I don’t remember what my expectations were about how I was going to spend my time in Germany.  I just knew I was moving to a country where I didn’t know the language, because I had married a man in the Air Force, who was required to move there.  My then-husband knew I needed to keep busy.  We’ll call him “George” (to protect his privacy) for these stories.

There was a bulletin board on base that posted jobs and he got me an interview at the German bank on base.  I was the only American who worked at that bank.  I got paid $400 per month to file paper checks in numerical order, by account, and open new accounts for American military personnel.  It, obviously, was really easy with little stress…except boredom and the fact that I didn’t know any German, so wasn’t aware of the other employees making fun of me all the time.  (I discovered that when I began to learn German, but continued to pretend that I didn’t know what they were saying.)

Germans are very strong people and actually quite rude, in my opinion.  But, from their viewpoint, they are just telling the truth about whatever topic they choose.  I was told that it is part of their culture to “enjoy others’ sorrow.”  Kind of sad, but once I understood it, why take it personally?

I didn’t realize that George continued to look at the bulletin board for other openings.  He knew that I was way overqualified for the bank job.  But one day he came home and told me that he had secured another interview for me to manage the stereo and camera club/store.  They called it a club so as to not compete with the base exchange store – members had to pay a nominal fee to buy at the club.

The interview was with Major Sanderson (another fictional name) and quite rigorous.  I found myself telling him that I didn’t think I was qualified to run a retail store, but he said, as a dependent wife, I was the most eligible person for him to hire.  So I took the job, with a salary of $1000 per month and comp time off for every hour worked beyond 40 each week.  (I earned about 10 weeks of vacation time over a 2-yr period because of that comp time!)

Honestly, I didn’t know what I was doing, but I’ve always been a logical person and with George’s encouragement, I plunged into the challenge.  The Major had told me that the club existed to provide revenue for “family morale” programs on base; for example, purchasing band uniforms for the school, because there was no budget for those kinds of things.

The criteria was that the club was to deliver $1600 of bottom-line profit each month.  He had fired the previous manager, because the club was dying and having huge cash flow problems to even carry inventory.

The first thing I did was to interview the employees to determine what to sell at a “blow-out” clearance event.  That sale got rid of all of the dead inventory and created enough cash to buy new, up-to-date equipment.  (Of course, I had no idea what that was…)

On the first visit with each sales rep, he (no women) would obviously try to get me to place an order.  I told each one that I wouldn’t buy anything I didn’t understand, so it became their mission to educate me.  I remember that one rep, in particular, decided that if he helped me, he would sell me more, even if he taught me about all of the other lines.  He was right.

 

 

He had a meeting with some of the other reps and approached me to ask if they could completely rearrange the store to improve the displays and simplify the customer’s buying experience.  I said, “Sure.”

Then they started evaluating my inventory records and showing me that I was ordering  (for example) 4 turntables every  month, but that I was running out of them the first week.  I began to gradually place larger orders on all items that we were running out of.  Oh my gosh, how simple was that change?  Our sales almost doubled overnight – which meant that the club was now generating $3200 bottom-line profit each month.

Out of the blue, I received a call from an Army club in Wiesbaden, who asked me if I wanted to order product from them at a lower price, because they were purchasing container-loads directly from Japan.  I said, “Sure” (not thinking that asking permission might be a good idea.)

Our sales continued to climb, keeping the retail prices the same, but lowering the cost of goods.

The Major called me in and asked me what the h**l, I was doing up there to make so much money.  He was getting questioned about the profits, and he didn’t like being questioned.   He said that he was in big trouble and that we were going to be audited the next week by Air Force HQ staff out of Ramstein.

I wasn’t at all concerned, because I didn’t believe I was doing anything unethical or immoral.  Why shouldn’t they be overjoyed with $14,000 bottom-line profit each month?

But no, HQ was quite angry and asked me who had given me permission to work with the Army?  I said, “No one.  It just seemed like a really good plan, and from my viewpoint, it has worked out extremely well.”  They told me that no other club in Europe was making as much profit (percentage) as we were, and that I must be doing something that was going to get them in trouble.  For that reason, they were going to relieve me of my duties.

I was incredulous, and said, “You mean to tell me that you are firing me because our club is making too much money?  That doesn’t make any sense to me.  And what is wrong with working with the Army – we are all Americans, aren’t we?”

He sat back in his chair, with his cigar, and said, “OK.  I will give you one more month and you are out on a limb all by yourself.  We will be scrutinizing everything you do.”  I said, “Fine with me.”

They actually sent in an entire team of investigators to examine every detail of how the club was being run.  As I recall, I thought it was a whole lot of hassle, but I was cool and calm the entire time.

At the end of that month, I was awarded a letter of commendation.  They suggested that an instruction manual be written for all Audio-Photo Clubs to follow.  They asked me if I would move to a larger club and see if I could turn that one around.

But I was getting divorced and headed back to the States…

 

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