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Happy Birthday To Harry and Jack

I returned a call this morning to a CE Hall of Famer who picked up his phone with his distinctive New York accent — Harry Elias.

Ironically, I returned the call right around the time we received an email from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) saying that it would be honoring its first president and founder of International CES, Jack Wayman, who is celebrating his 90th birthday.

Both of them have probably forgotten more about how the industry operates than many of us know today.

Harry, who spent most of his CE career at JVC Americas, had a question about a departed retailer of recent vintage and requested a few back issues. But we quickly got to talking shop about CE retailing.

I mentioned a theory making the rounds in the industry — companies will have to get smaller to make a profit. For big-box chains that means fewer locations and smaller stores, and for vendors it means focusing on key SKUs and limiting distribution to curb heavy discounting.

Harry mentioned the advice he gave retailers on the road when he visited not only their headquarters but their stores too: “Retailers don’t realize that just because you expand, you’re not necessarily going to make more money.”

Knowing Harry, I won’t name names here, but he then relayed a story from a decade or so ago about a talk he had with the CEO of a now-departed West Coast regional chain. The CEO grinned and told Harry, “Our target is to expand and do $1 billion in sales!” Elias responded, “You’re doing $600 million now and making plenty of money. More stores mean more overhead. Isn’t it better to do fewer sales but make more money?”

Harry said the CEO agreed, but then proceeded to expand and, gradually, go out of business.

When I mentioned the email from CEA about Jack’s birthday celebration, Harry confided that tomorrow, May 24 will be the 53rd wedding anniversary for he and his bride Gladys, and also his birthday. When I asked Harry what birthday it was, he just laughed and didn’t answer the question.

When I said that Jack is celebrating his 90th and that “both of us have something to look forward to,” Harry told me his age but again, knowing him, it probably isn’t for publication. Suffice it to say that Jack still has a few years on Harry.

So join me in wishing a happy birthday to Jack and Harry, two industry icons. And, as I said to Harry, “Happy anniversary to Gladys, who’s had to deal with you for 53 years!”