There is no doubt whatsoever that shopping is where it’s at. You only have to spend five minutes in your local and see the dudes hanging loose with their skate boards, the old folk gathering for a chat, the house-people hovering over milk not yet spilt and the young and fashionable preening over coffee.
It’s not surprising, of course, given the steady drop off in church, cinema and sporting attendance, service club membership, pub crawling and the over-the-fence meet of near neighbours.
This is exciting for me, because I come from a long line of retailers: my dad, my dad’s mum, my dad’s mum’s dad, all my brothers, some of their wives and most of their kids.
By “it” I mean, of course, the buzz of community interaction: where we all meet, rub up against each other, learn how to resolve everyday conflict and where we pay homage to higher beings.
If you’re in retail and you know this, understand it, can move from concept to implementation, then you are ahead of the game and poised to make some serious money.
If you don’t, then it’s going to be an uphill battle, between you and the clientele, you and your staff and suppliers, you and your accountant, you and the ATO, you and your partner, you and yourself and you.
We’ve all seen the folks who don’t get it. You can spot them as soon as you walk in their shops. They look about as happy as a pig in a tuxedo and they look at you like you are a space invader, a thief, a competitor, an ex-partner, a tax collector, a deranged lunatic, a bull in their china shop.
These days I’m still in the people business, spending much of my time working with groups using Jungian-based psychological models like the Myers Briggs Personality type Indicator. There are, however, aspects of human behaviour that these don’t read, like a irrational inability to get on with anyone, any-type, at any time.
Recently I spotted an item in a shop and wanted to make sure it contained locally born and bred ingredients, proceeded to write down the phone number on the label and was accosted by the proprietor and told: “We don’t allow people to write things down in our shop. This is a shop in which writing things down is unacceptable behaviour.”
The funny thing about having retail in your blood is that often when you meet someone who hasn’t, you feel sorry for them and want to help, rather than leaning back, grabbing the nearest heavy item and driving it into what many would assume is thick skull.
In the old days, when I had my own shop, people often wrote things down. Sometimes they were crossing items off a list, sometimes they were writing a letter to their mum, and sometimes they were competitors noting down prices.
So what? They were not going to be competitors for ever and a day and, more than likely, they would eventually be clients.
That’s the thing about age and experience: you learn that what goes around often comes around.
In other words, if you live by the driving-of-heavy-objects-into-thick-skulls method, then one day you are likely to die from a heavy object imbedded in your thick skull.
But let’s not carp. This is Australia, one of the few nations the Gods have blessed, and home to a magnificent collection of shopping cathedrals.
So, in order to assist, inform, and educate those ready and willing to read on, I will now provide a few tips to help you survive both sides of the counter.
First and foremost, if you are a regular shopper, remember that retailers have lives too and must be allowed, like us, to have bad days.
If, however, you have noticed that someone’s bad day has stretched beyond a decade, then it might be time to consider shopping elsewhere.
If you are a retailer and have already bought the small shop, yet now realise you hate people who want you to be nice to them, or who smile for no apparent reason, or people who, well, in short, come into your place of business, then get out, now, sell up, move on.
For some of you this might prove difficult, because you’ve just singed a new lease, or because of bank loans, or partners, or because you like the things in your shop.
Liking things in your shop, by the way, is good, but you have to learn to let things go.
Anyway, if these few words have clanged a bell and you are opening the doors next week, then by all means finish setting up, hanging the curtains, pricing all items, but when all that’s done, for your own sake and ours, don’t stand at the counter, stay out the back.
Better still, don’t appear during normal business hours and leave the people business to people who like people.