Retailing at the Crossroads

Published 7:40 am Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury

Retail wizard J C Penney would have been confounded by the tightrope-walking required in today’s world of retailing. He likely never dreamed of 140 JCP stores closing in one fell swoop.

Onward/outward/upward marked his insight. He credited a strong commitment to advertising for much of his chain’s success.

He was often saddened, however, believing that half of his advertising budget was misspent. “Trouble is, I don’t know which half,” he admitted.

While technology lunges ever forward in the USofA, things haven’t changed much down in the thicket, where my 104-year-old Uncle Mort lives. The countryside is currently abuzz with excitement about the decision to install a signal light at the intersection of two farm-to-market roads.

It’ll be the only lighted signal for 20 miles in any direction, and the citizenry fears it might be terribly confusing, particularly if it has arrows blinking in red, green and yellow colors, 24/7.

Mort and the rest are relieved to learn the signal will not be “cutting edge.” In fact, it barely rates being called “old-fangled.” It has only four bulbs–one for each direction–and it blinks only in yellow. It will, as Mort puts it, “stay plugged in around the clock.”

He doesn’t figure it will materially affect him. Mort doesn’t travel far on his golf cart, and his speed wide open is about 20 MPH.

Once monthly, though, he passes through the intersection en route to the swamp for frog-gigging and frogleg-frying competition.

Mort says the gigging becomes routine, but the contest judge–once an employee at a NASCAR track–adds flair when announcing the frogleg-frying segment. “Gentlemen, heat yo’ skillets.”

During his early years of coaching, the late/great Paul (Bear) Bryant and a coaching buddy helped make ends meet by operating a dry-cleaning shop.

He said it was then he first realized things tend to come out even, both on and off the football field.

“If we’d been paid for all the cleaning bills, we’d have been rich,” he drawled. “But if we’d paid for all the clothes we damaged, we’d have been bankrupt.”

My friend, Dr. Jimmie Nelson, a retired seminary professor who has been preaching for 71 years, is still at it. He, too, believes things tend to come out even.

“I was never much of a golfer,” he says. “In fact, I pledged to play only 18 holes of golf every eight years. For a while, I was on course, but I’ve missed the last three or four cycles.”

Several years ago, he traded his golf clubs for religious commentaries. “I groused about the trade for a while,” he claims. “They were sorry books, but not as sorry as my golf game.”

Sometimes, though, things don’t come out even–at least not in the minds of some egocentric athletes.

Upon hearing they were planning bobble-head doll likeness giveaways of an athlete at an upcoming game, he demanded changes.

“First of all, it shouldn’t be a doll,” he deadpanned. “It should be an action figure.”

We are put in our place in unexpected ways. At a long-ago speaking engagement, I was asked for the date and exact time of my birth. Simple enough, thought I, wondering why the introducer didn’t request a bio. Soon, I would understand why.

“Our speaker this evening was born at 2 p.m. on September 7, 1937,” the introducer said. “This means he’s had 60 years, two months, one week, three days and five hours to prepare his remarks, so they ought to be good.”

Less than 30 seconds had expired when he sat down. As I surveyed the audience, I felt woefully under-prepared. Time might have been better spent that day if I’d accompanied my Uncle Mort to the swamp. I’m not sure I would have been much of a hand at frog-gigging, but I could have joined the crowd in listening to the judge’s unchanging instructions: “Gentlemen, heat yo’ skillets.”


Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: