Closing Time…

…NOT THE SITE! SORRY! I’m so sorry about that. I didn’t mean to upset anyone. You may exhale your relief. (Or disappointment? I hope it’s not disappointment. You can’t get rid of me that easily.)

Strap in, comrades. This one is quite the rollercoaster.

Anyway, this has been in the making since August. That’s when the owner first floated the idea of closing down the shop. Here’s the short of it: He’s a terrible manager. He stretches himself way too thin across too many businesses and doesn’t really trust anyone to run them properly. So, basically, he’s a hands-off owner until he decides to be hands-on again and mess everything up.

When he first proposed this idea to me, I had no other prospects lined up, and I was desperate to keep this place open (and remain employed), so I made an impassioned plea to him that this place was once a viable business and could be, again. For the year leading up to this point (and really for the two years prior to that, as well, while we were sitting in a trailer, paying zero rent, while the building was under renovation), he had been lamenting that we needed to increase sales. As I had been doing the entire time, and with more emphasis in August, I pushed the traditional, tried-and-true methods of increasing commercial activity, including, but not limited to, print advertising, online advertising, SEO initiatives, website improvements, and roadside signage.

That last one was my biggest sticking point. I told him we needed a sign, because the number one thing I heard from customers on a regular basis was, “Man, y’all were kind hard to find.” Because we had no sign.

I’m not going to go deep into this; it should be blatantly obvious to anyone who has ever been exposed to any kind of commercial advertising, which is pretty much everyone, that the first thing a customer looks for is a business’s sign. It tells you who they are and where you can find them. That’s why motels and fast food restaurants and gas stations have such large, tall signs, so you can see them from far distances as you’re driving along the road.

Despite having a marquee by the side of the road at the main entrance to the building, with many available spaces, the owner balked at the idea: “Yeah, but they want like $100 a month for that!” What’s that old business expression that gets tossed around a lot? It takes money to make money? Yeah, that’s because it’s true. You need visibility for your business to succeed. If people don’t know where you are, or that you even still exist, for that matter, you won’t get that much business. They might try to hunt you down, but most customers will opt to go somewhere they know is open. There’s a small shop down the street and one twenty-five miles north of us. They know they’re still operating, so they go there. Look at all that business lost right there, and all because the owner didn’t want to pay an extra $100 per month. Madness.

What’s even more maddening is the fact that, while scoffing off industry-proven methods, he preferred his own personal crazy schemes instead. The first one was to install a sandwich counter. Not even kidding. “We can put some tables and chairs by the window. We’d have to pay to get plumbing installed back here in the stock room.” This from a man who wouldn’t pay $100 a month for a sign, but paying to reroute plumbing to a suite that wasn’t designed to have plumbing is a perfectly logical and acceptable expenditure, apparently.

Allow me to provide some background here. Years ago, before a building renovation was even a possibility, back when the aviation traffic was booming here, there was a restaurant on the back side of the building, overlooking the runway. I don’t know how nice it was or anything like that, since it had long since vanished before I came around. All I knew was you could sit down and have a hot meal while you watched airplanes take off and land. They even have a book about this kind of thing called The $100 Hamburger and a companion volume called The $500 Round of Golf. These were places you could fly to and stop to eat or play golf or just hang out. (Yes, flying is that expensive, and then some, especially if you own your own plane. I’ll get into that in a later post. Your eyes might pop out.)

People have been lamenting the loss, much to my chagrin, of that restaurant for years now. Every old pilot who comes back here and talks about taking lessons here twenty or more years ago talks fondly about that eatery. So, I really can’t fault him for thinking that having a restaurant here again would be a good idea. It probably would. Just not in the retail shop. That’s extra expenses on a business that has already failed here once and might not be successful again. It’s riskier than any other option. But that was his preference.

Over the months, every time he would come back (once a month or less), he would float that idea to counter my sign suggestion, and it would change slightly every time. Eventually, before finally dropping the idea entirely, the idea became: “If we put one of those self-serve sandwich cases, people would like that.” Always with the sandwiches…

I don’t know if I had ever fought for anything so hard in all my life as I did on that day in August. I felt connected to this place. I took it over when it was in shambles. I kept it floating, plugging leak after leak by myself. The captain of this ship was a figurehead, only around to instill confidence that such a person actually existed. I sail that boat, and I kept her floating. This place was my baby.

So, while the owner considered my plea, he tossed the first dagger at me: “Why didn’t you bring this up to me sooner? You should have submitted a proposal.” Why? So you could scoff it off again, this time after wasting my own valuable time researching methods that every other successful business owner knows already?

That one stung. How is this my fault? For months I had been telling him the problems customers bring to me only to have them be ignored. I shouldn’t have to fight to the point of tears to get a business owner to even consider implementing viable means of salvation. The second dagger would come days later.

Through all my pleas, though, he threw me a bone, for once. He told me to assemble a proposal on methods which could save this company and submit it to him in a few days. Great! I busted my ass on that. I did research on statistics and pricing, and even put together a mock advertisement that would fit the constraints of two popular trade magazines and online spaces, as well.

Out of all the methods I offered forth, the only ones to garner any attention at all were the print ads and SEO. He didn’t know what SEO was. This is a man who made his money in computer software and runs four different companies. How has this never crossed his path?

For any of you who are unclear on this, it basically boils down to making sure keywords related to your field or niche are clearly visible to search engines in order to help improve how easily people can find your website/business when they Google it. Optimally, you want to be on the front page, though near the top is best. Now, I know it’s more involved than that, as I only have a basic understanding of it, but there’s some context at least.

So, that was basically the second dagger. Out of everything, he only cared about moving forward with a couple of options, which really weren’t even the best options if you had to choose two. I asked him how he would like to proceed. Nothing. I followed up. Nothing.

After that, I was deflated. I was depleted. I was done. I pulled my fingers out of the holes in the hull and let the water seep into the boat again. Fuck it. Let it sink.

I redoubled my efforts to secure better employment, but very little came of it. The months passed, as did the job opportunities, as I took interviews and then sat around the shop, waiting for the water to reach my chin.

Today, the waterline has found me.

But so has a lifeline.

In what seems to be absolutely remarkable timing, on the same day the shop will sink, I have life rafts waiting from two other, larger boats. (And actually, there’s one from a third, the flagship of this company, if we’re going to continue the naval metaphor, and I really don’t want to fucking be on that boat ever again.)

So, now, I’ve just got to figure out which boat to take. You know how people say, “Whenever God closes a door, He opens a window”? Yeah, I don’t really believe that fully. (Not going to get into personal Christian ideologies here right now. Maybe later. Maybe.) But if ever there was a chance for that saying to be proven true, this seems like the situation that would do it for me.

It’s an odd sense of calm now. There should be a flurry of energy and emotion, but there’s not. there’s just this feeling of completion, I guess; I feel like I’ve done what I could and seen this through as far as I could take it. I’ve given my all, and it did not fail because of me. I think I draw a great deal of peace from that. I have fought the good fight, and all that, and maybe that’s what makes it all okay. Having the other job offers lined up certainly helps, but the sense of closure is incredible. Not since picking up my college diploma have I felt such ease.

I’m going to use that energy and channel it into whichever lifeboat I choose. I’m going to bust my ass for that boat and her crew, because not only did they save me, but they wanted to have me on board, and that means the world to me. I will move mountains for those who believe in and support me. And I will do the same here.

Just not for this owner. He bail the water himself next time.

-The Retail Explorer

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