Ok, so this might be some of the most boring stuff in the world, but it might be of interest to some of you who have very boring lives.
I majored in Marketing Management in college and spent the better part of my working life starting and running businesses. When I ran my wholesale and my retail businesses, I focused on every item as a standalone profit center. I was lucky in that I had done numerous home construction activities with my dad and knew how to use certain tools.
One of the quality experiences of growing up was growing a garden directed by our wanna-be farmer - Dad. When we sold out, we would head home, count up our take, divide it up among each other, and deposit it in our college piggy banks. Now it was true that there were stores that sold doormats, but mine were a€?high qualitya€? rubber mats that were personalized with their names on them, such as a€?Welcome to the Rumplestiltskina€™sa€?. This went pretty well and many were sold, but in order to keep my source confidential it was necessary for me to have them shipped to me and then deliver them.
Buying into this scheme, I was selling Christmas cards in March, and by early fall had managed to sell enough to get the radio I wanted. During our years of grade school, my sisters and I usually took 1st and 2nd place and walked away with nearly all the Virgin Mary statues and second place prizes.
Once again I engaged in child labor by bringing my sister along for these sales expeditions. We quickly found that we had excellent results if we went to the village and called on businesses. It was during this business venture that our nation experienced a traumatic event, the shooting of our 43rd President, John F. When this large company started to experience a profit squeeze, the geniuses at the top decided the best place to cut expenses was the sales people.
I would knock on the door of every business in my village and when I ran out of potential customers I took the bus to the city and started there. What made this story interesting was when he called me wanting to buy calendars to give out at Christmas. I showed up with a few discretely hidden samples and my catalog, which would be revealed after the hook and pitch.
Now came the really tricky part, the fruits of the dangerous creativity of the depths of my brain. I started noticing ads in the newspaper by coin dealers in the city where they were buying silver certificates for $1.05 each.
On Friday nights I would race to get my newspapers delivered, hurry to the bank, ask the teller for several hundred one dollar bills and start sorting through them picking out all the older silver certificates. Saturday morning began my journey to the city coin dealer where my $500 would miraculously become $525. Eventually the silver coins became relatively scarce and the sorting became more like panning for gold in a river - more work than the time justified. Having never taken a college marketing class yet, at 13 I was about to discover a classic fact of marketing. There were more wedding customers, and then when I moved on to college my mom continued the business. Bartha€™s Mini Autobiography - written several year back as a class activity where students and teacher all engaged in reviewing their past. If an item did not produce a profit or contribute to drawing customers to buy other products, something needed fixed. I was involved in the unsavory business of child labor, and to make matters worse it involved my little sister. I dona€™t suggest most 7 year olds be allowed to use a box cutter with a razor blade, but it worked exceptionally well for cutting the string and producing nice clean cuts dividing the wooden slats. When I was a kid there were some older men who had converted old school busses to traveling produce stands. There was something about our soil and the upstate New York weather that made for some great produce.
So on Sunday we would load up the trunk, go to church, and then head off to apartment complexes (where people didna€™t have gardens) and sell our fresh produce. They were somewhat heavy and hard to balance on my bike, so I started looking for other ventures to pursue. Suddenly there were new radios coming on the market with 12 transistors and I was craving one.
Dad convinced me to hold off purchasing anything until after Christmas (when prices would come down), and then offered to give me his old 12 transistor radio.
One of dada€™s customers was a ham radio operator with one of those hundred foot tall antennas in his back yard.
I noticed an ad for litti??le plastic needle threaders in which you would insert a needle, lay the thread across the top, push this little button, and just like that the needle was threaded!
This has some unfortunate similarities to the preponderance of young women found in trade show booths.
They found it interesting that we were so enterprising and were more that happy to buy our wares. My dad, who had fought in World War II in Germany, went to teachera€™s college for a year dropping out to become a very successful salesman for a large company, and started a family with four kids, lost his job.
I would open a bank savings account at banks so I could pester the tellers and manager to get their business. You see, Mauera€™s Funeral Home bought these really fancy desk calendars that looked like they were made of genuine leather (they werna€™t) and were mailed out to the over 6,000 residents of our town of Liverpool, NY.
This is where the brainstorming occurred that led me to the idea of Ayer Funeral Home Flyswatters.
I started by making the argument that with his limited financial resources he would have to make optimal use of whatever advertising specialty he purchased. I pointed out that he would need to target those people that were most likely to be good customers in the not too distant future.
This not only entailed selling people on the idea that they should have the afternoon paper delivered to their door come sunshine (a rarity in upstate NY), rain, or snow, but also involved the collection of money for the subscription. The US Treasury had discontinued printing Silver Certificates about a decade earlier and began circulating Federal Reserve Notes.
My $20 give or take profit might not seem like much, but it was very significant at the time. My competitors were the department stores in the city that had dozens of catalogs that were nearly a half foot thick.
There was a reason Elmcraft was successful with this concise catalog of above average invitations. Moma€™s have a thing for weddings, so she really enjoyed working with the young girls (although probably not as much as me) and it became almost like a hobby for her that she could make money at.
His timing was pretty good since his early working years coincided with the United States becoming the dominant player in the world economy following World War II and the advent of the Marshall Plan. Stock commissions were high, one could only buy in blocks (100 shares), and the only people who could get live prices were those who had a seat at the brokerage. Instiller of standardized test taking instincts to students in order that they might please state bureaucrats and convince them of their educational prowess and worth to society. I noticed an ad for little plastic needle threaders in which you would insert a needle, lay the thread across the top, push this little button, and just like that the needle was threaded! Dad saw these pens that wrote in either red or blue, somewhat similar to the one you see here.

This is my version of a€?no child left behind.a€? The only difference is that with students, I cana€™t fix everything. We had some old wood blinds on several windows in our basement, which my dad decided to throw away and replace with something more modern. The box cutter was out of site and after teaching my 5 year old sister how to weave these slightly over 10a€? slats together, I resorted to child labor for the real work.
We had tomatoes that made anything I have seen since seem dry, flavorless and ridiculously pathetic. If you wanted something not sold in a local store, you could usually find it in a magazine somewhere. For those of you who ever find yourselves involved in the business of sales, you must find a way to create excitement or romance in your product. Transistors were actually the beginning of the technology revolution that got us where we are now. He slowly convinced me that the radio they were offering was not worth the amount of money I could get paid if I took the cash instead. I was able to buy these for something like 15 cents in quantity, and the selling price was either 49 or 59 cents, so the profit margins were nice.
Fortunately I was using this as another teaching and learning experience by having my sister act as bookkeeper and counting peoplea€™s change. Many people would give us a quarter and after my sis pulled out their nickle and penny change, they would just tell her to keep the change. John Kennedy had impacted the country and the world by providing inspiration, hope and challenge.
At some point he needed some business cards and was looking for somewhere to get a better deal and stumbled across this company out of Chicago, called National Press.
You name it, if a company could have its name printed on it and give it away to lure new customers, I sold it. The owner had appeased me with a tiny order - probably to be a€?nice to the kid.a€™ My newspaper route ended at the funeral home doorstep, and on cold winter days I would sometimes go in to warm up and see if I could use the phone to get a ride home rather than walking.
He had calculated his expenses and knew he would have to undercut Mauera€™s prices if he expected to get any customers. While calendars at that time could cost from thirteen cents to a half dollar, plastic flyswatters could be had for as little as a five cents complete with company name and all. There were a lot of people in town and he couldna€™t afford to purchase one a€?whatever it would bea€™ for everyone. And old people had a particular disdain for flies and all kinds of free time to pursue them to their untimely death match with a flyswatter! The older silver certificates were redeemable for actual silver dollars (about an ounce worth) and silver was rising in value. I always expected them to tell me to get lost since this was somewhat of a nuisance for them, but since I had an account there and was always nice to them they continuously accommodated me. To give a sense of this, a gallon of gas cost 33A?, so $20 was more like $200 in todaya€™s money. However I was able to adapt to the market since the dealers began buying up the silver coins in circulation at the time. I spent some time with her and mom explaining how the pricing worked and then left my catalog with her for several days. Needless to say, his portfolio benefited and in doing so perked the interest of me in my youth. We had those incredible tomatoes, green peppers, onions, carrots Bugs Bunny would die for, cantalopes, and lots more. People buy things because they become emotionally attached to the product or the idea of having the product.
Just as I had saved enough free money (Dad insisted we save 9 of every 10 dollars for college, so that left one free dollar for spending), my dad had a brilliant idea.
He said this way I could keep my money, have my own slightly dated 12 transistor radio, and use his new one when I was in the house. This was a philanthropic endeavor without a profit motive (so I wasna€™t totally greedy) although there was an element of school guilt and competitiveness involved. Two of our best were going to bowling alleys in the late evening after the bowlers had imbibed a few drinks and were a little loose with their money, and hitting office buildings.
The sales pitch was that it would save your eyes - a strong selling point for elderly people! After a while she tired of this process and decided to cut to the chase and just ask if they wanted their change. I was growing up in what I considered a slightly boring town in upstate NY, and was always sending off for anything that would produce a flow of mail. It was he who challenged America to go to the moon by the end of the decade - which we did! There is a lesson here for kids who have a great plan to be a sports star or something else, but dona€™t think your education is essential for long term success. The problem is that when you cut the sales force, you not only cut expenses, but you cut off your income. At about 14 years old I got in to see the President of Syracuse Savings Bank on the top floor of one of the most prestigious buildings in Syracuse, NY. One evening I didna€™t find anyone upon entering so I walked around and ended up walking in on the assistant fixing up a body. Ayer pulled me aside and told me he had been waiting for me to come by and dropped the big bombshell on me. Sooner or later in most cases it would pay off, when someone would die and the a€?who ya gonna calla€? phone number was right there by the telephone on the desk.
He certainly couldna€™t afford to replace a calendar every year, along with the necessary postage which could double the costs.
It was being used more in industry as electronics became more popular(remember the transistor radio) and as people started taking more and more pictures with the arrival of the Kodak Instamatic camera (film was made with silver).
I would go around to shop at the department stores, have lunch (which always included a milkshake) at one of the little luncheonettes that were popular back then, and a visit to the Lowea€™s Theater for the latest movie (hopefully a James Bond feature). At the very least I could get to spend a little time soliciting her (to buy my wedding invitations).
The next time I saw them they gave me the dreaded news that they were making a weekend trip to the city department stores to see what they had to offer. My potential customer and her mom thought they would spend a few hours in the city and it turned into nearly a weekend.
I would observe dad monitoring his stocks in the newspaper, recording their values and dividends on paper spreadsheets, and reading Fortune and Forbes magazine business articles. Everything is based on learning, and therefore talk, mindless work and fluff activity, etc.
She must have felt this was just like a kindergarden activity, and I may have offered some small pittance for her effort, so she willingly became my production grunt.
He then pointed out that with Christmas coming, there would be new and more incredible radios being sold, another advantage of waiting a while. The only downside is that I didna€™t learn enough languages to appreciate everything at my disposal. I had to explain that that was bad business, and she would have to continue going through the ritual.
As a young person who had experienced his passion and inspiration, I was very saddened by our loss of his leadership. I didna€™t sell him anything since he said they were contracted with some other company (interesting how the top guy in the bank had no power).

He was going to open his own funeral home and wanted me to help with ALL his printing needs. The payoff for my consulting was one of the biggest printing orders yet - everything he needed - business cards, stationary, envelopes, announcement cards, etc. After the nickle bus ride, lunch and a movie, I still usually had 95% of my profit when I got home. Interestingly, the current price of silver is around $30 an ounce and at one point peaked at around $50 a few years back. Unfortunately I already knew, since I had already done my research and checked out my competition. One only needs to look at the bureaucracies in education from the federal and state DOE, down to the district level to see how out of control top down complexities do not lead to better performance, but rather inefficiencies.
I subsequently emulated him by scouring through these looking for little hidden entrepreneurial gems I could utilize in my own pursuits.
They would roll up on a cylinder when closed and unroll to keep the light out of the window when lowered.
I didna€™t really think about the fact that wood can burn, and I didna€™t have a product liability lawyer at the time. I was not into bookkeeping at the time so I dona€™t really remember how much profit this venture made for me, but it certainly inspired my appetite for future ideas and making money. So this idea was that I could sell Christmas cards for this company he came across, and they had all these toys and electronics you could get if you sold enough boxes. Admittedly that was a major enticement, and my craving for the latest technology allowed me to postpone immediate gratification for the promise of something better later on. Like I said - dad was an incredible salesman, and I was still a pretty gullible eight year old. Needless to say that sold me on the idea of starting my own business after seeing that people who work for organizations frequently become little puppets with no control of their destiny or ability to make their own decisions.
I didna€™t point out the irony of the funeral director needing to utilize his competitora€™s services after the suicide. I then questioned him on the demographics of these people as a group (ignoring things like auto accidents and stupid teenage stunts gone badly).
They could be given to local businesses to give away as a courtesy to their customers at checkout. This cycle repeated itself on most weekends for several months creating more money for college. This was a lot more work, especially once the half dollars and quarters were gone and only dimes were left.
Despite the fact that I had some of the best quality invitations at extremely competitive prices, I feared the immense selection would win out. Then look at the most successful company in the world right now, Apple which now is worth more than any other company in market capitalization, a company that does not have one committee, that simplifies its products into three or four models of each item. Somewhere during this process I got the bug to invest in other companies other than merely my own inventions.
Since they were headed for the trash anyway, any money I could get for them would be all profit!
I do recall setting the price at $1.00 which was a tidy sum in that day - it would have bought 4 gallons of gas. We would go to the village dump and scavenge for bigger speakers from old TVa€™s or radios that we could hook up by splicing the connections on our old headphones. I sent away for their kit and they really did have a great radio in their catalog of gifts you could earn. Ironically this is the decision we must continually confront when making technology purchases today. One thing I will say about back then, our candy bars were a decent value unlike many of the overpriced things being peddled today. I realized that if I built up a subscriber base of customers, it would produce a regular income flow as long as I delivered the paper to my customers. I dona€™t think I raised all that much, but did receive a very nice thank your from the First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy. There were many more buildings and doors knocked on - lawyers, accountants, medical offices - and many items sold.
Here was someone preparing to go up against one of the most established businesses in a small town, where a sizable investment and large stately home was required. The greatest part was that although the silver certificates were becoming more scarce, the price being paid for them kept increasing. When I was reading an article involving marketing concepts back in high school, I remember reading that if you are going to sell ties, you should have a variety of low priced ones, medium priced ones, and high priced ones. I think we discounted some, but nonetheless, had I pursued this idea further I could have been the first person to open one of the many successful varieties of dollar stores in existence today! I learned that if I took my radio out to the street in front of our house and held it next to some of the wires running down the telephone pole, I could pick up some radio stations from all over the country. This is a critical rule of marketing which many companies never get - no amount of gimmicks and salesmanship can overcome a crappy product or poor value.
I did just that and also became an avid reader of the news that Grit saw fit to print at the time. This led to numerous discussions about the logistics involved in this brazen attack on Mauera€™s business.
They left bewildered and confused, returning to the comfort of my simple but beautifully presented products and good value pricing.
If there are too many price points the customer usually gets confused and walks away empty handed. So I employed a little 3rd-5th grade mathematics (remember I was only seven so I was still in 2nd grade) and measured the slat length, calculating how long they would need to be to get three segments out of each.
Although I was not a paid consultant, it really meant a lot to me that this guy in his thirties valued the advise of this kid who was only 13, even though admittedly I had a lot more experience starting businesses, small as they were. Due to the sorting challenge, it I usually fell fairly short of my goal so lugging all 28 pounds didna€™t happen too often. I got the order for invitations, reception cards, response cards, all the envelopes, engraved champaign glasses, personalized matchbooks & cocktail napkins, engraved cake carving knife, and more!
Once this was accomplished, the slats were marked for cutting prior to the connecting string being cut.
Once your reputation is established it is exponentially (a math term) more difficult to fix than to merely start over from scratch!
What is it that old people have in nearly every room of their house (unlike a calendar), and in fact frequently deem so important that they might carry it around with them to have instantly handy at a moments notice?
The good part was that the price rose up to over 15A? an ounce, which more than made up any difference and boosted profits.
They were a little concerned doing business with a 13 year old, but I assured them that since we were ordering so far in advance of the wedding, they would have plenty of time to order elsewhere if the a€?kid didna€™t come through.a€™ I never realized people spent so much on weddings, and this might have even conditioned my thinking towards not getting married too young. I pointed out that he would never get the uppity clientele that was the usual Mauer customer anyway and therefore had nothing to lose.
The slogan would have people talking and could even generate free publicity like newspaper articles. Fear of the unknown is a very powerful human emotion not easily overcome, even by a great 14 year old salesman.

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