Even the Going-Out-of-Business Business Is Suffering

The Wall Street Journal has a great page-one “ahed” today about one rug merchant who’s made a business of going out of business.

Check out the lede:

When Cyrus Hassankola moved to Dallas a couple of years ago, after successfully going out of business in several locales, he decided to settle down and go out of business permanently.

The guy called his business “Going Out of Business.” Ever wondered about those furniture stores and rug shops that always seem to be going bust but never seem to actually close down? Here’s your story.

But it turns out that the bad economy has thrown a wrench in the going-out-of-business model—lots of competition in closings, plus newly emboldened hagglers:

And their best customer — the American trained to pay the advertised price — has taken to haggling. America’s Research Group, a South Carolina pollster, says 72% of 1,000 consumers interviewed in February have haggled in the past year (31% is the historical average) and they’ve gotten deals 80% of the time; last year, only half the retailers they took a shot at caved in. Mr. Hassankola spots the trend whenever he rolls out a rug.

The thing that makes this story really work, something the Journal’s Barry Newman nods to, is how forthright and downright gleeful the subject is about his tactics.

Zurich was known as a trading post for wealth escaping Iran in the guise of carpets. They were piling up in fixed-price shops. Mr. Hassankola hooked up with one of them, packed it with stock and advertised an emergency shutdown.

The place stayed open for months and “made tons of money,” he says, adding: “If a store is closing forever, people believe they can squeeze you. It is the power of words.” Mr. Hassankola says he reprised his act in Zurich four times, then opened a store of his own there and went out of business in 1999.

In 2000, he flew to the U.S., found a green-card sponsor and hit the road: He recounts steering rug stores out of business in Maryland, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.

Go read the whole thing.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.