Why are you selling Hodges Hobby House?
Answer: In order to smell the roses.
Here is the story: For several days prior to November 5, I was mildly ill with what I thought was the “flu.” Silly me! By the time my wife rushed me to the local hospital Emergency Room, I was in septic shock from ascending cholangitis. A gallstone had lodged in my common bile duct. The doctors later said that if I had arrived 30 minutes or so
later that they might not have been able to save me. I spent about 5 hours in the ER, then two days in ICU, followed by two days in a regular ward, and then surgery. I no longer have my gall bladder – thanks to a laparoscopic cholecystectomy! Thank God for doctors and hospitals.
I had a close call, perhaps it was a “wake up” call.
So, I have decided to end my ownership of Hodges Hobby House after 25 years. It is time. I am 65 years old and it is about time to smell the roses.
About one year ago I wrote the following to one of my young web competitors who probably grew up with a computer in his bedroom:
Sometimes, my on-line shopping cart makes me think that I have died and gone to heaven! Click, click, tap, tap and the order is entered into my computer and the invoice printed. Isn’t modern technology wonderful!
When I started in the “mail order” business in 1978 my only technology was paper, pen, a Smith-Corona portable typewriter that my parents gave me upon High School graduation and a small calculator made in Hong Kong with instructions written in Chinese. I had placed an advertisement in Boys’ Life magazine and had visions of opening tons of mail and extracting dollar bills sticky with peanut butter and jelly from little kids fingers and mailing out my book. Alas, it was not to be.
One Saturday morning, I shall never forget that morning, I received a call on my home telephone (I had no business telephone) from a customer who had received my very small catalog and could not wait for the mails to send in an order. He had found me through an information search and wanted me to ship some merchandise right away. Much amazed,
I took the order and mailed the items to him with a bill. It was then that I realized that many of my customers were operating with a “short fuse” and that time was critical in this business. So I added a business telephone line, got a Visa/MasterCard merchant account and United Parcel daily pickup.
[Sorry – interruption – an order just came in from the shopping cart. BRB. Click, click, tap, tap.]
Catalogs were printed on an old hand crank Mimeograph machine. Orders were processed by hand. Invoices for telephone orders were written by hand and totaled using the calculator. Address labels were typed on the old Smith-Corona and later on a used IBM Selectric. Credit card slips were also written by hand, run through the imprinter (remember the imprinters?) and then called into the bank card center to get the authorization code. UPS orders were hand entered into the UPS record book with full name and address. Lots of writing and lots of duplication and way, way too many telephone calls. Many a night during the busy season I worked until midnight or 1 a.m. and then got up at 4:30 a.m to go teach my classes.
About 1983 I acquired my first computer, an Altos dual floppy unit running a Z80 at 4 MHz and using the CP/M operating system. Glory! I wrote my own software in Bazic (an optimized form of Basic designed for the Z80) and the order entry process was considerably simplified. I finally talked (read “begged”) my bank into allowing me to print tab feed credit card slips at my own expense and submitting them instead of their slips. Eventually I talked (read “begged”) them into allowing me to submit the credit card orders via modem to their authorization center. Technology was beginning to simplify my business.
The rest you can guess. A fax machine – cost about $1300. MSDOS. Pentiums. Windows. E-mail. A shopping cart. Now, the fax machine and telephone are strangely quiet. There is only the beep of my e-mail program announcing the arrival of an order. Click, click, tap, tap.
Many years ago a customer paid me a visit at my home in Glendale. He was a medical doctor and also held a PhD in Electrical Engineering. To say the least, he was no slouch intellectually. During a long evening filled with marvelous conversation, wine and pipe smoke (mine), he asked me: “What kind of business are you in?”
He knew as well as I did that I was in the pinewood derby business. But that was not what he was asking. Without any hesitation I replied, “I sell dreams. The dream of winning the pinewood derby.” He nodded knowingly.