Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Nordstrom's and Cashmere Socks

 Case Study, Cashmere socks:   I had just taken over new territory which included Seattle, WA.  That part of Washington is among the wettest areas of the nation.[1]  I should have been prepared for my first trip to Seattle, but I was caught without raincoat, umbrella, or galoshes--- and had about a four-block walk from hotel to store.  The hotel was kind enough to lend me an umbrella, but I was still soaked up to my knees after the walk.  After the third day, I was talking to my wife, describing how my shoes were ruined after being rain-soaked for days and she suggested I needed a new pair anyway, so why not go to Nordstrom’s and buy a new pair.  I had just recently learned of the department store chain, but knew very little about it.  It seems that they had sent us a Nordstrom credit card, unsolicited, and we had $300 open-to-buy (likely bought a mailing list from someone, another lender perhaps). 

My wife, having travelled and worked in the Pacific Northwest, was familiar with Nordstrom, and told me, “You’ll love it!  They’re very friendly, have the best-quality stuff, and their main store is just a block or two from your hotel.” 

I wasn’t crazy about the idea, but it was hard to argue that I didn’t need new shoes.  The next afternoon, the rain had ceased, for the moment, so I walked on past my hotel to the Nordstrom store.  Men’s shoes were on the second floor, so I rode the escalator up, thinking the store looked really very nice.  At least three people smiled and said, “Hello” to me between the entrance and the bottom of the escalator.   I found shoes, took a minute or two looking at dress shoes on a table right out front.  The shoes were very nice, but a little pricey for me.  I had never paid more than $60 for a pair of dress shoes and these were all $75-$95.  I could see a young man working in the department, dusting, straightening displays, but he didn’t seem to notice me----very odd for a shoe salesman. 

Another minute or two went by before he moved my way, and when he spoke it was very casual, “Holler at me if you find something you wanna try on.”  Very casual.

As a retail person, I’m always assessing, evaluating the merchandising, sales techniques, pricing strategy, and more when I shop.  This store had me stumped---it was not like other department store chains.  I moved to another table, picked up a couple of shoes, and simply raised my head to glance in his direction and he was looking my way.  I thought, “Here we go—the sales pitch.”

Instead, he asked, “Would you like some coffee?  I just brewed a fresh pot.”

I was aware that Seattle was/is the center of the coffee universe, even back before Starbucks became ubiquitous.  “Sure, just black would be great.” 

He brought me coffee in a ceramic Nordstrom mug, not a paper or Styrofoam cup.  As he handed it to me he said, “It’s a dark roast Arabica bean—we sell it downstairs.  Let me know if you like it—I have a 50% off coupon I can give you.  So, have you seen a shoe you like?”

Was I disarmed at this point?  I don’t know, maybe, but I pointed out a couple of shoes I wanted to try (not too far out of my price range) and he left to go get my size.  He returned with three boxes, helped me try the first two, and then offered the third, “I just unloaded these---and, I thought I should at least show you.  They’re hand-made Italian, a tassel-loafer, like the others you like, but, way too expensive, probably more than they’re worth, but if you have a minute, try ‘em, just to compare.” He was positively giddy.

So, I tried them on.  They were unlike any shoe I had ever worn.  I stood and took a couple of steps and maybe the salesman was reading my mind.  He probably knew he had a sale---maybe not that one, but I was going to buy a pair of shoes that day.

He said, “You know what, why don’t you let me put a coat of polish on your old shoes---it’ll keep them a little dryer as you wade around town.”  He picked them up and started to walk towards his stock room, “It’ll only take a minute, enjoy your coffee and I’ll be right back.”

I didn’t know whether to be annoyed by this or not.  I didn’t have all evening to shop for shoes.  But, I sat patiently for a minute or two and he came back out, without my shoes but with a pair of argyle socks.

“My colleague is working on your shoes, and he’ll bring them out in a just a minute,” he had a huge smile on his face.  “I have something else I think you might want to try.  Have you ever worn cashmere socks?”

When all was said and done, I walked out of Nordstrom’s that day with a $225 pair of hand-made Italian loafers, a $35 pair of cashmere socks, a pair of cedar shoe trees (free), a great new shine on my old shoes (free), a Nordstrom coffee mug (free), and a one-pound bag of coffee (50% off).  Oh, and some rubber galoshes (apparently, they really did wear them in Seattle), about $8.   The salesman’s name was Chad and he’s been sending me Christmas cards for nearly 20 years now.  And, I still have the loafers---that kind of shoe never goes out of style.

Nordstrom’s is unique in its segment---that level of service I have described was the norm, not an exception, not unique to men’s shoes, but a cut above the other department stores I’d visited over the years before and since.  At the time I attributed it to luck, lucky hiring, very good training and supervision.  But, this was the home store, the flagship.  Would it translate to other locations?  That question was answered a few years later when they opened a store in Sacramento, where I lived at the time.  The store was staffed with former employees of the other major department stores in the area, NOT known for great service---but, in a very short time, they were as good as the Seattle staff.  They were the picture of a culture of respect. 

I’ve analyzed other organizations with similar cultures of respect and I‘ve use a variety of tools over the years to foster a comparable sense of respect and gratitude in my own organizations.  It may sound blunt, but the secret I’ve found that will make this happen is  “relentless nagging,” not in a negative, pushy way, more of a positive, supportive fashion.  Practice it at every level, every day in every encounter inside and outside your company.  Build a system of rewards and consequences to fortify your efforts.  Set the standard at the highest level and never compromise.   

Lesson for entrepreneurs:  Nordstrom’s product offering was not unique.  Other men’s stores had similar high-quality stuff, the store was nice but not markedly better than Niemen-Marcus or Sak’s Fifth Avenue, yet Nordstrom’s had a clear, distinct competitive advantage in the level of respect offered to customers---and, as I learned later, for its employees.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Why I call myself a Patriot

The official DOD figure for combat or combat related deaths in Vietnam: 58,300
The official casualty figure for Korea: 33,741

6,800 military deaths since the “war on terror” began in 1999

We watched filthy rich football players turn their backs on our national anthem—and someone asked, “Why?  What are they protesting? Could any of us do that at our jobs?”  This is not a complicated thing for me, when the National anthem plays, I stand at attention with my right hand on my heart.  Do I do it because our country is perfect, because our government does everything right, just, and fair?  Nope, that’s not it.  I have several things on the wall in my home office, my college diploma, a tribute to John Glenn the Astronaut, framed certificates & medals for accomplishments at work or in school, my framed photos commemorating the Saints Super Bowl win, and my “Thank you from a Grateful Nation” for my active duty service, signed by Richard Nixon.  Am I less proud of my service because Nixon was my Commander-in-Chief?  Hell no.  Am I less proud to be an American because we went to war over the “domino theory,” a flawed premise?  Hell no.  I stand at attention, get a lump in my throat, because of the  100,000 young men (mostly) who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, and for the families, and friends, whose hearts were broken—during my life time.  That’s more than 4 times the total population of the Parish where I grew up—can you imagine that?  Every man, woman, and child in Plaquemines Parish, four times over. 

We learned in Civics in fifth grade, that being Americans meant we have certain rights, but there are obligations that go along with that, our responsibilities.  Among those responsibilities are be good citizens, abide by laws, vote, take part in the democratic process—and for some, serve, either in the military or as volunteers in the service of people who need a hand up.  My family has a heritage of military service, my father, my father-in-law, several uncles on both sides of the family, brothers-in-law, many cousins, nieces and nephews, so it wasn’t a tough decision for me to enlist.  I’ve told the story before about a friend who died in Vietnam on Christmas Eve, 1970—that event erased any doubt I may have had.  Since then, I’ve thought of myself as a Patriot—and when you think about it, that’s a little odd.  I’ve used it to sort of differentiate myself from . . . anyone who’s not a Patriot, but without actually examining the thought.  Now, it’s clear, at least in my mind.  I love my country, I stand at attention during the National Anthem, I pause EVERY time I see our flag flying, because I am a proud patriot, proud of my contribution as a citizen, proud of all the things good about our country, and honored to be part of making it better.  Anyone who does not see things that way, who does not live up to the responsibilities of citizenship, does not honor those who battled to earn and preserve our freedoms, is not a patriot, does not deserve the rights that come with citizenship. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Best Things in Life (50 years ago)

I'm sure there are lots of guys out there that had similar passion for baseball when they were kids.  It's funny that I have so few vivid memories from when I was 8 or 10 or 12 years old--but I can remember things about baseball as though they happened yesterday.  I remember trying out for 'majors' with Coach Bourque watching.   We played Little League (or Dixie League--a long, sad story) on the fields in the Town Site, near the tennis courts and the Community House.  I don't remember the kid's name I was playing catch with--he had bright red hair as I recall.  Coach Bourque walked up and down watching us catch and throw--and I made 'Majors.' I remember a big kid named Mike throwing to try to catch me stealing second --instead hit me in the face.  It hurt but I got over it--it was maybe my only steal.  Years later, Coach Cormier asked me not to try to steal (I was too slow, though he didn't come right out and say it).   I remember playing 'under the lights' in Belle Chasse for the first time ever--we didn't  have lights.  Our infield at the PSHS was all dirt, and I can remember the dust and the smell when it was really hot and dry.  I remember my first home run in high school, at a park somewhere in Chalmette--I had grounded out the AB before and coach Cormier suggested I take off my spikes and put on my "tennis" shoes--my black Converse All Stars, because I was dragging my front foot, not getting a good stride--and, it worked.  I smashed the first pitch over the left field fence--with a runner on first.  I don't remember my slow trot around the bases, but I can see the ball fly over the left-fielder's head, like it was yesterday.  Few memories from boyhood are as rich and satisfying.

I remember Kenny Sonnier hitting a home run at Mel Ott Park in Gretna--with major league scouts in the stands (we heard).  The fence was short, just over 300 ft., but it was 50 ft. high.  Kenny hit it over the fence, across the street, into the 2nd floor of the building on the other side.  I was standing at the end of the dugout and I can see the ball, still rising as it cleared that chain link fence, and crashed into the brick wall.  Nobody cheered at first--they couldn't believe it, but then suddenly we realized what had happened and I think even the other team's fans cheered.  We heard later that Kenny was the first and only high school player to every hit a ball over that right field fence.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


Health care is not a right, but (that’s a loud, emphatic BUT), we have the resources, as a nation, to make certain that no one suffers or dies from lack of access to quality medical care.  We have the resources to guarantee that no one who acts in good faith will have to choose between food/rent and seeing a doctor.  We have the resources to provide the best pre-natal care to every expectant mother.  We have the resources to help our aging population live a quality life, maintain independence and dignity.  We have the resources to make access to health care a non-issue for all Americans. 
So, what are we waiting for?  One word: PROFIT---health care is a "for-profit" business.  If we’re too kind, too generous with our existing resources, there’s not enough profit in health care, hospitals, or insurance companies for wealthy investors to make adequate ROI.  And, our new government doesn’t have the courage or strength of character to legislate health care over profits (because many of them depend on contributions from big investors—or, they are big investors themselves).   I know, beyond any doubt, there are thousands upon thousands of people in the country who do not have health insurance because they can’t afford it, or perhaps in a few rare cases, prefer not to buy health care.  Many work full time for small companies that don’t offer group coverage, or they don’t work at all.  So, when they do need care, often times they wind up at emergency rooms, knowing that they won’t be turned away (look up EMTLA).  Maybe Medicaid will pay, or the hospital will try to collect—or will eventually write it off.  In any event, I, we, wind up paying for it—and I’m OK with that.  I may need help myself, someday, and trust there are others who feel as I do, that we, as Americans, have an obligation to help when we can.  Again, this is not a partisan opinion, it’s simply my opinion of what’s right and just—and American.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Free Kindle Editions

Starting tomorrow, 7/12, download FREE Kindle editions of both Mike Madison adventures.  If you don't have a Kindle, you can download the Kindle reader software for your iPad, tablet, smart phone, PC at then download both Mike Madison books FREE.                                          

Click HERE to go to Amazon and see both titles:

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Political Leanings

I've talked before about where I stand along the political ideology spectrum. I have very close relationships with my brothers, but we have widely disparate political views. I’m the oldest of four sons, Brother #4, the youngest, is a conservative Republican (married to a conservative Republican), Brother #2 is a very liberal Democrat.  I am somewhere in between, as is my smart, beautiful wife. Sadly, we lost Brother #3 many years ago, but I'm confident he'd be in the middle with me; but, I don't stay long in any one spot. I listen and learn--and then, where and when it makes sense, I change my mind—it’s the grownup, reasoned thing to do. I like to say that I lean neither left nor right, rather I stand upright in favor of truth, reason, and logic (just to give my brothers a hard time). In spite of my malleability I do have some deeply entrenched biases (and I’m perfectly aware of how they influence my opinions), and I’ve tried to stay as objective as possible over my long life time.  For the sake of clarity (mine and my readers), I'll follow this with a series of posts offering my perhaps unique views on some of the controversial topics--those creating the divide, that vast chasm between right and left.


Patriotism, part 2

I don't know what my political affiliation is. I'm neither Republican, nor Democrat; I don't belong to the Tea Party, the Libertarian Party or any kind of Green Party--I have very little in common with any of them. I'm neither conservative nor liberal. What I do know for sure is that I love my country--I'm a patriot; and, as a patriot I have certain firm beliefs about my patriotic responsibilities. For example, I enlisted in the military and served over 10 years, first in the Air Force then the Air National Guard. During that time our country was at war, a controversial war, a war based on....what? The Domino Theory they called it. It wasn't a direct threat to our home or our freedom; but, the theory was that if we did not stop communism in SE Asia, free nations around the Pacific would fall like dominoes--until the scourge was coming ashore here in America. Well, we didn't stop communism in Vietnam--and it spread all the way to Laos---and then stopped. We never did have to fight any communists in Baton Rouge or Port Sulphur. So, the Commanders-in-Chief who led us during the Vietnam conflict, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon (2 Republicans, 2 Democrats), were they liars or traitors, or just mistaken? Even today, nearly 40 years later, in spite of the fact that 58,000 young men (mostly) died (including two good friends), I would never dream of calling any of my Presidents liars or traitors. In fact I truly believe that anyone who does is a coward and a traitor. You may think that's harsh, but after careful consideration over a lifetime--it's my opinion and I know it's right (even righteous, to borrow a thought from Dan Madison). All that is accomplished by the name calling is to widen the divide between groups of would-be, wanna-be patriots. Real patriotism is deeper than that. The problems our nation faces (not as bad as the conservatives suggest--not as good as the liberals want you to think) require a concerted effort by all of us, working together. But, that's not going to happen because neither side can see beyond their narrow little view and their notion that they can prove they're right by proving the other side is wrong. Wrong.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

"Lesson for Entrepreneurs," excerpt from How to Succeed in Business, by Bracy Ratcliff

Case Study, Dark Shadows:  We’ve talked about cleanliness, now let’s discuss “safe.”  For several years, while in the gasoline/convenience store business, I tried to work one shift per month in each of my 10 or 12 stores.  Often it was a mid-shift, 2PM to 10PM, occasionally a third shift, and it was often an adventure.  One night, on a third shift, at a store in Petaluma, California, I think it was around 3:00AM, a women rushed into the store, but paused as soon as the door closed behind her.  I said, “Good morning, can I help you find something?”

She stuttered, sounding as though she was out of breath, “F ffflavored coffee creamer.”

I pointed to the dairy doors, “We have Irish Cream and French Vanilla, quart size.”

She grabbed one, came up to the register, and as I handed her the change from her 20-dollar bill, she asked, in a timid, shaky voice, “Would you mind watching for me to get to my car?”

I said, “Sure, come on, I’ll walk you out.”  I had no idea, until that moment, how un-safe, un-inviting our store was in the middle of the night.  The parking area was, per the Fire Marshall’s direction, away from the front door and the surrounding fire-lane, and by default the closest spots were in a rather dimly lit part of the lot.  It was a combination of things, first the store windows on that side of the building were blocked so no light was shining out, the lot lights were shrouded in fog (like so many other nights), so when I first stepped out I couldn’t see the woman’s car.  I walked her over and waited for her to start the car and pull away. It was painfully obvious that she had been truly afraid to walk to and from her car.  The next day, we moved two parking spots closer to the door and installed flood lights on the side of the building to light up all of the parking spots.

Later, I spoke to the manager and the other night-shift employees and was disappointed to hear that they’d had several comments about how dark the lot was—so, here’s the lesson for the entrepreneur:  know your facility, inside out, in daylight and dark, in fair weather and foul.  Make it safe and inviting.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Where has all the honor gone?

When I was a boy I had this talk with my Dad and my Grandpa about what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Grandpa was in favor of police officer or firefighter because they were noble professions—they were people who put the welfare, the safety, and the security of others above their own.  Daddy said soldier, sailor, or marine were good, too, for the same reasons.  The conversation continued and included lawyer, judge, and Congressman.  Elmo and Grandpa agreed that “those were noble professions.”   For most of my life I’ve believed that the vast majority of public servants were noble, honorable, courageous people of character.  I’ve believed that people who chose that path, did so because they had a desire to serve, a sense of altruism, a righteous motive to do good for others.  I’m not sure any of that is any longer true.  To my friends in Louisiana---please don’t be offended, I know there are still honorable men and women, serving the public good rather than serving self, but the former are in such a minority that I worry, “What chance do we have?”