Hot Glue Guns and King of the World

In 1977 my father asked me to temporarily take over his costume jewelry store because he had to go to the hospital to get his toe removed. As soon as he was able, his intention was to return to work. He would never walk again, nor would he return to his business. His leg from the knee down was removed. My father was overweight, smoked, didn't exercise, and he loved to eat cakes and candy. He ignored his doctor's advice regarding his diabetes.

My wife helped me run the business, cheap costume jewelry: 39 cent pairs of earrings, 99 cent chains and bracelets. In an effort to increase revenues, the first thing we did was to expand on the more expensive earrings $1 to $5 each. I had an IBM computer left over from my vending machine business and used it to keep track of sales which ran about $60,000 a year. Here's something you marketers out there might find interesting: women do not like to buy jewelry items that are priced evenly. For example, our best selling earrings were priced $1, $3 and $5 a pair and our slowest selling were $2 and $4. So we took $2 earrings that we could not sell and made them $3, at which point they flew off the shelves. We left the same earrings on the $2 and $3 stands so that a discerning customer could still buy the same earrings at a cheaper price but the results were the same. Occasionally a customer would notice and say, "Hey you have the same earrings priced differently!" but ignore it and buy the more oddly priced pair anyway. Curious, eh?

I had an aquarium back then and one of my Bettas started to grow a tumor near one of its fins, so I read a book on operating on fish and took out my finny pet to perform surgery on the growth. I had noticed before when changing bulbs that my fish were not so bright and colorful without the light. Now again, when I placed my patient under a very bright fluorescent bulb the vibrant colors vanished and he looked rather gray and drab. The operation was successful but afterwards I researched aquarium bulbs to find out that some bulbs produce a spectrum designed primarily to enhance the colors of fish. Thinking about this I brought a pair of $1 gold-plated earrings and put it under the fish bulb. And what do you think! The earrings shimmered and shone as if they were real gold.

I called up Luxur Lighting in North Bergen, New Jersey and got a few plant bulbs (similar to aquarium bulbs) and put them above the mirrors in our store. Customers would often put on a pair of clip-on earrings to see how they looked and when they stood under the plant lighting they would marvel at how beautiful the earrings looked, and even remarking that their complexion looked better when they put on our earrings or necklaces. Despite the bulbs having a lavender cast to them, no one ever noticed the bulbs themselves were different. Our sales jumped. We then replaced every bulb in our store with the new plant bulbs. In our second year we hired 4 more salespeople and hit over $140,000 a year in sales.

Then an interesting fashion fad came out: flower hair combs. At first I purchased them wholesale ready made. A comb that cost me $1.50 I would sell for $3.00. But having every flower in every size in every color with different comb colors was not only expensive, it took up tremendous shelf space. Flower combs are very bulky compared to earrings. So I got the combs separately and bought only white flowers. White roses, gardenias, mums, carnations, daisies, and hundreds of others. I discovered how flowers are dyed and so could make the flowers whatever color my customers wanted simply by dipping into a solution of benzene and oil paint. If a customer brought in a swatch of the dress she was wearing, I would take a white flower she picked and bring it into the back of the store, mix the oil paints until I got the shade right, mix the oil with benzene, dip the flower, take it out and whack it against a cardboard which would instantly dry and fix the color into the flower. Sometimes a hairdryer was needed if the flower was particularly heavily layered.

The customer would then pick the color of the comb she wanted and we would hot glue the flower onto the comb and viola! A finished flower hair comb in less than a minute per flower. We also had spools of knitting string to wrap in between the teeth of the comb. Eventually we would hot glue appliques on the combs as well, pounding out over 300 flower and specialty combs a day. My cost making everything from scratch? 50 cents.

It is quite amazing what you can make with a hot glue gun and a hair comb. You're familiar with the expression, "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Well, I started to hot glue everything onto hair combs. I bought a complete duck with over 5,000 feathers on it in New York for $5.00. You guessed it, I started selling feather combs. Nothing escaped the sticky maw of my glue gun: pearls, sequins, beads, even M&Ms.

By 1979 we had 8 people working and our gross sales were running at an annual rate of $350,000. Not bad for a costume jewelry store 9 feet wide and 30 feet long.

A year later we turned the store into the largest 14kt Jewelry Store in New Jersey - but that's a story for another day. Even now, years later, if I need to fix something I use a hot glue gun. Give me a glue gun big enough and I could rule the Earth.

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Disclaimer: 11 photos are found on Flickr and are © to Flickr itself and to their uploaders. Two are uploaded from the Internet. Flickr Mosaic made with Mosaic Maker. Click on any panel to get to original image.

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