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Jeff Pearce was just about to pull the steel shutters down at the front of his store when he noticed a young girl sitting on the ground with a blanket around her shoulders. It was 24 December and cold and Jeff was looking forward to two days off with his family before the sale started at 9am on 27 December.
“Are you all right?” he asked her.
“I’ll be all right if you’ve got a black pair of size 10, leather pants for just £1,” she said.
Jeff’s first thought was that the Liverpool Echo had printed the wrong date for the start of his sale. His small shop in Church Street was doing OK and Jeff thought it could do better, hence the £1 leather pants offer. As an independent retailer, he was experimenting with marketing. He could not believe this girl was planning to spend two days camped outside his shop. He suggested that she could go home. She declined.
Later that night, after talking with his family, he decided to drive by to see if she was still there. He was amazed to find 12 people camped out. As he drove home he passed a fish and chip shop that was open so he bought them 12 suppers.
On Christmas Day he asked a friend who lived closer to the store to drive by and see what was happening. He called back to say that more than 80 people were queueing outside.
On Boxing Day he called another mate who owned a catering business and persuaded him to turn up with hot food. There were 150 people queueing now and Jeff called the local media who came out to cover the event.
Worried now about crowd control, he asked his brother in law and three mates to provide security on the front door the next morning. They agreed. As he drove to the shop the next morning he was pleased to see a big queue outside Army & Navy too. But the queue kept on going until it reached his shop – more than 1,000 people. Jeff had to call the police for back up.
As he went to open the front door he heard a cheer from across the road. The 40 members of staff from Chelsea Girl, the biggest fashion store in Liverpool, were cheering him. “Well done Jeff, good luck with the sale,” the manageress called out.
At the end of the day, they had taken £25,000 and made the front page of the next day’s paper and “our little boutique was now a household name on Merseyside.”
A Pocketful of Holes and Dreams is not intended as a business book but every local shop owner will find plenty of inspiration within it. Jeff’s mother’s family had retailing in the blood and despite growing up in poverty, he learned good retailing habits early on.
He is in the camp that believes good buying is the secret to retail success and he explains in detail how he made two fortunes. Even more striking is his integrity, with Jeff sticking to his values when his first company failed. His ideas about banks and wholesaling have resonance today.
Available from Penguin at £6.99, Jeff’s book is a must read for any family business. Set in the world of fashion, its strengths are in how Jeff communicates the simple to say but hard to execute actions that can make you a better retailer.
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