Back in the summer of 1977 my former father-in-law told me there’s nothing really difficult about business. George knew business and his words stuck with me.
“You’ve got an apple tree in your backyard, see, and you need to sell the apples you grow for more than it cost you to grow them. That’s all there is to it.”
I recall these words at a time when I need to make changes in my employment. I manage the wine, beer and liquor departments for a large, upscale retail store. I am very good at what I do, overseeing consistent sales growth and profits, introducing successful new products and charming the heck out of a whole lot of satisfied, repeat customers.
The problem is I no longer drink. Wine was once my passion and I held my own discussing – and consuming – beer and liquor. But I no longer drink. Let that statement suffice for now.
“So what?” you ask. “You don’t need to drink booze in order to sell it.”
“Fair enough,” I respond, “but I am likely to work another ten years and I need to have at least some passion for what I do. Sure, I’ve got enough knowledge stored up to fake it for a decade but it would be kinder if you would just shoot me now. Thank you in advance and please don’t lose a minute’s sleep over this; you’re doing me a huge favor.”
“Are there no opportunities for promotion within the company you currently work for, something that doesn’t involve booze?”
“Maybe, but it seems that when one reaches a certain age he or she is pigeon-holed. Employers appear to think older employees are heading placidly for the warm milking barn that was once a comfortable retirement rather than still striving for the top. I hear this from my co-workers and observe it myself. One day we show up to find one of our younger colleagues promoted and we never knew there was an opening.”
“Now that’s kind of ironic,” you smugly proclaim, “a Baby Boomer whining about a lack of opportunity. You guys have been calling the shots for a couple of decades.”
“That’s fair, too. But there’s been a fundamental shift since the crash of 2008. You’ve now got educated Baby Boomers competing for lower-paying jobs previously held by younger, dare I say uneducated, workers. It will be the wise employer who acknowledges this change and takes advantage of it. An employee who once dreamed of fishing in Florida next winter might now give an employer 5 – 10 additional years of inspired, dedicated employment . . . I see you’re getting angry; what’s wrong?”
“All hail the pampered Baby Boomers; is that it? You’ve had your way forever and now you want to hold back Generations X, Y and Z?”
“I can see how it might look that way but you’ll just have to take my word for the fact that I’m well-intentioned while I muddle through this predicament. Throw ‘em all in together and let the cream rise, that’s what I advocate. If a 27-year-old kicks my butt all power to him or her, but give me a chance to win, too.”
“OK, OK . . . Jesus, my head’s about to explode. Weren’t you talking about growing apples or some damn thing? What was that all about?”
“Thanks for bringing me back on point. In my perfect world I’d have a small, successful business of my own.”
“What’s holding you back?”
“Nothing. I mean, I don’t have money for a large capital investment or the technical knowledge to implement a stunning breakthrough in engineering, but it occurs to me I ought to be able to sell an apple for more than it cost me to grow it.”
“You want to sell apples?”
“Stop being so literal, for crying out loud! That’s one of the problems with your generation.”
“OK, OK . . . what, then?”
“I’ve been in business for myself in the past and have come to accept my strengths and weaknesses. I’m a good general manager and creative as all-get-out. I’m not good at keeping track of how much it costs to grow an apple.”
“How are you going to get around that?”
“I’m not sure yet. I’m still in the early innings with this whole thing.”
“If not apples, then what?”
“Tee-shirts, you say? Why tee-shirts?”
“What could be less technical? What simpler business model than well-made tee-shirts with catchy slogans selling for 20% more than they cost to produce? I think I can turn a $16 tee-shirt into $19.99 plus shipping and handling all day long. Heck, that’s 25%.”
“I hate to admit it but you just might have something there. People like those damn tee-shirts; don’t they? You know, I saw one the other day that said . . . “
Check out the Marshall Tucker Band performing ‘A New Life’ from 1974 here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWqPwVmXOJg
I really enjoyed this.
I saw a T-shirt the other day that said “You have to sell the apple for more than it cost you to grow it!!!”