Monday, May 24, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 101

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 40
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 16
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 11
Chris: Our store and company manager


Chris, the manager of my Worcester store and overall company manager now that I was “retired” from active involvement, knew that he needed to keep the gross sales increasing each year at both of our stores. Through a mutual friend he arranged to have the first Boston Patriots football quarterback, Babe Parillo, come to our store as a guest. This was a modest success and it inspired Chris to try more sports celebrities. In the meantime, I had learned that Boston Celtics’ great, Dennis Johnson, had a son who attended the same high school as my son, Adam. I asked Dennis if he’d be interested in spending a day at my Worcester store and he said he’d possibly consider it if we’d be willing to donate his usual fee to a charity of his choice. I explained to him that it was our current “policy” to offer free autographs to our customers so his usual fee had to be reasonable enough so that I could financially justify it. I relayed this information to Chris and let him “run with it.” After several phone calls to Dennis Johnson, it was decided that he’d be our guest on Saturday June 15, 1996. I was disappointed because I had already booked a family vacation cruise for this same date and it would be the first big event at the store that I would be unable to attend, but it was the only convenient date for Dennis Johnson and I had confidence that Chris and the rest of our staff could handle this without me.

Our staff wanted this to be a big event and worked together to make it so.A connection was made with the local sports-talk radio station and they agreed to do a “live-remote” from our store during Dennis Johnson’s appearance. Someone in our organization got the idea to contact the mayor’s office to inform them of this exciting event for the fans of the area and since we were allowing everyone to get Dennis’s autograph at no cost, the city government decided to assist us to make this event even bigger. The mayor agreed to send a representative to our store on the day of the appearance to make an official proclamation declaring June 15th Dennis Johnson Day in Worcester. Once the local newspapers heard this they were all willing to help us promote “Dennis Johnson Day.” The newspapers included our event in their calendar section and one paper ran a small announcement. We mailed thousands of flyers to the customers on our mailing list and our employees put flyers in everyone’s bag at the cash register. They also tried to make sure everyone heard about it verbally.

Chris knew that we’d have to try to recoup our expenses by offering the attendees an opportunity to buy some Boston Celtics items or photographs for Dennis to sign. Chris ordered Celtics key chains, bumper stickers, pennants, and basketballs. He also ordered hundreds of 8x10 color and black and white photos from a company that is fully licensed to print them but he wasn’t able to convince the company to offer a return privilege on the photos we couldn’t sell. These photographs would have to be sold for four dollars each for us to make a modest profit and we were not sure that our customers would be willing to spend that much since they were used to our normally lower prices. Our previous events had much cheaper photographs available because the other celebrities didn’t care if the photographs were officially licensed. We worried that our customers would think we were just being greedy so we decided to give a portion of all of the proceeds to “Sports Alive,” a local charity that promoted athletics and educational programs in Worcester’s schools and neighborhoods. Chris also arranged for “Fleer,” a large trading card company, to donate lots of basketball cards for us to give away to everyone who attended this event. Everything seemed to be under control and it was almost all arranged without much involvement by me. My key employees, Chris, Ken and Dave paid close attention to all of the details and they were prepared to handle this guest appearance.

I was on a cruise while this event was going on at my store but as soon as the cruise ship docked in St. Thomas I began calling Chris to see how everything was going. I kept getting a busy signal. I continued to dial the phone number, over and over again, for almost two hours! Who could possibly be on the telephone for that long on such an important day?! I finally got through to the store after the event was over and found out that the sports-talk radio station “took over” our only phone line to broadcast the appearance from our store. It was a major detail that none of us had anticipated and I’m sure that it disrupted our business and probably frustrated many people who were trying to contact our store to ask questions about this event.

Chris explained that things had gone fairly smoothly. The customers enjoyed it (especially the free autographs) and we sold enough stuff to pay for all of the expenses. Chris was smart enough to have Dennis Johnson autograph a few hundred of the unsold photographs that we would have been stuck with so that sometime in the future we might recoup some additional funds. These signed photos would also be good to have available for the customers who couldn’t make it to the store for the actual event. We sold dozens of them over the next few months.

Later, when I ran into Dennis Johnson at my son’s high school, he told me that my employees had done a nice job and he was pleased with how everything went. He was honored to have the mayor declare that day as “Dennis Johnson Day.”

Next chapter: A look into my character…not too pleasant.
Picture: We have "DJ" Dennis Johnson of the Boston Celtics as a guest at our store.

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