Jack Maynard had a heightened sense of a correct shopping environment. The moment Batten had set foot inside, he noticed that Maynard's store had a distinctly different appearance from any other J. C. Penney store he had seen. Substantial and very subtly stylish, it looked more like a city department store than the usually dowdy space one expected upon entering most Penney stores.
One afternoon after concluding some routine business, Batten turned to leave in the manager's office. "Mil," Maynard called, "hold on a sec." He caught Batten by the balcony railing that over-looked the main floor. "Just thought of something. I must be inspired today."
"You are?" Batten answered with a tentative smile.
"Well, since you attended the University of Chicago, for the longest time I've thought we ought to have a conversation." Batten had quickly learned to take almost nothing for granted about Jack Maynard, so the twinkle in the manager's eye was both exciting and perplexing. He knew he was about to learn something interesting, and he did not have the slightest idea what it would be.
"Okay" was all he could manage, making him feel a little unworthy.
"I'm going to point out something I normally confine to our visual people. Something that our other associates and our customers certainly feel, but something that most people don't really see, per se."
"Oh?" Batten replied, now unworthy without question.
"When you were at Chicago, which of the great Chicago stations did you happen to see?"
"Stations?" Batten repeated stupidly, hating himself further. He had no idea why the question hadn't been, "Which of the great Chicago department stores did you see?" But, as quickly, he knew that train depotsor at least the "great" onessomehow figured into the way Maynard sold merchandise. "Only two," Batten answered. "Union Station was where I arrived, and I went up to Milwaukee one weekend from the Northwestern."
"Two of the best, perfect," said Maynard. "And why am I pleased?"
Batten still didn't have a clue, and said so. "I don't have the slightest. But they sure are spectacular buildings , outside and inside."
"Exactly," beamed Maynard. "To what purpose, though?" Batten had to say something and gambled on logic. "I don't think you mean rich railroads splurging on fancy showplaces. So I'd say they celebrate traveling by train. They romance the trip."
"Yes, the perfect words," Maynard said, "˜celebrate and ˜romance. After all, as a practical matter what do you need for a city train station? Just a huge, nondescript barn, really. But those magnificent stations not only celebrate and romance travel, they do what? For the customer, the traveler ?"
"Yes, but say there were two identical trains going to your destination, each for the same fare, each as convenient as the other. But one leaves from a big, dingy barn, the other from a great station. Which do you choose?"
"Obviously not the barn."
Batten glanced down at the first floor and had it. "The great station adds value to the trip?"
"Precisely." The manager had followed Batten's eyes. He delivered one of his grand smiles and waved at the store below with confirmation.
Batten played it out with confidence now. "So to sell dry goods and everyday apparel, all that's really needed is some clean, decently lighted space and some fixtures. Nothing more. And that's about all you get at the average Penney store. But this is not your average Penney store."
"Are we pretending we're something we're not, then?"
"No, we don't pretend we're Marshall Field's or Carson's. We sell value merchandise," Batten answered. "On the other hand, if the store looks better than it has to, in the customer's mind the values are enhanced. At the same time, the associate feels greater pride and renders better service. And the customer leaves happier than she might have otherwise , and she doesn't keep her feelings to herself."
Maynard beamed and clapped Batten on the shoulder, turning back toward his office with, "Sometimes, Mil, I wonder if there's anything I can ever teach you."