as good as Brian Casey!
So why am I going on and on about this?
Well, because you may have the same situation in your own retail life. If you are sticking to your talking points and not really listening to your customers, then you are missing the boat. A-n-d if your customers believe that you are an “apple”, and they are an “orange”; that you don’t care or don’t understand their real needs, then it’s even worse! That’s because they won’t trust you and won’t vote for your store with their feet and their open wallets.
So what does Grandpa Mike-e-e’s think you furniture retailers can learn from the politicians?
- Don’t feed your customers the same old talking points. Instead, let them know how you can help to make their lives easier, save money and get the rooms of their dreams.
- Don’t be a flip-flopper. If you have closely held beliefs about how you do business, then stick to your guns and tell your value story, over and over.
- Don’t attack your competitors, but DO point out the reasons why you do what you do. They will connect the dots.
- Just like the HPMA’s Brian Casey, you should tell everyone you meet about what you do and why you do it. A-n-d that includes every customer and everyone who might know a customer or someday know a customer.
- And when you listen, REALLY listen. Make thoughtful changes based on what you hear -- and then tell them that you’ve made these changes and why. Then deliver on those promises.
Keep in mind that we Americans are lovable folks -- though we do have our own talking points. But if we remember to listen, we will discover what the observing French philosopher De Toqueville learned a long, long time ago, that America is not a melting pot but a delicious fruit salad, wherein all the ingredients keep their flavor, their identities and their dreams to create the greatest nation on earth.
You and your customers are not apples and oranges. Just like the rest of America, you are a delicious fruit salad. The apples compliment the oranges and the grapes and the kiwis. There’s a feeling of trust in a good fruit salad.
Thanks, again, for listening.
Grandpa Mike-e-e! at 90
P.S. Tomorrow smile and say "Hello!" Show the world "the" fruit salad.
Got a question? Got a comment? Great!! E-mail: email@example.com
PS. See the new YouTube music video staring me, Grandpa Mike-e-e! with my granddaughter Becca in a supporting role at http://bitly.com/qALkrX
About Michael Greene (Grandpa Mike-e-e!)
Retailer, author, columnist, lecturer, composer and lyricist.
Came to US with immigrant parents in 1924 at the age of three.
Graduated high school at 16.
Managed a small bedding retail and manufacturing company at 18 in 1939.
Hired as Assistant to the VP of Purchasing (Sweets Corp. of America... approximately 500 employees) in 1940 at 19.
Drafted into US Army Signal Corp - Communications Personnel Div., Fort Monmouth.Tested and selected for Army Specialized Training Program, Rutgers University. Qualified for O.C.S. - Officer Candidate School and graduated as Second Lieutenant, Inventory/ Personnel Division in 1944 at 23.
Married his sweetheart, Anita, and he gives thanks to the Almighty that they are still sweethearts... after 73 years.
Rejoined Sweets Corp as Director of Personnel in 1945 at 24.
Joined his suddenly widowed sister as President of a small retail/ manufacturing company in 1946. Stayed on for 46 years managing the custom designing of over 20,000 childrens rooms and master bedroom beds.
Attended Hofstra University (evening program), and graduated in 1968 at age 47. Two of his kids followed right along at two other college campuses.
Applied for 30 day temporary columnist opening offered by the Reed Business Newspapers in NC and stayed on for 27 years. His retail columns were distributed everywhere from Brooklyn to Bangladesh, to Belgium to Beijing.
Traveled the US and visited with 3rd/ 4th generation retail owners.
He was admitted to the Writers Hall of Fame for, "Conspicuous Excellence In reports and appraisals of the furniture industry."
Retired from retail management at age 70.
BOOKS: (1) At age 72: published first book "Where's The Green Pea?" vegetable character stories including his original music and CD.
Designed programs for primary and pre-K schools and presented them with his Anita. (2) At age 76: Gee! I Wish I Had A Bedroom All My Own," lectured in middle schools (teenage), with tech info for parents, teachers and students in Home
Science. (3) At age 80: Tzedakah - Caring And Sharing classic book with original music CD and illustrations for high school chorales and drama groups.
At 89 -- published Retail Life: How To Get In, Stay Alive a-n-d Love It! in online and printed version for business schools, industry, and entrepreneurs. Includes how-to educational section for "Wise Women Who Love A Challenge" and "Oldtimer Retailers Who've Missed Some Basic Goodies In Business Promotion. Also provides business professors and career students seeking everyday practical trade experiences and business thinking.
Invited to address Levitz Furniture retail salespersons, Furniture Designer Associate members,
IHFRA sales associations, High Point University students and F.I.T. retailer evening sessions. Also accepted as an ASID associate member.
At 90 plus... is a musical playwright, composer and lyricist with original music and thinking for very young and very old America.
Michael Green a.k.a. Grandpa Mike-e-e! at 90 is a former furniture retailer, author, playwright and past contributor to a well known furniture news publication. He currently writes a weekly column for Furniture World’s e-newsmagazine (subscribe by going to www.furninfo.com). Got a question? Got a comment? Great!! E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org And, see the new YouTube music video staring Grandpa Mike-e-e! with his granddaughter Becca in a supporting role at http://bitly.com/qALkrX.
View all articles by Michael Greene