The past few days I had a chance to witness American business firsthand in Kansas with a fireworks retailer.
Now for most of us in retail, the week before Christmas is the busy time. Time for gifts. For long hours. For stress. Most retailers make their living based on how well they do or don’t do from the day after Thanksgiving until New Year’s Eve.
Just imagine your whole time to do that is at most a week, maybe days.
Imagine how important your advertising, training, stocking, and merchandising would have to be. And the rest of the year you would have to design, manufacture and ship your product to arrive on time and in the right amounts for that one week.
When I stepped into this retailer’s offices at 8pm on a Sunday night, their whole crew was there working. They’d been there since 7 am for a couple days already. They would stay until about 2am even though the store closed at 10 pm.
When things went wrong, they would laugh it off and say, “It’s fireworks season.” When a semi-truck broke down, one of the owners was off to drive it to the warehouse, pickup product and deliver it.
The previous year a microburst storm had blown down their large tent on all of their product. They moved it and were up in hours after making sure all the people were OK.
One guy told me you would have to be crazy to take a product that has to be kept watertight, put it in tents in the middle of tornado alley where major storms could arrive at any moment. And alternately, where no rain might show up ahead of the holiday resulting in fireworks being banned.
And yet they do it. Have done it for generations. In rural America. With non-profits who give back to their communities in all sorts of ways. And not just that one retailer but hundreds, maybe thousands across the US.
With a fierce determination. With employees. With volunteers. With a smile.
And I share that spirit with you readers today on our nation’s birthday because retail was there from the start.
Retailers created Main Street.
Retail was there on Independence Day when our founders could have been held for treason. Could have lost their land privileges. Could have lost everything. To their countrymen back home, those Americans could have been seen as crazy.
Just as small retailers opening for business tomorrow will face known and unknown odds stacked against them. And yet they too do it.
That’s what makes America, America. It’s that we as Americans have a dream and work towards it.
With everything in the world saying be fearful, anxious and hopeless, it is retailers who need to connect backwards to that original spirit of hope for a better world.
While it can seem overwhelming at times, we retailers must honor the legacy we've been entrusted with. The spirit of those pioneers, those signers of the Declaration of Independence, those foremothers and fathers who believed, as I believe, in a hopeful future.
That’s the American spirit. The reason we celebrate.
The flame we need to nurture at all times; but especially on this Independence Day in 2012.
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