My Sidewalk’s on Sale

Cynthia Compton -- August 1st, 2017

I don’t like sales. I don’t like to shop at them, I don’t like to read about them (just throw away most of the newspaper on Thanksgiving Day, and pass the cranberry sauce) and I ESPECIALLY don’t like to have them. I don’t need to drag all that stuff out of the stock room to remind me of overbuying, errors in predicting trends, or old stuff that we forgot about, any more than I need to try on last year’s jeans before I send them to Goodwill. I can tell by looking that they don’t fit, and frankly, life’s too short to feel bad about yourself. And so my feelings of foreboding just grow all summer as I pass that slowly enlarging stack of boxes in the stock room, the graveyard of “onesies and twosies,” dented corners and slightly ripped packages, shopworn and a little faded from the sun, and merchandise that won’t survive a midwestern winter. We grow that pile of boxes until it threatens to teeter and topple, or until the kids go back to school, and use them to entice shoppers to visit for our annual sidewalk sale.

A few rather romantic notions, I suppose, fuel my dislike for sales events. First, it’s a bit of the “sausage making” of retail — I really don’t want customers thinking about the merchandise we’ve carefully selected as something less than special. Santa’s elves, I’m sure, never have a garage sale, and the Easter Bunny, bless his heart, doesn’t do clearance. Surrounded as we are by national chains for whom the “SALE!” is an every weekend event promoted by a newspaper circular and a series of guilt-inducing emails (what? you bought your back-to-school clothes WITHOUT our super special doorbuster coupon?), I just don’t want to be part of the “mark it up to mark it down” retail charade. We price carefully, just like we buy, honoring both the value of product and the MSRP of the manufacturer, and we want to endorse those choices by following through in our careful pricing strategy. There isn’t, usually, a lot of “wiggle room,” and when we do make a decision to put an item on sale, it’s not because that is part of our strategy to move the product. Rather, it’s like sweeping away the remnants of a really good meal — we enjoyed it while it lasted, but now it’s time to set the table for breakfast.

We deliberately host our sidewalk sale on the weekend after school starts here, as it’s about as official a marker of the end of summer as the sound of the coach’s whistles from the football field at the nearby high school. With the distractions of fall sports, new dance classes, AND the neighborhood swimming pools still open until Labor Day, we need an event to entice our regulars to keep visiting us in mid August.  Hosting the sale after school starts also allows us to send emails inviting parents to shop during the day — without kids — and squirrel items away for later gift-giving and rainy Saturday distractions. So, too, the daily visits from UPS and Fed Ex bearing all the fall merchandise that I blithely ordered over the summer puts pressure on our limited storage space, and I am motivated to clear some shelves.

Over the years, we learned the perils of saving unsold seasonal merchandise, and I am now ruthless in its markdown and removal from inventory. (If I were to ever get a tattoo — doubtful because of my limited attention span, aversion to needles, and slight-but-ever-continuing middle age midriff spread — it would read T = COGS/Inventory, the formula for Turn, that precious number that determines profitability.) Nothing, repeat, NOTHING, is cute/charming/European enough to warrant a second try if a full season did not move it out the door, and so onto the sale table it goes. Yes, I am certain that Christmas and the 4th of July will both occur again next year, but we will celebrate them with fresh merchandise, which has not cost us rent to store for the last 12 months or so.

We are fortunate to be located in a rather well-heeled area in the suburbs, where our customers value experience and their time over price (unless, it seems, the merchandise can be delivered in the same day by a drone WITH their groceries and diapers, but I digress), and so the prospect of a sale is not all that exciting to them without some serious spin. We joke that our customers will not get out of their cars (this year’s model, with all the add-ons) for only 25% off, and certainly won’t cross the parking lot for a 30% discount. “Buy one, get one free” is not an enticement, either, so we go straight to the big Sharpie pen for markdowns, and usually have a 50% off table or two and a 75% off table. All of those final prices are calculated and handwritten in large numbers on yellow stickers, so as not to require anyone to pull their cheaters out of their Gucci bag, or struggle with mental arithmetic while sipping their latte and talking on the phone. We keep our sale short, only two days, and then everything goes away. There is no clearance corner in our store, nor do we have frequent sales, so we try to turn the sidewalk event into a party — a short, very exciting, quickly ending party — which makes everyone giddy and then they all go home, leaving us with balloons to deflate, signs to carry to the dumpster, and (hopefully) empty tables to stack.

 

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About Cynthia Compton

Cynthia is the mom of 4 kids, the walker of 5 dogs, and the owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Indiana. The 2600 sq. ft. childrens store was founded in 2003, and hosts daily story times and events, birthday parties, book clubs and a large summer reading program. She is a current board member of the American Specialty Toy Retailers Assn, a past president of the Great Lakes Bookseller Association, and her store was honored with the Pannell Award in 2013.

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