Salesmanship: Benefits of depression

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by Warren Tyler

There was an old song from the ’30s, “Look for the Silver Lining” which infers in the midst of troubles there is always some good. My parents, who were not wealthy, were products of the Great Depression and the lessons they learned served them well for the rest of their life. My mother, to her dying day, would never eat mackerel because at the time this oily fish was only $.10 a pound so it became part of their survival plan. My father, a college graduate, had to stoke boilers and even wrestle part-time to make it.

World War II was the single event that brought us out of that horrible period. Producing the machinery of war brought us to full production. My father, an ROTC officer out of college, was overseas for 4 1⁄2 years (makes a year’s deployment now seem like nothing) and, some years later, decided to make the U.S. Army a career, retiring as a Colonel in 1975.

They both learned not to spend it if you don’t have it, and invest wisely and prudently—the result being a happy and safe retirement they both enjoyed to the fullest without any denigration of their lifestyle. I, on the other hand, made the most of the good times, driving every exotic car, traveling around the world, staying in the best hotels and eating at the best places. My lifestyle didn’t serve me well because, unlike my parents, I will work for the rest of my life (it isn’t really work; it’s my passion).

Playing it as close to the vest as I did, I couldn’t honestly say whether I would have survived today’s horrible economy.

As I call on retailers, I find the survivors are those who wisely invested their earnings made in the good times, such as buying their property, and living within their means.

Hopefully, those of us who survive this catastrophe will have learned our lesson forever much as our parents and grandparents learned during the Great Depression.

Another lesson

The other lesson to be learned from all this, is that as bad as this economy is, 90% of the people have some means of supporting themselves. And, maybe 60% of us can afford the luxuries of new flooring. I have often said during my industry appearances that 80% of Americans were working during the Depression and that come hell or high water, I would be one of the 80% working if it happened again.

The same is true now, retailers have to work hard enough, long enough, creative enough, and embrace the changes in our world and our industry to grab the lion’s share of the business out there. I know that most of us have embraced the philosophy of austerity and will continue on this path if and when good times ever return.

These lessons are the “silver lining.”

This is not to say that any of us should rule out risk. This is the stuff of entrepreneurship and without it America is doomed as the world’s leading economic power. This great country of ours was built by private enterprise run by the world’s best entrepreneurs. What we need are policies that allow good, old-fashioned capitalists to take risks and prosper.

A client of mine from the UK sent me the following video that tells it all in an entertaining fashion. He posted it on the Internet at video/xjlupw_worry_fun.

The idea is great and executives who are in position to help retailers (retail groups and suppliers) might want to fashion something similar to this for their dealers. Anyway, please play it; it’s enjoyable, nonetheless.

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