Thursday, May 18, 2006

Customers: Part 16 - Elite Tier

   Our store was in a peculiar location. Down the boulevard was one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, across the street, one of the richest. Heading west were strip clubs, pool halls, and Neiman Marcus. Farther down, construction sites, then prairie. The rural beyond. Customers came in all types, soccer moms and dancers, cow punchers and CPA's, oil riggers, gangstas, doctors, students, hustlers. These people were great and they were difficult, in similar ways, and in different ways.
   Rich folk were dicier.
   If they threatened, "I could have your job," one's first thought was, "Yay, let's trade!"
   If they wailed to Corporate, however, one braced for impact.
   Generally, we knew our Customers. For some, we jumped. Others, we dodged. Or tried to.
*

   "This is Suzette. I need to place an order."
   Mandy forwarded the call to me. The caller, and everything she represented, unsettled Mandy.
   "Hi, Suzette, what do you need?"
   Suzette requested fifteen different titles. I wrote quickly. Suzette, as usual, needed six copies of each. One copy for each residence.
   For Suzette, I dropped everything. She was one of my Regulars, a leftover client from my Classical Manager stint. Suzette worked for the absolute richest family in the city. They owned downtown. Also six residences scattered across the planet. Our town owed much to their beneficence. The Professor was completely intimidated by the family.
   Suzette usually placed massive orders. One Christmas, she ordered 300 CDs for employee gifts. She only dealt with The Boss or myself. We checked availability and notified her if an album was deleted. Otherwise, we alerted her when the order was assembled. Then a suit arrived, flashed the credit card, drove away.
   Now and then, Suzette paid in advance.
   Like this day. Suzette read off the credit card numbers.
   I read back the account, then joked, "You guys are awful trusting. I could go buy myself a new, red Mercedes with these numbers."
   She laughed. "Oh, you wouldn't do that."
   "I could be a complete conman."
   "Ha ha. One, Mercedes don't come in red. Two, we vetted you. Background check. You and your boss. That's why we only deal with you two."
   "What!"
   "You're very secretive, by the way. But you already know that."
   I caught the comic tone in her voice. I let it go.
   Placed the order. Phoned the downtown tower two weeks later. Everyone connected with the family, the office workers, the young men in suits, were always patient, tolerant, and realistic.
   Class acts.
*

   Before hiring on at Camp Bowie, I worked two seasons for the Symphony. Manned the Subscription and Donation Tables during performances by The Symphony, The Pops, Keyboard Recitals, and The Ballet. Bonus perk = free seats.
   I was hardly a shaker in the Arts scene. My trophy bride and I subscribed to this and that, gave money. We stood near the periphery, avoided the intrigues.
   We knew the scuttle, though.
   Cowtown hosted The Keyboard Competition every four years. For three weeks, pianists from across the globe pounded the ivories. Advancing contestants would perform with a string quartet. Finalists squared off with the symphony orchestra backing them.
   Winners received hefty cash prizes, record deals, and world tours. Past medalists included Radu Lupu and Cristina Ortiz. Some non winners, such as Barry Douglas, found glory elsewhere. Douglas placed third one tournament, went on to win the Tchaikovsky Competition gold. Still others, like Youri Egorov, became cult figures.
   The Keyboard Competition was fiercely independent. Our chain, our store, had never been involved beyond taping their posters in the alcove and in the Classical Room. We stocked up on the RCA catalog. Also past medalist's catalog (reference names above), and select judge's catalog if available. That was the extent of our involvement.
   This year, Keyboard reps contacted Corporate.
   Would we like to participate?
   What did they mean? Participate?
   The Boss and I exchanged comments. I had observed a few events, he had dealt with them when one of the Mikes was Classical Manager.
   District bosses overruled misgivings, they were full throttle affirmative. Prestige and jingling cash registers sparkled in their eyes.
   We were the ones, however, driving that little red wagon.
*

   The initial Keyboard liaison was a nice lady. Older widow, retired. Had never worked Retail. Never sold anything, not even lemonade. We offered to order the catalog of the hometown hero. 30 copies each of everything, and 200 of the Tchaikovsky. Phoned Katia at RCA, she readied the orders. Advised we order CDs of previous medalists, as well as the judges. Also suggested adding a section of artists for the upcoming season.
   Well and good. We would place orders, phone Keyboard Competition when all units had arrived.
   Storage? The Boss offered one of the new bins, capable of holding several hundred CDs.
   "Great. Thank you."
   Finally, we would transport the bin and discs. Set everything up.
   "Thank you so much."
   Whatever was sold, we would split the profit 50/50.
   "That sounds -- Wait a minute -- The people back at -- Uhh -- Mmm ... "
   Sharing ... wha ...
   Parents and preschool teachers understood the importance of transitioning children from the Mine attitude to Share.
   As we grew older, all of us recognized those who never embraced the concept. Always Me and Mine.
   The Keyboard Clique wanted the bin, wanted us to order and price the CDs, wanted us to ferry everything to the competition site.
   Also wanted all profits.
   At this point, I was no longer involved. Neither was the friendly liaison lady.
   The Boss - Corporate - Keyboard Officers swapped calls.
   Two of our guys drove the CD bin to the arena.
   We placed the order. When it arrived, The Boss instructed me NOT to open or price anything.
   Shrewd move.
   CDs were ordered behind our backs. Direct from vendor. Discs were priced two dollars higher than our normal prices.
   We opened boxes on an as needed basis. When the Competition ended, we returned all unopened cartons.
   Two of the guys went to retrieve our CD bin. It had somehow been painted. We could never use it again on the Floor.
   Six months on, we're waiting to hear that hearty thank you.
   Don't hold your breath, Pilgrim.
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