Several years ago, as part of my wandering early 20’s, I worked in a furniture warehouse in Vermont. It was a small, independent store that ordered products from all over the world. One day, I was working the warehouse alone on a Friday afternoon, and a 52 foot container full of wicker chairs from China arrived at our location- floor to ceiling, front to back, wicker chairs. It was an overwhelming sight for someone nearing the end of their shift.
I called my boss at the store location and asked him what to do. He replied “well, you gotta get ’em off the truck. Stack them in the back of the warehouse.” Incredulous that I would ever finish getting through all the chairs I said “by myself?” “Sure,” he said over the phone “I’ll tell you what to do; make a game out of it. See how many you can offload in an hour. Then, try and break that record!” I chuckled to myself, took it under advisement, and then plowed through the task.
The chairs somehow got off that truck,and I ended up with a few hours of overtime on the paycheck. The task which had seemed completely insurmountable was behind me, I had a weekend ahead of me, and a couple more dollars in the bank account thanks to the “game” I had played.
The next Monday at work, I asked my boss why on earth that our small retail establishment had bought such an astonishing number of chairs at one time. He explained to me that as a small store, the only way they could compete with larger furniture stores was to order items from overseas in very large quantities at once – frequently entire containers full of product – and have them delivered by ship.
Over the next six months, our bulk purchase paid off. We were able to sell the chairs at a very reasonable price and still make a tidy profit off each sale. The stacks of chairs slowly dwindled down, another giant purchase was made overseas, and the cycle was reborn.
I relate this story, not as a tale of industrious work on my part, but rather to communicate that sometimes a change in perspective is required in order to compete with larger companies. As a life-long merchant, my boss realized that he needed some creative ithinking to provide products to his customers at a palatable price point. As a small business, you are always going to be at a disadvantage unless you find ways to change the rules of the “game.”
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