Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Clunky But Savvy Free Enterprise

"Because I do more stuff."

Jay, the Lawn Care Specialist  

As a kid I did a lot of different things to make money. 

I started delivering the morning paper at 12.  At that age I was so small the bag nearly dragged on the ground.  Later in the morning I mowed lawns in the neighborhood.  Then during the afternoons we went to local golf courses and got golf balls out of the lakes to sell back to the golfers.  At night, on the weekends, I flipped hamburgers at a Burger Chef, and was a cashier before the cash register told you how much change to return.  At the end of the day my tray was always perfect.  Which was important as I had to pay back any deficit!  And I only made $.95/hour.

Of course, I rode my bike everywhere.

When I asked my mother if I could start mowing neighborhood lawns she said yes, but that I had to buy the lawn mower.  She would pay half because I would use it to mow our lawn too.

It disturbed me she wouldn't pay me to mow our lawn.  "It's OUR house..." is what I heard.

She also said I had to buy my own gasoline and lawn-care tools.

There was a lot of competition in the neighborhood.  Even a girl up the street.  Her father bought her a lawn mower and she was mowing a couple of lawns.  The nerve that a girl thought she could mow lawns!  Of course, she was bigger than I was and could probably beat me up, but still, what nerve!


In print shop at school I designed and printed my own business cards.

I selected, set and blocked the type, spacing and centering it in each line and the card, pounded it level, chose the very professional color and printed 250 one by one on the hand printer with the lever.  (This is 1966)

Sure, it's a clunky card!  But I was the only kid in the class to print business cards!

That one thing says a lot about me.

Then I needed a lawn mower.  I picked out and bought a Toro, with a side bag.  It was a beast!  And I was so small I could hardly push it!

The business needed more capital.  A gas can was essential.  And tools!  I needed tools!  Having none of that I needed to borrow money from the bank (Mom), which I had to pay back with the other money I was making.

Going to the hardware store, I picked out the sturdiest, high-tech tools I could find.  Everything was done by hand, of course.  The grass edgers had pads on the handles to make them more comfortable!  And we already had a rake for clean up. 

In those days there were no huge, plastic bags, so the homeowner's metal trash cans had to be used for clean up.  But when full it was too heavy to move, so I would position it at the street so the "trash man" could empty it.  Then I raked debris into small piles, carrying each one by one to the trash can.

My business was ready to market!  My tactic was simple.  I went door to door where I knew there were no kids to mow the lawn.  I knew my business had to be different than the other kids who mowed lawns.

This was my door approach.  Ringing the bell (which was mostly a ringing buzz) I put on my best puppy-dog eyes.  My spiel was simple - and always polite.  Handing them my business card I would say something like, "Good morning.  My name is Jay and I have a lawn-care business.  I would like to mow your lawn and take care of your garden and bushes."

The next question was always something like why they should hire me instead of somebody else.  Not realizing my answer was not very savvy, but nonetheless it demonstrated the essence of free enterprise.   I would hold up my hand edgers, smile and say,

"Because I do more stuff."  

Not exactly the smooth operator a more adult individual would be, the little entrepreneur at the door had handed over a business card and set himself apart in the marketplace.  I did more stuff than the other kids would do!

To seal the deal the follow-up would be, "I will bag your grass, clean the yard, clip your bushes, pull the weeds and edge your whole sidewalk.  I have my own tools and I will come whenever you want."  I guess I was savvy after all!

Like the butcher, baker and beer maker providing someone a better-than-average dinner, I WAS ACTING OUT OF SELF INTEREST.

And I mowed half my neighborhood, as much as I could handle.  And along the way I learned a lot about diligence, customer care, promptness, dependability and yard care!

Oh, I charged $5.  The other kids were getting $2 and $3, maybe $4 for a corner yard. 


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