I Put Don Trump On Hold

May 24, 2017

Yes, Don Trump, phoned me and I put him on hold.

Several years ago Lexington Furniture, a seller of higher end furniture introduced a collection called, “The Donald Trump” collection. Mr. Trump at that time had emerged as a celebrity through the show, “Apprentice.”

Remember, “You’re fired!”

To many people, Trump became representative of the so-called “good life” with “glam” and “luxury.”

And, this is why Lexington’s CEO, Phil Hoene, sought Trump to collaborate on a collection of high end contemporary bedroom and dining furniture and, importantly, attach his name and brand to the furniture.

In the Minneapolis Marketplace, there is a relative few retailers who sold these higher price points. With four prominent stores in the Metro and being a Lexington dealer, we were as logical as any to be the choice of Lexington to buy and display this collection. We were shown the photos and the prices of the furniture. Our decision-making was colored to some extent by a similar look collection we had sold a few months earlier. It was a good day when we sold off the remaining furniture because we hadn’t done well with the look. Of course, this was different. The Trump collection priced much higher, took the look and went further. As a team, we all felt it was a real stretch for us and we told Lexington that.

So, out of the blue, around noon one day, I picked up my ringing phone and heard, “Mr. Schneiderman, this is Donald Trump. He engaged with some nice comments about our store’s reputation and while he talked, one thought occupied my mind, “Which one of my friends was gassing me, who does impersonations?”

Realization set in. This is “The Donald.”

But who would believe me? Our Merchandising Manager was just a couple of doors away. I needed her to witness and verify!

“Mr. Trump, I need our Merchandising Manager to hear this, I’ll put you on hold for just a minute.”

I virtually ran out of my office, “Susan, Susan…”

She joined me now in my office and I pushed the lighted button and asked hopefully, “Mr. Trump?”

His “Yes” had lost a little of the early friendliness, but he sounded earnest when he said, “Look, you’ll do what’s best for your company, but I’m very proud of the furniture and I hope you’ll give it a chance. People love the prototypes.”

He added, “Something you may consider is the benefits to your brand you may get from being the exclusive “Trump Collection” showroom in Minneapolis.

Well, we didn’t buy it for the reasons I’ve mentioned, but both Susan and I thought his conduct to be professional, if not warm.

Now, I wonder. Could a benefit have been a cabinet post? Larry Schneiderman, Secretary of the Interior?

I guess we’ll never know, now.

3 Nevers

May 15, 2017

Max Schneiderman’s business philosophy could be summed up with three statements. Actually, more to the point, his beliefs could be summed up by three “Nevers.”

• Never spend money advertising.

• Never have sales.

• Never pay commissions.

And, after my brother, Russ, and I purchased the company, we continued to operate Schneiderman’s for several years conforming to Dad’s philosophy. He and our Mom lived next to the Meadowlands store and that was probably a good enough reason to not cross his philosophy. I knew it when he was displeased.

We first abandoned the “no advertising” dictum when we opened Schneiderman’s Bed and Recliner Gallery in Duluth. We really stepped it up when we opened our first metro store in Lakeville. We needed an identity and so we developed an ad campaign featuring this crusty but wise curmudgeon as our spokesperson. With more than a little irony, Dad enjoyed being that curmudgeon. We developed a whole series of these ads. My favorite headline was, “Some Furniture Stores will say anything to get you in their stores, I won’t.” As in all of the ads, Dad’s picture along with his signature were prominent.

The newspaper ad, “Three out of four Schneiderman’s think a clearance sale is a good idea,” got a lot of attention. This actually was our first sale. Dad didn’t have to fake his distaste. He wasn’t happy and warned me, “You’ll have one sale after the next from now on.” I expected the silent treatment for a couple of weeks and I wasn’t disappointed.

The third “Never” happened a couple of years later. We introduced sales commissions. I don’t even know how he heard about it, but he made a trip over to the store to once again warn me we were on the road to extinction.

Where Dad went wrong was to use the word “Never.”Life isn’t like that and neither is business. In fact, one could say, “Never stop changing to stay relevant in a changing world.

Dad and Mom shared much wisdom over the years. Dad was a gambler and a crazy successful entrepreneur. No doubt he would have done whatever was necessary to be successful.

Panhandlers

April 29, 2017
By Larry Schneiderman  

In the 1850’s, a newspaperman wrote about being encountered by a man asking for a handout and likened his extended arm to a handle on a pan. Hence the expression, “Panhandler.”

What to do about those sad-looking guys at stop lights asking you for money? Panhandling. Or, begging if you prefer.

Since the first time I was confronted by one of these folks, it caused a short-term conflict within me. Sometimes, I would contribute; sometimes I would not.

Most drivers refuse to roll down their windows. We really don’t want to get too close. Some, women especially, feel at risk. And I understand that. Most drivers look straight ahead wondering if the damn light will ever change.

Is the window separating us from these pan-handers a metaphor for the line we draw between them and us? I’ll keep the window shut, I don’t know you and I don’t want to?

One beautiful summer day, I brought my car to a stop on Lake Street right behind a cherry red Corvette convertible. I could see the guy saunter over to the driver and I opened my window, curious how this exchange would go. The driver, looking about 25, stuck his index finger at him and yelled, “Get a f—– ing job you lazy shit-head.” With that and with a green light, the convertible took off, and I followed slowly feeling sorry for the poker-faced guy left standing there who obviously had heard this before.

I encountered a middle-aged guy carrying a sign, “Need money for beer, why lie?” People seemed more likely to contribute because as one acquaintance put it, “At least he’s honest.”

But is he? Why are we willing to believe this is his story when we don’t believe the signs that say, “Iraq vet, needs your help.”

Or is the man holding the sign with the “needing beer” message confirming to his customers what he already knew they thought of him?

A banking executive with deep, strong ethical roots told me her family had encountered a man at a stoplight with a sign as they headed for church one Sunday morning. She didn’t stop. One of her boys asked, “Mom, wouldn’t Jesus have helped the guy out?

She told me, she struggled with the charity aspect in comparison to the work ethic question. “Help wanted” signs hang everywhere these days. Why don’t they get a job?

I share her struggle.

Yet, by giving them a couple of bucks and possibly a smile, do we buy some sense of gratitude for our good fortune in life?

An attorney friend of mine told me his dad was homeless. Hard to believe the genes of this ambitious and successful man could be from a homeless father. But it wasn’t the genes; it was an addiction to alcohol that brought him down and away from the family. He deserted his wife and my friend when he was just a kid. Maybe, he thought he was doing them a favor.

My friend, the bank executive, and I came to resolve together. In the scheme of things, the panhandlers are not looking for our advice or even our approval. Hence, it is pointless to try to teach any lessons here. Neither of us wants to be judgmental. We both count ourselves as lucky in many ways.

We decided, henceforth, we will give each one a couple of bucks and wish them well.

And, I will think of my friend’s dad who left a fine son and couldn’t have done everything wrong.

The money won’t make a difference for either of us, but it’s worth something to feel like you landed on the right side of kindness and shared a little from your pan.