January 16, 2008
Originally published December 8, 2003
For five years in a row when I was going to college, I worked at K-Mart during the Christmas holidays. I did just about every job available in the store, including running a cash register, doing a "Code Three in the Parking Lot" (go get all the shopping carts scattered all over the place out there) and mopping floors in the cafeteria.
My favorite job was doing night stock. I showed up with a couple of other people when the store closed and the junior manager locked us in the place for the night. We unloaded trucks and stocked shelves until 9:00 in the morning. I saw all kinds of stuff come into that store.
K-Mart had a big, red binder full of fine print that told you what price every item you put on the shelf should sell for. You found the stock number on the item, looked it up in the book to find the price and used a tape-gun to put those crazy 67-cent price tags on a lot of cheap shit. The book also told you how many units K-Mart bought and what price they paid.
I was amazed by what I learned from that book. A lot of those plastic cars and army men were bought in units of over 1,000,000 at .04 cents each. I'm not talking FOUR CENTS each. I mean FOUR-TENTHS OF A CENT. We sold them for anywhere between 27 cents and 98 cents. They sold like hotcakes, too.
I forget what the really "GOTTA HAVE" toy was one year (some kind of talking, pissing Teddy Bear, I think), but every store in Savannah was sold out. Two days before Christmas, we had a truck pull in around midnight loaded to the gills with those things. We unloaded the truck and I checked the stock number in the book. I was astonished by what I saw.
K-Mart paid $28.00 per unit but was selling them for $26.00. They were going to lose TWO DOLLARS on every one of those toys they sold. Those figures didn't look right to me, so I asked the manager about it. That's when I first heard the term "loss leader."
"We have a full-page ad running in the paper tomorrow advertising this toy. We'll be sold out before closing. Most people who come will come for the toy, but that won't be the only thing they buy. You run a loss leader like this one just to get people in the store this time of year. We'll make up what we lose on this toy with the other stuff they buy. But we've gotta get 'em in the store first."
I learned a valuable lesson about business that night. If you're selling something, you've gotta get 'em in the store.
I also learned to HATE Christmas carols for several years after doing those jobs. Listen to "The Little Drummer Boy" about 1,000 times and you'll want to shove that drum up the drummer boy's ass and strangle the baby Jesus right there in the fucking manger. Plus, I wanted to put a "RUM-PUM-PUM" on Mary and Joseph, too, and any goddam wise man who opened his smart mouth. I wanted to stuff sombody's myrrh right up their frankensense, sideways.
Of course, maybe not everyone would have that reaction. Maybe that was just me.
All content © Rob Smith