Mark My Words—May, 2018

By Mark Lipton,

  Filed under: Departments, Mark My Words

Contributing Writer

Mop ’Til You Drop


“I don’t want to be in charge of cleaning the floors, yet there I am with a mop in my hand!”

I can be very difficult—at least that’s what my daughter and fiancé told me the other night. Apparently I’m a terrific guy with a heart of gold whom most people love dearly. Buuuuuut…I may have some personality flaws that make me a challenge, at least for my family. If I had a few minutes, they continued, they’d love to discuss one of these flaws with me. If there’s a silver lining in this, I did find out recently that I take direct criticism very well!

I soon realized that in our family of three, when we don’t all agree…it’s best to be on the side with two. My dog, whose name I’ve changed from Perry to Benedict Arnold, sat there quietly taking it all in. He proved that night that the title of “man’s best friend” is strictly ceremonial. I’m going to stop making him bacon on Sunday mornings, though I wonder if he’ll make the connection.

My rebuttal that night was that you have to take the bad with the good—maybe it’s that unique impatience I display at times that makes me so loving and wonderful when you actually do what I ask. Every blade cuts on the way out as well as in, and that goes for my personality as well as my life as an independent paint retailer.

For the most part, I enjoy being a paint retailer……buuuuuuut! I love the flexibility. I get to set my own hours. I love that when I work hard, it’s (generally) me (or up until that fateful conversation, my ladies at home) who gets the reward. Buuuuuut, being a paint retailer has some down sides as well. Like my family, I’m forced to take the bad with the good.

For example, I staff my stores well enough that I (almost) always have the coverage I want. It’s often close though, because I also try not to pay for a single unnecessary man-hour. That plan works perfectly…except when it doesn’t. When someone calls in sick or has the nerve to take vacation, that’s generally when I am forced to step in: particularly if it’s one of the managers.

I generally don’t schedule myself to work at the counter because it’s not an efficient use of my time. When I get stuck there, I do get frustrated and difficult! When I’m stuck at the counter, I feel trapped. When changes that stick me at the counter happen last minute, I really don’t like it! Generally I am pretty booked up with other work I do (these columns don’t write themselves) and I am sure that the disruption comes out in my attitude.

Knowing how these things get in the way for me, I try to manage them. We are too small to have a policy manual, but my guys know that if they want to take a week’s vacation I need notice (unless there’s an emergency, of course). It doesn’t mean I won’t work with someone who has a last-minute opportunity, but at least I set the table the way I want and establish some expectations. I’m generous with vacation time, but I need plenty of notice: the bad with the good!

Being an independent paint retailer means that I’m in charge of basically everything in both stores. I don’t mind making decisions on topics that are important to me: pricing, credit, personnel, and other “high altitude” issues. But I don’t want to be in charge of window displays, cleaning the floors, or other smaller things: yet there I am with a mop in my hand! But these small details are crucial for smooth operations and creating a positive shopping environment. Thankfully, taking the bad with the good doesn’t mean I have to perform all those tasks myself. That would be just taking the bad! I do, however, do a lot of them.

As you finish in your store today, or start a new day tomorrow, try to focus your efforts on the areas where you feel you are most productive, or at least that bug you the least. Tomorrow may be the day that someone walks in and buys 50 gallons at retail for cash, or it finds you digging through the trash to find a check that was accidentally tossed out: in the life of an independent paint retailer it’s never all good. Sometimes you’re the shaker and sometimes you’re the spill!

Mark Lipton is the 4th generation owner of Tremont Paint in New York City as well as a consultant to the coatings industry.