BOSTON. “The results are in,” Tony Armandine, a manager at the last remaining department store in downtown Boston said to an assembled group of retail help yesterday, the day after Christmas. “And the winner–once again–is Ned Pringy,” he continues, then moves down the rows of folding chairs in the sales associate “bullpen” to hand the Top Producer award for the third consecutive year to a man who presents a sharp contrast to his colleagues with his salt-and-pepper crew cut, tweed jacket and horn-rimmed glasses.
“I don’t get it,” says Teresa Maldonanofobannafonucci, a twenty-six year old woman who commutes into town on the Blue Line train every day from East Boston. “He’s a total square, but I guess he connects with people.”
“Thanks, Tony,” Pringy says as he accepts a Lucite trophy, hotel reservations for a one-week stay in Orlando, Florida, and a year’s supply of Mrs. Paul’s Fishsticks. “My dad told me not to gloat when I win, so let me just say best of luck to all of you next year,” he adds, then returns to his seat with just the hint of a satisfied smile on his face.
“Haven’t you got something just a little more expensive?”
“I don’t know what it is, but I wish I could bottle it and sell it,” Armandine tells this reporter after the ceremony breaks up, and Pringy graciously agrees to share his secret formula after his colleagues have left the room.
“You’ve got to know your customers, and go after the ones who are the most profitable,” he says. And who might they be? “WASPs,” he says, referring not to the flying insect that is neither a bee nor an ant, but to white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, the ethnic group that provided America with its founding fathers and mothers, and which clings tenaciously to the reins of power that other races and nationalities appear poised to wrest from its grasp in the twenty-first century. Members of the clan are highly-prized customers, according to Consumer Shopping Monthly, an industry magazine, reflecting the old rag trade joke “Why did God create WASPs? Because somebody has to pay retail.”
Asked to demonstrate his methods, Pringy takes his station behind the glove and scarf counter that he patrols like a jungle cat in a cage every day, sizing up the fattened prey who walk the aisles before him. “Watch this,” he says, as he sees a woman of a certain age hesitating before she approaches with a crumpled shopping bag in her hands.
“Excuse me,” she says timidly, and Pringy replies “Yes?” with a low-wattage smile that would light up a toaster oven.
“I . . . I’d like to return these gloves,” the woman says, visibly screwing up her courage for the potentially embarrassing commercial encounter.
“What seems to be the problem with them?” Pringy asks.
“I received them as a gift, but they’re maroon and I don’t have anything I can wear them with.”
Pringy concludes after a close inspection that the proffered return includes items suitable for both right and left hands, then with a sigh of exasperation says “I can only give you store credit, there’s a loose stitch in the palm of this one.”
“Now that you mention it, it DOES make me look fat.”
“Where?” the woman asks, fumbling in her purse for her reading glasses, but before she can detect the alleged flaw, Pringy has tossed the goods–with an air of disgust at woman’s inhumanity to his employer’s profit margin–onto a heap of other unwanted presents. He writes out a credit slip when the woman says she needs panty hose, not gloves, and thanks her for her business with a patently false smile.
“I’ve got a foolproof WASP detector,” he says as he tidies up. “You can play on their guilt, and their unwillingness to make a scene,” he adds as a man in a stylishly out-of-date fedora approaches with a pair of gloves he’s picked up at the end of the counter.
“Are these on sale?” the man asks, having seen red and white “SALE!” signs around the store.
“I’m afraid not,” Pringy says when Javier Cruz, a sales trainee who has been folding scarves, begins to interrupt.
“Actually, they are . . . OW!” Cruz screams when Pringy steps on his foot to cut off disclosure of several price discounts that may apply.
“You’d better go to Human Resources and see if they have a Band-Aid,” Pringy says, and Cruz hobbles off to the elevator at the rear of the store.
“Are you sure about that?” the man asks, recovering his focus after the apparent accident.
“Quite sure, we have two months of winter ahead of us–at least!” Pringy says, picking up his scanner gun and aiming it at the bar code on the tag.
“Well, all right I guess,” the man says, pulling out his wallet and handing Pringy three twenty-dollar bills. “I lost my old pair today–I hate that.”
“Oh, I do too,” Pringy says, then adds, “you got a good price on these” as he hands back a nickel change.
“Sure–these would have cost you $150 at Brooks Brothers.”
“Are their gloves better?”
“No, of course not. But if you’re looking for something more expensive . . .”
“I could have bought this sweater for a LOT more at Brooks Brothers.”
The man purses his lips as he considers the question for a moment, then replies “Well, money is no object, but I’m midway between their two stores, so I guess I’ll have to save some for once.”
“That’s the spirit!” Pringy says as he cuts the tags off the gloves so the man can wear them, then leans against the counter as he watches with a satisfied smile as he watches the customer walk off. “Retail is all about helping people,” he says, “especially people who are genetically incapable of haggling.”
His attention is recalled to his work by a woman holding a scarf and coupons in her hand, apparently intent on scoring a post-Christmas bargain. “I have two of these,” she says, holding out little red and white squares of paper that she has cut from a Sunday newspaper supplement. “Which should I use?” she asks, having seen clerks elsewhere on the floor offer shoppers assistance in obtaining the lowest price possible.
“Let’s see,” Pringy says, holding the first one under a light that deciphers the squiggly stripes of machine-readable data. “This . . . is worth ten percent off,” he says haltingly as he looks at his display screen, “if you are a left-handed Lithuanian.”
“Well, of course I’m not,” the woman says with a haughty air. “How about the other?”
“This one’s good for $5 off any item over $20 if your ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower.”
“Hmph,” the woman says as she drops the scarf on the counter and turns to walk away. “That one’s no good either.”