Personnel retention was always a concern and we were constantly trying to think of creative ways to deal with it in our gallery. I never wanted to reward an average or mediocre performer. It was too easy to change the performer.
One day I got an everybody-wins idea and it didn’t cost anything, at least not very much of anything.
Mary Lou was a good employee who had been with us for more than a year. Everyone liked her. One day I took her to lunch at the Shed. It was near the plaza on Palace Avenue, and they had the best Mexican food place in town. While we were eating enchaladas (I always called them that). We talked about her boyfriend who had a good job, and was well liked in the community. Then I asked Mary Lou how she liked her job at the gallery, where she planned to be in 5 years, what could we do to improve our operation, and a few other nosey questions.
I was impressed with her answers, so after we finished our sopapillas and honey, we walked a few doors east to Guadalupe’s Shoe Store.
I told Mary Lou that I had to run to the bank and while I was gone, she could choose anything in the store she wanted (Ladies really like shoes).
Guadalupe came over and said hello. As I headed for the door I turned and said, “but you have to pick out what you want before I get back and the bank is just 2 blocks away.”
Guadalupe, whom I had known for many years, helped Mary Lou select some imported shoes, a nice hand bag, and a belt to match the new spring ensemble that was in her wardrobe at home.
After I complemented Mary Lou on her taste, I winked at Guadalupe and we walked out of the store without paying. I didn’t want to discuss money in front of Mary Lou. That would have been vulgar. Guadalupe knew I would return later in the day with a bunch of dollar bills in my hand.
We were mostly silent on our way back to the gallery. I closed the door to my office and we sat down.
“Mary Lou, I particularly like your work ethic and the way you handle yourself. We want to keep you here. As an incentive to stay I’d like to give you half interest in that painting,” and I pointed to an Eric Sloane hanging on the wall near my desk. I saw a flash in her eyes that said she knew I wasn’t kidding.
It was a $15,000 painting that we had recently purchased from Eric for $7,500. I explained that the gift came with 3 rules. One, she couldn’t tell anyone that she was half owner in the painting. Two, she couldn’t get pushy. “Let someone else sell it.” And 3, you must work at our gallery when it sells or the whole deal is off.” She blushed and nodded at the same time. It was a cute gesture. You had to like Mary Lou.
She had to be thinking that she was now our business partner, in a small way. She became more diligent and almost daily brought cut flowers to put on the front desk.
When the painting sold a week or so later, I wrote Mary Lou a check for $7,500. The transaction cemented our relationship with a top employee, and we got our cost back. We didn’t make any money. Our profit was intrinsic, and an investment in our future.
We used that technique with several other “Mary Lous” during our 17-year tenure on the Santa Fe art scene. There were a few “Billy Bobs” too.
The secrets about what we did eventually leaked out and I became known around town as Daddy Warbucks.
Louise was different. We needed an accounts receivable clerk and she applied. She was out-flowing and a little gushy, but that was ok.
That night I knocked on her door about 8 o’clock. She had invited me to meet her husband. I had to step over a hoodie to get in the front door, and “things” were strewn all around the house. Dinner dishes were dirty in the sink, on the table, and on the divan. Something gooey-red was spilled on a chair. I didn’t dare sit down.
This gal was not going to work in my accounts receivable department.
Messy people are usually extroverted, smiley, and meet people easily. That seemed to be Louise’s forte’ so I hired her to work in sales. I was a good decision because she kept our staff morale up. We even taught her to wash coffee cups.
And then there was Grace. She was a gentle Spanish lady, severely Catholic, who must have been sent to us from the personnel department in heaven. Both of her husbands were murdered and her son was hit by a car and killed at night while trying to change a flat tire.
Grace quickly became part of our family, and after 42 years with us we talked her into retiring. That was 6 years ago. I once told her that she was “the strawberry in the milkshake of my heart.” I think she repeated that comment to everyone in North America and some of the ships at sea. My wife just rolled her eyes.
We still give Grace her salary but she has to come to our home each a month to pick up the check. We just want to see her and make sure she’s okay. Her daughter drives Grace now because she’s 94 years old.
The gallery business in Santa Fe was good to my family for 17 years. We worked with some really good people and met a bunch of celebrities. And you know what I found out about them? They were just plain-ole people who had a highly specialized talent. But doesn’t that describe all of us?
Sometimes when I write stories like this, I feel really good when I’m done. Maybe I’ll go make some hot chocolate and pet my dog. f