When I graduated from college, I was going to go to graduate school to get my Master's so that I could teach Theatre in a Christian school. I had been promised that I could come back to Anderson College to teach. The Academic Dean had made that promise to me. He said that all I needed to do was to get a graduate degree, so that was my goal. I decided to go to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, TX to get that degree. It was the same school where my father and mother had gone, which would make me a legacy, but I needed a car to get there, as well as money to live there, so I took a job at Belk.
The Belk Department Store was in downtown Columbia on Main St. It had been there since the 1930's. Everyone knew Belk. In the 1990's, it was torn down and the Columbia Art Museum and a bank sit there now. When Belk was there, they had big display windows, and three floors of merchandise. I got a full-time job there selling Books and Luggage. I loved books, but I didn't know much about luggage, except for what I owned. So, I began to learn about the subject.
Selling the books was easy. I learned that Romance Novels sold the best to women. They just ate that stuff up. I also learned that I had a knack for displaying books. One of the books that we got was one by Billy Graham. Our display person wanted us to show it as a mountain with a peak at the top. I thought differently. After having the mountain, and it wasn't selling, I changed the display by making the books to form a cross on the table. It sold like hotcakes. It was all about how to present it, and the display people let me do my thing after that.
Luggage was a little different. You had to display that by size (big to small). So, I got the bright idea to put the most colorful luggage on the front to attract attention. It worked.
There were a few perks to working in that area. About every month, we had a recall of some books by the manufacturers. Mostly paperbacks. You didn't have to return the whole book, but rather tear off the covers and send them back for credit. We were supposed to throw away the books, after we tore off the covers, but I kept a few for myself. At one point, about a third of the books in my collection were missing covers. Of course, some of my co-workers got what they wanted, mostly Romance Novels. Another perk was that my supervisor gave me the opportunity to work with vendors about what to buy for my department, especially Luggage.
We had two stockrooms that used to be window displays that had been sealed up. They weren't very big. I really didn't have much of a concept as to how big Luggage boxes would be. American Tourister and Samsonite each had big sales twice a year. I talked to the rep and ordered 200 assorted pieces of each. When the boxes came, I had to put them into the stockrooms. It was quite a challenge. But, we sold all of the bags, and I found I had a knack for selling Luggage. That came in handy later in life. American Tourister had a color they called "Plum", but it was really purple. It was hideous, but that color was our best seller. Belk and an independent luggage store were the only two stores that really had any selection in Luggage. We blew them out of the water.
I also learned a lot about customers. One man came in the store one Saturday who looked like Jed Clampett. He was dirty. He told me that he wanted something nice for his wife. I went to the cheap stuff, and he pulled out a wad of cash and bought the most expensive piece we had. It turned out that he was a farmer and had been to the market and sold all of his produce. I learned never to judge one by what they were wearing. Another man came in one day and picked up an attache case and started walking toward the door without paying. I stopped him in the Men's Department and asked him what he was doing. He looked at me, and asked what I was talking about. I pointed to the bag, and he gave it back to me. It turned out he had dementia, and didn't know what he was doing. I also had interesting customers. One man came in and told me that he was Elvis Presley's sergeant in Germany, and he showed me pictures of the two of them.
I had two girls, who worked with me part-time. Their names were Gail and BJ. They were both high school students. Gail was a very hard worker. BJ wasn't as much, but I began a friendship with BJ that lasted 20 years. I will write about her more later.
I stayed with Belk for a year, until it was time to move to Ft. Worth. They were sorry to see me go, because I had created a lot of sales for them, but it was time.