When SNEWS LLC was acquired by Active Interest Media on Dec. 21, 2007, our friend and business partner, Gene Treacy, had made a decision it was time for him to chart a different course.
For the first months in 2008, he did what most of us dream of doing – that is, whatever came to mind. He worked on his vacation home, volunteered at his church, cooked, and gardened. By the time he decided to look in earnest for another job, the economy was heading into the toilet. Newspapers and magazines were not hiring and he wasn’t even sure if that’s where he wanted to be anyway after years as an ad rep, trade show rep and sales director in the sports and outdoor industries. In June, he partnered with some friends, and tried the world of hard labor to flip a home.
“I made $3,000 and my original investment back. Not great, not bad. We all learned,” Treacy told SNEWS®. “Most of all, I learned being an unskilled laborer was not my bag.”
During that time, Treacy, always a wine connoisseur, got wind of a 14,000-square-foot commercial property for sale that included a liquor store. By August 2008, Gene and his wife, Pam, had signed a sales agreement to purchase Campbell Station Wine and Spirits, in what we are told is an up-and-coming area. Closing was slated for March 2009.
“As the manager of the store, I will pay my wife rent who will own the building with me as a partner. Gotta love America!” said Treacy in an email to us announcing the deal. “We will have two or three other tenants and there is another 0.8 acre that could be developed in the future. I finally found out what I want to do when I grow up…be a retailer!”
Naturally, Treacy decided he needed more retail training, so he turned to Home Depot and was hired as a freight team associate working 4 a.m. to 9 a.m., Monday through Friday. There, he learned he would have to spend 25 hours of paid training before he ever saw the sales floor – instructor-led and customer-focused sales orientation and computer e-learning.
“Having at least been involved in markets which serve retailers, this was a humbling and learning experience. I went through my first Black Friday. I showed up to work at 4:45 a.m. and people were lining up at 5:15 a.m. to get in when we opened at 6 a.m. The first time I even had a chance to look up and breathe it was 10 a.m.
“I had to mediate three customers arguing the benefits of various space heaters to be used in garages to keep their dogs warm…. That is some intense product and brand knowledge coming into play!” said Treacy.
Shortly after his Black Friday initiation, Treacy was pulled aside by his supervisor and the store manager and was give the associate of the week award and the Black Friday MVP associate.
“I got a special shiny badge to wear on my apron and was told that I qualified now to become associate of the month. They were very proud of me because it is very rare for an associate with less than a year of experience to win this award,” said Treacy. “Heck, I didn’t even know there were associates of the month, of the week or of the day awards. Go figure. I just was trying to stay busy, get through a crazy day, and help customers.”
Yep, that’s our Gene! Well, he was our Gene.
In another email in late 2008, Treacy shared the following with us:
“Retail is humbling. I’m learning. Wish I had learned this before. It’s all about the customer, every day. You do all you can to make sure they buy and that they buy happy, enjoy their experience, and that they keep coming back.”
By late February 2009, Treacy took off his orange Home Depot apron one last time to focus on his own business – and Home Depot begged him to stay. On March 31, 2009, he and his wife became owners of the commercial property, and Treacy was officially a retail owner. They closed on April 1 -- no joke.
Painting contractors, décor adjustments, cleaning, customer data retention, web site updating, articles in newspapers, distributor wine tastings, hiring new employees, installing a new POS system, retaining a brand marketing firm, inventorying 30,000 bottles – Treacy was hitting the ground running, and without a road map.
After the first week, Treacy shared the following with us, “Receiving goods into store via a new POS system is particularly challenging. What took the old manager pretty much all day -- goods on shelf, stored and in their old system -- took me two days with my new system.
“Every day is new discovery. Every day is something new to learn,” said Treacy. “I am starting to get the pace and figure out my role. Now if I can start to decrease my hours from the current 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., I’ll be good.”
On May 4, one month of being in business, Treacy is starting to get his retail legs it appears.
“I am learning mark up and margin math and learning customer wishes, wants and desires,” Treacy told us. “I am engaging my community and am engaging my customer and hearing lots of people stories – some quite sad, some the elicit belly laughs.”
Though he’s still a rookie, Treacy offers up this short list lessons from 30 days as a retailer:
- Be who you are and not anyone else or any other store.
- Care about everything and especially everyone.
- Have honest, open, fun dialogue with employees. That’s a must.
- No trick plays needed. Straight ahead, simple running plays work best.
- You can outwork and out passion your competition.
- Lastly, and most importantly I think, your customers will always give you a second chance if they sense you truly care about them and what you are doing.
We promise to offer another episode in the Treacy retail saga soon after Memorial Day or other summer liquor-store-frequenting holidays. The big question that hangs in the air for him is, can Treacy change a bad booze culture into a decent, clean, wine-and-spirits experience, one where both the old time booze hounds and nouveaux-riche wish to shop? Ah, so many bottles, so little time.
To all his industry friends -- and we know he has many since they ask us about him all the time -- Treacy says this:
“My sincere thanks and gratitude for friendship, training, handholding, general tomfoolery, and business from all my friends in the outdoor and fitness communities. My experiences with all of you prepared me to become a retailer -- scary-a-thought as that is.”
And for all SNEWS subscribers who are in the Knoxville, Tenn. area, stop by Campbell Station Wine and Spirits for a 15-percent discount – www.campbellstationwine.com.
To email, heckle or even to wish luck (all is expected and welcome) you can contact Gene by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.