Jim Zorn Used to Own Gadget Stores
In the past two weeks, I've written about how the hottest new coach in the stodgy National Football League once skinned a road-kill coyote and played viola with the Seattle Symphony while wearing a tuxedo t-shirt. Now, I have a few other Zorn stories stored away for the cold winter months--his model ship-building hobby, for example--but I figured that, by this point, eight months into the Zorn Era, the well was about to run dry.
Well, I was an idiot.
Because I had forgotten to consider the possibility that, in the mid-'80s, as his playing career was winding down, Zorn might have become a minority partner in a chain of Pacific Northwest gadget stores carrying "hundreds of unusual products, from decorative neon clocks and Italian espresso machines to solar-powered Walkmans, waterproof stereos and a robot waiter."
Not. Making. This. Up.
I first stumbled upon this information when browsing a 1986 Seattle Post-Intelligencer story about Zorn's post-Seattle season in Green Bay. It's a mostly sad tale, about how Zorn would rush back to his small hotel room in Green Bay after Packers games to watch the Seahawks play on TV, about how he missed his family and Steve Largent, about how "it was embarrassing to see some of the attitudes and work habits of the players" in Green Bay. And then there was this:
He may start for the Packers this season, but when he is done with football, Zorn plans to be ready for the rest of his life.
"This is the first serious job I've probably had," he said of his involvement with B.N. Genius, comprising several area shopping mall stores that sell a wide range of gifts and gadgets. That job recently took him to Las Vegas, usually the unlikeliest of places you would expect Jim Zorn to be, for a consumer electronics show, but he's working in several new places now.
"I'm going to give it everything I've got in Green Bay and if it doesn't work out I'll go someplace else, whether it's playing football, coaching football or in a retail business called B.N. Genius," he said.
Apparently he chose coaching football over a retail business called B.N. Genius. But in late 1986, the business was still going strong, earning a long profile in the business section of the Post-Intelligencer. The story said Zorn was a minority partner in the business, which was hoping to expand nationally by targeting NFL players as franchisees. Largent was a silent investor, and the Sharper Image was the inspiration, although B.N. Genius was going for a less yuppie brand of shopper.
To keep up with the latest products, [exec Richard] Radloff said he, Zorn and others travel to three or four trade shows a year, thumb through catalogs and watch competitors. He said they find 15 to 30 new products per month.
With that much turnover, Radloff said the stores are bound to come up with a few duds. He said a portable phone dialer that initially retailed for around $100 was one of them.
"I think we only sold a few of those," he said.
I figured Jim Zorn had succeeded at pretty much everything he had ever tried, but now we know the truth: he failed at selling $100 portable phone dialers from a Northwest chain of gadget stores in the mid-'80s.
Seriously, Vinny, if you want to just have a portion of my paycheck direct deposited into your bank account, I wouldn't complain. Thanks, man, for making the best hire of all time.
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