Back in the 1960’s, I was working for Bernie at the Fred’k H. Sprague Co., Inc., otherwise known as Hunter Sportswear. The company manufactured ladies casual clothing: Bermuda shorts, slacks, pedal pushers, culottes, skirts and the like. We sold them throughout the country at such large department stores as Macy’s, Filene’s, Gimbels’s, Rich’s of Atlanta, and a number of ladies specialty shops, such as Casual Corner. We had a factory store that was always busy. It was a good business, and I often accompanied Bernie to New York City where we maintained a sales office in the midst of the garment district.
I learned a lot about business, and life, from Bernie and his associates. It was a highly competitive, even cutthroat, industry and Bernie taught me to be on guard at all times. For example, if you were sitting in the reception area of an important buyer, in the prestigious offices of the Empire State Building, along with your competitors, don’t ever leave your samples behind while you visit the restroom. It was a right of passage that someone would take a sharp blade and cut along the seam of your sample Bermuda shorts. Then, when your time with the buyer came, and she put her hands inside the waistband to snap them open, the seams would give and the pants would come apart in her hands. She’d throw them back at you and say, “Get this junk out of my office.”
Another time, Bernie warned me about the sales experts who visited the manufacturers having a slow season. Looking at the heaps of unsold garments, they’d say, “Here’s the deal: I’ll sell all these for you in return for a 20% commission, payable in cash, upon shipment to the customer. I only sell to the best name, big department stores. They’ll even pick-up, in their own trucks.” The desperate manufacturer might accept the deal. Within a day or two, trucks from the big name stores would arrive, load up all the merchandise, sign for it, and be on their way. The “expert” would be there to collect his cash commission, shake hands, and be gone.
One to two months later, the trucks would come rolling back to the manufacturer, carrying most of the same merchandise. It turned out the “expert” had indeed sold them to the prime stores, but on consignment. He had told them: “There’s no obligation: Sell what you can in the next 60 days, and ship the rest back to the factory, at no charge.” The manufacturer would be out the 20% commission, out the fresh garments he had shipped, and too often, out of business.
Bernie deserves a book of his own, for him and for his stories, but I always remember one piece of advice he gave that stuck with me all these years. We were having a meeting with an important client, and I was presenting the spring line. The client had asked me to bring along a model or two so she could see how the clothes looked on a real person and not just on a dress hanger or a mannequin. I failed to do that. When she asked where the models were, I honestly replied: “I forgot.”
The showing went on, but we didn’t get the big order.
On the way home, Bernie said to me: “If you make a mistake, don’t ever try to get out of it by saying ‘I forgot.'”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because,” said Bernie, “‘I forgot’ isn’t a reason, it’s an excuse. When you say ‘I forgot’ some people hear you saying ‘Whatever you wanted wasn’t important enough for me to remember it, or to write it down.’ They take that as an insult. You put them down and offended their dignity. There’s a price to be paid for that.”
Not another word was said on the subject. The next day, I bought a pocket Day-Timer in which I wrote down everything I had to do, and everyplace I had to be. I still use it today. It’s even more helpful as you get older.