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Last year we talked about Amanda’s plans to marry this fall when Nathan returns from duty in Iraq.  Last August, she surprised us (and her mother) by getting married right then.  Why the hurry?  Because there are lots of legal reasons why your wife has more standing than your fiancé if you are a casualty in a war.  Those are not things that young people in love should have to think about, but that’s the world we live in.
Mimi’s daughter, Staci, married her fiancé Damien this Valentine’s Day; also in a hurry and also for the same reasons.  Damien got his orders to deploy to Iraq and Staci, an Army medic, will head over there herself this summer.

Amanda and Staci are still planning their original, bigger weddings when everyone is back from the warThose of us who remain behind, protected by those who serve us overseas, must be eternally grateful to them and to their families.  As I heard a general say the other day, “The hardest job in the Army is being an Army wife”.  And I cannot fathom the difficulty of a married couple who are both active-duty soldiers.  Our great thanks to all who serve; here and in the war zone.  Our special thanks also to Mimi, as all three of her children have served in the military.

One of our greatest success stories of last year was when Ann joined us as Assistant Furniture Buyer.  Ann’s career has been in furniture buying and merchandising offices for large department stores and multi-store furniture retailers.  She fit right in with all of us, and immediately started finding “lost” products in the warehouse; getting them out at really low prices and getting them sold.

Ann took over the “Harry Potter” office under the stairs, where she can watch the furniture department, help our customers, and coordinate with the sales team.  She has made our patio and game furniture departments much more efficient; with fast turn-around for special orders, more timely repairs, and less money spent on warehousing and handling.  What does that mean to you?  As we reduce overhead, we can absorb price increases (such as our health plan which just went up 22%) without having to raise prices to you.  So when you buy a bottle of Baquacil for the same price you paid fifteen years ago, say “thanks” to Ann!

Jacob graduates from Keene State this June.  He’s not sure if he’ll be back this summer, or if he is, for how long.  That’s always the case when our young people graduate from college – it depends on the job search for the “grown-up” job.

We kept up with training this winter.  Seth, Victor, Roz, and Mimi flew down to Portland, Tennessee to tour the new Olhausen factory for a few days.  We turned over our classroom to Tony DeWald of Marquis, who ran two days of training right here for Seth, Mimi, Roz, Ann, Patrick, Tod, and Maria.

I took a weird trip to Miami at the end of January to the Internet Retailers Conference.  Why weird?  Because we are not retailing on the internet, and have no plans to do so.  Also, because there were 1500 people at the conference and I was the oldest person there!  What does it mean to you?  Actually, I’m not sure.  Hopefully, I can make our web site more helpful to you without hiring expensive consultants.  Actually, sometimes Jeanne and I just gamble on learning new things that we won’t learn from our usual sources.

Joe and Joe C. took Advanced Technology training with Pentair in Massachusetts.  Anne-Marie took two days of Network training; she is how our 18 computers keep working.  Joe, Joe C., Tod, Victor, Patrick, and Kip took the Aqua Products course for us to be certified for factory repairs on all those Aquabots that BJ’s sells and cannot fix.  Tim, Trina, Justin, Joe D., Victor, Maria, and Dalton attended the two-day Chemistry College by BioGuard.  Traditionally, we send more people to that than any other store in the northeast.

Door Prize Winners from last year’s Open House were: Caribbean Cruise–Susan K. of Natick, MA; Disney Trip-Helen G. of Nashua; $100 Sunchaser Luxury Loungers-Rick J. of Nashua and Roger H. of Bedford; $80 Relax-Richard S. of Hollis; and $50 Gift Certificate-William D. of Merrimack.  From the August Bloodmobile: Mexico Cruise-Karen M. of Nashua.  Our drawing in August for a Seasonal Specialty Stores Party Deck rental at The Nashua Pride was won by Bev G. of Nashua.

An award won by us was the 2008 Store of the Year from Target Pool Supplies that we received in February.