Gene Browning
My Journey

Week 11: Books, Books, Books

I love books. I have loved them my entire life. For me, they are a magic portal into times long ago, and galaxies far, far away. However, I didn’t know anything about managing a bookstore, which had always been a high on my list of future careers. Thankfully, today I received the privilege of meeting with Gene Browning, manager of White Wing bookstore and businessman extraordinaire.

Gene BrowningDad introduced me to Gene, and then Gene related to me his story- one testifying to the perfect timing of God. He was born in Cleveland, because his father graduated at Lee University, but the family moved down to Florida, and that’s where he grew up. His first job was at the Winn-Dixie, and he also worked at the 7-11 as well. His manager saw something in Gene which he liked, and he commenced to move Gene around, setting him in the middle of a problem store and letting him work it out. Gene would deal with each situation differently, sometimes working with the people in charge, sometimes bringing other people in, and sometimes just having to fire people, even though he didn’t like to go there. He worked that way until college, when he moved back to Cleveland to go to college at Lee. That was where he met Pam, his wife.

After they were married, and had graduated, they headed back down to Florida for a while, but Pam wanted to earn a teaching job at Lee (this is where that perfect timing part begins). She called the university to ask about being interviewed, and they told her that the Lee president Paul Conn had to be the one who did it. So she asked where he was, and they said, “Oh, he is in Florida”. So Pam called Gene and told him that President Conn was in Florida. Gene, who was at that time working as a salesman at J.C. Penny, said, “I know- he’s in town!” So she ended up being interviewed on a Florida park bench, and eventually got the job.

Because of Pam’s new position, Gene moved them back up to Cleveland, and Pam got to work. However, there was a problem. Since Gene was still working for J.C. Penny, the company transferred him to another store in Hixson. That may not sound bad, but it’s a 45 minute drive from Cleveland to Hixson one way. Needless to say, that can get really tiring, really quick. But God was still working. One day, Gene got a call from his mother-in-law’s cousin’s daughter, whose husband was the marketing director for Pathway bookstore, and she asked him if he would consider taking the job of manager at their store in Cleveland. Wild, huh? Apparently, the store was experiencing major problems, was going downhill fast, and they needed someone to step in and get them headed in the right direction. Which, if you remember, was what Gene had done his entire career.

So Gene got a job that didn’t make him drive an hour and a half each day, and Pathway started to thrive again. But if you think that God was finished working in Gene’s life, thou art sorely mistaken. You see, something happened at the bookstore (I was not told what) which caused Gene to leave the store, which meant he would have to go out job hunting again. But about six months before, a worker from White Wing had asked him for some advice, and he and Gene had sat down together for lunch and talked. The worker hadn’t been in any kind of contact with Gene since, but only a few hours after Gene turned in his notice at Pathway, he got a telephone call from White Wing saying, “Would you be able to come and work for us?”

As soon as Gene walked in the door, he knew what was wrong- White Wing was doing too many things. In addition to the bookstore and the printing of Sunday School programs, the company had been furnishing a travel agency, providing an internet service, and running several other bookstores as well. Gene solved the problem by narrowing down their focus to operating only one bookstore and providing Sunday School curriculum. To this point, the business is prospering, there is a good friendly atmosphere, and everyone is happy.

Once Gene had finished his story, it was time to show me around the workplace. Our first stop was the room where all of the not-selling books end up, and I was introduced to Cliff. He showed me around the room, explaining to me all of the things that he does back there, such as boxing up books that are not selling to get them out of the business. When we were done, we walked over to the mail room. Basically, that is where all of the Sunday School curriculum is packaged and sent out to the different churches. A church will call and ask about the various programs (White Wing has a few people to answer phones just for that purpose), and then they send in a request for “50 of that, 25 of this, and 10 of the other.” Then, the people in the mail room load all of the curriculum in a box, double/triple check it, and give it to Hal, the mailman, who then delivers the package personally to the church.
Sticking on Stamps
I was introduced to him next. He was busy putting stamps on letters, one by one. See, the company that prints their bulk mail for them used glossy paper for this bunch, and White Wing’s stamp sticker can’t stick stamps on glossy paper; thus Hal has to do the job by hand. He looked a bit swamped, so I helped him out with some of the cards.

When I had finished with my share of the Packing Booksstamps, Cliff took me back to the packaging room and let me fill up some boxes. All I had to do was to make sure that the books I was packing were all the same price, then mark on the box how many books there were. I finished 3 or 4 boxes before mom came to take me home, and I was enjoying myself so much, I didn’t even want to go. I guess I had to leave, so that I could come home and write this article. But it isn’t that bad, because as soon as I finish, I know I’ve got a roomful of books calling me, waiting to take to another place. So until next time, so long.


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