Category Archives: Success Stories

Perseverance in the Face of Adversity

At age 49, Bernie Marcus and his good friend Arthur Blank, were fired from their jobs with a Southern California hardware chain. Anyone reading this who has been in a similar situation knows that in our youth-oriented society, finding another job at this age is pretty tough.

That apparently was the case with Bernie as well, so he decided to team up with Arthur and they opened their own hardware store instead. In fact, they planned on having a chain of hardware stores someday, so they found an investor and opened two stores at once, in malls that had empty store buildings.

Unfortunately, they did not have enough money to stock both stores—one of the stores looked more like it was closing, instead of getting ready for a grand opening. So Bernie called on his experience in retailing and purchased empty paint cans and boxes, and filled all the upper shelves with them. By opening day, Bernie’s stores looked like real, well-stocked, hardware stores.

The Grand Opening, however, was still not a huge success—there were no customers. Bernie and Arthur even had their kids handing out $1 bills in the mall parking lot to entice people to come in. Fortunately the drought of customers was short lived as word of their great customer service spread.

Bernie’s experience taught him what customers really wanted and he capitalized on that. But, more than anything else, it was his determination and spirit that kept both he and Arthur going through the disappointments…and lack of customers.

It did not take long until their concept caught on and they began to expand. Two years after they opened their first two stores, Bernie and Arthur took their company public, and the rest is history.

Oh yeah, the name of their company was The Home Depot.

With companies like Facebook, Twitter, and a host of other high-tech companies trying to break into a profit after spending tens of millions of venture capital, it is interesting to see the tremendous financial successes of companies like Home Depot, Costco, and others like them.

What do you think about the relative successes of high-tech vs. mundane businesses like household hardware?

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Today’s Innovators

Many of today’s business “gurus” and investors do not consider a person an entrepreneur—nor their business a startup—unless they have a high-tech product. Business web sites, blogs, and ezines all seem to promote high-tech as the primary means to innovative salvation of America’s economy.

That’s a shame because with more and more U.S. high-tech being outsourced to other countries, it is now more important than ever that we acknowledge and support the “real” startups—those that do not involve high-tech products. Of the over six million new businesses started each year, only a handful of them are considered high-tech, yet they are the ones that attract the attention of investors, the government, and the media. Very few people acknowledge that the remainder of the six million even exist.

Take for example, Annie Haven, who started her business in 2005 and has steadily grown 30 percent a year ever since…with customers as far away as Spain and Singapore. And what is Annie’s business? She sells dried cow manure on the Internet.

Annie grew up on a cattle ranch and developed a process for drying cow manure and packaging it in 3 inch by 5 inch “tea” bags. The “tea” bags can then be steeped in 5 gallons of water to make liquid fertilizer for plants and gardens. Since the cattle are free range and eat only organic food, the fertilizer is also organic—and all natural.

To me, that is pure innovation…good old-fashioned American ingenuity…and we need to encourage and support more people like Annie Haven. Whether through the media, private investors, or the government, more attention needs to be paid to the “simple” innovations and creations that are being carried out every day by totally unknown and out-of-the-spotlight people.

My hat is off to Annie, and all the many unsung innovative entrepreneurs around the world.

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It is Never Too Late

Sometimes we don’t realize our true potential until we get a bit older. I have always appreciated the wisdom and capabilities of the older generation—we can all learn much if we just listen. So, today I am combining the recent success of an older person with the success of one of my favorite entrepreneurs, Mark Johnson.

Here’s what I mean:

If that is not inspiration enough, check out Mark Johnson’s interview on the Bill Moyers Journal show.

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Small Business for Real

If you want to see small business at its finest—check out this video.

(email subscribers, view on my blog)

Notice the passions this business owner has—he loves his business, he loves his customers, he supports other small businesses, he tries to stay away from unhealthy products, he rejects unhealthy packaging, he is passionate about the environment (and points out the hypocrisy of governmental environmental rules)…and on and on. This entrepreneur could be the poster boy for small business.

How well do you fit this standard?

Old Guys Rule

Considering that we live in a youth oriented society, I always enjoy reading about an older person successfully pursuing their chosen profession. For example: I recently read about David Pelham, the Science Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. David is 90 years old, and refuses to slow down. He says he learns something new with every article he writes.

Pelham’s passion for pursuing a news story hasn’t slowed down one bit. He spent two weeks in the Ethiopian desert following fossil hunters around. He does say of this trip, “That was when I was younger…three years ago.”

Hats off to the David Pelhams of the world. I think we could use a little “wisdom-of-the-elders” right about now.

Do Big Events Pay Off?

Does your town, or city, sponsor any big events? There is a small town in South Dakota that puts on an annual motorcycle rally that brings in enormous revenues. The event is held the first weekend of August and this year is their 69th event. The town is called Sturgis, and here are some interesting statistics:

•    Population of South Dakota – 804,194

•    Population of Sturgis – 6,442

•    Number of event attendees – between 4 and 500,000

•    Number of city licenses issued to vendors – 1,192

•    Gross Sales for the 7-day event – $16.4 million

•    Pounds of ice delivered to area – 6.7 million

•    Tons of garbage hauled – 543

Obviously, this is a pretty big deal for this small town, but they have been doing it for 69 years and they have it pretty well figured out by now. Many of the local businesses make a good portion of their annual income and profit during this one week. How does your town/city stack up?

Oh yeah, they also issued 66 marriage licenses last year.