A Badly Managed Business

Once I became a Channel group manager I frequently had to deal by phone with the head buyers at the Whippany, NJ headquarters. They were all idiots.

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When we passed on the customer complaints to them that Channel’s prices were too high, they always shot back that Channel was not a discount store. That might be so, but what were we? We didn’t offer any extra value. Our sales clerks weren’t highly trained to offer expert advice; they were minimum wage workers with no expertise other than what they picked up while on the job.

A good example of the buyers’ idiocy was their reluctance to let us stock up on highly desirable sale items. When a very popular brand of motor oil was slated to go on sale for a real bargain price, our assistant manager Bob Hughes ordered a gross of cases. The buyer slashed that down to a dozen. When the sale date arrived we ended up turning away dozens of disappointed potential customers. Yes, we offered them rain checks, but few of them returned.

Conversely, when a less popular brand of motor oil went on sale, the buyer shipped us dozens of cases of it that we hadn’t ordered and didn’t want, presumably because he had gotten a really good deal on it. Those didn’t sell and sat in our warehouse for months, just taking up space.

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Another example: one summer Channel offered a high priced riding lawn mower, but we weren’t allowed to keep any in stock—not even for a demo model. How were we supposed to sell that? How were we any different from a catalog company? That’s where Bob Hughes just ignored the directive of the buyers; he ordered one that we set up as a demo. We sold more of those mowers than any other store in the chain. At the end of the season, we sold the demo for a discount. (Since the buyers weren’t aware that Bob had set up a demo, and at that time I was the group manager of that department, Seasonal, I received the credit for selling all those mowers. When a couple of the buyers paid a visit to our store, the Seasonal buyer introduced me to one of the others as “the guy who sold all those mowers without having an in-store demo.”)

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So I learned just how stupid a lot of people in positions of authority in private industry really are. And Bob Hughes taught me how to work around some of their stupidity.

At some point Hechingers opened a store across the river, and we started hearing from customers how much better it was than Channel. I drove over to take a look and saw that they were correct.

Channel somehow lasted until the early 1990s, though I don’t know how they managed to hang on that long. Hechingers outlasted them, not succumbing to the Home Depot/Lowe’s juggernauts until the first decade of this century.

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