Not My Best Business Idea

In my life, I have had quite a few jobs.  My first was raking sand traps at my father’s “country club” on weekend mornings.  I was 15-years-old and, if I can recall with any accuracy, my pay was $1.15 per hour.  My father helped me to get the job and, I’m sure, it was because he wanted me to get out into the work force.  He wished me to begin to function on my own as a (quasi-) adult. 

I arose on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 5:00 a.m.  I drank a cup of tea and climbed into my father’s car and he’d drive me to the golf course; dropping me off at the maintenance shack on the far side.  There I’d grab a large aluminum rake and, with a few of the men who worked there full-time, I’d walk, crisscrossing the course, and smooth the sand in all of the bunkers before the Men’s Club teed off.  As an aside, the men with whom I worked must have thought me the white son of some rich country club member, but they treated me well and made but a few jokes at my expense.  All-in-all, they were quite gracious in showing me the ropes.

During my summer vacation, I was hired full-time on the maintenance crew.  It was pretty hard work but my first monthly pay check came in at around two hundred dollars, net.  I was rolling in dough!  I immediately went out and bought a stereo and turntable from Radio Shack!

During high-school I had a job washing dishes at an ice cream parlor.  I washed dishes at Denny’s on the graveyard shift a few times.  I worked in a bakery after college classes.  I had a job as a computer operator in aerospace in Orange County, CA.  I wrote commercials for a radio station.  I was a disc jockey.  Worked in TV.  Well, I’ve talked about all of this before and you can see my professional bio here.

I saw early on that working for someone else was severely limiting.  Unless you were a college-educated professional, there was always a (very low) ceiling.  But when one works for his or herself, you’re limited only by your imagination and, perhaps, the ability of your body to endure long hours.

I enjoyed having my own business and I worked hard.  I have had success and failure.  Some business ideas were good.  Others, not so much.

When we were kids, we had a Kool-Aid stand.  Over the years, there may have been several.  And, of all the times we tried selling refreshments on the side of the road, I think we had one car stop.

When I was in Boy Scouts, I tried selling greeting cards door-to-door.  With the program that I chose—probably from an ad in the back of Boy’s Life magazine—you had to pay for the entire shipment.  There was no returning the unsold cards.  I think they sent 12 boxes.  They gave you time to sell them but, after a certain number of weeks, you had to pay for all of the cards.

I sold one box.

It was quite exciting to make my first sale and I remember riding my bike home as fast as I could to share the good news with my mother.  I was peddling so fast, in fact, that the lid on the top box in my bicycle’s basket blew off and some of the cards took flight.  I ran over a few and, as I went back and collected them, noticed the small bits of sand and gravel embedded into the stock.  One had a nice, dusty tread mark. That was the end of any profit I was going to make on this venture.  So, my motivation to ride my bike around our rural town was quickly lost.

I think my mother ended up having to pay for 11 boxes of cards; but at least she paid wholesale and had all-occasion cards for her personal use for the following few decades.

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As I look back on it across the years, there was another venture my friend Jack and I brainstormed.  From the outset, this one had failure written all over it.  We were in 8th or 9th grade at the time.  We were very interested in science.  We hunted for fossils on the central California coast.  He had a telescope and I clearly remember seeing Jupiter and the four Galilean moons.  We built a rocket which could have cost us our lives.  (I related that story here.)  But this one business venture we dreamed up was doomed; only in our excitement, we couldn’t see it.

One of our adventures found us collecting different types of rocks.  I think it began as an assignment for school science class.  We wandered around local hillsides and river beds, collecting rocks and categorizing them as Igneous, Sedimentary and Metamorphic.  Then we further sub-classified them by type and the ever-popular classification of “ones that looked really cool.”

Both of us enjoyed collecting the rocks.  Despite our enjoyment of discovering the cool-looking ones, we simply enjoyed the science of it.  We laid them out on the workbench in my garage and grouped and re-grouped them.  Then, in a flash of brilliance, we got the idea to place these rocks into collections and sell them on the street corner!

We ran into my house and dug through my mother’s closet, looking for shoe boxes.  From them, we took the lids and ran back to the garage.  There we decided on which rocks should be in each collection and we did our best to glue the rocks to the inside of the cardboard lids and write the name of the rocks below each one.  Then we decided on a price for each collection as well as for those which we offered as single specimens.  Then we carried our product out by the street and laid them out on the sidewalk, in as best a display as our limited artistic abilities would allow, and began our business.

We sat there for a few hours amidst some shoebox lids, each containing some barely secured pieces of our planet, and yelled “Rocks for sale!” to any passing vehicle.

At one time in my adult years, I read some inspirational poster on which one of its guides to life suggested that we stop at every roadside lemonade stand.  Remembering that poster’s suggestion as well as the elation of that one car that actually stopped for our childhood Kool-Aid stand, I have done my best to do the same.

But I look back at that business idea and wonder how many years we would have had to sit in front of my house, trying to get someone to stop their vehicle and purchase a rock.

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“What are you selling?”

“Rocks.”

“Rocks?”

“Yes, rocks.”

“You mean rocks like I could walk over into that field and pick up for free?”

“Well.  Yeah.  But there are some cool-looking ones.”

“And you don’t have any lemonade?”

“Just rocks.”

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“Kool-Aid?”

“Rocks.”

“A cool glass of water?”

“You could use the hose over there.”

“I think I’ll pass…”

In Quartzite, Arizona, there are many shops that sell rocks and semi-precious stones.  It has grown from hippies selling minerals from the backs of their VW vans into thriving businesses with several “shows” each season.  And, from what I understand, people come to the shows from far and wide to purchase collectible rocks.

I’ve visited some of the shops in Quartzite and I found myself thinking, “Why would I want to spend money on a rock?”

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