Day 18: From threat to opportunity or “I dwell in possibility”

Sydney Myer arrived in Melbourne in 1899.

Penniless, he was full of ideas, determined to succeed.

It wasn’t long before the twenty one year old from Russian Poland was headed for gold-rich Bendigo. He set up a haberdashery business with his brother, Elcon.

Right from the start, Sydney did things differently. This was the arrangement. Elcon would run the shop.

Sydney, on the other hand, could not wait for people to come to him. Despite his very limited grasp of English, he went calling on prospects. He pushed his cart of wares up and down Bendigo streets knocking on doors. It was a hard sell and Sydney thrived on it.

When Elcon decided to leave the business, Sydney bought him out. He took over running the shop. It just didn’t work out though. People preferred to shop at the bigger stores with great variety and better prices. It wasn’t long before Sydney was forced to run up the white flag.

Cap in hand, he meet with a competitor to discuss selling out. He was shocked, hurt by the pittance he was offered.

However, he felt he had no choice. He was beaten. Or was he? While thinking over his options, Sydney saw the way forward. He did what was to become his signature play. He went on the attack.

If he was going to sell his stock to a competitor for a pittance, why not sell it to the public for the same ridiculous price? And he did.

When he closed the store that night, Sydney stayed back and marked down all his stock to ridiculous prices. It only took a day or two for the news to race through Bendigo. Myer was having a sale.

All Sydney’s stock vanished in just a few days. Cashed up, he had learnt a valuable lesson. With astute buying of stock, and even more astute pricing for customers, he could succeed in retailing. The famous Myer Sale was born.

In the years ahead, Sydney would thrive on sales. There would be The Hurricane Sale, The Million Pound Master Sale, The Friday Specials, The Monday Star Bargains and, of course, The Myer Basement, with everyday specials for shoppers.

Sydney’s Bendigo store quickly grew to be the largest Drapery Store in Bendigo with a staff of sixty people. In a 3 year period, turnover galloped from £38,000 per annum to £160,000. He would quickly leapfrog from Bendigo to a series of Melbourne stores, finishing up with his flagship, Myer Emporium, in Melbourne’s CBD.

Sydney Myer inoculated himself against failure. He realised, with his first fire sale, that hard, tough selling conditions never meant he had to close, admit defeat or give up. It meant he could find innovative, exciting, flamboyant ways to head off defeat and actually go forward.

During World War 1 he realized the imports, the heart of his business, were going to be severely restricted. Going on the front foot, he developed a “Made in Australia” campaign.

He started his own manufacturing businesses to supply his stores. During the Great Depression, when other retailers took the knife to staffing levels to stay solvent. Sydney had a policy of NO Retrenchments. He gave everyone, including himself, reduced wages and set the maximum profit margin on anything in the store at a crazy 5%.

Against all advice he spent a walloping £250,000 reconstructing his Bourke St store when the Depression was at its deepest. He refused to be constrained by tough times. He tackled the toughest of times with verve and bound-less optimism, intent on finding a way though.

Sydney Myer’s business was an outstanding success. He grew it from nothing into an empire. It wasn’t like he just got lucky. He didn’t just happen to be in the right place at the right time. He grew his business during the First World War and through the Great Depression. His business grew because Sydney knew how to turn stumbling blocks into climbing blocks. From that first fire sale in Bendigo he realised an invaluable lesson. Threats were opportunities.

In the years ahead his business would face many threats. Each time he would look for the opportunity.

Emily Dickenson, the American poet lived most of her life in Amherst, a town in Hampshire County, Massachusetts. That was her physical address.

Her mind, however, lived somewhere else. She wrote a fabulous poem called: I dwell in possibility.

What an anthem for life!

The core of Sydney Myer’s success was his ability to find the possibilities. Despite the tight corners, the lack of space between rocks and hard places, he could look to what might be possible. Whatever the circumstances, whatever the troubles and problems, he looked and lived for the possibilities.

This doesn’t seem to be an easy skill to acquire. We seem to have a natural ability to always concentrate on the problems, seeing all the reasons why something won’t work.

Yet it was that one incident in his shop in Bendigo, when Sydney was still young, that convinced him he could pull his business out of the fire, literally with a fire sale. He learnt early to look for possibilities.

“If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility!”

Soren Kierkegaard

© 2019 well imagine that pty/ltd

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