Columnists Chuck Koehler The Retailer’s Perspective: Will it be fine in 2009?

The Retailer’s Perspective: Will it be fine in 2009?

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Man, if that's not the question of the day... or the century for that matter. With so much bad news being thrown at us every day it's hard to get a handle on things - until now. Oddly enough, in the middle of all of this craziness I made a startling discovery. I really had no idea how many recessions and economic downturns I've survived. All I can say is apparently I've had a hard life. Let me explain.
There have been 12 major recessions since 1940 and countless economic slowdowns. Only three have lasted more than a year; 1975, 1982, and today. As I look back on some of the significant moments in my life, I realized that times were hard back then too. The media is clamoring for sensationalism and everything has a statistic. So here are some stats of my own:

In 1984 I opened the trade shop I still own to this day. I just found out that the NASDAQ just had it's worst January since 1984. Huh? What was I thinking opening a business during the turmoil back then.

The auto industry just had it's worst year since 1985. That was the year I expanded my new trade shop. What was I thinking?

The unemployment report that just came out said that this was the worst jobs data since 1993. Damn. I bought my current store in 1993. Where was my head?

The DOW just suffered it's worst 12 month period since 1997. I did a major remodeling at my old store in 1997 and just finished remodeling my new one. Oops, missed that one too.

Now I just found out that ‘something or the other' hasn't been this bad since 2001. Huh? The last time I took a luxury vacation to Europe was in 2001. My bad.

In a nutshell, what I'm starting to realize is that it's never been easy to run your own business. It's just one challenge after another... after another... after another. Once this recession/depression cycle corrects itself, I'm going to have to deal with a whole new subset of problems. And then something after that. Me thinks it doesn't end.

Funny thing though, when I think back to when I was starting or expanding my business, I remember it being a struggle at the time, but it doesn't seem so bad now because NOW IS HARD! ‘Now' has always been hard.

Don't feel alone though, because no one alive has ever navigated through anything like this before. During the Great Depression there were no credit cards, no home equity loans, no sub-prime mortgages, and no FDIC to guarantee bank accounts. The FDIC is the very reason why we didn't have any runs on banks this time around which was one of the primary causes of the big one before. Many of the rules and regulations that are in place today were put in place to avoid another Great Depression. The one thing we didn't plan for - obsessive, uncontrolled greed on the financial system. We all know that's getting ready to change. When we all get on the other side of this event, we will have a much more stable system to operate within.

The one thing I'm noticing the most about this tough economic time is the fact I can't really plan anything farther in the future than 30-45 days because things are so crazy. I'm not making any plans for my 3rd and 4th quarter because nobody... and I mean nobody... can predict what the landscape will look like that far out.

There's an old saying that nothing happens until a sale is made. Once I make a sale, I order parts and supplies which in turn causes my suppliers to order more parts and supplies, etc. With the retailers at a literal standstill, the strain on the entire food chain is intense. So here‘s how I sum up this whole thing.

In 1990, during a short break from the jewelry business, I ran a film studio where our bookkeeper stole over a quarter of a million dollars from us. In all reality we should have shut it down, filed bankruptcy, and walked away. I was one of three managers at the studio and it just wasn't in any of our natures to do that. We worked our butts off for over a year to save the company (which is still in business today, thank you very much).

Out of that experience came a strange Friday afternoon ritual. Every Friday at the close of business, the three of us would meet in one of our offices and have a drink and a toast. The toast was always the same:

"Damn. We gotta come back to work on Monday!"

There was absolutely no chance to save the company and every day we thought would be our last, but somehow we managed to keep showing up every Monday. It was one of the hardest years of my life (yet another one mind you). Since then, every Friday, I raise the same toast to myself because since 1984 I've managed to keep my business alive and kicking.

Keep your head up and remember... it never gets any easier... ha ha. And, since today is Friday, I think I'm gonna do it early today:

"Damn... I gotta come back to work on Monday!"
Chuck is the owner of Anthony Jewelers in Nashville, TN. Chuck also owns CMK Co., a wholesale trade shop that specializes in custom jewelry and repair services to the jewelry industry nationwide. You can contact him at 615-354-6361, www.CMKcompany.com or send e-mail to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 
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