Mark My Words—June, 2018

By Mark Lipton,

  Filed under: Departments, Mark My Words

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Contributing Writer

When General Sherwin Marches In

I slept really well last night. I didn’t spend the night tossing and turning; I got into bed and fell right to sleep. I didn’t groan or shout out in my sleep (according to my fiancée at least) and didn’t wake up with that jaw pain you get when you spend the whole night in anxiety filled teeth-grinding. No pools of sweat marking the sheets like the chalk-line around the body at a crime scene, I just laid my head down softly on my pillow and fell asleep.

As you try to scrub the image of me in my SpongeBob SquarePants “onesie” pajamas out of your head, I promise you, this is leading somewhere.

Yesterday during the day I wasn’t sure I was going to get much sleep at night. On my way up to see a customer yesterday morning, I passed a big sign on an empty storefront: “Sherwin-Williams Paint Opening Soon!” Right down the street from my main store?! Panic set in. Sherwin Williams! HERE? In New York City, SW stores were never all that common. But over the last few years they’ve been adding more and now you can’t fling a dead rat in this city without hitting an SW store.

I am not generally a worrier by nature. I am not the kind of father that says to my daughter “call me when you get there!” I don’t panic if I see my fiancée talking to another man and when bad months happen in my stores (hey…I’m in retail…bad months happen) I don’t sit around thinking that the sky is falling.

But a Sherwin-Williams store a few blocks away…now the sky WAS falling! The demon that lived in and threatened me from the dark shadows all through my paint career was now out in the light. All this was made worse by the fact that a few months ago I looked at that exact space and thought about renting it and moving my store there. Now, as I stood in front of the store that was soon to belong to my mortal enemy, all my brain will do is recall what I was thinking the day I met the realtor: what a great location…what great parking.

I spent the day worrying. Which of my customers would they call on first? How low would I have to cut my margins to compete? How many of my employees would they steal with offers of riches and a 401k? Would I need to change my store hours? Would I need to significantly increase what I spend on marketing? As I zombie-walked through the rest of my day, I answered all these questions in my head by assigning them all the worst possible outcomes. There was reason for hope though. I became confident that if I cut my margins to 2%, added Sunday hours and gave all my larger customers an extra 120 days terms all while working in the store alone, I would be able to survive.

Then, the long drive home. Not wanting to waste the time, I efficiently spent my commute assigning blame. Why didn’t my father know that this was going to happen to me when he opened this location 50 years ago? How could he risk my future like this? Why hadn’t Benjamin Moore rented that spot (and every other empty space within a mile of me) to protect me from this outcome? This was clearly my father and Benjamin Moore conspiring to cost me a night’s sleep. I managed to get all the blame assigned just as I pulled into my driveway.

At dinner, I broke the news to my family: we had to sell our cars and move to a one-bedroom! I sobbed as I told my daughter that she could not go back to college in the fall and explained why. Then, as usual my kid and fiancée spoiled everything. “Doesn’t Sherwin-Williams already have like eight billion stores?” my daughter asked? “Aren’t some of them really close now? How is this store going to ruin you if all the others haven’t?” she mused.

My fiancée asked “Do they sell Benjamin Moore? Isn’t that the most popular brand?” These two ruin everything: Excuse me, but I’m trying to be miserable here! By the end of dinner, things were starting to look up. A busy mall right up the street will bring more traffic. not less, which means more customers, not fewer…even with a Sherwin-Williams in it. Property values will go up and I own the building! Survival seemed likely.

We finished dinner and I lit a celebratory cigar as we cheered my slaying of the giant!

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