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The Lobster Tank

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Who hasn’t been to Red Lobster?  Sometimes those Cheddar Bay biscuits just call to you.  I remember as a child licking the grease off my fingers from Red Lobster biscuits waiting on my popcorn shrimp.  I was always shrimp; my brother was clam strips.  We looked forward to Red Lobster.  Oh, and you remember the tank in the front of the restaurants?  My brother and I would bang on the glass simply to watch the lobsters scurry about and climb upon each other.
Red Lobster hasn’t changed much in all these years.  This weekend my family went to enjoy biscuits and popcorn shrimp.  I saw my middle son, 12-year-old Taylor, lost in the adventure of the lobster tank.  “These are so cool to watch,” he commented.
“Too bad they’ll all be dead by the end of the night,” I added.
Taylor looked back in disbelief, “What?” he questioned.
“Yeah, those are dinners,” I explained.  “What did you think they were?”
“I thought they were pets, you know like the aquarium at the dentist’s office.”  He still held a look of both dismay and shock on his face.  “I thought they kept the food in the back.”
It’s not always easy coming to terms with a harsh reality.  Sometimes we see the truth but don’t want to believe it.
So how’s your store doing these days?  Is your buyback bringing a healthy wholesale commission with a nice haul of retail books as well? Is your marketing plan effective?  Are top line sales and sell through strong for you?  Tell me about your rental program?  Do you know your numbers?
After we finished our dinner, Taylor made a point not to look in the tank.  He had previously counted how many were in there.  I think he would have been disappointed if any were missing.
Are you turning your head to the numbers in your store, or are you facing the truth?  It may not always be what you want to see.  However, ignoring fact doesn’t change what is happening.  If your store is facing an erosion there are ways to remain relevant.  Turning your head is not one of them.  We’re not children anymore.  Let’s open a dialog and work together.

Autumn or Fall

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It’s my favorite time of year; is it autumn, or is it fall?  Is it a covered bridge against a hillside of red maples and yellow poplars?  That’s autumn.  Or is it trick-o-treating?  That’s fall.
 Autumn is leaves dancing in the wind, coming to rest in a twisty brook or stream.  It’s wet rocks covered in moist, green moss.  It’s the sound of water tucked deep in the woods.  That distant sound you hear, before you see the rambling flow.
 Fall is Friday night lights, college football, and the Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington.  Fall is tailgating.  Autumn is a Sunday afternoon watching the NFL with friends, and cheese trays, and celery.  Autumn in a neighborhood block party.
 Autumn is for long walks thinking about family and friends.  It’s for memories of those we miss.  Thinking about the good times; appreciation, that’s autumn.  Making memories is more fall.  The laughter of now, children’s birthdays, growing up.
 Fall is a train ride through the countryside, to the pumpkin patch.  It’s finding the perfect orange gourd that will fit into a five year old’s hand.  It’s wearing an engineer’s cap.  It’s your older brother holding your hand up the passenger car steps.  That’s fall.
 Autumn can be found in the same countryside, in antique shops and grist mills.  It’s wine tastings, and apple cider, and side of the road produce stands.  It’s found in bags of Honey Crisp, Pink Ladies, and Arkansas Blacks.
 Fall is cooking apples: small, imperfectly shaped, worm holed fruit, from a century old farm.  It’s chickens in the yard, and the smell of fresh cut grass, as the pasture is trimmed, for a final time this season.  It’s your grandmother’s kitchen.  It’s eating Nilla Wafers right out of the box.
 Fall is a bonfire and S’mores.  It’s the amber glow of delicate coals and a browning marshmallow.  It’s the outer, crisp shell, as warm goo fills your mouth.  Fall is smoke in your eyes as the wind changes direction.  It’s a sleeping bag and a tent.
Autumn is mums on a suburban, swept porch.  It’s a seasonal welcome flag you bought last vacation.  Autumn is a jar candle called “Harvest,” or “Macintosh.”  It’s a house cat enjoying the sun from an open window.
Autumn is rediscovering that favorite sweater.
Fall is finding that perfect Halloween costume.  It’s Clark bars, and Charleston Chews, and candy corn.  It’s a county fair with blue ribbons, and John Deere tractor parades.  Fall is a funnel cake.  Fall is a corn maze.  It’s an un-tucked, red and black, flannel shirt.
 Fall is comfortable.  Autumn is beautiful.
 Autumn and fall, my favorite time of year.


Super Soaker

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Sure, I’ll admit I was drifting a little bit.  Stretched out in the hammock, enjoying the last of those sweet summer rays.  Jimmy Buffett was on the speakers.  I could almost feel those gentle, coconut, trade winds swaying my swing, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
Have you ever sensed that feeling you’re being watched?  Just before you make that drift into unconsciousness, you take a final peak.  You expect to see puffy, white clouds, against the backdrop, of deep blue sky.  Yeah, that’s what you expect, and you sway, back and forth.
What you don’t expect is a five year old hovering over you with a super soaker, pump action, water gun, pointed directly at your chest.  “Go back to sleep, Daddy!”
Daddy was awake; Daddy was alarmingly awake at that point.  Hammocks weren’t made to get out of, not quickly anyway.  There is no graceful way to exit a hammock, and the back and forth that was such a pleasant experience a few minutes earlier, was now a hindrance.  “Daddy, go back to sleep!”
Oh no, there was no going back to sleep for Daddy.  One arm caught, and slightly twisted, in the white, cotton, hammock netting, the other hand firmly planted, on the brick patio pavers, to prevent him from flipping, Daddy was wide awake.
Sometimes we feel too comfortable.  On occasion, we’re too content.  We sway back and forth as if the breeze will never leave.  We feel this way in hammocks, and we feel this way in college bookstores.
We get complacent.  We’d do rental, but we don’t have that one piece on point of sale.  Sure, some students ask for rental, but we’ve never done it, so, you know.  Yeah, you know, back and forth.  It’s the easy way to sway back and forth, sort of sleep your way through it.
And then you wake up and panic.  You’re under the attack of an administrator who wants to know why your store is not offering a program, or a competitor takes market share, or it’s the threat of your store going lease.  Reactions don’t always come easy when you’re asleep.
We like to talk about how our industry changes.  Often times our biggest threats aren’t external.  Complacency to the status quo is a challenge to ourselves.  It’s a challenge to break the lull, to avoid rocking yourself to sleep.
MBS can be your partner.  Whether it’s systems, wholesale strategy or operational, MBS can help enhance your services.  It’s comfortable to sway back and forth.  It’s wiser to look for the water guns.



Waiting in Line

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Waiting in line wasn’t always a bad thing. In high school I stood in line for Merle Haggard tickets. I think I skipped Spanish class to do it. Although, is it really cutting class if the teacher gives you money for tickets? Mrs. Lowndes was cool like that. I think WT and Funchi were with me. However, that was years ago, and I wouldn’t swear to it if they claimed different.
We stood in line for those tickets and questioned who we’d rather have at quarterback, Elway or Montana.  We’d comment on “Family Ties” and “Cheers:” Sam and Diane, Alex P. Keaton.  We’d debate whether “Top Gun” could really happen. We’d laugh. We’d speculate on where our seats would be, and count the people in front of us.
We knew country music. Away game trips were highlighted with boom boxes on back seats of varsity buses. Alabama. Hank Jr. Merle. We’d pass the time watching the Carolina countryside move by those bus windows. It’s a long way to Hilton Head. We learned Winnsboro’s in the middle of nowhere. We waited to play. We waited to win.
We stood in line between classes at vending machines. We popped in quarters for Cokes and Hot Fries. We ate our non-nutritious, calorie filled selections on benches under a tree, waiting for the bell to ring. We’d wait for someone to ask Mr. Hill an obvious biology question so he could respond, “What does the lab say?”
We didn’t have smart phones. We couldn’t text when we were late on a Friday night. We got in trouble when a parent waited for us to come home not knowing where we were. We didn’t have GPS. There wasn’t an app for that.
It was a different time. We stood in line for concert tickets. A Merle Haggard event featured a legend who needed help on stage. There was a single microphone he bumped with his head, as he sat on his stool, with a guitar shoulder strap emblazoned with “MERLE.” A concert where the audience held its collective breath in silent minutes as he sat there, eyes closed, too long. We’d erupt when he began “Could be holding you tonight. Could quit doing wrong, start doing right. You don’t care about what I think. Think I’ll just stay here and drink.”
We stood on folding, metal, chairs, and cheered from the center, of the second row, at the Exhibition Center. If Merle came to town we stood in line for that opportunity. We’d wait for that, maybe two or three concerts a year; we’d wait for that. We stood in line for tickets.
Standing in line wasn’t bad for us; it increased our anticipation. That was our generation, our way.
Today’s students don’t wait in line. It’s a now satisfaction expectation thing I guess. Online concert fulfillment is as expected as iPad registers in bookstores. MBS fills those needs with mobile technology at point of sale and remote buy capabilities. We can bust lines.
Today standing in line is as old school as, well, a single entertainer on a wooden stool on an otherwise empty stage. Today’s passing of Merle Haggard is just another reminder of those times; those days we’d stand in line and talk to one another about life, and sports, and well, we’d just talk because there was nothing else to do.
If you have lines in your store we probably need to talk. We can talk about the good ole days. We can talk about Ronald Reagan, and state championships, and letter jackets. Or, we can talk about today’s students. Those students that don’t understand lines. The students who expect more. The students who are your customers today, not yesterday.  We can talk about your lines.






Have You Ever?

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Crab trap

This week my August travels found me alone on a dark country road during the annual Perseid meteor shower. I turned down a red-clay packed dirt road that ran beside a farmer’s field. In the car I keep an old beach towel. I stretched it across the trunk and back window; climbed onto the car and watched the most amazing show. It reminded me of other experiences I’ve had here in our backyard.

Have you ever tended a crab pot in a tidal creek? Have you ever cast a shrimp net, or caught a flounder? Do you know how to clean and cook what you catch? Have you tasted Mahi off a boat in Morehead City, or eaten in the “original” Calabash?

Have you ever uncovered a sand dollar with your toes, or dug a whelk and felt the sand beneath your fingers? Have you ever seen a Loggerhead hatch on a Carolina shore? Has a splash from a dolphin in the breakers ever been so close the spray left you in awe? Have you seen an alligator dip below the surface, a deer on a foggy hillside, or a bear barrel through a cotton field?

Do you know what tobacco drying in a wood lapped barn smells like? Have you ever walked through the woods and the sound of cicadas are deafening? Have you ever heard a dove coo across a pasture, or an owl hoot? Have you ever seen a bald eagle take flight at sun rise?

Have you ever tasted fresh honey dripping from the comb? Have you picked a peach in an orchard, or thumped on a watermelon, or attended a mountain apple festival? Have you shucked butter beans on a front porch? 

Have you ever tried grits, Palmetto Cheese or boiled peanuts? If I say tomato, mustard or vinegar based, do you know what I am referencing? Have you sipped tea so sweet it hurt your teeth? Have you ever tasted fried chicken and cornbread on a Sunday after church?

Have you ever bounced on a joggling bench?  Have you eaten at an upper floor, corner table at Hyman’s and seen the flags wave above Meeting Street, on a summer evening? Have you ever taken a carriage ride, or a ghost tour?

Have you ever sat in Reynolds Square in Savannah and listened to an old black man play Christmas songs on his saxophone, late on a cool October night? Have you ever seen Spanish moss sway from a mighty Live Oak in an autumn breeze? 

Have you ever been to The Masters?  Do you know how many colors azaleas bloom in? Have you played golf in Pinehurst or Pawleys?  Have you ever ridden a bike in Hilton Head?

Have you ever sat in an empty baseball stadium after midnight and watched it rain; the silver streaks before the still lit light standards, the water collecting on a tarp covered infield? Do you know what it means to have a one run lead in the top of the fifth? Have you ever smelled an April rain, seen yellow pine pollen rivers flow?

Have you ever been to Athens on a fall Saturday afternoon, or Blacksburg on a Thursday night? Do you know the Buses? The Rock? The Hill? The Valley? Does the sound of 2001 and Sandstorm give you chills? Have you been to Cameron Indoor, or the Dean Dome?

Have you ever been hang gliding at Kitty Hawk, or off the top of Lookout Mountain? Have you kayaked in black water, or gone rafting on the Chattooga or Nantahala? Have you ever seen an orange and purple sunset, over the Blue Ridge Mountains, from the deck of a sailboat, on Lake Keowee?

Have you ever seen the horses run in Aiken, or Camden? Have you been to a re-enactment and seen white A-frame tents line a patriot encampment? Do you know canon fire; has the ground moved below your feet? Do you know what color indigo is, and have you felt hand-spun linen?

Have you ever seen a coal burning locomotive puff through an intersection in a small southern town? Have you seen kudzu hang from a railroad trestle? Have you smelled a magnolia, or tasted the sweetness from a honeysuckle vine? Have you seen a Carolina Moon, above a Palmetto, against a deep blue twilight sky?

Have you ever pulled over in a soybean field, looked above, and realized how blessed you are to live where you do? Have you? Ever?



The Bee Store

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SBS 2011

Those were the days; sitting in my Bahamian style shack, listening to Jimmy Buffet, and working on textbooks. Seriously, I built an island shanty in the middle of the store. Well, I watched Dustin and Tim build it. Carpentry was, and still is, not in my skill set.
The drop ceiling was removed exposing the century old rafters where random wiring and Christmas lights hung. There was a wobbly ceiling fan, on a long PVC extension pole, no globe over the bare light bulb. The interior walls were painted yellow, pink, magenta, and parrot blue. The exterior office walls were old lapboard siding that was chipping white layers, exposing the bare wood. The screen was torn in the front door to the shack. The floor was deck board. And there was sand, random piles of sand.
I wore sandals and shorts to work. Oh, and under the rusted tin roof was an abandoned bee’s nest. It was the most unprofessional office ever created. But somehow it suited our college bookstore.
The Student Book Store held several tag lines: SBS, Downtown on the Corner, and the Bee Store. We had an orange and white bee costume. One of our student workers was dancing outside the store front with a boom box when he left his post and hopped on the local bus, still in costume. He came back an hour later smelling of beer and missing a wing. I never heard the details on that story.
The Bee Store had the best people. Ms. G was the matriarch, founder and longtime manager. She started the tradition of gathering after work at a local Mexican cantina. Sometimes others would join us: former employees or vendors. We watched our students grow and graduate. We attended their weddings and now watch their children grow on social media.
There was Mr. George, the kindest man ever to grace 101 Sloan Street, and of course Cyd who left us far too soon. I’ll never forget her calling out titles at inventory, and Mr. George standing on a ladder, “Oh, we ain’t got them. They all gone.”
The Student Book Store has been closed for several years now. Like the famous Study Hall it replaced, the Bee Store will live fondly in memories. The times we stayed up through the wee hours manually re-pricing all the textbooks to beat our competitors. The routine floods from the bar upstairs. Painting windows before football games, and auditing manual cash register receipts when someone left the void key on during book rush. And custom used book stickers.
I was buying books on the other side of the state recently and came across a Bee Store sticker. It was faded and torn after 10 plus years in circulation, but there was no doubt what it was. It’s almost hard to believe it’s still out there telling its story a decade later.
Maybe the last chapter hasn’t been written yet. The lessons we learned back then are still relevant. Young people were encouraged to express themselves. We were giving freedom and responsibility. We were part of something we believed was special. We knew we could make a difference and did. It was okay to laugh at work. We were a family that believed in customer service. Ms. G saw to it.
I wish more places remembered those lessons. I’m thankful a worn, pink, textbook sticker reminded me. Big box retail isn’t always the best way. Sometimes unique is better. I think I’ll wear shorts to work today. And if anyone asks why, I’ll tell them about the Bee Store.


Katy Perry, She’s in My Class

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Feb 004A

So I’m not exactly in Katy Perry’s demographic audience. I’m okay with that. As catchy a tune as “Teenage Dream” might be, it’s not in my iPod top ten. To me Katy Perry has always been another singer for young girls. Then came the Super Bowl.
You have to admit that performance was closer to an Olympic Opening Ceremony than it was a halftime anytime. My wife and kids were in and out during the first half of the game. As soon as Katy Perry rode in on that tiger (or lion, we never really figured out which it was), our room went silent. The entire family was in disbelief at the production. We were silent. Well, until Will, our almost four year old said, “She’s in my class. I know her.”
“Will, that’s Katy Perry,” my wife said.
Will stood up and walked closer to the television screen. “Yeah, I know her; she’s in my class.”
While sharks swayed with palm trees, and danced with giant beach balls, I kept trying to think how Will thought Katy Perry was in his class. Maybe it’s a teacher, or a mother of another student who resembles her. “She’s in my class.” Okay he said it again. He’s so sure.
“Hey, Dear, I’m going to take Will to school tomorrow, okay?” I asked my wife.
She looked knowing at me. “He doesn’t know Katy Perry. I promise.”
Well, just to be safe I took him to school. As we walked across the Pre-K parking lot I looked to the unloading minivans. Nope, probably not that mom. I walked him down the hall where his teachers greeted us at the door. Nope, not them either. No Katy Perry sighting yet.
I leaned over to help put his blue and red backpack on his morning hook. He whispered and pointed to a little girl across the room. “That’s her, Daddy. The one from last night. I know her.”
I did the Dad pretend smile. “Yeah, that’s her.” The brown hair and pony tail gave her away. Yes, a pony tail; the same pony tail Katy Perry had at the Super Bowl.
Sometimes things look alike. Often we focus on the similarities and not the bigger picture. We believe the two are the same because we know one. We can’t get past the pony tail.
MBS Risk-Free Rental is launching. It incorporates the best features of the familiar MBS Rental Program (freedom of setting your own prices, integration with your TA operating system, simple check-outs, and single lines for buyback and rental returns). However, it’s the new element of shifting the risk associated with non-returns that makes MBS Risk-Free Rental new and exciting for stores.
For some this process can be an Olympic shift. It’s like the difference between a four year old and Katy Perry. They might both have pony tails and each have their merits, but one will play with a toy tiger and the other will ride one. I encourage you to contact your MBS Rep to learn more about MBS Risk-Free Rental and how your store can “Roar!”