Cord Wood, Watermelons and Haircuts
All of us have our philosophies on business. We have our own unique
theories and our personal experiences that create our view of the
business world. These
views of the business world have a large impact on our future
Through formal education I learned a tremendous amount in my
high school years and at Texas A&M – both in undergraduate and
graduate work. I have
them to thank for some great base knowledge on business. But I truly learned the most
about sales and people from my family and jobs that I had while
growing up. It is my
belief that my view on the sales world can be summed up in three key
concepts: Cord Wood, Watermelons and Haircuts. Did I just read that? Mitch, have you completely
lost your mind? That
sure looks like a pretty strange combination – even to me and I am
writing this article!
For me the world of sales can be summed up into these three
jobs that I have been involved with. Now if you have chosen
to read this far, there is a fairly good chance that you may hear me
out and I might even make a point!
I had a job of cutting
cord wood as an extra source of income while I was working at Texas
Hydraulics. I can say
this with anonymity now because I no longer work there! I am sure that someone would
have found a reason why I should not have been doing this during the
evening and weekend hours.
For those of you who may not be familiar with cord wood, it
is fire wood. Trees are
cut down with a chain saw and then branches are removed. The tree is then cut into
lengths that are round “blocks” of wood. Now comes the really hard
part. The wood was
manually split with an ax in order to be delivered to a client. This split wood is then
loaded into a trailer and delivered to the client.
I had a partner named
Sid on this project.
His last name shall remain anonymous to protect the
innocent. However he
does live in
Texas. Sid and I began going out to
the neighborhood and “selling” this wood to prospective
clients. Mind you we
hadn’t cut any yet – we were just working on the sales side. Being proactive, quality
sales people we had done our research and knew that the coming
winter was to be the worst one in the past 20 years! This fact alone was good for
After several door to
door sales orders, we decided to boost our sales with an ad in the
local newspaper – one that no mortal could resist! Several more orders came in
and soon we had approximately 30 cords of wood sold. Not bad at $ 80.00/cord
delivered. I was told
by my wife that the extra cash would come in handy for Christmas.
Now this is the part
of the story where the lesson begins. A cord of wood is a
significant amount of wood and work. A cord of wood is 128 cu
ft. That measurement
still doesn’t tell the whole story – imagine a stack of wood 2 feet
wide by 4 foot high and 16 feet long – better picture?
Here are the key
lessons I learned from Cord Wood - It is much easier to sell a cord
of wood than it is to manufacture. Additionally, we didn’t
realize until much much later that some of the orders were from
apartment complexes and were second story deliveries. Finding out about client
requirements prior to
agreeing to delivery is a good thing. Pretty simple lessons
but ones that were hard in coming through a sore back, legs and arms
for several months!
I was in High School my family raised watermelons as an additional
source of income. We
had a 10 acre patch of watermelons and grew Charleston Grays. I know you might not realize
it, but there are several varieties of watermelons! Although this is not one of
the key lessons that I learned it has stuck with me for over 25
The raising and
delivering of watermelons is an extremely manual process much like
the cord wood. Why is
it that so many of life’s lessons can be painful? Once the watermelons are
ripe an individual goes through and chooses which ones will be
harvested. My dad
performed this function.
Each melon is then rolled out from the vine. Following this, a truck or a
truck pulling a trailer is driven in between the rows. Watermelons are then handed
up to a person on the trailer or truck bed who stacks them.
Every once in a while,
either by chance or design, a melon will fall off the truck and
split open. It is a
wonderful experience because those who are doing the handing up now
can gorge themselves on the sweet melon meat. The melons would be warm in
Texas heat, but oh my - would they
ever be sweet.
We had planted these melons by seed, watered and fertilized,
pulled weeds and harvested them and finally tasted them. As a young teenager I could
not only tell you about the process of raising melons and the
technical aspects, more importantly I beamed with pride for the
fruit that I had helped raise. Our dad could count on
us to tell prospective clients what he already knew – that we had
some of the best watermelons in the state, and if you didn’t believe
it after trying them then you didn’t have to buy them!
The key lesson in
watermelons was know
your product, be
involved with your product but most importantly be proud of your profession
and your company.
Finally, when I was in
grade school I had the opportunity to have a shoe shine stand at my
dad’s barbershop. I say
opportunity because I got to watch him work. My dad cut everyone’s hair
in Bryan/College Station.
I know you are thinking he didn’t cut everyone’s hair but he
was actually pretty close.
coaches, players, students, teachers, professors, pastors, doctors,
singers, babies, hospitalized individuals, lawyers, politicians,
Baseball coaches, TV personalities, Professional Athletes, CIA, FBI,
Firefighters, Policemen, psychiatrist, judges – get the point? He cut a lot of people’s
hair. Now when he
started business he didn’t cut all those people’s hair. When he started he had to
find clients just like any business.
I watched him sit
people in his chair, wrap a smock around them and then ask them how
they would like their hair cut. Even if they had been to him
a hundred times he would ask how would like your hair done
today. Even if they
were almost completely bald!
My dad realized a key component to sales: it isn’t about me
but how I can use my skills and value to help you get where you want
I remember one time in
the 70’s a guy brought in a picture of John Travolta from the movie
Saturday Night Fever.
John Travolta had a lot of hair. It was jet black and coifed
to perfection. The
client had thinning blonde hair. My dad asked him the
question “How would you like your hair cut”? The client told my dad –
“Make me look like this picture”. I waited with anticipation
to hear my dad’s response.
Could he make him look like John Travolta, would he tell the
guy that he was bald?
My dad’s response was dead on as always! He was honest with the
client and told him that he could not make him look like the
photograph, but that he could make his hair resemble some of the
aspects of John Travolta’s.
He then proceeded to show him how his hair might look and get
approval. The client
accepted the professional advice and was ultimately pleased with the
Another aspect of my dad’s business was the constant
training. If there was
a new technique to be learned, my dad wanted to be involved.
The key lessons from
haircuts are: If you want to know what your clients want – ask them. Don’t be afraid to say that
you can’t provide a
service or product if you can’t deliver. And the final lesson is never quit learning.
Life lessons on sales
summed up in three jobs – Cord Wood, Watermelons, and Haircuts? While our life experiences
may be different, the principles behind each of the lessons learned
are universal. Remember
as always no one said it was easy and Hard Work Does Pay