Retail Lessons Learned from Ted Kennedy

Retail Lessons from an Unexpected Source

By Guest Blogger: Rick Segal of  The Retailer’s Advantage at

We all know the rule — NEVER mix politics and business. That is one lesson that we all need to practice. It’s just too dangerous because it is the fast track to alienating someone and losing a customer. Having said that, it’s important to understand that just about every successful retailer I know is involved in their community in some capacity or another. We give community service awards in most of the retail awards programs with which I am involved. We respect people and businesses that care about us, that care about our communities, our families, our causes, and those issues that matter to our world.

Caring about our communities and a strong sense of community are the two essential elements to the revival of a town and/ or a downtown. It’s not politics; it’s the right thing to do. Unfortunately, there are times that we can get dangerously close to crossing into political issues or political camps.

This might be one of those times for me, but please this is NOT intended to be a political in any way. But it is hard to say that in an article with the name Kennedy in it.

With that preface I have to share a little known secret about myself. The very first job I ever had was as a volunteer working in the 1962 on the Ted Kennedy campaign for US Senator from the state of Massachusetts. I was 14 years old and my job was to operate the signature machine. I had to put a full ink cartridge into a special mechanical fountain pen, put an 8×10 glossy picture of Ted Kennedy in the machine, hit the start button, and the machine produced autographed pictures of the late Senator. I worked there for the months of July and August of 1962. It was the one and only time I ever worked in a political campaign.

Politics really wasn’t my passion but the reason why I did get involved was because of the mood of the country and spirit that President Kennedy brought into the White House. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of Jack Kennedy’s famous quote “Ask Not What Your Country Do for You Ask… “It was the time of the Peace Corp, VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America), and just about every household in the Boston area had a picture (framed or unframed) hanging somewhere in the house of Jack Kennedy. So to be able to work on a Kennedy campaign was a really a big deal.

What I didn’t consider was the effect that time in the 60’s and that summer of 1962 would have on my life and how it molded me into what I am and have become today. Actually the column you are reading right now is as a result of the inspiration and the importance of community service that was indoctrinated into me during that time period. You are my community and the community I serve now.

I know there are people who might not be Kennedy supporters and that’s OK but we all have to marvel in a man who could have opted for the easy life. Golf, sailing, travel or whatever he chose. He had the money to do it but instead he decided to work 50 plus hours a week and take on causes that few people even cared about and did it for 46 years into his mid 70’s. Dedication, a quality of successful retailers.

He overcame every kind of obstacle, from 3 brothers being killed, to his children having cancer, a giant public embarrassment, and a failed run for president. That’s enough to make any person want to through in the towel but he didn’t. (Yes I know I missed some things but I thought that was more than enough to make my point.) Ted Kennedy was not a quitter. Another quality of great retailers.

Although after this weekend in Boston, more people are aware of the accomplishments and the many obstacles Ted Kennedy overcame but it’s his amazing congressional record that will be remembered the most. He achieved it by understanding people, by standing up for what he believed but being willing to compromise on a battle to win the war, by disagreeing without being disagreeable, and understanding the importance of fun and light hearted behavior to cope with events as the great social lubricant and the power of influence it possesses. Seems to me Ted would be one heck of a retailer.

Ted Kennedy knew that it was the little things that made him more likeable and lovable as clearly demonstrated at the funeral activities of this past weekend, such as remembering cards to send , calls to make, and people to thank. Kennedy understood the two words that are the basis for any solid relationship. Acknowledging people for what they say or do and appreciating the things people do for you. That was why at 1:30 AM on Friday morning, grown men and women were waiting outside the Kennedy Library to walk past a flag-draped casket. Although they were perfect strangers to Ted Kennedy, they cried and wept because he was a politician who had affected their lives or their way of thinking. How many stores can you think of or retailers you recall that can have an emotional effect on us and are part of our thinking and way of life? I can think of a few that did that for me. Today that is ca lled emotionalizing the customer experience.

Ted Kennedy didn’t get involved with causes because they were popular, trendy, cool, or things that he could profit from. He got involved because according to him, they were right and just. Community service is a great marketing strategy to build a business BUT don’t do it for that reason because it will never work that way. Do it because you believe it, are passionate about it, and have that fire in your gut to get it done. If you search for the pot of gold you will never find one but if you admire and seek to find the beautiful rainbows of life you just might stumble on your pot of gold.

Ted Kennedy’s pot of gold was making a difference and the abundant life for all.  No, I am not a Democrat or a Republican, just a registered independent for 40 years and I don’t believe I could classify myself as a true liberal anymore either. BUT my writings and The Retailer’s Advantage are squarely in line with the late senior senator from Massachusetts, Edward Moore Kennedy, of making a difference and the abundant life for all of the retailers whose path I should cross. Thanks, Ted, for making a difference and making a difference in me.

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