an early view of the Mercantile Department Stores - circa 1898
The picture above speaks to beginnings. For a retailer, the Mercantile Department Stores, and for a couple of guys in the training program.
Sometimes beginnings have no answers. My friend sat in front of me, lost himself and seeking some advice from anywhere at all...anyone at all!
Jeff was holding his cell phone in both hands in front of him, peering into the screen like it somehow might hold all of life’s answers in it.
“JD, I look back at the decisions I made now, and think that maybe I just fell for a scam; that they appealed to the desperation in me to get me to sign up.”
“Jeff, I’m not sure you can go that far,” even though the thought had crossed my mind a few times too.
“Now I’m out a couple grand or more, have nothing to show for it, and not a trace of dignity left either,” and with that, I saw the first tears I have ever witnessed on the face of my friend.
Jeff and I go way back.
Twenty years ago, we both worked in the management program for a middling retailer that would eventually run itself out of business, and were both going to Fairfield Ohio for management training that would help us be better merchants.
I was married all of 10 years, and Jeff was engaged at this time to a lovely young lady with the looks of a goddess and the charm of a rock.
But we had aspirations!
For me, it was the chance to make something of myself after going after an ill-fated degree in Geography with emphasis in cartography (mapping) that had the computer era pass me up before I could get established in the market.
For Jeff, it was the realization that being married to "rock-girl" meant he needed to make a lot more money than he presently was by simply painting houses. He had a degree in geography too, but had the same fate I did initially, and had to consider a career change.
So we both took the retail path to personal wealth and success, and in the 1980’s, that path was still marked by low pay, but had both job security and upward mobility.
We moved through the 80s together, keeping tabs on one other, and competing to see who had the best sales numbers for a department on a month-by-month basis. I managed the men’s clothing department, and Jeff spent a lot of time managing men‘s accessories, so we were often together.
In 1997 and 1998, Mercantile Stores got bought out, leaping around from owner to owner till eventually it all rolled up under Macys Department Stores. Jeff and I were out of work as management personal and were offered light severance packages as we were phased out over a period of a few months and told to "kindly leave please."
I landed lucky.
I got on with a big wholesaler/retailer that I have been with ever since, and slowly started to rebuild an off-track career.
It was a huge long shot at the time, but I got in.
Jeff, on the other hand, had few options.
The turn of the century saw clothing retailers consolidating, as too many players were in the market and some had to fall out to make any sense at all. Add to that the starting of economic woes in the middle of the decade, and Jeff quickly piled up 7 years of no traction and low-end jobs in retail.
So in the process of feeling bad for himself, and feeling the pressure of a wife that had expected better and now was hinting at filing for divorce, Jeff sat in front of the TV one night and caught a commercial that spoke about “jump starting his career” by going back to college. It struck a chord!
He could go back to college, get a degree in a high demand field, and get his feet back under him, in the process saving his esteem and his marriage!
He talked to his wife, who basically said that “something had to give,” and enrolled that next week.
This was in 2007 or 2008.
Jeff did not share this plan with his buddy J D, in part because we were still a bit competitive and because he was embarrassed to be "left behind" in the workplace. I certainly wish he had shared, although I am not sure I’d have told him anything that would have changed his mind.
He was going after something business related,…like Business Administration I think, and that kind of job was in high demand;…
.................just ask ANYONE in the university!!!!
Jeff slowly but surely worked his way through classes, shelling out a lot of money in the process, and now has a degree from “WeGotYa” University, but came out of school right after the economy had already been down 12 straight months, and the recovery is looking more and more like a jobless one.
Now he is sitting in front of me, with not one degree but two,….and not one job but none,….and I have to admit to wondering if an “additional” education was really worth anything to anybody but the university supplying it?
It is almost like these "higher education mushrooms" are sprouting up like fungii all over the place, preying on the economic downtrodden, and filling them with hope of a new direction, when (at least in the case of Jeff) the direction was still down.
As for Jeff’s wife, “charming as a rock” has recently filed for dirorce and already has a boyfriend.
I think he is a professor somewhere.