I earned my business stripes selling newspaper advertising in Tucumcari. It was the 1980s and I was 20-something with the confidence to tackle anything.
I found out I had a lot to learn and I got it one stop at a time from business owners and store managers in a small town that came of age in heyday of Route 66. I found out the most important thing I could do was listen closely to my advertisers, try to understand their business and expand my own business when the right opportunity presented itself.
It was especially sad to learn that two of those business people I learned from died late last month. Joe Cooper and Katie Whitson and lots of others had patience with me while I was learning and offered respect and trust in me as I matured and put me on a good course.
Katie was a firebrand and owned a Western wear store called Denmor’s Corral in downtown Tucumcari. She didn’t need to work in town, her family had a ranch and she could live comfortably, but she wanted to contribute to the downtown economy, give shoppers choice in their buying and prove a woman with spunk could make it in retail.
She fretted a lot over her ad buying choices and selling to her didn’t come easy. Like lots of small retailers, one month she would be going full steam ahead, settin’ the world on fire and the next she would be broke and ready to close the doors.
She had what was required though, she knew her customer and what they would buy and while she didn’t mind setting fashion trends she still had a practical eye.
She advocated tirelessly for downtown and was genuinely concerned about how the businesses around her were doing and ready to help us all think outside the box from time to time.
Joe Cooper ran a Thriftway grocery store called Cooper’s Market and was soft-spoken and gentle but at the same time strung tight as a circus high-wire. He was short of stature, even shorter than me but keeping up with the man moving down the aisles of his store without breaking into a run was impossible. Like many old grocers, he bore the marks of his trade on one hand with a missing digit.
He budgeted his entire year out for advertising partially because that’s what you had to do as an Affiliated Foods member but mostly because that’s the way Joe rolled. He couldn’t precisely control the sales in his business but his purchases should and would be planned.
I picked his ad up at exactly the same time every week. In those days, Affiliated stores got camera-ready ad mats delivered on their truck and most grocers just changed a few prices or substituted a few items — not Joe. He was determined most weeks to completely rework the ad. So he quickly marked things up with a non-photographic blue pen and then quickly explained what he wanted done. You had to listen carefully because he only went over it once and moved on to his next task at top speed.
I eventually learned a few tricks about keeping up with his rapid footsteps and his ad markups and we got along great until I went on vacation and sent someone else by to get the ad.
Katie and Joe both managed to balance old-school business tactics with new ideas and both served their community and employees well.
Karl Terry writes for Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org