While giving the grand tour of the northeast Liquidation World, Dale Gillespie bumps into some customers in the furniture department.
“Can I help you, folks?” the chief executive officer of Liquidation World asks, primed for a sales pitch.
“We need a marriage counsellor,” a customer replies.
“Then I can’t help you,” deadpans Gillespie.
|David Lazarowych, Business Edge|
|Dale Gillespie drives his own motorhome to visit his far-flung empire of 88 Liquidation World outlets.|
It might be the only time this sales superstar failed to close the deal.
“Look at this!” gushes Gillespie, holding up a spiffy light fixture.
“First-class light fixtures. Look at the price — $101.88!”
“Is there anything you haven’t sold?” he is asked.
“Not that we know of,” smiles the 59-year-old Edmonton native. “We get everything — the good, the bad and the ugly. Eventually, Mrs. Jones gets her price.”
Gillespie isn’t a typical boss of a major retail chain. He still craves the action in the trenches, mingling with staff and customers, and touring his empire of 88 stores with his wife Dianne.
1. You’re the (NFL analyst who refuses to fly) John Madden of retail, touring stores by motorhome. Why is that?
“If we’re visiting stores in Grande Prairie and Peace River, for example, the cost to fly and scheduling is a problem. If I get to a store, we can be there a few days until we solve the problem. We invite the staff out to a barbecue at the motorhome. I also like to sleep in my own bed. We’ve made about 200,000 miles by motorhome.”
2. Are you a lot like your customers in that you won’t buy anything that’s not a bargain?
“My Mercedes (’97) is out of a liquidation. The guy that bought it new gets swacked pretty hard. My wife’s looking for a cruise and, I’ll tell ya, if there’s not a sharp deal, we’ll stay home.”
3. Your favorite memory from a boyhood in Edmonton?
“In the spring, we’d play marbles. I thought it was a slow way of collecting marbles and you froze your hands. So I devised a new method. I took a jar, cut a hole in the top, told the kids if they drop their marbles through the hole, I’ll give ’em five for every one they drop. Of course, it’s kind of like a slot machine. They can’t win. I had apple boxes of marbles. So I never went out looking for rocks for my slingshot. I used marbles.”
4. So sales was a way of life even in your youth?
“At 14, I was driving, delivering prescriptions for a druggist! I worked the gully at Highlands golf course, and when they shot a ball in there, I’d say: ‘If you want your ball back, throw me a quarter.’ When I was 16, I remember walking into a bar in a hotel in a sleazy part of Edmonton, asking if anyone had anything to sell. A guy took me to this shack where he sold me a new fridge for $30. I went home and asked my dad (Cecil) to help haul it in. He was mortified. I asked my dad to clean it up and told him I’d take the family out for dinner. I sold it for $100. I didn’t always win. I lost a prized car in a card game as a kid. That taught me something. I never played poker again.”
5. How far did you go in school?
“Grade 11. I was always selling the teacher on why we should have a day off. School had no interest for me.”
6. What was your first full-time job?
“It was with Woodward’s stores in 1959. I was the youngest manager there (manager of hardware and automotives at 21).”
7. How was Liquidation World launched in 1986?
“I presented a business plan to three guys that were customers in my former business (Acmetrack Ltd.). I said I needed $300,000. One guy wrote a cheque for $150,000. The other two wrote cheques for $75,000. Those guys initially owned 80 per cent and I owned 20 per cent.”
8. To what do you attribute the company’s success in going from $790,000 in sales in the first year to $165 million in 2000?
“Hard work, obviously, is part of the secret. But I think it was surrounding myself with people who shared my vision and the dream. What we really tried to do was change the way this industry was. This industry was sleazy. I thought there was a business in trying to legitimize the liquidation business.”
9. Is there an entrepreneur you admire most?
“There are so many. Sam Walton (Wal-Mart founder). I mean, hello. He was just the best. He had a dream and a desire and he had the ability to carry it through.”
10. Is winning everything to you?
“Yeah, it is. You don’t play if you can’t win.”
11. Do you make time for leisure activities?
“No. I’ve been able to get out for nine or 18 holes of golf almost once every year. (He points to a Liquidation World ski suit on an office hanger). I bought that, thinking: ‘Boy, I’ll get out skiing.’ The receipt’s still in the pocket. It was Oct. 18, 1996. I paid $449.99. Regular price, $899.99. And there it hangs.”
12. So you live and breathe your business?
“I’ll phone a retired friend and say: ‘What’d you do today?’ He’ll say: ‘Gee, I read two newspapers, did the crossword, went to the mall, did three laps, went for coffee, met some pals, had lunch, went shopping and at five o’clock started happy hour.’ I said: ‘Well, if that’s retirement, please don’t let me get into it.’ It’s not my program. I mean, they PAY me to go shopping.”
13. Best advice you can give a young salesperson?
“First off, know your product. Most sales people don’t know their product and they don’t know the competition. How many times have you gone to buy a car, you ask a question and the guy says: ‘Duhhh...’ ? ”
14. What’s the key to closing the deal?
“I think asking for the order. Most people can’t ask for the money.”
15. How has the dot-com craze impacted your business?
“We’re constantly liquidating dot-bomb companies and there’s a few more to go. We’re just closing another one this afternoon. Most are U.S. companies, like Red Rocket Toys and E-Toys.”
16. What is the most gratifying part of your job?
“Seeing people with dead-end jobs become successful. I remember talking to a guy who said somebody can’t do something because their early training was as a cocktail waitress. I said: ‘Well, Merry Oxtoby (a Liquidation World secretary) was a cocktail waitress until two years ago and now she’s the most organized person.”
17. What do you want to see on a resume?
“A lot of our employees come from companies we liquidate. When a company starts to falter, there’s an exodus of people. Those people should have been fired in the first place. If you open up the chests of the people who are still there when we show up, you’re going to see the company’s logo on their hearts. We grab those people because they are people of substance, they are dedicated and they’ve been through hell.”
18. So staff loyalty is crucial?
“As an example, we have never lost a senior management or executive person in our company, and I can assure you that it’s not because they’re overpaid. I think they know that they’re appreciated and they also know there are all kinds of opportunities here.”
19. Do you liken your role as a liquidator to that of an undertaker?
“If you and I are sick in the hospital, we’ll be lucky to see one of our loved ones on each given day. However, if you die, there’ll be 150 people at your funeral. People go to funerals and it’s the same with this business. You can have your stuff at 70 per cent off and you’re just dying on the vine and people will walk past your door. But when we take that company, put a notice on the door that says their inventory is being sold at Liquidation World, we’ll have 50 people lined up outside the door to get their hands on the merchandise at 30 per cent off.”
20. What do you see in your life’s crystal ball?
(Laughing) “Well, I’m not goin’ to go walk the mall!”
IN PROFILE: Dale Gillespie
* Born/raised/age: Edmonton, 59.
* Title: President/CEO, Liquidation World.
* Education: Grade 11.
* Family: Wife Dianne, sons Darren, Derrick, daughter Darlene.
* Resume: Former manager at Woodward’s department store, where he launched his career in 1960.
* Claim to fame: Gillespie was the Prairie Division Entrepreneur of the Year in the retail sales category in 1995.
* Passions: Travelling the Liquidation World circuit by motor home.
THE COMPANY: Liquidation World
* Brass: Dale Gillespie, president/CEO; Wayne Mantika, senior vice-president; Andrew Searby, CFO; Dianne Gillespie, special projects.
* Focus: Liquidation World, founded in 1986, markets consumer and business-related merchandise acquired from bankruptcies, receiverships, close-outs, inventory over-runs, insurance claims and other distress situations.
* Stats: Liquidation has 88 stores in five provinces and four states, employs 1,600 people and boasted sales of $165 million in fiscal year 2000.
* Recent stock price (LQW-TSE): $8.00 (year range, $4.10-$8.50).
* Website: www.liquidationworld.com
* Address: #3880 29th St. N.E., T1Y 6B6.
* Phone/Fax: 250-1222, 291-1306.