Leslie Wexner: Mom and Dad had a neighborhood store. I had gone to law school. I really hated law school. In fact, I hated school generally. My dad said, “Why don’t you just hang around the store for a few months before you begin your life?” And I said, “Okay, what do you want?” and he said, “Well, if you hang around for a few months, you’ll learn how to open the store and close the store.” It was a little neighborhood store. It was like 15 feet wide, but that was the source of their income.
And I said okay. And he said, “Because after Christmas…” he said, “your mom and I would like to go on a vacation.” And he said, “You know, we’ve never had one.” And I said okay. He said, “I’ve never asked you for anything, but I would trust you to open and close the store and take the money to the bank.” You know, just do simple things. So I said okay. And they did take the week off in January. Columbus had a blizzard and their vacation was driving from Columbus to Miami, spending three days in Miami, and then driving back. So that was their big vacation after a lifetime.
And — kind of happenstance — had a blizzard in Columbus. I went to the store and there was like 18 inches of snow so there was no traffic, and I felt very obligated to be there, because I was kind of guarding the fort, and there was just nothing to do. So you know, you dust the floors, you’re prepared, but obviously no one’s going to come to the store.
I got bored, so I was curious to see what categories of merchandise my dad and mom made money in, and I could sort out the invoices, and they kept track of sales by category of merchandise, shirts and pants and skirts. I would look through the invoices to see, and I figured out that in what my dad called sportswear they were making substantial profits, and in the big ticket items — then dresses and coats — they were making no money.
When he came back from their vacation, we sat down in a Woolworth’s coffee shop and I gave him the big “ta-da,” and he said, “It’s impossible.” He said, “We make money on the big-ticket items.” I said, “No. You see them as big tickets, but you’re taking big markdowns and there’s no profitability.” And from that we got into a very classic father-son argument. So he’d say, “Go get a job! Your mom and I have struggled all our lives to have this small business and we’re going to run it the way we want to run it and you don’t know what you’re talking about.” And I said, “Dad, here’s the numbers. They don’t lie.”