The Great Escape Sale

Cynthia Compton -- April 3rd, 2019

This week is Spring Break for our local schools, and I have ventured away from the shop for a final  mom & daughter spring trip with my last high school aged kiddo. As I checked items off the “to do”  list last week, visited the bank and the office supply store, and filled the snack basket in the stock room, I thought to myself, “You’ve got this. Your staff is capable and responsible, you have covered all the potential disasters… and it’s SPRING BREAK. No one is actually left in town, anyway. Go have fun.”

My staff IS capable and responsible. They are also energetic and forward thinking, and have already copied and entered all of my future product order confirmations from my email account. They know EXACTLY how much merchandise I have purchased at winter shows, and how much room we need on the sales floor to display all this merchandise. “Cynthia,” one of my best booksellers asked, sweetly, “how would you feel about a clearance sale next week while you’re out of town? We could eliminate some items from the stock room, get rid of some of those boxes of slightly damaged books that you’ve marked “donations,” and just make some space?”  And then she uttered the magic, magic phrase. “You wouldn’t have to do a thing. We’ll just take care of it.”

Well, how could I say no? That’s the dream of every business owner, right? That your staff will just make those pesky piles of “onesies and twosies” disappear? That someone else will make the hard decisions about what should stay and what should go…. and you would never be faced with the “come to Jesus” moment when you have to put an unattractive orange clearance sticker over that item that you thought was SO CUTE… and you would not only sell that dozen, but several reorders, besides. And further, let’s face it, dealing with professional “sale shoppers” is disheartening. They are not your regulars, they are solely price-focused, and they suck the very air out of your carefully curated little shop. They fill baskets with clearanced merchandise, only to ask for additional discounts  “because they are buying so much” or comment that they’ve “never been in here, before, and they will have to tell their friends… when we have another sale.”  Nope, this is not the kind of negativity that my heart needs right now. And yes, dear staffer, you CAN run the sale, just as long as I don’t have to be part of it.

In the days before my departure, cryptic post it notes began to appear in the stock room. “ALL PINK 50%” said one set, which decorated the shelves storing overstock of some unfortunately slow-selling baby merchandise. “ALL YELLOW 75%” post its popped up like dandelions throughout the newly edged spring lawn, dotting the sides of Rubbermaid tubs filled with impulse items, forgotten picture books, and some strange little sticky balls…. I don’t really remember ordering those. There were stacks of slightly yellowed paperbacks leaning precariously against last year’s train tables, and a couple of bins of REALLY GREAT middle grade hardcovers that must have “missed” the return dates, shoved under the tables of the party room. I tried, really I did, not to peek at the items they chose. After all, I was empowering the staff to do this project in my absence, and they are just as capable of pulling sales turn reports as I am…. even if they don’t do it compulsively every week (my hand is raised in confession as I type that phrase) and especially since they don’t make impassioned, emotional pleas about how titles that HAVEN’T sold just might, someday. (That was my hand raised in reconciliation, in case you missed it.)

Dear reader, I walked away from all those mysterious boxes they stacked in the hallway, the tubs they hauled from storage, and I DIDN’T EVEN READ the staff email thread labeled “Staycation Sale.” It was an exercise in managerial self-control for me, a vote of confidence and empowerment for them… and a whole lot of compulsive checking of the daily itemized z-tape for the first few days of my holiday. But here’s what happened. Sales, of course, were up. Customers and bargain hunters alike who were NOT on vacation this week flocked in, took advantage of the sale, and bought regularly priced items besides. Perhaps the great deals in the back room loosened their purse strings, or perhaps they needed stuff to entertain kids home for Spring Break, but either way, we’re way, way up. Social media posts from customers are all over, and we’re tagged in Mom groups that I wasn’t even aware existed. My staff, just to humor me, keeps sending cute little text messages with pictures of items sold, tagged with the phrase “#bye-bye.” And just to make sure that I’m seeing the upside of this event, they also send pictures of empty spots in the stock room… spots that have not seen a lot of daylight for a while.

Halfway through my week away, I’m not checking those daily sales reports any more. I may discover, in the coming months, that items I “thought” we had are no more, but I may also be thrilled to find space for lots of new and exciting purchases. I will also be very, very grateful to the crew that made those choices without me, and spared me the exhausting conversations with non-customers who want to take advantage of clearance prices with full-priced book selection service. I will also quite happily return to a cleaner, emptier stock room, which I will endeavor to fill at the next round of meeting with my sales reps (and if that wasn’t an open invitation to pitch new product, I don’t know how to be more obvious).

Most of all, I’m learning that some projects are better left behind, and that “breaks” can not only clear the mind, but also the shelves in the back room.

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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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