1967 – 1979 Gastown Years. Scandinavian Import furniture business. The main store in Gastown at 157 Water street, was an eight story old warehouse building. The basement and two first floors were sandblasted back to its old red brick ans heavy timber. When I first leased the building, I paid $5.000 in annual rent, when I left it was $55.000, and now it is probably many times that. Gastown went from a dead old warehouse area to become the in place in town for many years, and is still a restaurant and tourist area.
We were like all the other stores open from 9 AM to 6 PM. Thursdays 9 – 9, Saturdays 10 – 6, and Every sunday from 11 – 6. That was hard on me, and the staff. With 3 floors to cover, one needed 5 persons to keep the store open, more at peak times. With all the tourist just browsing, it could often be difficult to see who was a potential customer for some very expensive, hight quality import furniture fra Scandinavia.
I was teaching the sales staff key phrases to use, to weed out the non serious. Never just ask if they could help, that would give a negative response. Always specific; looking for a Rosewood dining set ? Leather recliner ? Teak bedroom ? One had to be selective the visitors to try, because on a normal Sunday there could be 1 000’s in the store, and only 5 % potential customers.
On any given day I cruised the floor to generate sales. It was also my job to see if any of the sales staff needed help to close a sale, I would then introduce me as the owner, did not look like an owner, 25 years, and usually a pin stripe suit and silk tie. That was the normal clothing those days. All my staff were older, and that trick did not always work. Some wanted an older looking boss. Some customers wanted to talk to the real boss.
That is when I called Leo …., from the warehouse. Leo was the oldest of us all, probably retired when he came to me for a part-time job, just having moved to B.C. from Quebec. Leo had gray hair, a nice work frock, with his name embroidered over the chest pocket, real stylish. He was a good listener, for his english was not that great.
When Leo got to the place of closing the sale, I would do all the talking, saying; Leo, these nice people are interested in this Teak Dining suite, and those two leather chairs. We have come close to a deal, but they wanted to talk to the boss, to see if you could throw in the footstools as a bonus on the purchase, and if we could deliver it all before Wednesday, their anniversary ? That is such a good deal that I thought they better talk directly to the boss. It that ok Leo ? Would you accept this deal ?
Leo always agreed, he had no idea what the prices for the various items was, and did not care, his domain was to get the orders on the trucks in the morning and get the deliveries done. The customer was also happy, they got to talk to the real boss, and get his best price. We closed many deals like this, and Leo got better at it as time got along, he liked to play that role. Saturdays and Sundays he showed up, just for the fun of it.
One weekend, one pretty lady looked interested in some of the furniture, bust she was dressed in paint covered jeans, so I ignored her, trying to see which of the 5 % I could make a sale to, or actually hitch a salesperson to. I mostly cruised the floor to get lay out the bait, most of the sales staff was better than me to actually take the customers through their purchases, but I did some sales myself, after all I was a furniture dealer.
This lady, for example, she tried to strike up a conversation about this or that furniture item a few times, and I ignored her, she did not look as if she could afford anything we were selling. She finally grabbed me by the shoulder, for a specific question, I had to slow down and take her serious.
The next hour she picked out over $ 30 000 worth og some of the nicest furniture we had, Westnofa Rosewood dining set, Vatne leather sofa and chairs, Asko items , Marimekko accessories; she had class and knew what she wanted, furnished a large apartment suite. On her card it said she was the French Consul, we delivered and invoice to the Consulate. She became a regular customer, and often came by just to look or say hello.
The first day she came in, she had worked on her sailboat, getting it ready for the spring launch, thus the relaxed, almost shabby clothing and dressing. There is a saying not to judge the dog on its hair, and this is so true, give everybody a fair chance.
One day I got worried about Leo, he and his wife were alone in town, he had not come to work or called, so I went to see him. His wife had been really sick, and to and from hospitals he did not call me. I got a surprise, his whole apartment was filled with my furniture, a fair lot of it. None if it was missing from the inventory records. I have no idea how he collected it, but he had found a way, and I never figured that out.