By Gordon Hecht
There was a time when the country’s biggest-selling magazine was a pocket-sized digest called TV Guide.
Going out weekly to over 50 million readers, TV Guide was the pre-TIVO method of checking out the week’s broadcast offerings and planning out your viewing week. Most television markets only had four to eight channels, all of which switched to a test pattern at 2:00 a.m., the traditional end of the broadcast day.
The once proud magazine ceased publication at one point and then was reborn in 2005 as a full-size magazine. During its heyday TV Guide was jam packed with stories about the top stars and TV shows of the day, although my favorite section was the listings and short one- or two-line descriptions of that week’s episodes.
Over the decades there have been several shows based around the workplace, from “Our Miss Brooks” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” to “Cheers,” “Mad Men” and “The Office.” But with the exceptions of the big-box sitcom “Superstore” and the Best Buy spy spoof “Chuck,” rarely do TV series revolve around stores. If some of the prior decades’ series and characters worked in commissioned retail shops, their TV Guide descriptions might have read like this:
“Truth or Consequences”: Host Bob Barker challenges contestants to quote high-ticket retail shoppers shortened delivery time estimates and watches as they endure the hilarious customer calls.
“The Adventures of Superman”: Clark Kent saves the day when Lois and Jimmy lock themselves in the breakroom. Clark changes into Superman and sells customers, receives products, sweeps the floor and loads delivery trucks without breaking a sweat.
“The Honeymooners”: Alice wants a dual king adjustable mattress set to relieve Ralph’s snoring but finds that Ralph and Norton spent her cookie jar money on new bowling balls. Ralph saves the day when he buys the bed using 60-month financing during the Labor Day Sale.
“Dennis the Menace”: Mr. Wilson gets perturbed when Dennis claims that he originally talked to every be-back and wants a split on every sale.
“The Dick Van Dyke Show”: Push comes to shove for Rob and Laura when they move their twin beds together after Millie and Jerry get a king-size mattress. Buddy’s Uncle Irving, “The Mattress King of New Rochelle,” springs forth with a pocketed coil solution to the Petrie’s problem.
“Lost in Space”: The Robinson Family travel to the Gaylord galaxy for a convention. They miss several training sessions and the expo due to landing on the planet Magnolia, instead of the planet Delta. Doctor Zachary Smith scrambles for crumbs after failing to make a reservation at Ravelo.
“All in the Family”: At the dinner table Archie complains endlessly about customers, vendors and advertising costs. He tries to convince Edith to work at the store for free and is unable to talk Mike and Gloria into taking over the business.
“Maude”: The Findlay’s get into a quarrel when Walter invests their entire advertising budget in newspaper and Yellow Pages instead of the digital marketing that Maude suggested. Walter sits alone in his store.
“Three’s Company”: Jack gets in trouble when he shows too many mattresses to the Ropers. Chrissy and Janet save the day when they show Jack better ways to qualify shopper’s needs and suggest that he focus on solutions.
“Columbo”: Detective Columbo is just about to let a shopper walk when he asks “just one more” closing question. He cracks the case on why she wouldn’t buy, writes a large ticket with accessories, and uses the commission to buy a new suit.
“St. Elsewhere:” Dr. Craig loses patience when the hospital loses patients to Boston General. Dr. Westphal saves the day by investing in an updated website (with chat feature) and a building refresh that attracts patients to the new and improved St. Elsewhere.
“The Love Boat:” Captain Stubing orders new mattresses for all cabins but forgets to upgrade the pillows, leaving Gopher and Julie to deal with the angry passengers. Doc goes to Isaac to come up with stiff drinks to relieve stiff necks.
“The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson”: Johnny and Ed welcome Mrs. Delilah Eubanks of Sparks, Nev., the first shopper ever to “go home and measure” and actually return to the store to purchase. Special Guest, songstress Toni Tennille.
“Friends”: Joey gets on Rachel’s nerves after asking her to switch weekend shifts at Central Perk. Chandler gets called to HR when he makes one too many sarcastic jokes.
“Survivor: Retail Island”: Jeff Probst hosts Season Four as retail sales associates are forced to live off the land with meager inventories and infrequent “ups” for 39 weeks. Frequent physical and mental challenges with the POS system pit the RSAs against each other for rewards like commissions or spiffs, or luxuries like a lunch break — forcing the other RSAs to attend “Tribal Council,” where they vote one of their tribemates off the schedule.
“The Big Bang Theory”: Wolowitz and Sheldon debate coil count versus coil density. Bernadette debates the value of a king-size bed. Penny and Leonard debate how to return the mattress-in-a-box that they just bought, and Raj debates the practice of sleeping single in a double bed.
Today, between streaming, over the air, paid channels, cable, and satellite, there may be as many as 600 TV shows to choose from in any given time slot. Given all the content that must be generated to fill that void, some people suggest that TV’s Golden Age is in the rearview mirror.
Today’s consumer also has a multitude of choices when it comes to purchasing big-ticket merchandise. Keep your online and in-store content fresh and tell a compelling story, and your shoppers will tune in to your store first and never touch that dial.
Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry. You can reach him at Gordon.Hecht@aol.com.