Management Trainee - June 1979 - June 1980
The year I worked for Shawnee Sales & Marketing, I learned the art of negotiation from a master, Larry Dockrey. Larry taught me the value of having the best competitive information when doing business and the subtle nuances of presenting one's position in the most advantageous manner. I also learned the value of diversification from Larry, in addition to project management, retail store management, procurement, advertising, wholesaling, truck driving, and selling women's clothing out of a van.
Shawnee Sales & Marketing purchased liquidated merchandise from manufacturers and insurance companies and sold to penal institutions, discount wholesalers and retailers, and through permanent and company owned retail locations. Through sealed bid and direct negotiation, we acquired complete inventories of a variety of businesses damaged by fires, floods, and tournedos, as well as the result of bankruptcy. We purchased seconds, irregulars, and close-outs directly from clothing manufacturers. Typically, the business plan was to clean-up the merchandise, if necessary, and price it in our outlets at 10% - 20% off suggested retail. Merchandise that doesn't move is discounted progressively, allowing close to perfect price discrimination in selling price. Leftover and "dog" merchandise was used to fill the requirements of numerous prisons for dress-out clothing. We also provided these customers with first and second quality socks and underwear on a routine basis.
In the summer of 1979, I was back in Shawnee contemplating my future. The grain bin experience had taught me many sales skills and was extremely confident. One day while walking, I spotted a sign on the old Harp's Green Valley Farms plant that read "Shawnee Sales & Marketing." So I went inside to investigate. I met Larry and his secretary, liked what I saw, and showed up the next morning for work. They paid me $150 per week and never said anything about it. Later, Larry would often comment on our first meeting. First impressions are critical.
Larry needed to find a job for me, so we rigged up a van with clothes rod and pulled some of best women's clothing from the warehouse. I was on the road again. I covered much of Oklahoma calling on all the boutiques and dress shops I could find. I moved quite a lot of merchandise. There was no training or existing customer base. I made cold calls and I made sales. Things worked well. I enjoyed the time on the road. Larry had tapped another market and a means of adjusting his inventory levels. I also helped out with the local retail store. Larry seemed to be impressed with me. Our deal was that I would make $40,000 in my fourth year with him.
Then Larry bought cowboy boots. We took the trucks to Alvin, Texas. A large western wear store had been damaged by a flood. We cleaned up everything and priced each item with the current suggested retail price. Larry secured a lease on the old Gibson's store in Altus, Oklahoma. I moved to Altus to be assistant manager of the store. I had to work Saturdays and Larry gave me a raise. After a few months, only junk was left and it was cheap.
Then Larry bought commodity groceries. There were truckloads and truckloads of gallon cans of green beans, peanut butter, and soybean oil. The fire had melted hundreds of the plastic lids on the soybean oil. The water from the fire hoses displaced much of the oil and made the nastiest, smelliest situation imaginable. It was Springfield, Illinois and it was a blizzard. The day laborers I hired spent most of their time around the fire. I still avoid soybean oil. The job was co-financed by a wealthy friend of Larry's in the grocery business, who also provided the additional trucking. We leased the old Armory in Ada, Oklahoma and opened a new store.
There were other stores in Arkansas and Mississippi. In between, my responsibilities at the main store in Shawnee were steadily increasing, while my wholesaling activities diminished. Larry had often identified the retail area as his weakest area personally. I could see myself falling more and more into that role. The image of a retail store manager didn't satisfy me. It didn't challenge my potential. On my one year anniversary, no other offers were made. I quit and moved to Denton, Texas.
Since I met Larry Dockrey, I pay much less for the things I buy and get more for the things I sell. Though my haggling is sometimes an embarrassment to my family and friends, they always appreciate the results. I thank you, Larry.
Copyright © Ronnie Oldham 1998. All rights reserved.
Revised: April 01, 2011.
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