April 23, 2005

At Hancock Fabrics, we take staff meetings very seriously. We prepare. Lois brings donut holes, Suzette brings that tres delicieaux pudding cake from the Safeway bakery and Taffy brings some Sunny Delight, to make the breakfast healthy. Myself, I try mix it up a little. If my husband hasn't eaten all the Crisco, I might even bake something from scratch.

The other day, however, I was low on Crisco, and low on time, so I just bought some Nutter Butters. They must be protein-rich, with all that peanut goodness, no? Lois and Taffy are into the whole South Beach Diet thing.

Suzette, our newest employee, again expressed amazement at our snack offerings. "Wow, look at the spread!" she exclaimed, her hands lightly framing her Frosted Raspberry mouth. "I am so lucky to work here!"

As soon as we arranged the snacks in a visually pleasing way, our manager Lois began the meeting with the agenda. Lois, bless her soul, is completely enamored of her agenda.

Lois was especially purposeful this particular morning, and no pre-snacking was allowed. (We usually save the morning buffet until we finish the meeting. Mes amis, it's so important to reward yourself for hard work.) Her face had a sort of clench-y look, so tight her eyes were practically lost between her brows and cheeks. Lois, when stressed, takes on the appearance of a Muppet.

"Any old business?" she began briskly, making it clear that old business (the tres gauche scent of the soap in the employee washroom, the lovely new Butterick Patterns for fall) was completely irrelevant and not to be discussed. Taffy, Suzette and I waited for Lois' revelation.

"Well, as you know, Jo-Ann Fabrics is opening a new superstore just half a mile up the road. Jo-Ann, of course, is our primary competitor." Lois paused here to re-adjust her mouth into something more professional than a venomous grimace.

"Upper management wants to make sure that we assert our place in the fabric and crafts market. We're so very lucky to have our loyal base of customers, and the boss wants you all to know that she appreciates all your hard work." Lois bowed her head, and for a wee moment, I thought maybe she had suffered a heart attack. She does tend to get rather tense when it comes to discussing our competition.
I was just about to get up and moisten a washcloth for Lois' forehead when she looked up to face us once again. She was weeping. "But I want you to know that it's life or death to beat those bastards at Jo-Ann into the goddamn ground. I want you to pulverize them beyond recognition. I want seamstresses and crafters throughout the state to associate the name Jo-Ann only with the rankest filth, by the time we're done here. That bitch Mary Barlow can just go to hell!"

Sacre bleu, I hadn't ever heard Lois curse before and now it was four times in one breath. The level of seriousness in the room was unprecedented, and not just because of Lois' sailor-mouth. We all felt the same way about Jo-Ann Fabrics. Our stores were so close together, and then we moved, and now they were moving into our turf once again. The Hancock Fabric team was united in the fight against these barbarian invaders, these hussies who didn't know the difference between velour and velveteen, between sport weight yarn and worsted weight.

So, we all looked pretty grim, sitting around the table. But the person who looked the grimmest was Suzette. She had only begun working for us about a month ago, and she had the most to lose, should we be swallowed by the Jo-Ann leviathan. I didn't really know much about Suzette yet, except that she was sharper than she first appeared.

"So, what do we do to expand our customer base?" Suzette leaned forward, and picked up her pen. "I think we should brainstorm."

This was not the time to be a wallflower, my dear little sugar-blossoms, so I agreed and offered my idea. " Maybe it's time to offer sewing classes again."

Lois picked up the train of thought, "Good! What else?"

Taffy spoke up, "Really intriguing craft displays in the windows and along the aisles. You know, using the latest materials and patterns."

Suzette nibbled on the end of her pen. She hesitated, then said in the lowest of tones, "What about guys?"

Lois' brows drew together as if connected by a drawstring. "What guys?"

I had to reach over and take the pen out of Suzette's mouth so that we could understand her. "We need to attract people that wouldn't normally come here, right? Guys would never set foot in this place normally, and they wouldn't go to Jo-Ann, either. But, if we could attract guys in here, that would be a whole customer base Jo-Ann didn't have."

Lois relaxed a little, pleased with Suzette's point. I, however, wasn't sure I liked where this was going- men in our haven of femininity? Mes amis, I do not react well to change. I shut down completely at the slightest hint of innovation. Now, even the divine Safeway pudding cake could no longer tempt me.

Want to tell Mrs. Filthy something?

This Week, Mrs. Filthy's Reading:

How to be Good by Nick Hornby