THE HORSE AND THE PLASTIC CHAIR.
By: Lauren Anderson
I used to be a manager at a Toy Store. I think I’ve talked about it before. (I think I told the story about the play vacuum? Anyways…) I was a good manager, if I do say so myself, and I LOVE TOYS.
As far as retail goes, it was a fun job. And I believe in the power of play. If you find yourself in a retail job, I think it always helps to sell something you actually enjoy.
So… in the middle of the summer, the store started to stock these really cool new YoYos. They were called Astrojax, and I was IN LOVE. They had three balls instead of one, and some of them lit up, and some glowed in the dark. Yet they required NO BATTERIES.
You could do trick after trick and everything you attempted looked cool. It was a great toy.
I thought they were so cool and so fun and at such a nice price point, I couldn’t see why they weren’t flying off the shelves.
In my opinion, everyone should’ve grabbed a pack of Astrojax on their way to the register.
But there was a problem in the packaging. People couldn’t figure out what they were or how they worked from just the package itself. Because it took something so classic like Yo Yo, and changed it just enough that it wasn’t easily recognizable.
So customers would either try to figure it out from the picture on the package and give up, or skip it all together.
Weeks went by and I couldn’t understand why this wasn’t the hottest summer fun item for outdoor shenanigans. But there we were. With loads of the fun-time party balls and no lucky kids to play with them.
I remember being on the phone with my corporate manager and while he lamented on the lack of movement with the product. I explained my theory and he was just like, “Oh well. I mean, we can’t play with the toys FOR the kids.”
And that’s when I was like, “OR CAN WE?!?!”
The next shift was a Saturday, a busy high traffic day, and so I bought some Astrojax for myself. (Who am I kidding, I already had multiples…)
I stood on the sidewalk outside the store and just played with the toy for the next hour or so. Now keep in mind, that a lot of cooler toy stores already do this kind of stuff, cause DUH. I mean of course!
But this was a VERY CORPORATE chain of stores (that’s now out of business) that didn’t understand the power of an experiential component when selling. It was more like, “put this box on the end-cap we tell you to and SHUT UP about it.”
So I was definitely going outside the grain here.
And guess what? Once kids could see how it worked and how easy it was,
We sold out the Astrojax at our store within the day.
The next shipment, I had my employees doing shifts playing with the Astrojax, and by my next call to corporate, my manger was like, “What are you doing to sell these unsellable toys?”
I told them, and instead of getting the accolades I thought I would receive, they scolded me. They told me I was mis-using company time. They said I couldn’t spend so much time on one particular toy.
I remember having two options here. I definitely needed that job. I could NOT afford to get fired. There was a part of me that was like, “Of course. I’ll stop immediately.” and go back to the status quo. It was only a toy store, and I was going to be an improv millionaire.
But here’s the problem, I loved Astrojax too much. I couldn’t back down.
So I decided to DOUBLE DOWN.
I was like, “I think you’re making a mistake. I think showing the product and how fun and easy it is, is important. Kids see these “cool” teenagers playing with it and they want to do it too. Besides, no one is coming into our store for Astrojax. So it’s the perfect up-sell product. That’s an extra 8 dollars on top of whatever they are already purchasing. More so if there are more than one kid.
I had a grandmother come into the store, see our employee play with them and bought 16 sets of Astrojax for all the grandkids at the cabin. That’s 128 bucks on top of the waterslide and the beach stuff she already bought.”
My argument was pretty compelling. But my general manager was one of those “company” men with no imagination and no trust of his employees. He sat on the phone and hemmed and hawed.
So I DOUBLED DOWN AGAIN.
I go, “Tell you what. Have all the surrounding stores ship their Astrojax supply to our store. If we sell out by the end of June, you’ll push corporate to let us do more experiential selling.”
“And if they don’t sell?” He finally said.
“Then you can fire me, because I clearly don’t know what I’m doing.”
* * *
OH MY GAWD. Looking back now, I sound so badass and sure of myself. I don’t know what gave me all the confidence or the large swinging pair of “Astrojax” on young manager me! But DANG right?!?! The moxy!
But I believed in myself in this moment, and I believed in the product so much, I couldn’t stomach doing it the same old way, just because that’s “how they always did it.”
It got me thinking about the power we hold over ourselves mentally.
And the difference between believing I COULD versus believing that I couldn’t—do something.
Sometimes we develop thought patterns about ourselves because that’s what we’ve been taught, and sometimes we tell it to ourselves. And often we don’t push up against old ideals because we are too quick to accept them as fact, because of what we’ve always known. Instead of finding a better way.
This is how habits are born. Habits aren’t bad either. At one point we developed them because we needed to. But humans and systems and culture is ALIVE. We are constantly growing right? So it’s safe to say that a habit that might’ve served you at some point doesn’t work anymore.
This has never been more true for me when it comes to thinking of myself as “fit” or as an “athlete”. For so much of my life, I told myself that wasn’t me. Society backed up my thinking at almost every turn too. To the point where I could never identify with those descriptions.
And now– here we are. Just a few years of concentrated effort later, and now it’s one of the first things I describe myself as. I say, “Yes I’m an athlete. Yes I work out.”
Even after taking a while away from the gym, I was nervous to go back. I thought, “Oh no. Do I have to start all over again?” And even though some stuff stuff was harder than it was when I was regular, my body snapped back into action.
IT REMEBERED. And it felt good. I can be more/different/better than what people think of me. Than what I think of myself. I can push back against an old habit, or an old thought pattern.
I was hanging out with my friend Susannah, and she had this card on her fridge that I just loved. Its a picture of a big powerful horse tethered to a cheap, light plastic outdoor chair.
The caption read, “Sometimes the thing that is holding you back… is all in your head.”
The horse is not moving because it’s been taught that when it gets tethered to something, it is stuck. And that conditioning has been so engrained that it doesn’t even “try” to fight it anymore. Even when it’s not tied to something heavy that could stop it.
EVEN WHEN IT’S ONLY A PLASTIC CHAIR.
I laughed and I instantly loved it. Because duh right? How many times have I kept myself from doing something because I thought I was stuck or I couldn’t, or there was no room for me.
That I wasn’t good enough, or too this or too that?
How many times did I keep myself from doing something I could really enjoy like swimming or tennis, or a hip-hop dance class because I thought it wasn’t for people like me. Like LIFTING WEIGHTS.
How many times have I tied myself to a flimsy plastic chair of my own making, and forgot I was actually a powerful horse beast that could gallop into the sunset if I only fucking tried?!
Say it with me now,
BEACUSE THE MINUTE I REMEMBER
THAT POOR CHAIR DOESN’T STAND A CHANCE.
* * *
I’m happy to report that I was right to be so confident at the Toy Store.
I sold all those Astrojax. I sold the shit out of them.
Every kid within 50 miles of that store had a pair, I’m sure of it. I had won, because I dared to try and move when I was supposed to think I was tied up.
And I was soooooo smug about it too. Haha!
My General Manager relented and compromised. He had all the remaining stock sent to our store, and we were able to continue to “demonstrate certain toys on a trial basis” if they felt it would help sell the product.
I leaned into this freedom every chance I got. And let me just say, that’s not the last time I went round and round with corporate on the “right” way to sell toys.
It’s been good to be reminded of my bad-ass toy store managing days. I was bored, and so I was constantly trying to innovate in an environment that would’ve preferred me to be tied up.
I didn’t have a lot of stakes in that job, so in a way, I think it made me more fearless.
I wonder what I can do to cultivate more of that freedom when the stakes are higher?
Because I think that fearlessness offers me new freedom.
Freedom from an old thought, or habit, or practice that doesn’t serve me anymore.
Telling that old plastic chair, corporate red tape, or harmful ideology to EAT MY DUST.
As I gallop into my best self, calling “ASTROJAX!!!” as my battle cry.