Keeping up with Jones’ can be costly advice

January 29, 2002 9:20 AM
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Las Vegas has now had four months to reflect on the terrible tragedy of September 11 and how we’ll try to make 2002 as fun and profitable as 2001 started out.

Right now, we’re in the midst of a war and an era of fear ”” fear of getting on a plane, fear of opening our mail, and, in some cases, fear of the racial profile of our neighbors. Even the fear of facing a terrible economic recession. But, as most Las Vegas historians will tell you, in time of recession, Vegas has always been the last to succumb and first to recover.

That was, until recently. Many retail store operators, as well as laid-off hotel workers, will be among the first to confirm that.

Is it because of actual events or the reaction to events?

Perhaps part of the answer can be found in a story written just prior to our country going into the recession of the early 1980s and once relayed to me by friend and author Bea Fogelman. The story, with a little literary license, went like this:

Mom and Pop Jones enjoyed the ownership of a good-sized, well-run convenience store in the middle of town. It had expanded several times. Many of the townspeople were employees. For many years they prospered, grew and had a happy, financially comfortable life.

Pop and his employees handed out candy to neighborhood children, assisted their mothers to their cars and kept the shelves well stocked. Mom had a staff of employees, who enjoyed mailing cards to customers on their birthdays, as well as sending them thank you notes for their patronage. Mom also made sure to invite all the customers to their sales and special events. They even knew most of their customers by name. They never failed to offer holiday entertainment, sponsor contests and donate to community causes.

They were planning to expand again, when their son, who had never worked in the store, came to visit right after earning his economic and political science degrees at a big university. He warned them that the country could be facing drastic changes and perhaps an economic slump! His advice was to cut back on everything, immediately.

A bewildered Mom and Pop wondered how that could happen during such a high level of prosperity and low level of overall unemployment, while sitting on a surplus.

The son warned: “Times are changing. It’s time to cut back on stock and stop spending money on promotion and community efforts and to thin the staff of employees and stop entertainment programs. We are facing possible bad times, perhaps a depression!”

They realized that their son was schooled elsewhere, in a more sophisticated place, and an expert in economics. So, they decided to follow his advice. They warned all their friends who owned shops so that they could lay off employees and streamline their businesses, too.

Soon, cutbacks in offerings cut customer selections. A lower profit margin resulted. Their customer service slipped, since their number of employees was shrinking. The joy of business was waning. The Jones’s began to back away from the community; no longer planning events. The candy for the children and the greeting cards ceased. Direct mailing stopped. Customers started to go elsewhere. Their store, as well as others in the neighborhood, once busy with laughter and conversation, was very quiet. They eventually had to salvage what they could and close the doors.

The entire original little parable was written right before our country went into serious economic recession in the 80s that many thought could have been avoided. Though, even then, as in the 60s and 70s, Las Vegas in the 80s (even with a gas crisis, new competition from Atlantic City, and unsettling affairs in the Middle East), unlike today, felt the economic crunch far later and far less severe than the rest of the country.

Perhaps that was because, then, the shelves stayed stocked, the variety of offerings stayed plentiful, promotion and amenities were not decreased, people were kept at their jobs, customer service remained a priority and the other shops down the street didn’t always follow the Jones’s!