Monday, September 20, 2010

Going Out of Business!

One of the memories I have of a sudden fit of joy was while I was walking down Westwood in Los Angeles. I was a poor immigrant student with huge dreams and very little green bills. In one such moment I spotted this watch shop. The name of which escapes me.
It had a huge banner hanging on its front face.

" Going Out of Business! Entire Store on Sale!"

That was my first brush with corporate cunning. I walked inside the store happy and unaware. Every watch on display had a strike-through price. The strike-through price was significantly more than the red-underlined price below it. As the strike-through prices elicited "Oh My God really?", the red prices made me go, "Phew! That's so much better!". As the watches sparkled and beckoned me I recalled my Class 6 maths lessons.

There were several lectures dedicated to marked prices, sell prices, and profit margins. The odd thing was that there were no problems in that chapter that dealt with loss margins. No matter how lowly a price the sell price turned out to be in comparison to the marked price, once you complete working out the problem correctly, lo and behold, there emerged a "profit"! In some cases I managed to get loss and I knew what that meant. I had to re-do my sum. It was a sure give away for a math-muddle made.

As I looked at these watches, their lowered red prices held me attracted.
An old man ambled towards me. He looked at me and said,
"Yeah that's a good one. Very expensive but now so cheap. That's what happens when you go out of business." He shook his head sadly.
I looked up. A part of me wanted to know the deep woeful story that was forcing this fat rich looking man to close his business. Was it a bumbling disobedient son? A prodigal daughter? Or both who squandered away his riches and forced their father to sell the last vestige of his hard work? He looked pretty happy. That seemed odd.How can a soon to-be-out-of-businessman look so dapper?

Maybe he had a mistress hidden away in the alleys of Venice? He was scuttling away from America to be with his secret paramour! That would explain his undue gaiety.

I tried to remember any out-of-business Bengalis. None came to mind. Bengali-s weren't exactly known for their business acumen. Too much fish and mustard made them PhDs and literary figures. The closest I could come to a business man was our chowkidaar/ gate-keeper. He had a side business of selling eggs and milk. He got hold of my mom and subscribed her to a month's supply of milk. Of course he coaxed her about how "new" his business was and how he had to have a month's money in advance before even the first packet of Mother Dairy could be dropped at our doorstep. My mom complied. Hardly ten days into the verbal contract, milk stopped appearing. Two days of condensed and evaporated milk teas later, my dad took matters in his own hands. He did a minor sleuth work.He found out that our gate-keeper had a new business model. The milk line of business was completely abandoned for the egg line. Since we were the milk customers, we got a personal hand written message of regret and one last packet of milk.

My dad was not a man to be messed with. This time he did major sleuth work and found out that the new egg line shop was set up not so far away from our locality. He decided to drop by. He picked up about a dozen eggs, smiled and started walking off. Our gate-keeper was aghast. When he asked for money, my dad said, you do have quite a bit of that left over from the milk money, don't you?

That was the last we ever heard of or saw his shop. He really went out of business and out of Kolkata. Maybe still sells his millk-n-eggs in Bihar...who knows.

I was jolted out of my recollection, by the old man standing right in front of me.
He was expecting me to go ga-ga over his amazing under-priced collection. It wasn't bad. The "80% OFF" was a neon light drawing me to it like a moth. After a laborious scrutiny of his watches under the glass cover, I selected two of them. One for myself and one for my sister.

As he gift-wrapped my purchases, he reminded me again of what a steal I had bagged and how infinitely happy I would be wearing them while his shop would disappear into nothingness. It hit me.

"Does this mean this is all Final Sale? No returns or exchanges?" I asked perplexed.
"Yes of course. I am going out of business. What you buy now, it is yours for eternity. Don't try to bring it back, not that you would ever want to return these wonderful watches." He answered smilingly.

It has been five years since that incident. Last time I dropped by Westwood while visiting my school, I found his shop still standing. It still had the banner proclaiming its eternal "Going out of Business status", only the font size and colors were different.

What kind terrific business acumen made him able to retain his business for so long? Was "going" never going to "go"? I realized that shops like that were actually flourishing all around me. They had a going-out-sale and then a few days later a "coming-in-sale" after altering a vowel in their names and declaring it as a new business. Selling things at final price also gave them the edge on getting rid of unwanted stocks and zero return policy.

The watch I bought for myself, stopped ticking long time ago. It went out of business much before its shop did. I guess it kept its promise and timed itself to die in empathy with its master, who never kept his word.


Anonymous said...

Good one. I experience this myself at Sears in Palo Alto.

mandeepm said...

Interesting read:)

Rajarshi said...


sunita said...

Nice write-up. I enjoyed reading it .. have you ever thought about writing a book??

Enakshi said...

Going out of business seems more like empathy marketing :) Nice read, nice write-up from ur daily life

shantha said...

good write-up...u have this in you !

Rahul said...

He he, this is such a wonderfully told story.. you always were a good writer.. must be all the fish and mustard ;)

Anonymous said...

Very true. Nice one ..!! Customers have to watch out for so many fake lies. Even bank executives make a perfect entrapment to catch people by making all sorts of arguments to prove what a great offer they have for you.