How To Get Rich

How to Get Rich: Mary (4th Birthday)

            A successful entrepreneur once told me: “You’ll never get rich selling your time.” I guess that depends on how much you sell it for. I know a few lawyers who do well selling their time; and they don’t even exceed 24 hours in any given day (unless, of course, they fly to Europe; that adds an extra 6 hours). Entertainers do all right too. As do surgeons, business consultants, and plumbers. I guess it all depend on whom  you ask and what they did to succeed. We all believe that what worked for us is the “right way.”

George R., a successful NYC businessman told me, “It’s difficult to make a little money. It’s easier to make a lot of money.” George’s businesses failed more times than the Queen has hats. His answer was to close up the failed business and start over. That worked for him. I don’t have the stomach for that. My Uncle George once said, “We have to work for a living. We’re too proud to beg and too nervous to steal.”

My old boss, Bernie, was another Type A walking casebook. His wife insisted he take some time off and travel around the world before he killed himself from overwork. She told how they made it to India, where Bernie was fascinated by the street bazaars. One day, he made a deal with this Indian merchant to buy out his entire inventory of small, copper warming ovens with covers. Bernie then called a friend who manufactured pool cues. He had the copper ovens shipped directly to him. The pool cue guy then mounted a long handle onto the copper ovens, and Bernie advertised them in all the New England and Home Decorating magazines as “Reproduction Antique Colonial Bed Warmers.”

“I sold out the entire inventory in a few months,” Bernie told us. “And the orders are still coming in. That idea paid for our trip several times over.”

It’s quite rare to see a get rich quick scheme work. I have friends in pyramid clubs. They call them “circles” nowadays to get away from the Ponzi connection  (A man named Ponzi started the pyramid club idea a hundred years ago with a scheme for selling international postage stamps for more than he paid for them. It didn’t work. His investors were ruined, and he ended up in prison).

Today, they have people selling soaps, cosmetics, vitamins, and whatever else they can think of. The problem is they have to spend all their time recruiting new dealers. That’s where the profit is. It’s not in selling the product. When people want soap, they buy it at the market. They won’t pay a premium to have you drop it off at their house. A friend in Maine joined a pyramid club selling vitamins. He went to all their motivational meetings with songs and speakers and balloon drops and everything. I asked him how he did. He said, “I never made a nickel, but they get you all excited, and that’s worth something right there.”

I’m not technical, so I need an “old world” solution. If you find the right niche you can make money selling buggy whips and candles. I toyed with the “Wrigley Gum Model” a couple of times. The Wrigleys are one of America’s wealthiest families. They got there by selling chewing gum. Yes, chewing gum; billions of sticks of chewing gum. The Mars family did the same thing with M&M candies, and the Cocoa Cola people made a fortune selling caramel flavored sugar water. Think of Hallmark: Who ever thought you could make a multi-billion dollar business out of printing sentiments on paper so people could pay five dollars to mail them to each other. You need a different card for each occasion too. What a great system.

And let’s remember Ray Kroc who made a fortune reinventing McDonald’s and the hamburger. You probably spend a few dollars each week for bottled water which can cost 50 times what you pay for the city’s water, and may be convenient but not necessarily much better. Don’t forget those overpriced lattes you wait in long lines for.

Here’s the secret: You can differentiate and merchandise commodity items. If you can put a name on it, and give it a new twist, you can sell coffee, hamburgers, and water. The gas stations now have machines that sell air! There’s no end to the possibilities.

Come up with an idea that gets lots of people to give you a little money each (the Wrigley Model). It works. All you have to do is figure out what it should be and how to spin it.

Failing that, marry money.

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