Growing Up as a Mall Worker - Part 1

I grew up working trade shows and mall kiosks with my dad from the age of 7. He owned a toy and novelty business that was growing quickly. He needed additional help and offered to pay me. That meant I would get paid to spend time with my dad and travel. It was a no brainer. I would have gladly done the work for free. Looking back on it, it might have been illegal child labor, but I loved every minute of it. My primary job was to run the cash register and credit card machine while my dad closed the deals.

This was back in the mid 90's. A credit card machine was a 35 lb mass of metal that sat under the table. I strongly disliked any person that would use a credit card. It meant I had to lift a contraption that was half my body weight onto a table, place the card in it, fill it with carbon copy paper and ring up the order. Cash was much easier.

Often people would buy products from us simply to see if a 2nd grader would give them the correct change. Most of the time I did.

I didn't understand it at the time, but this was my introduction to business.

Part of selling toys is demonstrating your product. A 7-year-old can demonstrate a toy to another kid and it is perfectly normal. It's like I'm inviting the kid to play. If a grown man does it, that is creepy. My dad understood this and used my age to demonstrate the toys and lure kids over to the booth. I say lure because sometimes I felt like I was fishing with toys. I would use toys like a Ketch-It Ball (rubber ball attached to a nylon bracelet) to get their attention. I would intentionally throw it in their path to get their attention. If it worked, I would talk to the kid and show them toys while my dad would close the sale with the parent or grandparent. It worked like a charm.

Over time I realized that our ideal customer was a grandparent and child. Grandparents want to spoil their grandkids. The easiest way to do that is with sweets and toys. I knew that if I could get the kids attention, we would close the sale.

My dad was teaching me how to do market analysis with a toy. I had to be picky with who I targeted. During the busy holiday season rush, I couldn't go after every person that walked by. I had to be smart. I had to make them count. He was teaching me how to select prime targets for your product and find ways to grab their attention.

Some people learn business from the classroom, but I learned it growing up as a mall worker.

Over the next week, I'm going to break out examples from my experiences as a mall worker into a series of blog posts that cover the topics of:

  • Marketing
  • Building a Culture
  • Capitalizing on Opportunities
  • Positioning People

Check back on Tuesday morning for the next post, or you can subscribe to the blog here.

Bryan Clifton

Oklahoma City, OK