|BALLBUSTER? True Confessions of a Marxist Businessman
SELLING REVOLUTION OVER THE COUNTER
From the very start, the board recognized that distribution beyond the radical market would be out greatest hurdle. How would we get Class struggle past the political prejudices of store owners and the outraged cries of conservative customers into the store window? Gouldner, Stevenson, and others to whom we had spoken about producing our game explained that all but the biggest toy companies use professional distributors, who take anything from 7 percent to 15 percent for their trouble. What you're buying is their connections, which in the case of a good distributor, Gouldner said, "are worth their weight in gold." The reigning motto in business seems to be: Anything that sells is good; any way it sells it is better; and he who sells a lot of them is best of all.
Once the game came out and immediately after the first favorable stores in the press (we now had a "hot" item), Howard and I visited several distributors. The first of these was Holiday Distributors. Ronnie, middle-aged and stout, and Herb, 10 years older and very slim, greeted us in what must have been the smallest office in the entire Toy Building. It was tucked away in the back corner, next to the freight elevator and just behind the men's room, on the tenth floor. The two small desks hugged each other for dear life in the center of the room, leaving just enough space for their occupants to squeeze around behind them and take seats facing thee two folding chairs that leaned up against the front door. The walls were lined with display cases showing stuffed giraffes, metal building sets, and such world-famous board games as Buffo and String Them Up. To compensate for their unimpressive surroundings, Ronnie wore the brightest green blazer and the shiniest red trousers in the industry, and Herb, who dressed more modestly, sported a waxed RAF mustache, which came out an inch on either side of his face.
"Sit down. Make yourselves at home. No, there. Just call me Herb."
"I'm Ronnie. No misters here. Yeah. Sit down there. Gimme your coat. Herb, take their coats."
"Two professors, huh?" Herb continued. "Do they look like professors to you, Ronnie?"
"Who knows what professors look like nowadays? Well, look at this." Ronnie began turning Class Struggle over in his hands. "Does this look like a game to you, Herb?"
"I can't think or do business on an empty stomach," Herb replied.
"That's not all he can't do on a empty stomach," Ronnie smiled and winked at us.
"Once I eat, I can do anything, and I do it all better than this momser here," Herb said, showing mock anger and giving Ronnie a gentle elbow in the ribs. "We'll send down for sandwiches. Four corned beef, okay?"
Howard and I were interested in learning what they had done, how well they had done it, and what kind of connections they had with the main department-store buyers.
"Trudy told me just the other day..." Herb began.
"That's Trudy Max, buyer for Gimbels," Ronnie interrupted. "We sold her 50 gross of PooPoo last year."
"Trudy said, 'Herbie,'" Herbie went on, "if all the reps knew their line of goods as well as you do, I could save 10 hours a week."
"We've been dealing with Trudy for six years. She trusts our judgment," Ronnie added, pumping his chin up and down for emphasis.
"How many years have we been selling to Harry, eight or nine?" Herb asked his partner.
"Ten. That's Harry Salzman of Korvettes," Ronnie informed us. "Herb, did you go to his boy's bar mitzvah? Two bands. What a shindig that was."
"No, that was Solly Weiss's boy's bar mitzvah." Then, to us, Herb added, "He used to be the buyer at Klein's, God rest his soul. Run over chased by a mugger, just outside of Klein's on Fourteenth Street."
"Nobody's safe. So stay home and play more games," Ronnie concluded. "That should be your slogan, Mr. Professor Bertell. Where did you say you came from?"
When we finally got around to business, Herb spoke for Holiday Distributors: "Sell? We sell to everybody, from Boston to Washington. And we got top connections in other parts of the country. The way it works is like this. You give us 15 percent, and we set up sales people all over the country for you. All the big store buyers will see your game. Why did you have to call it Class Struggle, by the way?"
By the time the corned beef arrived, Howard and I had come to the conclusion that Holiday was not for us. I then made the mistakebefore finishing my sandwichof saying that naturally we wanted to check out a couple other distributors before deciding whom to go with.
"What's there to check out?" Ronnie shot back in some annoyance. "You want we should help you or not?"
"Ronnie, these professors are not serious," Herb said, standing up. "Look, Professor Bertell, and you, too, Mister, go eat your sandwich someplace else. Who needs the headache?"
I apologized, mumbling something about not thinking I had said anything wrong, but, as the argument over who was guilty of inviting us heated up, we eased our way out, and finished our sandwiches in the hall.
Harvey Wolkowitz was a distributor friend of Sam Gouldner's. We met him, too, in the Toy Building, in a big and plush office, which, as we soon discovered, was not his. Wolkowitz had been ill and out of work for some time. He shook our hands with some difficulty; his leg was in a cast. In his day, he had been a "titan," Gouldner told us, but that was the day before yesterday. "Who do you think made the hoola hoop a household woid?" He was tight with Ed Greenberg in Cincinnati, and even worked with his father, "Old Ed." When no sign of recognition crossed our face, Wolkowitz told us that Eddy controlled Ohio's top department stores, "like in a vise." Wolkowitz was putting together a unique package of new toys and games, and from what he'd seen in the pressseveral stories had now appearedClass struggle might just fit. No, he didn't visit bookstores or, which surprised us, stationary stores. "That's another rep."
In discussions with stationery and book reps, we discovered that the 120,000 outlets that make up the game market are divided into three parts: 1) toy stores, supermarkets and drugstores, 2) stationery stores, and 3) bookstoresand each is visited by different representatives, who also visit the corresponding sections of department stores. As a rule, toy stores, toy departments, supermarkets, and drug stores carry children's games; stationery stores and departments carry adult games at all. Right from the start, however, Class Struggle's biggest customers were bookstores. Also, as a game that could really be played by "kids from eight to 80," Class Struggle was being ordered by both toy and stationery stores. In Bloomingdale's, one of our first department-store customers, Class Struggle was sold in both the toy and stationery departments, the only game to be so honored. All the reps we talked to would only venture into their special areas. At the same time, each wanted a geographical exclusive, which meant they would get a commission from any sale in their territory no matter what kind of store sold it.
It seemed that no one was ready to sell the game to all the stores that were already buying it except ourselves, and we were nobody, or a half-dozen nobodies, who were already taxing ourselves to the limit. Could we organize the distribution of Class Struggle ourselves? In this way, we wouldn't have to hand over the commissions for stores, including some of the major ones, which had already become our customers. If we could only find the right person to put it all together. Paul Gullen, who was fed up with his job in the bookstore and already helping Jo Ann as our part-time manager, presented himself as that person. It seemed like a perfect, if probably temporary, solution to our problems.
We agreed to pay Paul $15,000, guaranteeing the job for one year. We also gave him 10 shares of Class Struggle stock, then worth $3,000, to make him that much more than a simple employee. Howard in particular, was very pleased with this arrangement. As we shook hands on the matter, I couldn't help but reflectwith some trepidationthat I was now responsible for putting all of the bread on Paul's table. (That's the boss thinking. As a Marxist, I know, of course, that it's the other way around.)
Hiring Paul as manager coincided with Class Struggle, Inc.'s move into its first real office. Actually, we only moved from Paul and Jo Ann's Class Strugglecluttered bedroom to one of Ed's, but since Ed's was larger and no one was using it regularly, it seemed as if we now had a real office. Of course, Ed's two little girls were constantly running in and out, but that only added to the spice of a working day (again, that's management's view). Our new office could also hold several hundred games. Another 1,000, for which we needed to find a place, were crammed into my living room. "It's just for a couple of months," I promised Paule.
Every industry has annual shows where it displays its latest wares. It was at the American Booksellers Association Fair in late May, as we saw, that Howard made contact with Mondadori. In June, New York's Coliseum housed the Stationery Show; September saw the National Mail Order Show; October, the College Bookstore Show, and in February there was the big Toy Fair. We attended all of them in both our first and second year.
These shows are "for the trade." The general public is not welcome. There is nothing to buy, nothing to take away. Storeowners come to look at what the producers' imagination and resources have concocted for the American public. Owners of the littlest stores and buyers for the chains and department stores come. So does the trade press. The foreign competition comes to see what they can steal (and what was stolen from them). They all come to look, to compare gimmicks, prices, advertising campaigns, and, occasionally, quality. They come to think it over, sometimes to order, though the usual practice is to order later from the manufacturer's representative, who visits them in their stores.
A "booth" at one of these shows, that is a 10'x10' space fronting on one of 50 or more block-long aisles, costs anywhere from $500 to $1,000. In most instances, we couldn't afford to get a booth for ourselves. Also, applying late, which translates as less than a year before the show, means getting a booth in an out-of-the-way corner. At the National College Store Show, where we rented a whole booth, we were put on another floor along with other latecomers, with the result that almost no one saw the game. In selling, position is next to godliness.
The Coliseum is a large factory like space on Fifty-ninth Street and Seventh Avenue just across from Central Park. Its huge marquee is always announcing one world fair or another. In front, a long line of taxis never stops disgorging and swallowing up the nattily attired commercial gladiators whose battleground this is. I had never been to the Coliseum before the Stationery Show. To get in, I had to line up with other "out-of-towners" and show my Class Struggle, Inc., business card, which we had printed up for just such occasions.
Once inside the main exhibit hall, I searched through the numbered aislesso this is what they sell in stationery stores?for Harold Rossman, a friend of Gouldner's, who said he might rent us a corner of his booth. "No space," but Rossman suggested that other booths might be less congested. The Coliseum management explicitly forbids such transactions, but "What they don't know..."
A center aisle on the second floor had exhibits on three games, including a huge three-booth extravaganza on Mastermind. If only we could get a place on that aisle. After three or four refusals, I approached Matt Halveh, whose booth featured expensive leather chess and backgammon sets. Whether he was really sad about our plight, or so amused by our game, or just wanted company, I don't know. It certainly wasn't the money, because he asked for only $200 for three days, which is less than we ever paid for "piggybacking" on someone else's booth in one of these shows.
There was room in the booth for only one Class Struggle worker at a time. I took the first stint. Who were these people walking by? Cincinnati, Miami, HobokenI could only make out the cities on their name tags. The Class Struggle game lay open on a small table in front of me, and the cover of the game box hung from the side of the booth announcing to passerby who we were. What was I expecting? Why was I so excited? Did I really think that once these store owners saw what we had, they would stand in line to give me orders? Most of the people walking through the aisle didn't seem to see me. They were looking for ashtrays or doilies or fountain pens, and a booth exhibiting games did not interest them. Even Class Struggle? Some buyers looking for ashtrays did notice Class Struggle. If that happened once, it usually happened twice. Heads snapped back. Some who walked by would stop and come back to look, often from a safe distance, to see if our game box really said what they thought it said. Sometimes they would smile, a little embarrassed to be caught showing an interest in something so risqué.
"Hi, can I interest you in Class Struggle?" No, too political. "Did you see this article on our game in The New York Times?" worked better. Or, "Hottest selling game in Greenwich Village." Paul, when he came on duty, preferred, "Psst, buddy. Do you want to buy a hot game?" The truck was to turn their momentary shock or amusement into a dialogue, and from that into a sale.
Their first question was almost always some variation on, "Are you serious?" If this was followed by another smile, a sale frequently resulted. Unless it was the type of buyer who smiles coming in, smiles during the whole sales rap, and goes away still smiling. Some people, of course, are completely lost at fairs. Their loneliness often translates as aloofness and even hostility, because they don't want to b the first one to be rejected. A sharp smile to the chin will often daze them sufficiently so that they stop and listen to what you have to say. Then, so thankful for the human contact, even in the inhuman form of a sales pitch, they take a dozen.
By the second day, we had made friends with people in all the booths around us, though the heavyset man who sold Mastermind continued to eye us suspiciously for the entire show. The talk was all about "good deals" and "specials" and "Christmas seasons that were better [or worse] than others." Matt, who had kindly taken us into his booth, fancied himself a "Willy Rogers," and used every break in the flow of customers to lecture "the professors" on everything from a more soothing name for our game to the sex habits of Russian Communists. He was getting back at all the teachers who had ever bored him to tears and never let him leave his seat until the bell rang for the end of class. "See, you don't have to have a fancy education, right?"
"Sort of right, Matt...and sort of wrong." I couldn't afford to get into an argument and get thrown out of the booth. This was business. I had to be realistic. Smile. Be nice, be nice. I needed him. It was a humiliating introduction to the world of the salesman.
"Really," Matt insisted, "why don't you give your name a good American name, like Class Change?"
"That's an interesting idea," I said. "Let me think about it."
Our efforts at display reached their Madison Avenue heights in the National Mail Order Show in September. We rented a whole booth and put a 6'x6' photo of Marx as high on the back wall as we could reach. People were struck by it immediately on entering the hall. Just four weeks before, the picture had hung on the wall behind Tom Brokaw when he interviewed me on Maryland and Class Struggle on TV's Today show. Afterward, the producer explained it would probably be some years before they had another Marxist on the program, so if I wanted the picture...I did, and the Mail Order Show was the first chance we had to use it. Marx's austere visage certainly made our booth stand out from the picture-frame, wax candle, and toiletry exhibits in our area. And I'm sure Marx enjoyed looking down at the hustle and bustle of the capitalist exchange that went on below.
"What's he doing here?"
"He's coming later to autograph his game, Class Struggle."
In the first and even second trade show I attended, I felt exhilarated. I knew I didn't fit and would never fit, but these people were going to help us bring Class Struggle to the American public. That was what counted. My tie disguise didn't seem to fool anyone. My suit was too wrinkled, my beard unkempt. I stood out to them, but not as much as they stood out to me. These were not the crowds I was used to seeing at academic and radical meetings. The clothes were newer, with a lot more color, their checkered patterns often causing me to blink. Pants were pressed highwaters. Shoes were always shined. Only a few senior citizens wore glasses. Their hair was short and combed into submission. Overironed, overwashedI thought only choir children were sol cleaneverything was in place. Nothing was left to chance or fantasy. In an academic or political meeting, I am generally aware of the faces with their nuanced, pensive expressions, and can never remember what people were wearing. At the trade shows we attended, all I can recall is what people wore.
Still, I could not help but feel a little uncomfortable being so much an outsider. I felt much worse, though, a year later, when we returned to the same aisle in the Stationery Show and were greeted as old friends by the other exhibitors. For them, the "odd-balls" had survived a year in business and must be doing something right, must be "real businessmen." Had we really become a part of all this? Was I now a businessman?
Was it worth it going to all these shows? The question was debated at length at board meetings, but we could never say no to a chance to open up a new market. The fact is that the number of games sold at a show never paid for what the show cost us. Publicizing the game, of course, always helps, and we did make a number of contacts, some of whichas in the case of Mondadoripaid off. There were many other calls on our limited funds. We bought ads in The New York Times and in 10 Left and counterculture publications for a total of about $4,000. Instead of a flood of orders, we got a dribble. The media stories on the game were doing a much better job acquainting people with Class Struggle than the ads, which we soon stopped, except for Christmas.
We also sent out several large mailings to book and game stores: "Has Monopoly Met Its Match?" Included were blurbs from a dozen publications to show how universally we were loved...or, at least, accepted. Letters also went off to trade-union officials and social-science teachers and professors, offering them the wholesale price on bulk orders. Again, the several dozen people who responded to our offer did not make up for the cost of the mailing.
Radical publications were approached to run per-inquiry adsthey print the ad free and we split with them the money that comes in. A few, including The Nation, agreed, but the results were disappointing. We wrote to the book clubs: "Are you ready to offer your members something completely different?" They weren't. Taken together, all our promotion efforts, the shows, the ads, mailings, etc., cost us over $15,000 in the first year. Some of the evidence was slow coming in, but it all pointed in one direction. The best way to sell games is to visit buyers in the stores.
From the start, we had also taken this route, but, having rejected professional distributors, for the reasons I gave earlier, our options were limited. Our first idea was to develop a network of radical salespeople in all the big cities and important university towns across the country, people for whom Class Struggle was a way to do politics as well as a means to earn money. Given the extra time it took to explain the game to potential customers (and to display the growing pile of clippings), some degree of commitment to our cause, we believed, was essential. Paul would visit most of the stores in New York and I undertook to visit major stores in the cities where I gave lectures, usually about once a month.
Brentano's and Bloomingdale's are the pacesetters for games in New York City. The fact that Class Struggle was in these stores and selling extremely wellthe manager of the Brentano store in Greenwich Village said it was his fastest-selling gamegave us a wedge for opening up other accounts. Orders were often cautious at the start, but going into that Christmas season a couple hundred New York stores were willing to sell the game.
Outside New York, the situation was very different, except in radical bookstores, where owners had already heard of the game. Most of these owners had already heard of the incident with the Bretano strikers. After I gave my side of the story, they generally ordered a dozen games. The buyer in Hirsch's Department Store in St. Louis, however, looked at me as if I were a madman. None of my funny lines worked. He seemed relieved when I left without assaulting him.
Kramer's, Washington's largest bookstore, set up a big window display on Class Struggle, and sold over 50 in a week. But Woody's and Hecht's, the two largest department store chains in the Washington area, insisted that the game had not proven itself. What did they wantblood? Their proximity to the University of Maryland suggested as much.
It's dangerous to make appointments at a distance. Paul set up an appointment for me in Los Angeles with Shaffer's Department Store. After a 20-minute ride into the heart of Los Angeles's black ghetto, I arrived at a small Chinese general store, which, for some ancient historical reason, is called Shaffer's Department Store. Amazed that I should come all that way to see him, Simon Yuan, the owner, ordered a dozen games.
My friend Bob Bonic's niece is married to the son of a grand muck-a-muck in the Toys-R-Us organization, who got me an introduction to the buyer, Hy Steinway. Until then, he had refused to see us. At least, a connection. I decided to handle this one myself. Later, while waiting in Steinway's other office, I overheard two salesmen talking: "Gotta bump 'em up to a car load...pass along allowances...if they feature it, that's so much P.M. money...the competition is testing their product in high markets...dealer's choice...kick back on some of the A.I. but never on the M.I....only a big ad program will firm it up" (from my notebook). I was reminded of a nonsense lecture that I sometimes give to students in "Introduction to Political Theory" just to see if they're critical enough to recognize nonsense when they hear it. I had always liked Hemingway's definition of "education" as a "crap detector." My natural bent is critical, but I suspected this wasn't nonsense, just a new language I had yet to learn.
"Hello, I'm Professor Bertell Ollman, president of Class Struggle, Inc. I'm sure you've already heard of our game, Class Struggle."
"Oh, yeah. I saw something about it in the Post," Steinway replied. He was 40 going on 20, with a huge hippy necklace hanging from a red-freckled, well-manicured head. "You're a friend of Cy's?"
"Well, actually, I'm a good friend of Harold, his son. Wonderful kid, Harold." I swung easily into what I thought was expected.
Opening up my packet of newspaper clippings, I moved quickly to the business at hand. "The New York Times and over 50 other publications have had stories on Class struggle, practically all of them are favorable." I held my breath for a second, hoping Steinway hadn't seen the article that had just appeared in The National Star under the heading, "Marxist Professor Out to Get Our Kids." I went on. "Right now, it is the fastest selling game in Brentano's in New York. Bloomingdale's..."
"Where are you a professor?" Steinway broke in.
"NYU," I answered, trying not to muss a beat in my salesman's patter. "Let me show you how Class Struggle works. The game revolves around a contest between..."
"I don't like the box," Steinway interrupted, holding the game up in front of him.
"What?" I felt my jaw drop.
"Black. It's a bad color for games. Games are yellow, red, bright colors. They stand out in the stores." Steinway was giving me a lesson in basics.
"But with all the other games in bright colors, a black game will stand out. No?" My composure had returned, and I wasn't about to cede the point.
"And why do you have the word 'EDUCATION' in such big letters?" Then, reading from the box, " 'AN EDUCATIONAL GAME FOR KIDS FROM 8 TO 80'?"
"Because it is," I said.
" 'Education' doesn't sell the game," Steinway intoned with authority. "It puts people off. 'Fun,' 'exciting,' 'super,' sells games. People have enough education in school. They don't want to take it home with them."
"The word is used ironically," I explained. "Most people can see that. It's part of the humor in the game."
"I don't see anything funny about education." And with this, Steinway took out a tape and started measuring the box. "Yeah, I guess it would fit," he finally said.
"What?" I wasn't sure I had heard him right.
"On our shelves. Space is at a premium on our shelves," Steinway repeated. Then, lifting and shaking the game, he added, "Mice weight. Games have to weigh something, need to feel right in the box. People buy what feels right."
"Is there anything else last month with the game on the Today show, and am scheduled to be interviewed on Tom Snyder's Tomorrow show. There has been a lot of local TV stuff, news programs and a few talk-show appearances. But advertising on TV is beyond our budget." Reeling off more of our media successes helped perk me up.
Steinway was unimpressed. "Advertising on TV is what sells games. People need to be told to go out and get it."
"But our game is already selling very well," I assured him.
"That's New York." Steinway was beginning to show annoyance. "We're talking about 30 stores spread around the country."
I persisted. "Class Struggle is a terrifically exciting and funny game. People all over will..."
"Look, Professor," Steinway interrupted, "save that kind of talk for the cover of your game. It's for customers over the counter. Me, I'm interested in color, weight, and above all advertising budgets. Between you and me, I couldn't care less how the game is played, whether it's fun or not. Who knows why people have fun? It could be shit. A lot of times, it is shit. I just want to sell it, and I know what sells games."
I obviously had a lot to learn about games, and fun, and selling. This was not the crackerjack salesman that the drunk oracle, whose shoes I'd shined so many years back, had predicted. Sill, Steinway closed our meeting by saying he'd take a couple of dozen for stores next month to get the order. After the dent Steinway made in my self-confidence, I considered myself lucky to have gotten any order at all. At least we had opened an account with the chain. The game would prove itself in the "trenches," Paul's favorite name for the stores.
When we called the next month, Steinway's line was busy. It was busy for a week, two weeks, four weeks. We left messages, but he never returned our calls. Nor did he respond to our letters. Three months later, after I hollered at his secretary that he had chosen a stupid and impolite way of saying no, Steinway took the phone and said no politely"Maybe next year."
As I traveled through the hinterlands, I found that buyers were much more willing to state their political objections to the game. The buyer at Scott's Department Store in Chicago found Class Struggle very amusing. Then, pen in hand about to write up an order, she looked at me quizzically and said, "I just hope that no one learns anything from the game." Do I reassure her? A businessman would, if that's what she wants to hear, if that will clinch the sale. I hesitatedthe words wouldn't come. She put the pen down. "Call back in a couple of weeks for an order." Another empty response.
At Swallen's discount chain in Cincinnati, the buyer was impressed enough to order four dozen, but before I left, he decided to check with the manager who, after a hurried conference, vetoed the deal. "Mr. Swallen is a very religious man," the buyer explained in some embarrassment, "and he wouldn't like us to sell a socialist game." "But Jesus was a socialist," I protested. "Not Mr. Swallen's Jesus," came the reply.
As a rule, the higher one ascends in the hierarchy of business, the friendlier, more relaxed, and confident the person. Owners and managers of bigger companies were often interested in me as a professor. I heard a lot about kids in college, and occasionally words were exchanged on the state of the nation. If we talked about capitalism and socialism, they generally took pains to let me know how hard they worked, how they took all the risks and had all the ideas and worries and, therefore, why they deserve everything they've got.
I never doubted what they told me, or wondered how these experiences gave rise to such views. Unfortunately, life has little to do with "deserving." Otherwise, other small businesspeople who worked equally hard would not have lost everything (and they are the majority); and most big businesspeople, who never worked at all and who inherited the sizeable wealth with which they began, would not be where they are; and workers, who have worked long and faithfully for their employers, would not now be losing their jobs and incomes. But I was here to sell games, so I acted suitably impressed and either said nothing or mumbled something about "agreeing to disagree."
Visits with buyers and assistant managers were usually briefer, more to the point. Less secure in their jobs, they have all sorts of status signals to live (and suffer) by. They are uncomfortable meeting a salesman-professor; "Just what kind of hybrid monster is that?" Low on self-confidence, many cannot afford a sense of humor. They may laugh at the wrong time or too much, so they don't laugh at all. Newer buyers often want big discounts on shipping and advertising to show their bosses they are doing well. Everyone's concern is with the bottom line.
One evening while I was on the road, I tried to reread Death of A Salesman, but it was too painful. I had put it aside. The indifference, the return calls and promise of orders that never come, the abrupt refusals, the recorded voices stalling"Call after the show; before the show; later in the fall." No funds, no place, no call for it. And always the subtle signs of who has power over whomtoo polite, too haughty, too suave, no time, another appointment, someone waiting downstairs, an important call, "Excuse me, please." The adventure of starting a business had been replaced by the weary and worry ridden routine of running one. It was also very tiring playing the merry Marxist"Who, me, dangerous?"
The long, slow walk back to my car. Sitting there, trying hard to keep the overall picture in mind. Seeking comfort in clichés"One battle does not a war make." The efforts of the noble Odysseus also came to mind more than once. Business had not become any less hazardous in the intervening centuries. I had a need to fix my attention on something warm and natural, like that rabbit running by the edge of the wood...or, better still, like the big sale Paul made last week to Gimbels.
But I have been moving ahead of my story. In late summer of 1978, selling Class Struggle in New York was like pulling ripe apples off a tree, and a few stores in Washington and Boston were selling games as fast as they came in. Sales in July and August (traditionally a slow period) had moved up to 2,000 a week and were increasing. Susan Kronick, the buyer at Bloomingdale's, said that it looked as if Class Struggle was becoming the game of the year. If the interest continued, she was thinking about featuring it for Christmas, which meant an additional order of 10,000. At this pace, our second edition of 25,000, which we had just received, would soon be sold out.
At a Sunday meeting of the board in early September, we discussed the need for more games. Paul told us he had just got a call from a buyer in Holland who wanted 5,000 games, though the details of the deal still had to be worked out. It would be politically irresponsible, we agreed, to be caught without games just before Christmas, but we were practically broke. Very little money had actually been received for the games we sold. How could we pay for new games? Thirty-five thousand dollars was due soon from Mondadori, stores owed us almost double that amount, we could sell more shares in Class Struggle, Inc. (Sokol still wanted to buy into the business), Simon and Schuster might advance us something as part of a distribution deal then pending(more on this later), and with our track record there should be no problem borrowingif we still needed it$25,000 to $50,000 from the bank. In the euphoria of the moment, there was no doubt about the issue. We sold order 25,000 more games from Finn.
I saw Finn a few days later and told him we wanted another 25,000 games at the $3 per game figure he quoted me when we made our first agreement. Not so fast! Or so easy! He apologized profusely but said that the price of paper had risen so much in the last month that the best he could offer me now was $3.37 per game, or about $8,000 more than we expected to pay. I was dumbfounded. Another squeeze play. Gouldner was wrongI still wasn't a businessman. "However, if you want 50,000," Finn added, "I can let you have them for as little as $3.20 per game." Jo Ann dissenting, that the best thing to do was to swallow our resentment and order the largest number. "Look," I recall saying, "the way the game is selling, the worst thing that can happen is that we'll have a few left over after Christmas!"