JT's Blog

Things that interest me, things that happened to me, things that I like, even some things that I don't like...

A Badly Managed Business

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

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.

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.”)

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.