Hodges Hobby House

The following was originally written on my web site for Hodges Hobby House, WinDerby.com, in 2003

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:

Hello  ****,

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.

Best Regards,
… Hugh


About Hugh Thomas Hodges

I am a retired college teacher who lives on the San Francisco Peninsula.
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One Response to Hodges Hobby House

  1. Greetings Tom Hodges I doubt you remember me I had you for BASIC programming when you taught it at EL Camino, I was also in you PE/Backpacking class as well as a few history classes.
    I just finished my first year as a teacher. I live in the east bay area now and was teaching at Hercules H.S. perhaps we can chat some time. My email is norman@abshear.com Norman Abshear PS I have somewhere a picture of you at Sesbe Creek.

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