Mark My Words—August, 2018

By Mark Lipton,

  Filed under: Departments, Mark My Words

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Contributing Writer

No More Dog Days

“There is only so much money I can fit in my pocket at any one time.”

My dog died last week. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. More accurately: my dog got very ill last week and he was not going to recover; so my family and I showed him mercy and laid him to rest. After 13 years of unwavering loyalty and a never-ending (though one-sided) conversation, my best friend Perry is gone. I hiked thousands of miles with him; he never tired of it. And I saw him kiss so many babies I used to joke he was running for office!

Trying to rent a house a number of years back, the agent told me “no pets.” I asked if we could meet the landlord so Perry could make his own case and she set it up. Four years later, we are still renting that same house and the landlord cried when we told him Perry was gone.

Of course, life goes on and deadlines don’t care about your personal life so here I am, crying at my desk thinking: “What does Perry’s death have to do with my life as an independent paint retailer?” As soon as I figure that out, you’ll be the first to know! I’ll try to get there but I warn you: I may not be able to pull this off.

For my regular readers who have often told me they look forward to how I start my columns by poking fun of my daughter or fiancée, I wanted you to know I’m just not feeling it today; sorry. I’m sure I’ll be back with stories to tell. The madness that is my life with these two women won’t be stopped by our misfortune with Perry. This weekend, while we were too sad to cook, we made a run to the local deli. Staring up at the menu-board, my fiancée asked the teen working there: “what’s on the ham and cheese?” If confusion were a picture, it would be this kid’s face! With these two young ladies around, I don’t see me running out of ideas to start columns with anytime soon.

I was never the sort of guy who wanted to own the whole world. I could not even count the number of times retailers “interviewing” me for a consulting job asked “If you know so much, why don’t YOU have 10 stores?” I never wanted to work that hard and Perry was part of the reason. It felt better to be with my family, Perry included, then it did to be in a paint store. Selling more paint was always secondary to spending time with those I loved. I’m glad I made that choice. It is the “independent” part of being an independent retailer that I enjoy the most.

For sure, I see some impacts of the decision to spend so much time away from the stores: I don’t have 10 stores and at times I struggle to compete against those who do. It’s OK; I have never had a second of regret. There is only so much money I can fit in my pocket at any one time anyway: but I can carry a shipload of memories of having a blast with my family (and that always included Perry). Independence is a funny thing: you have to use it or you lose it! I’m glad I chose the former.

Tomorrow when I wake up I’m driving my daughter to college. It’s 10 hours and this time it’s just her and me so I’ll be alone on the drive back. I’m going to stretch it out over two days. I love to stop and see birthplaces of former presidents and there are a few between Ohio and New York. I downloaded a book to help me pass the miles and maybe I’ll even bring a cigar in case the weather lets me keep the windows opened. I won’t be in a hurry because Perry won’t be home anxiously awaiting my return and because my fiancée knows I could use a little time to clear my head.

Time driving is also time away from the stores. It’s a real gift to be able to get some time to clear my head of the paint business when I feel I need it. If I worked for a large company, I can’t be so sure that I could manage that as easily as I generally do. As an independent, I’ve got no one to ask and no permission to get. Just make sure the counter has three or more guys and out I go! It’s not vast riches…but freedom is priceless!

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