By Gordon S. Hecht

I’ve been a fan of the game show Jeopardy! since the Art Fleming days. I love the trivia challenge, the pace and the strategy. Even if you are not a fan or have never watched it, you may have noticed that it was in the news last spring.

The then-reigning champion, James Holzhauer, won nearly $2.5 million over the course of a 32-game winning streak. While that is impressive, what is more astounding is that he has reinvented the way the game is played – working the categories bottom to top, wagering all his banked winnings, and rarely giving a wrong response. He was finally defeated in his 33rd appearance on June 3, but the game will never be the same.

Similarly, our retail world has changed and is not the same game it was even two years ago. But take a few of the following cues from big winner James and you too can win big:

Rock the World: I’ve been watching Jeopardy! for four decades and every player has the same strategy: answer the easy questions first and the harder questions later. When they hit a “Daily Double” or enter the “Final Jeopardy!” round, when contestants can wager all of their earnings, most bet just enough to win. But James did the opposite – he went big first. He bet big and won big.

It’s pretty much the same in our retail world: Show the good stuff up front, the cheap stuff in the back. Greet the shopper the same old way, ask the same old questions, and (maybe) ask them to buy. Then show them a few add-ons and hope they do.

If you are tired of getting the same old results, maybe you need to change the same old process. Look for things you can update at the front door, then move through your advertising, sales process, inventory, pricing, and delivery. I’ll wager there is something that can be improved.

Know the Other Players and Dazzle Them: Like champions in sports, Holzhauer – who is a professional sports gambler by trade – knew the other players better than they may have known themselves. He knew what their money count was in the game, and how fast they could buzz in with an answer (or in Jeopardy!’s case, a question). In at least two of the shows both opponents stopped playing and checked out because he was so far ahead. He simply browbeat them.

You can see the same thing with sales associates and store owners. They get dazzled and browbeaten by the guy down the street.  They ask me, “How can they offer that? I can’t beat it,” meaning “I can’t compete.” But they ask without doing their research.

Know your competitors.  Know their fine print, exceptions, extra charges and deceptions. Visit them in the brick or on the click. In most cases their cost of doing business is not radically better than yours. They are just a little bolder.

Make next month or next quarter the time you become the dazzler. Take a risk on a super-hot, untouchable promo. You be the store that competitors look at and cry, “How can they do that?” (SertaSimmons Bedding Hot Buys are a good place to start!)

A Lot of Knowledge Is a Good Thing: Watching Mr. Holzhauer play on Jeopardy!, I was amazed by his range and depth of knowledge. Although he is a college graduate, he admits that he missed as many classes as possible and majored in poker! When interviewed, he revealed that he gained most of his knowledge by reading children’s fact books, which provided accurate historical data in easy-to-digest formats.

Your sales and operations team will never lose if they continue to learn. Sales associates should be required to read our industry’s trade publications along with books about sleep, business trends and marketing. Senior managers need to read the Harvard Business Review and The Wall Street Journal. Operations leadership would gain a lot by reading Toyota’s management and production principals, The Toyota Way. Customer service people need to read Dave’s Way, the autobiography of Wendy’s CEO Dave Thomas.

And if all of that is too heavy for you, spend $6.95 on a copy of Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. It is the greatest book on closing the deal ever written!*

Invest in Yourself: As a professional sports gambler, James lives in Las Vegas, where we say, “Get a hunch, bet a bunch.” Like betting on sports or a “Jeopardy! Daily Double,” there is no sure thing. Professional gamblers take calculated risks. As a business owner or commissioned salesperson, you take a risk every morning when you turn the key in the door. But those who take the biggest risks are those that gain the biggest rewards.

If you own a business, that may mean investing in inventory, a new location, a showroom re-fresh, advertising dollars, or a hot-shot manager to move the needle. If you are a salesperson, it may mean calling every customer that bought a flat bed and asking them to upgrade to adjustable comfort. Or asking every shopper to buy, and every buyer to buy two beds. You won’t win every time, but you will win big most of the time. 

James Holzhauer is no longer Jeopardy! champion. While his successor used many of his strategies, it will be interesting to see if future players follow his exciting approaches or go back to the old way, which would make the game seem ho-hum.

Likewise, don’t you become another ho-hum shopping experience for your shoppers. Take risks, improve and measure for improvements, and you’ll be a champ in your market.

*Yes, you have time to read and learn. I can provide the titles of a few more easy-to-read books that will change the way you do business. Just send me an email and I’ll send them your way.  

Gordon S. Hecht is Senior Regional Manager/Strategic Retail Group at SertaSimmons Bedding. You can write him at

YSN is published by BrandSource parent company AVB Inc.