Caution: This post may contain bits of hyperbole.
When I was about 13 or so, my family was driving home from seeing a Broadway show. For reasons that I will never understand, my father has always preferred driving into Manhattan instead of taking a train (I have recently driven in Manhattan. Not on purpose. It’s a long story but suffice it so say that when your 5 year old is in the backseat, telling you to stop crying and that it’s okay because everyone makes mistakes, it’s probably a good idea never to repeat the activity that caused that statement). Financially speaking, it might be more cost effective to drive instead of taking the train (seriously, have you ever ridden the Long Island Railroad? It’s a damn fortune) but I would think that with 2 kids in the backseat who rarely get along, the train would have been better (although maybe not. My parents could yell at us in the car, far from the prying and judgmental eyes and ears of strangers). But I was not in charge and my opinion meant very little so my dad drove us.
Normally, my father has a fabulous sense of direction (a trait I did not inherit. I cannot get anywhere, even with directions. It’s atrocious). But on this particular occasion, he took a wrong turn and we wound up in a very…unsavory neighborhood. In fact, I’m pretty sure my mother instructed us to lock the doors and not to make eye contact with anyone (my mother might be a little excitable). Being the obedient (ha!) daughter that I am, I listened to my mother. Somewhat. I locked the door and tried to avoid eye contact but I had to look out the window. I had no choice. There was no where else to look except at my sister who I’m fairly certain didn’t want me looking at her because I’m sure we were fighting about something. And am I glad I looked out the window because there, in illuminated in the street lights of whatever not so great neighborhood, I saw him.
The man standing on the street corner, selling bullets. Off of a folding card table. And I’m pretty sure he had a sign that said something like “Bullets. $5/box”.
I was astounded, and highly amused. In fact, I’m think that maybe I screamed and pointed a little (which was inevitably followed by a reprimand from my mother and sheer embarrassment from my father). I couldn’t help it. It was, and remains, one of the greatest sites I have ever seen. I mean, every part of that is just pure marketing/sales genius. He followed so many pieces of advice that if he weren’t making money, I’d be surprised. After all, he:
- Offered a desirable product at a great price. Or that’s what I assume he did. I’m not a big fan of guns, and I’ve never had the reason to price bullets (except while playing The Oregon Trail), but $5 for a box of bullets seems like a great deal. And based on his location, it’s a fair assumption that bullets are a quick moving product so for $5 a box, his profits were probably through the roof. While I’m not sure what he was paying his supplier, it probably was low enough that he could sell the bullets at a discounted rate and still make a living.
- Had low overhead. I can’t imagine that his business was sanctioned by New York City, which means that there were no permit fees, business license fees or any other fees related to establishing a legit business. But he was able to keep his profit margin up by using a folding card table (which I assume he got for a few dollar or for free by removing it from the trash) and I would assume that the rent on a street corner for this type of business is reasonable (or free). No utility payment, no employees. Just him and his bullets.
- Picked a great location. No. He picked a fabulous location. Right at an intersection that has a stoplight, in a bustling neighborhood. No shortage of potential customers. Also, his entire set up was completely mobile so if business slowed down in one place, it was almost no problem to pack up and move somewhere else, with a new customer base. He also had the flexibility to move to areas with less competition and, I’m assuming that his most loyal customers would follow him anywhere. Hard to beat that.
- Clearly did market research. He knew what he was doing when he selected that particular product to sell in that particular neighborhood. He knew what the people wanted, what they needed, and how much they were willing to pay. He knew what hours to work and when to best reach his customers.This gentleman was clearly in tune with his clientele and he knew how to deliver. That, to me, is a smart businessman.
Yes, this was a completely nontraditional business (and probably illegal as hell). But that doesn’t make it any less brilliant.
Who says you need any formal training to run a business?
Readers, what do you think of this gentleman’s tactics? Can we learn something from him (besides that fact that selling bullets off a card table is a great business idea)?