Monday, May 17, 2010

Part I - 10 Lessons I Learned from the Circus Sideshow or what the bearded lady taught me about making money

I used to sell things from carts in malls. This was quite a few years ago when people still did most of their shopping there,

before the internet, I guess.

(or before anyone knew about the internet)

When did Al Gore invent that anyway?

(actually, I love Al Gore and he didn't say he "invented" the internet- he said he created it and he did support funding for it while in Congress. I wouldn't quite say he "created" it either, but I do forgive him because his book, "Earth in the Balance" rocked my world)

It started when I bought a business that I knew nothing about.

(I think it is easier to be fearless when you are young and have nothing to lose- it is harder and even more important that we continue to live fearlessly when we are maybe not so young)

All I knew is that this business looked pretty cool to me and I'd never seen anything like it and I was out of work and I had been selling things I made at craft shows and not making much money and I needed a change.

(preferably something that didn't include going door to door with cosmetic samples wearing opaque stockings and the wrong shade of lipstick)

The business was called Dream Scenes. Dream Scenes were personalized matted prints (there was a photo of a jet plane and I would put any name on the jet so the picture looked like the buyer owned a jet plane or a photo of Madison Square Garden where I would put any words on the marquee, you get the idea).

This is something that a 5th grader could Photoshop today, but you will have to trust me that this was very cutting edge at the time.

So, I approached the local mall manager about a Christmas cart location (this was even before I bought the business, but I did have a few sample pictures and I just pretended it was my business).

It was late September (mall holiday spaces were booked by May, luckily I didn't know this at the time). The manager had been on maternity leave and was way behind with her bookings. She thought my Dream Scenes were pretty cool, too and offered me the best location in the mall.

(even though I was probably wearing opaque stockings and the wrong shade of lipstick).

Lesson 1 - Timing is Everything - sometimes things like this just fall into place and I think it is like a huge green light is flashing at us from the universe.

(now, I think this is kind of a beginner's luck thing - because maybe next time the universe will flash a yellow proceed with caution at you and sometimes a flashing red STOP to see how badly you really want something or sometimes STOP really does mean STOP - figuring out which is which is the tricky part)

Then she dropped a bombshell- the rent was $10,000 for 2 months!

As the blood rushed from my face, she told me that top products had grossed $100,000 in 2 months and I could pay the rent as I went along. So, even though $10,000 was about 2 zeros greater than any check I had ever written and $100,000 sounded like a gazillion and I couldn't even factor it into my thinking-

I gulped, signed the lease, went home, bought the business and started cutting mats (the only part I already knew how to do).

(now I realize that things like rent are negotiable and I should have been negotiating that rent, but in those days I couldn't even negotiate my way into a parallel parking space and didn't even think of it)

Lesson 2 - When You Decide to Jump, Jump With Both Feet- you don't want to end up doing one of those "one leg in, one leg out" hokey-pokey things- where you will almost certainly fall on your ass. You have a better chance of a good landing with both feet. Commit.

The mall manager also told me that the year-round "cart people" were a pretty tight group, kind of like a side show circus within the larger circus of the mall. They wouldn't like me coming in at the last minute and grabbing the best space and I would have to get along with them.


(they had names like PinkPatty and HeatPress and OneEyedMac - I had dreams of being a barker in a traveling circus and slapping back cast iron skillets filled with greasy bacon and bottles of whiskey for breakfast - sometimes my performers would get mad at me and threaten to quit my circus and shave their beards, surgically remove their twins or slice off their snake's extra head)

Anyhoo, I set up on Halloween night with my cool new product and my gigantic laminated arrows that read ANY NAME HERE and pointed to the part of the picture that could be personalized (the cart people quickly christened me "anynamehere girl"). I had a brand new MAC and color printer (cutting edge in its day) that I was totally unfamiliar with.

(in fact, one day I had a paper jam and I couldn't get the top back on the printer after clearing the jam- my customer had to tell me I was trying to put the cover on backwards)

Lesson 3 - Sometimes you have to figure things out as you go along, you can't prepare for everything

(now it is good to be prepared, but if you are the kind of person who has to prepare for every eventuality- well, things may not ever go terribly wrong for you, but they may not ever go terribly right either)

Now, this is getting a bit lengthy, even for me, and I do have 10 valuable lessons to share here, so will continue this series tomorrow as I let the suspense build- ask yourself - Will Cat make $100,000 in 2 months? Will PinkPatty find Cat the correct shade of lipstick? Will Cat figure out how to change the ink in her printer? I hope you are not reading this late at night because I know you will be up for hours pondering these questions - please don't hate me for this.

3 comments:

Sherry said...

I'm betting you'll do great and will be on the edge of my seat until you tell us. Seriously though, it's those leaps of faith that fill in the gaps and make us think we can do anything.

I still have those feelings all the time.

xoSherry

Brenda said...

I am dying to know!!!

ana carina said...

Gaaah! I want to know!!! Teaser!!