Off the Cuff

Leaders in the world of business share their thoughts on the way we work, spend, and prepare for the future.

A native New Yorker who came up through the city's public school system, Michael Goldstein, chairman and former CEO of Paramus, New Jersey-based Toys "R" Us, has done more than move toys. These days he spends more than 50 percent of his time on children's charitable activities in the New York metropolitan area.

Correspondent Shira J. Boss caught up with Mr. Goldstein recently at the Best of Century awards in New York, where Toys "R" Us received the award for best hard-goods specialty store.

The focus was business. He spoke about his efforts to find out what goes on at the ground level.

When you were CEO, how did you stay in touch with the customers?

"I would try to be in stores at least two days of every week, including at least one of those days being on a weekend when the stores are much busier. And I'd talk to our associates in the stores, I'd talk to people in the stores, and watch and look and learn that way.

"And of course I don't only visit Toys "R" Us stores, I visit our competition and see what they're doing in the toy area, in the juvenile products area, that's different than the way we're doing things."

Do they recognize you when you walk in?

"[Most] competitors would not recognize me, although it depends where. If I'm with a group, there are some companies that will ask for identification and they'll not want you to spend too much time. However, if you're not taking pictures or taking extensive notes, that's never an issue.

"In my own stores, I try and go in unannounced whenever I can. If I go in stores I frequent a lot, they will know me.

"I remember a funny incident [from] a number of years ago. I was on vacation with my wife in California and we were going to a party. But we had a little time, and I said, 'There's a store over there, let me just stop there and I want to just take a look.' And I walked into the store, and it was a mess. And so, of course, I ended up spending quite a bit of time, and my wife stayed out in the car listening to the radio.

"When I came back, she said 'You'll never believe this, but there were people running in the parking lot, saying, 'The CEO's here, the store's a mess, what are we going to do to fix it?'

"That's rarely the case. But it's important to see the store when they don't know you're coming, so you see it as the customer sees it."

And you tap shoppers for ideas?

"We learned a number of things [from shopping mothers]. They would like to see some activities for adults in the stores ... and we are working now on coming up with a space in the store that would be available 10 to 11 months of the year where we could have 'events.' "

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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