ONE CLOWN SHORT, page-12

"Oh, so Butane Bob has paid you a visit? I didn't even know we had any stores until he
asked me to plan this trip. All my marketing strategies have been aimed at entertainment
companies and their purchasing agents. No one has ever said anything about the stores."
"So what do you need me for?"
"I think Lulu told him that's what he had to do. I have a funny feeling he didn't know we
had stores either."
"Really?" Mandy was surprised by that comment.
"Did you know we had stores?"
"Honestly no. I'm so wrapped up with those crazy sales reps, it never dawned on me that
we had a second sales channel."
"I've been doing the research. At last count we had 159 retail stores in North America.
We're going to visit ten of them."
"What do you think we're going to find, if no one around here even knew we had a store?"
Mandy asked.
"When Butane Bob first told me about this trip, I said to myself, ‘This will be an experience.'
Then when he said we were visiting stores that no one in the company even knew existed, I said,
‘Well, this will be an experience.' But when I factored in that I was going to be on planes, trains,
and automobiles with Butane Bob, I began to feel sick to my stomach. This will be far more
than an experience—it's more like a once-in-a-millennium lunar eclipse!"
"Gee, thanks for the pep talk, Violet. Now I feel sick. I can hardly wait to call travel and add
my name to the list."
"Good thing is, it looks like we'll have some free time in Louisville. Maybe we can have a
girls night out and pick up some cute jockeys or rich horse owners. What do you think?"
"We'll see how it goes, Violet. I think we might be opening a huge can of worms out there,
and it just might be more exhausting than you think."
The itinerary arrived from travel later that day. "That was quick and efficient, unlike
everything else around here," she thought. They were scheduled to leave for Minneapolis bright
and early Monday morning.
The threesome met at the airport. They were all groggy and in need of their morning coffee,
but Starbucks hadn't opened yet. It was that early. Once on the plane, Butane Bob happily
settled into his first class seat without any regrets. Violet and Mandy both tried to get some sleep
while scrunched into middle seats back in coach.
Apart f rom Violet spilling coffee all over herself, the plane ride was uneventful.
32"
While waiting for the rental car, Mandy asked, "So, what's the game plan for today?"
"No game plan. We're just going to wing it," said Butane Bob.
"Wing it?"
"Yes, wing it. Frankly, between you and me, I don't know what else to do. Don't tell
anyone, but I didn't even know we had stores until Lulu told me. Even she agreed that we have
no idea what we're going to find out here."
"How many stores here in Minneapolis?"
"Three, I think. Violet has the addresses. Hop in, ladies!"
In true Butane Bob fashion, he laid rubber on his way out of the parking lot. As they pulled
up at the first location, everything appeared to be normal. It was a neighborhood shopping center
with a grocery store on one end, a drug store in the middle, and a Big Top Supplies at the
opposite end. Butane Bob had no trouble parking in the closest space to the front door. He
would have parked in the handicapped space if Violet and Mandy hadn't protested.
The store greeter gasped at the sight of Butane Bob.
"Good morning," he said in a cheery voice. "How are you doing today?" But he couldn't
keep his eyes off the hair.
"Morning. My name is Butane Bob, and this is Violet and Mandy. We're from the Big Top
headquarters in Florida."
"Really? No one's been here or even called from corporate in a couple years. Do you have
some ID?"
"Sure. Ladies?" Butane Bob was deferring to the two of them to produce the identification.
They began to fumble through their handbags for their badges. Violet found hers first and blew
the kazoo in celebration
"Well, we're here to change that. Is the store manager here?" asked Butane Bob.
The greeter scrutinized the badges, and then blew his own kazoo once he was satisfied. He
then picked up a megaphone and shouted, "Bob. Bob to the front. Urgent, Bob."
Almost immediately a smartly dressed young man in a neatly pressed but faded Big Top
shirt and khakis stood before them.
"Hello, I'm Bob. How can I help you?"
Butane Bob went through the introductions again. As he did, the store manager's eyes got
bigger and his mouth began to fall open.
"Bob, we've come here to find out how to better support our stores in order to drive more
revenue."
"Better support? Is that what I heard you say?"
"Yes."
"You've got to be kidding! Just support us. Send us inventory to sell. Don't make us beg,
borrow, and steal to get it. Return our phone calls, give us some training—do something. You
pay the rent and deliver the payroll, but that's it. Advertise to get some traffic in here. You didn't
need to make a trip all the way here to find that out. A simple phone call would have sufficed."
33"
Butane Bob backed away, pushing Violet forward. Using her sweetest and most sincere
tone of voice, she said, "Bob, we have come here to genuinely help. We've only recently been
made aware of the state of our stores and have come here to develop a plan to change that. Your
reputation as a terrific manager is well known in Florida. That's why we chose you to help us."
"No one in Florida even knows I exist. I took this job with the promise of advancing my
career. And where am I, five years later? Nowhere! And suddenly the three of you show up and
are going to save the world! Or should I say the circus?"
Throughout this tirade, Butane Bob had been slowly backing out the door. He was going to
avoid any confrontation at all costs. Mandy stepped up.
"Bob, let's do this. We understand that you're angry. So why don't you show us around the
store and your stockroom. Then we'll sit down and log all of your action items for us. That will
give us all a clearer picture of where we need to go. We'll bring in some lunch for you and your
staff. How's that?"
He took a deep breath. "That will be fine. You caught me off guard, that's all. I've been hung
out to dry and ignored for so long here."
"I do understand. Let's wipe the slate clean and get started."
As Bob led them through the store, Mandy and Violet were busily taking notes. They sent
Butane Bob to get lunch for everyone. He was making just-plain Bob nervous, anyway. Might as
well give him a task he was good at and get him out of the way.
The shelves were sparkling clean but as bare as Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard. There
was only one pair of clown shoes in stock, sized fifteen wide. On a rack for two dozen styles of
balloons, there were only two lonely packages. There was an abundance of kazoos, however,
all with the Big Top logo, in big barrels at the end of every aisle.
"Bob, let me ask you a question. You have so little inventory, but your candy shelves are
completely full. Are you being stocked with candy and nothing else? That seems odd to me."
"I go over to the drug store when they have sales and stock up on circus peanuts and
gummy bears. Then I send in an expense report. The check always comes back for twice what I
ask for so I use the extra to get what I can in the way of inventory at the wholesaler down the
street. I've never been able to figure out why the check is for more than I send receipts for. I
tried to return it once and the check kept coming back."