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Retail Life- How To Get In, Stay Alive a-n-d Love It

Furniture World Magazine


Challenging ideas for experienced retailers from a newly published book.

Retail Life by Michael Greene, Illustrations by Raymond F. Ringston, Jr.

Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from Michael Green’s new book, “Retail LIfe” published by FURNITURE WORLD Magazine. Michael Greene also known in the industry as “Grandpa Mike-e-e” is the iconic 88 year old furniture retailer, author, composer, lyricist & former columnist (for a popular industry newspaper). The book is a primer for people who are considering taking the plunge into the “retail life”. It contains “tongue in cheek” practical business and personal relationship information for students, family members just entering the retail life and prospective entrepreneurs. Included are some challenging ideas from the book for experienced retailers.

After a year of plugging away at "Retail Life... How To Get In, Stay Alive a-n-d Love It", I decided to show it, lock stock and barrel, to the love of my life, my sweetheart of seventy-two years and my toughest critic. She spent many a year on the floor of her family's retail store approaching strangers with her smile and asking: "May I help you?"

Well, after she read it and seriously questioned me, she told me that I did, “A pretty good job” BUT I had failed to address the big chunk of seasoned men and women already living the retail life. Men and women who despite the scores of years they've been immersed in retail, might still benefit from a fresh, worthwhile insight from her ancient husband who had been out there in the action retail world for close to sixty years. Plus, twenty seven simultaneous years, as a weekly columnist on an international business trade publication.

She was right. So with humble respect for your years as seasoned retailers, here are my brief thoughts gathered from personal years of experience in retail, plus visits and frank discussions with owner families, managers and manufacturers in the retail game.


1. Walk across the street or highway from your retail location and see what a consumer sees. (signage, lighting, paint condition, windows, entrance, parking, display).

2. Write yourself a note to make the improvements necessary... pronto!

3. Check out your warehouse inventory. Not just on paper, but right there in the warehouse... especially the uncrated stock. Set up a new "to move" price list for the ancient stuff.

4. Take an afternoon off. If you're a one person corporation, tape this sign to your door or window... reading: "If you see this sign please come back tomorrow and we'll give you an extra 10% off on your purchase. Thank you for visiting with us. Look forward to seeing ya."

5. Remember! You are also in the real estate business and are paying for every foot of space... so use it. Use the walls, ceiling and clear floor areas for tasteful displays that dovetail into your volume game. The dollars will add up... and so will your customers.

6. Advertise a "Question and Answer Tea Time" session with absolutely no sales talk about your products. Arrange for a guest visitor who really knows his/her game to appear and answer everyday home questions. Tea and goodies time should be between 1-3 in the afternoon so kids can be picked up at school. Make sure you have a Visitor Registry for names, addresses or email addresses... And don't forget a free unique gizmo gift for attendees... and a flyer of the event for them to make idea notes on.

7. Business is Lousy? So what? When can you remember saying it was "Great!" At least this time you have the experience and know how to beat it! Go to it!

8. Setup a regular "Company Service Session" with all your personnel. Include an idea box for bashful employees. Have a simple flyer ready for them with the mission of your company, namely, "Satisfying People." And remember that the name of the retail game is the repeat sale.

9. Take advantage of the calender. One company I've seen celebrates St. Patrick's Day with bright green jackets and skirts for the ladies plus trousers, shirts and derbies for the male employees. Plus goodies, flags and little picture books for the kiddies. They run it for three weeks... from the start of the month!

10. Have you stopped asking sales reps "What's new?” Don't. I know one retailer who asks the factory reps: "Who has it?" If the answer is "No one." She buys it quickly if she likes it. If everyone has it... she thinks about it.

11. Have you ever thought about what in the world movie houses sell? Something to talk about, plus word of mouth praise for their products in endless coming attractions. Don't be bashful. You can brag about your show, too.

12. When is the last time you visited out of town retailers that do what you do? Introduce yourself and they'll be delighted to visit with you. As for direct competitors you needn't pass them by, either. Just say hello! and tell them who you are. Be honest.

13. I see dozens and dozens of one or two block downtown strip “small” retailers in business year after year. Have you ever tried "organizing "them into a neighborhood association to run events for holiday weekends? They'll love it and so will all the cash registers! In retail... little retail is big. VERY BIG!!

14. Have you ever thought about a "By Appointment Only -- No Pressure -- One-On-One Session?" Unbelievable? Try one and see for yourself. Any consumer will appreciate it immensely. And don't dare blow it by trying to close a sale. Tell them "To Think About It". Have patience. If you do the “Appointment Only” in low key fashion, they'll be telling their relatives and neighbors about you. Yes, they'll be back, too.

15. Beware of asking a "Bean Counter", otherwise known a an accountant to continually structure your business. Advice? Bean Counters know their numbers, but you have “the touch”. Yes! You know the pulse of your territory and your consumer market. Don't be bashful. Be proud.

16.Of course your furniture showroom has to look great at all times, b-u-t make sure it smells great, too. If you have an in-store kitchen, bake some cookies to help reinforce your customer’s sensations of a comfortable and inviting home. Swedish meatballs anyone? Remember you are always on TV.

17. Finally, perhaps your customers may have personal trouble baggage; but unlike your customers, you cannot afford to have the privilege of dragging your woes, problems, bad moods and worries into your establishment. Smiles? Of course. Again, you are still on TV.

18. Ten to twenty years of retailing?

Congratulations! The best is yet to come.

Abbreviated Biography of Michael Greene (Grandpa Mike-e-e!:

Born in Poland, he came to the United States at the age of three in 1924. His first job Managed a retail bedding company with six employees at the age of 18 in 1939.

After serving in the army during WW2 as a Second Lieutenant, inventory/ personnel administration he married his sweetheart Anita and says that he “gives thanks to the Almighty that they are still sweethearts... For 71 years.” In 1946 he joined his sister as president of a small home furnishings retail company in 1946. Stayed on for 46 years designing beds and kids rooms.

In 1968 he graduated from Hofstra University’s’ (evening program), and simultaneously joined Reed Business Newspapers as a columnist while travelling the US visiting 3rd and 4th generation retail owners. At the age of 72 Michael Greene published first book for pre-schoolers through 3rd graders, including a musical tape for parents and teachers titled "Where's The Green Pea." His other books include, “Gee! I Wish I Had A Bedroom Of My Own" (for teenagers and parents) and “Tzedakah - Caring And Sharing” (includes musical CD).
Now at the age of 88 Michael Greene has written “Retail Life: How To Get In, Stay Alive a-n-d Love It!”. The book includes a section for "Wise Women Who Love A Challenge" and "Oldtimers Who Have Missed Some Old Goodies". In addition, Michael Greene became a composer and lyricist at the age of 81 and a musical playwright at the age of 82. “

“Retail Life” (78 pages) is available for online download $9.99 from www.furninfo.com/store or in hard copy $19.99. It’s a fun, informative and makes a great gift for students and budding entrepreneurs.

For more information contact greene@furninfo.com  or call 914-235-3095.