“He left Detroit 9am Christmas Eve. Someone, somewhere had to have the one toy his sweet little six-year-old wanted. Six cities, seven stores later he stood, travel-weary, across the counter from me. ‘I suppose you don’t have any Simon games, either.’ As I handed over the last of my Simon games he smiled and said, ‘God Bless You!’ Believe me, he already has. Merry Christmas from the Toy House in Downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.”
That was the ad I ran as our whole Christmas ad campaign in both 2005 and 2007. The first time I ran it, we smashed every holiday sales record ever. The second time we pushed the bar even higher.
It is a powerful story. More importantly, it’s true. It happened at 4:05pm on Christmas Eve in 1980. It is one of those moments that sticks with you all your life.
I was 14 years old. My parents hired me to stand behind a glass display case and help customers with hand-held electronic games like Simon and Coleco Football. Simon was the hot game that year. We could barely keep them in stock.
Shortly after Black Friday we were completely sold out. We took customers’ names and phone numbers in case we got another shipment in. As I recall, we did get a few in, but we had more names than we had product, so they were quickly snatched up.
On Christmas Eve my mom would always go through the layaway file to see if there were any large layaways not yet picked up. We closed at 5pm and didn’t want someone to miss out on having their gifts. Mom called one such customer who had forgotten he had even started a layaway. He told her to cancel it. He would be in after Christmas to get his deposit back. It was 4:02pm.
One of the items in that layaway was a Simon game. With less than an hour until we closed it was too late to call someone on our waiting list. Mom placed the box at my feet behind the counter and said, “See if you can sell this before we close.” It was 4:04pm.
At just that moment a large man walked through the front doors. One of our staff pointed him toward the glass cases. In my memory he was around 6ft 2in tall but with shoulders slumped by life. He looked tired and beaten when he pointed at the empty spot in our game case and said, “I suppose you don’t have any Simon games either.”
I told him, “This is your lucky day,” while reaching down by my feet to grab the last Simon game. I handed him his prize possession and he couldn’t stop saying, “God Bless You.” He said it over and over and over while leaning over the counter to hug me. Tears were running down his face. Soon we were both crying and hugging.
He told me his story. He and his wife had adopted their 6-year-old granddaughter earlier that year. All she wanted for Christmas was a Simon game. She had asked Santa several times. With all she had been through, he was going to do everything in his power to make her Christmas special. For weeks he checked every toy store in Detroit. No luck. On Christmas Eve he left Detroit, vowing not to return until he found a Simon game. He went to a couple toy stores north of town, then on to Lansing, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Battle Creek. At the Battle Creek store they told him that if anyone had one, it would be Toy House. God was shining down on both of us that day.
I tell you this story, but I could have told you four others almost exactly like it. This one just happened to be the first. It is the one I get the most choked up retelling.
You have stories like this, too.
If you’ve worked in retail you have had these serendipitous moments where the whole world aligns just right. It is what keeps us going through the hard times. It is what reminds us of the difference we make.
The only question I have to ask is, Are you sharing those stories? If not, you should. That’s what gets your fan base fired up.
PS I call it my second favorite only because luck played such a big role. My first favorite was based more on what we did.
PPS Just to show you how powerful stories are, we ran that as our sole ad for our 2005 holiday campaign. It didn’t tell you our hours or our location. It didn’t tell you about Free Gift Wrapping or Layaway. It didn’t even talk about a product we were selling in 2005. But it did share the emotions and feelings of the Christmas spirit, with a heaping dose of Nostalgia thrown in. Check the boxes. Didn’t look or sound like an ad. Told a story. Made only one point. Spoke to the heart. Spoke to the tribe.
PPPS Yes, God has blessed me many times over.