Lessons learned from Black Friday

By Bill Colvard - [email protected]

Ten years ago today — and by today, I mean Black Friday 2007 — I was experiencing my first, and last, Black Friday as a retailer.

Having a store was a dream come true. Perhaps because my grandparents ran a little country store in State Road which they lived in back of, where, at a very young age, I got a taste for the freedom and independence of self-employment. Turns out, I am not well suited to the freedom and independence of self-employment, but on Black Friday 2007, I was not yet aware of that fact.

That Black Friday started with me already exhausted from the day before, what with all the turkey eating and being thankful for it. Not to mention decorating the entire store for Christmas. I loathe and despise one holiday jumping over another. I had vowed that when and if I ever owned a store, there would not be one Christmas decoration in it before Thanksgiving. And I am proud to say there was not.

It was easier said than done since the entire store had to be completely swathed, bedecked and festooned in holiday finery sometime after the doors were locked on Wednesday evening and before they were swung open on Friday morning. And since my business partner in this venture was my sister and she would be cooking the Thanksgiving dinner, and we had no employees to speak of, that left only me to “Git-R-Done.”

When the last customer left on Wednesday evening and the door was locked behind her, I began the holiday transformation. Our business model worked on the premise of the boutique being the hip, cool spot where folks with some expendible cash dropped that cash to show they were hip, cool people. A usual concept for high-end stores, but we had very little money to keep up the illusion of cool, and to drop the illusion is the kiss of death.

But with some imagination, innovation, a 75-percent-off sale at A.C. Moore, and what was then the new miracle of online shopping, we bought scores of black feather boas to serve as garland, and two lawn and leaf bags full of golden glass balls to convert into swags of metallic chardonnay grapes. The design philosophy that “too much is never enough,” and “more is more,” weighed heavy on my mind.

A friend of mine used to quote the famous New York society decorator, Sister Parrish, who adapted the axiom of good taste “Less is more,” to her own needs by telling her clients, “Sometimes, less is just less.” It’s safe to assume Sister and I were on the same page. The results were not particularly tasteful, but it was certainly stylish. And as we all know, good taste is often the enemy of style.

When all was done, the store looked less like the inside of a very chic Parisian candy box, as I had hoped it would, and more like the parlor of a New Orleans whorehouse if that house off ill repute were working a wine country holiday theme. Which, I decided, was not bad, as runners-up go. Dog-whistle fashion was our whole business plan.

Limping away exhausted from almost 24 hours of non-stop holiday preparation, fingers bleeding from the brass wire I’d used to construct my golden grape clusters, I enjoyed my sister’s delicious Thanksgiving dinner and was very thankful for it, but was even more thankful that we had decided not to start our Black Friday adventure at some ungodly hour in the middle of the night.

Having decided that nobody in their right mind would haul their butt out of bed at 4 a.m. to get half-price on a cashmere shrug, we’d decided to open at the more civilized hour of 9 a.m., with muffins and mimosas to nourish and comfort our customers, who would possibly be exhausted from five hours of wrestling for flat screens and ipods in big box stores.

Each replenishment of the mimosa pitcher accompanied the ringing up of more and more sales, and by noon, when the muffins gave way to canapés, it was clear we’d made a good business decision. It was a great day, and though I can’t say we went ‘into the black’ that day, it wouldn’t be fair to expect us to do so. We’d only been open since the end of July.

The experience reinforced something I already knew. Booze is a great way to sell high-end merch. Free drinks to customers above a certain price point is almost always a moneymaking strategy. There’s something about the hospitality of an open bar that causes wallets to fly open.

And it opened my eyes to something new. Black Friday is class warfare. It’s only poor and working people who have to fight and scrap and beat each other into the ground to get a deal. And only earn the privilege to do so after waiting out in the cold all night long, to get into a store at some unholy hour in order to purchase something we can’t afford and probably don’t need. For this feeding of the retail beast, we are asked to sacrifice our dignity.

And starting the shenanigans on Thanksgiving instead of Friday is no better. Now the folks who want or need the good deals have to tear themselves away from their families in hopes of getting them.

Does Neiman-Marcus or Barney’s make socialites and celebrities shiver in the cold before accepting their money? Or tear themselves away from the holiday table before the pumpkin brûlée is served? Do they have to beat each other over the head with the stiletto heels of the latest Manolos to settle who will get the last pair?

No, they do not. They certainly do not. They get a free martini and are shown to a private consultation room by their personal shopper. It’s not right.

Robespierre had a solution. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a solution.


By Bill Colvard

[email protected]

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

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