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Retail Grit

Furniture World Magazine


This article will explain what grit is, why it matters and, most of all, how you can create a retail culture of grit.


Every year there are a few hundred furniture store start-ups.

Who will make it in brick and mortar retail furniture sales and who will fail? What's certain is that those furniture store owners who have created a culture of GRIT within their organizations will have a much better chance.

This article will explain what grit is, why it matters, and perhaps, most of all, how you can create a culture of grit, a resilient culture of grit, built of passion and perseverance in your stores.

A GRIT Success Story

Dan Erickson began his remarkable career as a delivery helper for Whitaker Furniture in the small city of North Platte, Nebraska. Later, Dan was promoted to warehouse foreman, then became a sales consultant. He eventually moved up to sales manager and then became the store’s general manager. Dan Erickson persevered until he became co-owner of Whitaker Furniture in 1985. The store was re-named Erickson’s Furniture, eventually expanding to 65,000 square feet of showroom space. Dan and his wife, Jeannie, recently sold their store to Bruce Furniture and retired after 32 years of serving North Platte.

I interviewed Dan Erickson after Michael Bruce, the new owner, had achieved a million dollars in volume in a six week retirement selloff. Dan said: “I wanted to sell our store to a company that would honor our values and faithfully serve the North Platte community. I also wanted someone who would retain our professional and dedicated staff. Michael Bruce exceeded my expectations and kept his promises.”

What is the secret of Dan’s successful career? “First of all," he explained, "I treated everyone kindly, generously and fairly. Employees, vendors, and customers. I had a smile and a warm greeting for everyone, starting with the cleaning lady. Next, I never walked by something that was wrong. If the windows were dirty, I would be the one to take responsibility and clean them. It really pays to render more service and better service than you are paid to render.” It should be noted that James Whitaker appreciated young Dan Erickson’s work ethic and rewarded him with more and more responsibility. Dan’s “old fashioned” philosophy is discussed in the book, "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill. One of Hill’s key adages, “Develop the habit of doing more than you are paid for.”

Angela Duckworth: Power and Perseverance

In 2016, Angela Duckworth wrote a very popular and worthwhile book titled, “GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”. Duckworth posed these questions:

  • Who are the people at the top of your field?

  • What are they like?

  • What do you think makes them special?

She doesn’t mince words. Those who succeeded possessed a unique combination of passion and perseverance. “In a word, they had grit.” Beyond that, regardless of their position or department, they created their own culture of grit. For example, it would have been virtually impossible to work next to Dan Erickson and not be inspired by his passion and perseverance.

Duckworth developed what she called a “Grit Scale” (See the exhibits below). Its purpose is to measure the extent individuals approach life’s challenges with grit. It proved to be a reliable predictor of which West Point candidates would make it and which would wash out. It wasn't a candidate’s IQ quotient, not their SAT scores, not their leadership experience, not their athletic ability. What matters is their grit. Duckworth’s Grit Scale worked well for West Point candidates, but what about other disciplines? Sales for example. Next Duckworth examined sales, which she described as a profession “in which daily, if not hourly, rejection is par for the course.” Og Mandino once described sales as a discipline “laden with opportunity but fraught with heartbreak and despair.” Angela selected a timeshare company in which she interviewed hundreds of salespersons. Six months later she returned and learned that 55 percent of the people she had first interviewed were no longer there. Her Grit Scale successfully predicted who would stay and who would go. In addition, the other tests for sales candidates commonly used to measure personality, like extroversion, emotional stability, and conscientiousness were not as effective as Duckworth’s Grit Scale in predicting sales winners and losers.

The Chicago school system contacted Duckworth. They were very interested in identifying which students were most likely to earn their high school diplomas. She tested several thousand juniors. A year later 12 percent of these students failed to graduate. The students who graduated on schedule were decidedly grittier. Moreover, the Grit Scale was a more reliable predictor of graduation than any other factor including how conscientious they were about their studies, and even how safe they felt at school.

The Green Berets and Grit

Next Duckworth established a partnership with the Army Special Operations Forces, AKA the Green Berets. These are the Army’s best trained warriors, and they are assigned the most dangerous and daunting tasks. Duckworth entered the picture after candidates had endured nine weeks of boot camp, four weeks of advanced infantry training, three weeks of airborne school, and four weeks of land navigation training. Duckworth emphasizes that all of these preliminary trainings are brutally difficult, and at every stage there are men who do not make it through. However, she notes that the Special Forces Selection Course is even harder. It is the point at which the Army decides who will and who will not enter the final stages of Green Beret training. Just getting to this selection is quite an accomplishment. Yet, 42 percent of the candidates Duckworth studied voluntarily withdrew from the program at this point. What distinguished the successful candidates? Their grit score.

How to Create a Culture of Grit

If you are not happy with your grit score, you will be pleased to learn you can improve it. Grit can, and does, change. The secret is wrapped up in clarifying your goals, and aligning them towards a single passion of supreme importance. Duckworth devotes an interesting chapter to parenting to encourage grit in children. For the balance of this article we will focus upon Duckworth’s four major components of grit: Interest, Practice, Purpose, and Hope. Duckworth’s four principles can be compared to Will Roger’s legendary three elements of success:

  •  “Know what you are doing.”

  • “Love what you are doing.”

  •  “Believe in what you are doing. Yes, it’s just that simple.”

Regarding the last bullet point, “Believe in what you are doing,” Cavett Robert had this to say: “People are persuaded more by the depth of your conviction than by the height of your logic—more by your own enthusiasm than any proof you can offer… If we could choose but one lantern to guide our footsteps over the perilous quicksands of the future it should be the guiding light of dedication.”

Above is a version of the Grid Scale Duckworth developed for her study at West Point and other studies described in her book. Read each sentence, and on the right check off the box that makes sense. Don’t over-think the questions. Just ask yourself how you compare to “most people.” To calculate your Grit score, add up all the points for the boxes you checked and divide by ten. You can use the chart below to see how your score compares to a large sample of American adults.
Source: “GRIT” by Angela Duckworth, pages 54-56.

INTEREST and Your Passion

It takes Grit to discover your passion.

Most people fail at this. In a worldwide survey of 141 nations Gallop learned that only 13 percent of adults call themselves “engaged” at work. Yet graduating students commonly hear the advice from commencement speakers: “Life is short. Follow your passion. Do something you love or you will not stick with it.” Most of these students would gladly do so if they could define their “passion.” Harry Emerson Fosdick, who was the renowned minister of New York’s Riverside Church for decades, noted that it was rare when a man or woman “turns the corner of a street and turns into a new idea. That is certainly the greatest hour of many a youth’s life, especially if, as the youth faces that idea or cause, there rises in him the invincible conviction that he belongs to it."

If you would like to follow your passion, but have not yet found one, you must begin at the beginning: discovery. Mine was art. When I was very young I scribbled endlessly. I began to draw seriously. Then, inexplicably, I did not draw again until my early twenties. In the meantime I worked in a brick yard, a lumber yard, a supply house, and finally for the telephone company. In my mid-twenties I returned to art, eventually finding a job at a very low salary and began a new adventure. Eventually, my dream of becoming a commercial artist was realized. I learned how ads work, and the art of effective advertising. Numerous management jobs followed, and 30 years ago I founded my own company, UltraSales.
I am telling you all this because I want you to understand that discovering your passion may be a challenging task, a torturous, indirect journey, requiring more than a little grit. Duckworth suggests you ask yourself a few simple questions. “What do I like to think about? Where does my mind wander? What do I really care about? What matters most to me? How do I enjoy spending my time? And, in contrast, what do I find absolutely unbearable? If you find it hard to answer these questions, try thinking back to your teen years, the stage of life at which vocational interests commonly sprout.”

PRACTICE and Your Passion

Nothing happens until something is sold. For that reason in this article I will emphasize grit and its relationship to selling. Unfortunately, with the exception of role-playing exercises, most selling practice must be done in real time on the sales floor. To avoid wasting an “up,” we suggest two solutions. Either have an experienced salesperson accompany a new recruit, or use a strong “turn-over” person to rescue a recruit who gets into trouble.

In addition to those suggestions, read Tom Hopkins, “How to Master the Art of Selling”. He covers the sales process in detail, from greeting to closing. There are also hundreds of excellent articles on sales education and sales management on Furniture World's website at www.furninfo.com. If you believe you know all there is to know about selling, consider this observation from philosopher Mortimer Adler: “No one can ever learn too much. No one can ever know or understand all that he is capable of knowing or understanding. No one can ever attain full development of his personality. No one can ever reach by personal growth the full stature of what he is capable. No one can ever exhaust his creative resources, no matter how fortunate he is in health and length of life, no matter how much free time he has at his disposal, no matter how prudent he is in limiting the amount of free time he spends in play.”

Duckworth emphasizes that grittier people embrace new, unknown challenges without hesitation. They are not intimidated by unfamiliar tasks. Duckworth also notes that grittier people stick to their commitments longer than others. Yet we all know there are a few furniture salespersons who have racked up 20 years of experience and a host of others who have had one year of experience 20 times.
To succeed you must understand the science of Grit:

1. You must have a clearly defined “stretch goal.” A stretch goal is one that is beyond your powers at the present time.

2. You must commit to full concentration and effort toward its achievement.

Great performers in every domain improve with deliberate effort. Behind every effortless performance are hours and hours of challenging, mistake-laden practice. Future great performers are doing things they can’t yet do, failing, and learning what to do differently. “This is exactly the way experts practice,” writes Duckworth. "You may not make your efforts as ecstatic as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s ‘Flow’, but you may end up saying to yourself and to others: ‘That was hard. It was great!’”

PURPOSE and Your Passion

“Interest is one source of passion,” says Duckworth. “Purpose: the intention to contribute to the wellbeing of others—is another. The mature passions of gritty people depend on both.” As champions of grit mature “the larger meaning and purpose of their work becomes apparent.” The nature of their goals is special. Always, and there were no exceptions to this. When Duckworth probed deeper, the message was the same. “… the long days and evenings of toil, the setbacks and disappointments and struggle, the sacrifice—all this is worth it because, ultimately, their efforts pay dividends to other people.”

I know there are those who sniff at the idea that the service motive will eventually transcend the profit motive. But books like “GRIT” achieve pronounced acceptance because service is an idea whose time has come. Both service and profit have deep evolutionary roots. Aristotle noted that there are two paths to happiness: One—a life devoted to pure profit is primitive and vulgar, and the other path toward service he deemed to be noble and pure. Duckworth suggests that while there may be gritty villains in the world, her research reveals there are many more gritty heroes.

There are three essential attitudes to characterize your work.

  • The Job: “I view my work as a necessity of life like breathing or sleeping.”

  • The Career: “I view my job as a stepping stone to other jobs.”

  • The Calling: “My work is one of the most important things in my life.”

This final group, the fortunate few, who see their work as a Calling rather than a Job or Career—might reliably say: “My work makes the world a better place.” These people are the most satisfied with their work and their lives overall, according to Duckworth’s research. Members of this “Calling” generally missed at least a third fewer days of work than the other two groups.

Whatever your age, it is never too late to begin cultivating a sense of purpose. Buckminster Fuller established this mantra after years of failure: “The significance of you will forever remain obscure to you, but you may assume that you are fulfilling your significance if you apply yourself to converting all your experience to the highest advantage of others.” Fuller was absolutely convinced that everything good that happened to him was through his commitment to a greater integrity. “Many times I’ve chickened, and everything inevitably goes wrong. But then, when I return to my commitment, my life suddenly works again. There’s something of the miraculous in that.”

HOPE and Your Passion

What is hope? One kind of hope is a kind of yearning for the universe to make things better. Grit, according to Duckworth, depends upon a different kind of hope. It rests upon our own efforts to make things better. The hope that gritty people have has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with getting up again after you have been knocked down.

Duckworth concluded that it wasn’t suffering that leads to hopelessness. It is suffering that you believe you can’t control. This eventuates in a kind of learned helplessness. Nietzsche once wrote: “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” (However, Duckworth admits that sometimes it does the opposite.) The question becomes: when does the struggle lead to hope and when does it lead to helplessness? The answer may surprise you. A study by Victor and Mildred Goertzel of 400 famous twentieth-century men and women revealed that a full 75 percent of them—some 300 individuals—had grown up in a family burdened by severe problems such as poverty, abuse, absent parents, alcoholism, or some other misfortune. This was recently reported in an article in the Wall Street Journal under the title, “The Secrets of Resilience”, by Meg Jay.

The flip side of learned helplessness is learned optimism. Optimists have a growth mindset, born of Grit that leads them to optimistic ways of explaining adversity. This inspires perseverance, and encourages them to seek out new challenges. Optimists with grit make great salespeople.



Measure Your Grit Score: *For example, if you scored 4.1, you are grittier than about 70% of the adults in Duckworth’s sample. Keep in mind that your grit score is a reflection of how you see yourself right now. How you see yourself at this point in your life might be different from how gritty you were when you were younger. If you take the Grit Scale again later, you might get a different score. Duckworth’s thesis is that grit scores can improve. Source: “GRIT” by Angela Duckworth, pages 54-56.



Larry Mullins is a contributing editor for Furniture World and has 30+ years of experience on the front lines of furniture marketing. Larry’s mainstream executive experience, his creative work with promotion specialists, and mastery of advertising principles have established him as one of the foremost experts in furniture marketing. His affordable High-Impact programs produce legendary results for everything from cash raising events to profitable exit strategies. His newest books, THE METAVALUES BREAKTHROUGH and IMMATURE PEOPLE WITH POWER… How to Handle Them have recently been released by Morgan James Publishing. Joe Girard, “The World’s Greatest Salesman” said of this book: “If I had read Larry Mullins’ book when I started out, I would have reached the top much sooner than I did.” Larry is founder and CEO of UltraSales, Inc. and can be reached directly at 904.794.9212 or at Larrym@furninfo.com. See more articles by Larry at www.furninfo.com or www.ultrasales.com.