By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
THE owner of the former Robin Hood retail chain says he is “done” and preparing to leave the Bahamas, after his latest format held a ‘liquidation sale’ at the weekend.
Sandy Schaefer, upon being contacted by Tribune Business over the ‘final closing sale’ for Everything Must Go, said: “I just want to leave this place in peace. I’m done.”
A depressed-sounding Mr Schaefer, who realised instantly why Tribune Business was calling, then disconnected the call and turned his cell phone off, preventing this newspaper from making further inquiries with him.
Banners touting the ‘liquidation sale’, with prices between 30 per cent to 80 per cent off, were placed at the Prince Charles roadside and on the ex-Robin Hood outlet that houses Everything Must Go.
A Tribune Business reporter who visited the retail outlet on Saturday saw that numerous products, initially given discounts of between 30-35 per cent, had all been increased to ‘50 per cent off’ as the store sought to sell-off its last-remaining inventory. The shelves where home appliances and televisions were stocked were almost completely bare by late Saturday afternoon.
Several sources had suggested Everything Must Go’s closure came after it ran into regulatory issues with the Government, but K P Turnquest, minister of finance, said he was unaware of any such problems when contacted by Tribune Business yesterday.
Everything Must Go’s seeming closure, following its opening less than three years ago, marks another episode in the ‘ups and downs’ of Mr Schaefer’s time in the Bahamas.
A colourful, Brooklyn-born entrepreneur, Mr Schaefer brought the Robin Hood format to New Providence in the late 1990s via a discount model that aimed to undercut the prices offered by established Bahamian retailers.
The retailer moved from its original location on Soldier Road to larger premises at the Summerwinds Plaza on Tonique Williams Highway, with Mr Schaefer becoming a tenant of ex-Cabinet minister and MP, Leslie Miller.
Robin Hood was sold to the now-defunct BISX-listed company, Freeport Concrete, only for Mr Schaefer to ultimately buy the business back and run it himself once again.
The retailer expanded into food at the start of this decade, and grew to two stores in late 2010/early 2011 when Robin Hood opened on Prince Charles Drive in the home of the former Pepsi-Cola bottling plant. At that point, it employed several hundred Bahamians.
However, the business became over-extended, and Mr Schaefer in early 2011 became embroiled in a personal row with then-prime minister, Hubert Ingraham, after he criticised the New Providence Road Improvement Project’s impact on his and other Prince Charles-based businesses.
Mr Ingraham, in an unusual move for a prime minister, said of Mr Schaefer: “It is most regrettable that such a person has been allowed to have that type of business in the country. He is not a good person for the Bahamas.”
Mr Schaefer described himself as “shocked and taken aback” by Mr Ingraham’s comments, which were also criticised by Opposition MPs. However, within days of the row Robin Hood was subjected to a Customs raid that took away office computer equipment, although no charges of wrong-doing were ever levelled publicly.
The entrepreneur, though, was unable to save Robin Hood’s floundering business despite an increasingly desperate search for new capital and investors.
He eventually alighted on the late ‘con man’, Hubert Pinder, who used a company supposedly capitalised by $83.345 million worth of “precious gem investments” to both buy into Bahamian retailer, Robin Hood, and then solicit investors to pump up to $20 million into the venture. Their arrangement broke down in acrimony and threats of litigation.
Mr Schaefer, though, suddenly re-emerged two-and-a-half years after Robin Hood’s 2012 demise with Everything Must Go - a concept he said would cut operating costs by 60-65 per cent.
The format, which used only part of Robin Hood’s former Prince Charles store, was founded on being open just three days a week, thereby enabling Mr Schaefer to control key costs - labour and utilities - and minimise inventory shrinkage and theft.
To create the ‘buy now’ impulse, the store, after opening on Thursdays, dropped its prices by 10-15 per cent on Friday and then, on Saturday, dropped throughout the day until inventory was completely clear.
Pledging between 10 per cent to 50 per cent price savings, via innovative sourcing and buying strategies, Mr Schaefer told Tribune Business in a late 2014 interview that Everything Must Go was being established as a ‘Value-Added Tax free zone’.
Emphasising that this did not mean VAT evasion, Mr Schaefer said the goal was for his business to exploit its greater margins by absorbing the tax itself, rather than passing it on to consumers.
Acknowledging that his return, and business strategy, might make “enemies” among rivals in the Bahamian wholesale and retail trade, Mr Schaefer said he had adopted a policy of “100 per cent transparency” with Customs to prove everything he did was legitimate.
“It’s an entirely new retail concept for the Bahamas and the world,” he told Tribune Business. “This is something that will be somewhat unprecedented. We can create an indoor mall experience that is only open three days a week.
“The concept is opportunistic buying, taking advantage of all the connections I’ve established through 45 years of being in retail, buying product for next to nothing and taking advantage of short-batch items; items that have a limited shelf life.”
The businessman, undeterred by Robin Hood’s closure, forecast that Everything Must Go would generate between $1.2-$1.4 million in top-line revenues per month - a target that was “not outrageous” and could be exceeded.
Mr Schaefer explained that Everything Must Go, which relied on quick inventory turns and strong supply chain turnaround, was able to source top-quality product at bargain prices via product returns to the likes of ‘dot.com’ operators and UPS ‘undeliverables’.