It’s Not Rocket Science

The woman who works for me, eleven years my junior and twice as strong, told me that when her hot tub broke, she told a man at her community pool in Hayward that she needed a rocket scientist to figure out what was wrong with it.
“I’m a rocket scientist,” the guy said.
A good pick-up line? Or was he for real? Anyway, the guy came over, couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and the woman who works for me cut up her hot tub and threw it away, little by little.
Her story reminded me of my business partner’s daughter when we opened up our antique shop.
For anyone thinking about opening up an antique shop, here’s a word of caution. Don’t do it. EBay has made antique shops obsolete, or as one browsing man said my first month in business, “You don’t sell anything anyone needs. You are never going to make it.”
Aside from his rude manners, the man did have a point, so over time I morphed into a costume shop, because school kids needed costumes for book reports, biographies, field trips, plays, and Halloween.
Back to the rocket science comment – my original partner didn’t work much. Instead, she parked one of her five children behind the counter on her days. This was not part of our original agreement, but then I realized that our partnership was pretty loosey-goosey, not a good way to start a joint effort.
If daughter #2 made an error, her comment would be, “It’s not rocket science, Susan.”
I often wondered that if it wasn’t rocket science, then why did she continue to screw up? The morning I came to open the shop and found the door not only unlocked but also standing open, I looked at my thousands of dollars of inventory inside and thought, I don’t need this partner anymore.
I changed the locks and told the woman we were done.
“I told her to lock the door!” she said.
“She didn’t,” I said. ‘You are sending your kids to do what you should be doing. It isn’t working out.”
We lasted five months as partners. After that, I lasted another six years without her.
Customers were either super rude or as nice as could be. No in-between.
“Who are you supposed to be?” a woman asked on the first day.
“The Polka Dot Attic,” I said.
“Well, I know every store in Danville, and I don’t know you!” she said as she stormed out.
People came in and stole stuff. I bought things from people. Big mistake. None of it sold. What people wanted to sell me was not what I would’ve shopped for. I should’ve said no.
Some people brought in old things and gave them to me. That was okay. If I didn’t like them, I could donate them.
Dishonest people came in and switched tags, or took 50 percent off stickers and moved them to other tags. Some moms wore costumes and then tried to return them. My workers and I were constantly trying to keep one step ahead of those who were less than honest.
One of my adult workers was skimming cash from the register. I caught her one day and fired her. She sent me hate emails for two weeks.
I made my rent every month but one, July of 2008. I had just moved my shop around the corner and didn’t have a sign yet. The management company said they would make it, and it took its sweet time.
I morphed into an everything store. I sold a lot of dishes, new signs, old books, and vintage stuff. I had trouble with the restaurant patrons next door. They would block my doorway with their bikes and strollers. I would move them. They would scream at me. It was ridiculous.
I learned how to be a business woman. I learned how to say no to people. No, I didn’t want to sell their pot pourri or bath salts in my shop. No, I didn’t want to buy their worn cowboy boots that smelled like manure. No, I wasn’t giving them their money back on the antique quilt they put in the dryer until it shredded.
I lost a few customers. But I had a ton of new ones. I gave away free lollipops.
“You’re going to regret that,” one antique store owner said.
I regretted it all the way to the bank. Kids came in for the suckers; their parents followed. They saw what I had. Some of them bought stuff. I managed to bank 100K over the six years.
I gave a coupon for every sale. Come back next month and get 20% off. I had lots of repeat customers.
The management company wouldn’t renew my lease in 2011. They were going to renovate. I closed up in one day, donating everything to the American cancer society. Three guys and a truck packed for five hours and took it away. That’s fifteen man-hours I got for free.
The next day, all I had left were the fixtures. It was a cleaning day.
“Where is that teacup you had in the window?” one woman said. “I was going to buy it.”
“Gone,” I said. “It’s been half off for a month.”
You should’ve bought it when you had the chance, I wanted to say.
“Which cancer society store is it at?” she asked.
“I have no idea,” I said.
Come on, lady, it’s not rocket science.

Couldda Wouldda Didda

I took my business online and sold outfits and teacups on Etsy for five and a half more years and used the “rent” money I didn’t spend to add onto my house.

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