Learn A Lesson, Find the Gift - Tom Peterson's Story

by Al Siebert, PhD

THRIVEnet Story of the Month - January 1997

Tom Peterson worked for many years to build a solid business selling television sets, stereo systems, and home appliances. He gave people good value, a full satisfaction guarantee, and friendly service. With the help of his wife Gloria, who handled the books, Tom developed an excellent reputation. He was proud of his high percentage of repeat customers.

Tom advertised heavily on television and in newspapers. He became known for his trademark crew cut and his cheery, early morning television commercials. If you saw the movie "Raising Arizona," you saw Tom Peterson's commercial played in the early morning motel room scene.

Tom became so well known that a survey identified him as the most well known businessman in Oregon.

About 5 years ago, Tom was approached by the owners of a competing company, Stereo Super Stores. They wanted him to buy them out. The price was very attractive. He examined their books, looked at their inventory, talked to employees, sized up the store locations, and looked at the leases. Everything looked good. Here was a chance to eliminate a competitor and expand his business. His bankers said they would loan him whatever he needed to make the purchase.

Before making his final decision Tom asked Gloria what she thought about the purchase. She told him that even though the numbers looked good it didn't feel right to her. He asked her to explain why, but she couldn't. She told him she had strong feeling that he shouldn't purchase the Stereo Super Stores. However, Tom was so self-confident and so convinced that this was a rare opportunity, he went ahead and made the purchase.

Within months he discovered that he had made a big mistake. He had paid much to much for a dying company. He tried as hard as he could to make it work out, but he couldn't turn things around. He was forced into bankruptcy. He was about to lose everything, including his original business.

When highly visible people make mistakes, their mistakes are highly visible. Tom was embarrassed, but he is a survivor. He looked at his situation. He decided to openly admit his mistake and, rather than getting bogged down in lawsuits, he would focus his energies on saving and rebuilding his original business. He saw also that he had made a mistake by not listening to his wife, and that he needed to learn from this experience.

Within days he made a new commercial saying:

I should have listened to my wife! When Gloria told me not to buy the Stereo "Stupid" Stores, I should have listened to her.

I made a mistake, but we're still in business-- with a new name. We are now "Tom Peterson and Gloria, too." And this weekend you can buy....

Tom played up his mistake in judgment. He dealt with the crisis in a way that delighted many people and increased their respect for him. Old customers flocked into his store. He and Gloria adapted to changes in retailing and have built an even better business than before.

Difficulties bring gifts to the people who look for them. Some business groups and professional associations asked Tom to speak to them about how he was able to handle his business crisis so successfully. Tom saw the opportunity. He now gives motivational, entertaining keynotes and talks to many groups. He also speaks about how he and Gloria have improved their operations from a business that used to turn inventory three times a year into a business that now turns inventory twelve times a year--while having more time for vacations, travel, and family activities.

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