Bad Shirt BuyerI worked for Sears many years ago. Early into my “career” with Sears I decided retail was for me. I worked hard to impress management and was rewarded with a small—very small—department to run.
 
Yipee! I was given the combined department of western wear and work clothes (Dept 51). In Fresno, this is a department of great potential and I was thrilled with my 20 feet of shelf space.
 
After organizing things better, sales immediately picked up. My 20 feet of shelf space was running a 20% sales increase. Wow! A 20% increase on monthly sales of around $3,000.
 
About my 6th week of stunning success I was approached by a western wear rep. He had a deal just for me. He had western shirts with a retail price of $25 that I could have for $5 each. Holy cow! Western wear really sells in Fresno and western shirts sell best in the summer. Here’s the bonus: these were short sleeve shirts! PERFECT! It’s 110 degrees in the shade, western wear is a great seller, the price is fantastic and they’re short sleeved shirts (which I had never seen in a cowboy shirt!). I ordered ALL the rep had. I spent about $8,000 on this one item for a department with monthly sales [now] of around $4,000.
 
Guess what!? I’d never seen a short sleeved western shirt because they don’t sell! Cowboys don’t wear short sleeves!!! (My brilliant buy preceeds the gay movement by several years which, if in full swing as today, might have saved me. Village People?).
 
As I recall, I ended up selling a few of those shirts for around $3 but most were bailed and sold as scrap. Today they are probably crammed inside of dog toys.
 
I got chewed out but not fired. And I did some very remarkable things after that which pushed my 20 feet of space to over $25,000 per month.
 
Point is, we all make mistakes. If Sears hadn’t given me the latitude to really screw up, they never would have seen that 20 feet of shelf space generate $25,000 per month.
 
I eventually moved up to Men’s wear manager—see the shirts this guy is holding? I actually bought a bunch of those for my store. Another mistake. I laughed when I found this picture in a stock photo site. Bad memories.
 
I also set a single month sales record that still stands (it’s been 25 years)—I generated over a year’s sales for my department in a single weekend. I’ll tell you that story some other day.
 
Chris Reich, Author of TeachU’s Business Talk Blog