62,500 words. Two more sections planned.
Katie and Paul were evidently at that ecstatic early stage in a relationship when it is impossible to spend enough time together. Katie left the house early on Saturday and did not return until after midnight. Sunday, Paul stopped by in his truck, on his way back from church judging by his clothes, and Katie immediately rushed out. Kristy contemplated the empty house for several minutes, then called her parents and invited them over for brunch, throwing herself into a chopping and frying until they arrived and the house felt comfortably populated again.
It was not until Kristy was getting ready for bed that night that Katie returned, giving a call of, “I’m home, Kristy,” and then flopping onto the couch with a contented sigh.
Kristy padded out in her bare feet. “Have a good day.”
“Mmm hmm,” Katie responded, snuggling back into the embrace of the couch.
“Are you hanging out with Paul again tomorrow?”
Katie’s expression lost its glow. “No. He has to go work on installing a furnace. Running ducts and stuff. Nothing I even know how to help with.”
“Too bad. Will you be around for dinner?”
Katie nodded. “Paul says he’ll work late and has to be up early again the next morning. I won’t get to see him all day.”
“Well, maybe we can catch up over dinner, then. Do you want to cook, or would you rather we go out?”
“Oh, I’ll cook.” Katie rolled onto her side and put an arm under her head.
“Good night, then.”
Kristy returned to her room, hearing the TV start up back in the living room.
“So,” Brad asked as Kristy sat down for their weekly one on one meeting Monday afternoon. “Did you run with the SEALS or jog with the General?”
“I ran with the SEALS. For all it gets talked about, they honestly set a pretty standard pace. I’d feel bad bragging about it.”
“It’s grown into legend because of all the guys who have attempted it despite not having run a mile since they were in college. No need to brag, but I’d advise letting it drop every so often. So, aside from the SEALS, how was LeadFirst?”
Kristy shifted slightly in her chair. “There was some good generally applicable stuff, but to be honest it’s not closely related to what I’m doing right now.”
Brad nodded. “It’s a bit like going away to camp. More a life experience than job related training.”
“However,” Kristy said. “I was doing some thinking about my big box problem and I came up with an idea I want to run by you.”
“Shoot.” Brad leaned forward, his elbows on his desk.
“So, the big challenge, as I see it, is to move some volume through Depot and Lowes without disrupting our existing retail channel too much.”
“I started thinking about means of differentiation, and here’s what I came up with. Let’s put together a couple of gift sets which include both the tool itself and all of its accessories, and place those with Depot and Lowes for the holiday season only. We could allow them to offer a substantial discount which would bring the price with accessories down to slightly less than we’d normally have as the MSRP for the tool, and we’d provide a good basket of trade collars so they can advertise the heck out of it and drive traffic from Black Friday through Christmas. We can authorize the rest of the retail channel to discount during the same period, but we’ll tell them that the gift sets are exclusive to the big box retailers. After the holidays, we tell the big boxes that they can sell the line either in store or online (I’m betting they do online exclusively) but they have to abide by MSRP or we’ll cut them out of next year’s holiday deal. End result: we get to move a bunch of big box volume but do it with a differentiated product and keep it seasonal, so we don’t disrupt the channel too much.”
Brad leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers. “This is good, Kristy,” he said after a moment. “This is really good. It’ll take some good work with the buyers to pull it off, but this actually stands a good chance of working if it’s pitched right.”
“I’m glad you like it,” Kristy said, with more relief than she allowed to show.
“I do. Now, there’s still stuff to get past. First off, we need to get buy-in here. That’ll take some work, because anyone who’s been around the industry for a while has been bent over a barrel by Home Depot (sometimes even by Lowes) once or twice. People will try to tell you it can’t be done, but I think you just need to get it pitched right. Now, that may mean that you need to go out to Mooresville and Atlanta. The channel account team doesn’t have experience with the big boxes, and the last thing you want is to hear after the fact that they screwed up your pitch.”
“I’ve never negotiated with buyers before.”
Brad shrugged. “I can’t say it’s fun. I did it a few times when I was with the business development team for Stanley. The formula for Home Depot works like this: You go in with a great pitch. The buyer makes you do exactly what he wants instead, and then when he’s through with you he says, ‘Thank you for doing business with Home Depot. I’ll be happy to screw you again next year.’ But you have a solid pitch. The beauty of it is that if they won’t talk, you walk. You’ll do fine.”
Kristy did not find this prediction wholly reassuring, but there was a strong allure to making the pitch herself, and she certainly had no desire to put all the work into preparing the line review and then have the account team give it all away when she wasn’t even there.
“If you think I can do it, I’m happy to give it a try.”
The next few weeks saw both sisters consumed by their different concerns. Katie continued to spend as much time as possible with Paul, which given his work schedule usually involved rushing off each evening at around the time that Kristy got home from work, and on weekends resulted in her near complete absence.
For her part, Kristy was busy producing a seemingly endless series of PowerPoint presentations as she and Brad worked to convince Schneider & Sons leadership that pitching the holiday gift set idea to Home Depot and Lowes represented the best way to begin a presence at those retailers. By the end of January, with internal support secured she, Brad and the account team flew to Mooresville and received a conditional approval: Lowes would agree to the conditions of the holiday offer so long as Home Depot would abide by the same conditions.
In the first week of February, a week that in Johnson, IL set record lows, Kristy flew to Atlanta, where the high was in the mid fifties and even the low was still above freezing. She and Brad were instructed to meet the buyer at Rooster’s Barbeque, where he gazed at them balefully over a basket of chicken wings as Kristy explained her program. When she had finished he considered the matter for the space of four chicken wings. Then he announced, “I will take the cordless drill, the router, the circular saw and the band saw, if you can offer 11% trade from Black Friday through Christmas.”
Kristy looked at Brad. Brad responded that they could.
“Well then,” the buyer intoned. “Thank you for doing business with Home Depot. I look forward to talking with you next year.”
He turned back to his wings and Kristy and Brad left. Before starting the rental car, Kristy stopped to email the buyer at Lowes: “HD is in for drill, router, circular saw and band saw at 11%. Are you in too?”
Before she boarded the plane back to Chicago she had received a reply, “We’re in.”
It was almost eleven when Kristy arrived home that night. Katie’s car was parked outside and the lights throughout the house were blazing, but Kristy saw no sign of her sister in the kitchen or living room.
“Katie?” she called. There was no response.
She pulled a bottle of wine she had been saving for some appropriate occasion out of the pantry, uncorked it, and carried it and two wine glasses into the living room. She poured a glass for herself, took out her phone, and texted: “Just got back. Trip was a big success. Got a glass of wine with your name on it. Are you going to be back soon?”
On hitting send, she immediately heard the amplified Ding-Ding of Katie’s phone sounding in her room. Half wondering if Katie had, uncharacteristically, left her phone in her room, Kristy went to her sister’s door.
“Katie?” she called again, opening the door.
Her sister was half sitting, half lying on the bed, looking at her phone. As Kristy opened the door, Katie tossed the phone into a corner. “Oh, it was you texting,” she said, flopping back down on the mattress and pulling the pillow over her head.
“What’s wrong?” Kristy asked, stepping over discarded clothing and shoes on the floor to sit down on the bed next to her sister.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” said the pillow in a muffled voice.
“Is something wrong with you and Paul?”
The pillow was pushed aside and Katie glared at her.
“Did you two break up?”
“No!” Katie objected, sitting upright.
“What’s wrong then?”
“We were— We love each other so much… I thought—” Katie kneaded and twisted the pillow. “I don’t know if he doesn’t love me as much, or— Up till then he seemed to want it as much as I did— Ohhh!” This last rose to a wail. “I just don’t understand Paul!”
“Katie, what happened?” Kristy asked, in her most gentle tone.
“Nothing!” Katie shouted. “Nothing fucking happened. Nothing, nothing, nothing!”
The pillow was hurled after the phone and Katie collapsed back on the mattress with anguished sobs which gradually diminished until Kristy heard her say in a very small voice, “Is he too upset to even call?”
Kristy gently rubbed her sister’s back and asked questions in a soothing voice but could get no further explanation. After some time, Katie’s breathing became regular and her clenched hands relaxed. Kristy quietly got up from the bed, retrieved the phone, and put it on the bedside table, within reach. Then she left the room, turning out the light and closing the door softly.
Back in the living room she stood looking at the empty glass she had brought out for Katie. At last, she refilled her own, and took it with her into her room.
Though I Walk in the Dark Valley: Seeing as God Sees
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