Friday, June 27, 2014

Dressing Down to Move Up

As many of you know, Barry and I recently adopted the strategy of increasing trading post sales by being unkind to our customers. This new approach is based upon convincing research from Southern Methodist University, which indicates rude salespeople boost luxury item purchases.

Since we actually like our customers and since Priscilla refuses to participate in the program, we have had some difficulty fully implementing the new policies. Consequently, while we are uncertain whether this strategy will succeed, with full faith in the Methodists, we are not giving up.

Indeed, in our quest for enlightenment, we have uncovered additional data supporting this new business model. While pursuing our goal of improving revenue at Twin Rocks Trading Post by treating patrons with indifference, we recently discovered an article by Francesca Gino, a behavioral scientist and professor of business administration at Harvard Business School.

Since Barry and I are insecure about the quality of our public school education, we are typically wary of those associated with such influential institutions. Nonetheless, this particular essay captured our attention. Its premise is that conforming to social norms, rules and expectations is widely believed to advance social acceptance and status and avoid disapproval, ridicule and exclusion. Ms. Gino postulates, however, that deviating from accepted social norms has surprising benefits. She believes nonconformity frequently carries a significant social cost, and people generally assume those who do not conform are powerful enough to risk the price of violating these norms without fear of losing their position in society. Priscilla wanted to know what happens if you have no societal status to begin with. Barry and I did not understand the question, so we simply ignored her inquiry.

The Harvard investigation focuses on shopkeepers in stores selling exclusive merchandise and how they evaluate casually dressed customers compared to those who are well dressed. Apparently people in gym shorts and jean jackets are generally believed to be better prospects than those in silks and furs.

Since dressing down works for customers, Barry and I concluded it might also work for those of us on the other side of the counter. And, since our most recent initiative requires that we stop bathing, brushing our teeth, shaving and wearing deodorant, we believe dressing down can only enhance our results.

After thoroughly debating the issue, Barry and I concluded it would be most productive if we simply roll out of bed and go to work in our jammies and slippers. With the success we are sure to find, we will likely be working longer hours, so we can simply go from bed to work to bed. Aside from selling more turquoise jewelry, Navajo rugs and baskets, we figure we will save a great deal of time.

Surely this will lead to the next revolution in business practices. Barry is already imagining himself on the cover of Forbes, right next to Mark Zuckerberg. Twin Rocks Trading Post’s Business School classes begin in the fall of 2014 so get registered early. Priscilla has suggested we call it U Stink and that our motto be, “You don’t have to smell good to sell good,” and that we adopt a pig as our mascot.

With warm regards from Steve Simpson and the team;
Barry, Priscilla and Danny.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Dang It!

Last Friday I received a telephone call, which caused me significant distress; a man named David was calling from an undisclosed location in Florida. When I pleasantly greeted him and asked where in the Sunshine State he was located, dear David blew right past my pleasantries. He wanted to get to the meat of the matter. "Humph," I thought to myself, "that was rude!" But hey, my hozho is well developed; I am on the pollen path, no problem. I breathed deeply, found my center and waited for his question. It seems David was on a mission of discovery, he was focused and he was in a rush. He hurriedly explained he was a dealer in, "All things of value." He said he had found some, "items of interest" at a local thrift shop and wondered whether I might help him place a value on them. I told him I would try, and wondered out-loud why and how he had come to call us. "Well," he said, "your Twin Rocks tags are still on most of the items."

"No!” I cried, feeling the hurtful impact of what he said. That cannot be! How, I wondered, had a collection of Native American art from Twin Rocks Trading Post have found its way to an east coast thrift shop? Someone was asleep at the switch. David told me there were traditional and culturally expressive cottonwood sculptures by Lawrence Jaquez; Robin Willeto; Marvin Jim and Grace Begay; and Leland Holiday. In my mind I flashed back on the effigy sculptures Marvin and Grace once carved of Steve and me. All these artists are passionate about their art, and diligent in their creativity. And, hurt of all hurts, there were Navajo baskets included in the mix. "Oh my goodness!" was all I could say. "Alright David," I said, "I am sitting down. Who are the weavers and what do the baskets look like?" David must have realized the news was hurting my feelings, because he filled me in with a note of sympathy in his voice.
Steve & Barry

There was a 10" ceremonial basket by Betty Rock Johnson. Betty is the sweetest little lady you will ever meet, and is a cover girl for Navajo people. She still adorns herself with sky stone and silver and dresses in traditional clothes of satin and velveteen. Betty's salt and pepper hair is always brushed back and wrapped in a traditional bun tied with cotton string. The deeply impressed wrinkles on her beautiful light brown face testify to the harshness of our local environment. Her amazing brown eyes sparkle in merriment and acknowledge her family love and commitment. Because of the tightness of her weave and the extraordinary symmetry of Betty's baskets, they are sought by medicine men and collectors alike. For over 40 years we have bought and sold this woman's baskets.

There was an Alicia Nelson ceremonial basket, set with 12 arrowheads finely napped by our old friend Homer Etherton. Homer passed away several years ago. When he died we put away a hand-full of his finest points as a reminder of his artistry and friendship. Alicia weaves wonderful baskets that reflect Native tradition in its finest light. Steve and I have watched as Alicia wove her way into one of the best basket makers of all time. We were there when she and Jonathan bore and raised their small family. We watched as the couple separated and suffered the pain associated with that disaster. We saw her art reflect the hurt she obviously felt and were amazed as she regrouped and regained her style and grace. Alicia's admirable character is reflected in her art.

David drove the final stake through my heart when he mentioned there was a Mary Holiday Black multi-colored butterfly basket in the collection. Like the metaphor of this creature, Mary turned her simple upbringing into a life projecting beauty and grace. She has fought hard to create a revolution in Navajo basketry. She took the time and invested the effort to teach each of her nine children to weave. Then she made sure every family member, new or old, who was interested in basketry was given the opportunity to learn. Mary is primarily responsible for the preservation and renaissance of Navajo basketry and is a contemporary legend. In 1995 she received the Utah Governor's Folk Art Award, and in September of 1996 was awarded a $10,000.00 National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. This was presented to her in Washington D.C. by then first lady Hillary Clinton.

I asked David how much he paid for the collection. He refused to say, but implied it wasn't much. I think he was, by then, feeling sorry for me because he had discovered my overly sentimental attachment to the Navajo people and their art. David could not explain why the individual who inherited this collection had not called us to attempt a more proper disbursement. It was apparent a passionate individual had lovingly accumulated the art, and that an undeserving someone had simply dumped it for a small payday. David sent images, and I shared them with Steve. He too became despondent. David did say he would do his utmost to place the pieces in loving and appreciative homes. If that was not possible, he promised to send them to us for help. At least there was that.

The moral of this story is, find a job selling cars, groceries or stocks and bonds. This trading post business can cause far too much emotional attachment. If you are not careful, you may loose perspective and become consumed by an overabundance of enthusiasm. And for heavens sake, if at some point you discover the Marvin Jim folk art sculptures of Steve and me in a dirty storefront of some undistinguished thrift shop, please bail us out and take us home.

With warm regards from Barry and the team;
Steve, Priscilla, and Danny.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Mighty Twin Rocks

A very interesting looking couple in their mid 30s came into Twin Rocks Trading Post last week. The best way to describe the woman is to say that she looked to be carefully constructed of a cluster of rose-colored balloons arranged on spindly legs. Just a fraction over 5 feet tall, her round on round body was tightly packed into a super short, tight fitting pair of off-white shorts with matching woven belt and equally form fitting white, ribbed tank top. On her noggin sat one of those Sahara hats, which is basically a canvas ball cap with a rear-facing bib that covers and protects the neck and shoulders from ultraviolet radiation. Her bright blue eyes twinkled merrily over the top of applesque cheeks, and her radiant white teeth glowed from behind lips that a Botox enhanced babe would have been proud of. Strands of thin, straight blond hair fell freely from under the hat, and a dimple in the middle of her double chin accentuated her, believe it or not, adorable baby doll appearance.

The man was scarecrow thin, except that he had apparently swallowed a basketball. He stood well over 6 feet tall, dwarfing his voluminous girlfriend. His uncombed brown hair had gold highlights angling off his head in directional swatches that looked like thatch on the roof of a cottage. His face was hawkish and angular, his complexion pale and covered in freckles, as if he had spent much time outdoors as a lad, but not much for a long time since. His eyes were brown and flecked with the same gold highlights. His neck was long and thin and featured an extremely prominent Adam's apple that bobbed up and down during his animated conversation. He wore a grass green polo shirt that covered a sunken chest and that weird round protrusion just above his belt. His arms and legs were stick thin and knobby as tree limbs. He wore thigh length khaki shorts and yellow flip-flops, which exposed the longest toes I have ever seen. He walked about the store with his narrow shoulders slouched and slumped back and his odd shaped stomach leading the way. Norman Rockwell would have had a heyday painting this pair.

After pacing the store and openly admiring our selection, the stick man bought the balloon girl a pair of earrings. He apologized for his "meager purchase," but said when his ship came in he would be back and treat his "new bride"' to a much more extravagant gift. I told him he should never apologize for spending any amount of money here because we appreciated each and every sell. I also told him that, because of him, we were now $39.95 closer to our first million. The mostly thin man laughed and we fell into easy conversation. I came to learn that he and she were from Minneapolis, Minnesota and were celebrating their honeymoon. He was a computer programmer and she an event planner. They were a great deal of fun to talk with and I was sad when it looked like they were leaving. As they prepared to go, the scarecrow stepped back, pointed a bony finger beyond the ceiling in the direction of the Twin Rocks and asked; "What do you call those big rocks up there?
Navajo Pictorial Twin Rocks Rug - Eleanor Yazzie (#112)

I explained the formations were hoodoos formed of wind and water, but the Navajo people see them as representations of the Hero Twins. The Twins were born to the Sun and Changing Woman, and it was their task to rid the world of monsters, thereby making it habitable for their people. The monsters were many and varied, but the boys drove them from this realm. Well, most of them. At that point the couple became agitated about the sad state of the world these days. They spoke of how angry the human race had become, and how selfish and greedy we are as a people. I wondered at how a simple mythological story had sparked such fervor, but they were not done. The balloon girl kicked in and explained how lazy, sloppy and sexually motivated people are. By now I was looking for the shut-off switch, and was becoming worried they might both explode with exaggerated emotion. I wanted out of the conversation, and hoped someone would come into the store and distract them or that the telephone would ring and I could excuse myself. That did not, however, happen.

By the time the couple touched on malice, resentment and prejudice, I was becoming depressed and expected the apocalypse to blow in through the Kokopelli doors at any moment. I finally got a word in edgewise and said, "The only thing we haven't covered is gluttony; do that, and we will have exhausted every cardinal sin." The bony man and balloon girl thought about that for a moment then grinned sheepishly. "I guess we did go off on a rant", he said. "Yup!" was all I could reply. Everyone took a deep breath and the bountiful girl said, "Maybe we should turn the Hero Twins loose to rid the earth of monsters one more time." "Sure," I replied, "you would be in Minnesota computerizing and planning parties, while we would be out here dodging lightning bolts and trying not to become toe jam to at couple fired-up phenoms." The couple laughed, apologized for the diatribe and departed.

Surely there is much to learn from cultural stories, unique individuals and massive monuments. They remind us how we often create our own monsters and that there is always hope when it comes to dispelling them. Here in the midst of our little red rock river valley we find sanctuary from the outside world. We realize how lucky we are to be here to welcome those who visit. We do, however, hope they remain positive. We are extremely sensitive to negative vibrations and implications of mayhem. When you turn loose "Monsters" they are not always easy to contain. There can be collateral damage, and we do not choose that fate. So please, everyone, focus on finding your Hozho; balance and harmony are essential to a good life. Do not be coming around here looking to regenerate the Hero Twins. Just admire them for what they are and what they stand for. We would appreciate it.

With warm regards from Barry and the team:
Steve, Priscilla and Danny.