Pursue your idea. Inspiration comes to us under many circumstances. We can be in a business meeting, attending a family event, eating lunch, and we can have an inspiring idea while we are under stress. Sometimes, we awaken with a thought that has purcolated while we slept. This has happened to you and it has happened to me. One time, I pursued my idea and I launched a home-business because I did that.
What do You Want to Do?
I am a veteran and I am a government civil servant. I had earned education benefits while I served in the Navy, which I used to complete a Master of Science in Business Administration (MBA) degree. That master’s degree positioned me to have greater responsibility in my civil service job. However, an MBA is intended to be instruction and credentials for a captain of industry. After about six months, I began to be bothered about having acquired powerful business skills that I did not use. Sometimes I joined office co-workers at a large table at the work place cafeteria. I did that whenever I saw at least one person that I knew. Mostly, I did not know the people who enjoyed their lunch there. One day, I mentioned to a co-worker at that table that I had an MBA and I was wasting it. “I have been trained to run a business, and I should do that,” I said (much too loud). A co-worker, who had been an acquaintance, spoke up and replied, “I am a woodworker. It has been my hobby for decades. I have a shop filled with superb tools. My friends tell me that I do furniture-quality work. I have wondered if I should try to sell my creations.” Then, someone that neither of us knew, someone farther down the table, said, “I’m a woodworker!” The three of us met at the end of our day job schedule, and formed a plan to cooperate to build and sell at least one unique product made from quality wood. The two woodworkers concentrated on their trade craft and promised me that they would identify candidate products that they could produce cooperatively. I promised them that I would study marketing, promotion, sales, delivery, and customer support.
This is Fun!
Quickly, our shared endeavor became a life-altering experience for each of us. We had trouble getting our minds off of our business adventure. Every break and the lunch hour during our day job was our time to share details about progress and problems. Most days, we met at one of our houses after work. Saturday was also often thrown into the mix. I studied the tax laws (Federal and the state of Maryland, where we lived) and advised that we should each start sole proprietorship home businesses. We would be independent, yet choose to cooperate. The state was mostly concerned about collecting sales tax and an inventory tax. The two woodworkers would not pay either one as long as I bought their product (as a wholesaler) and resold the product to a retailer (a store front business) or to a final customer. If the woodworkers created an inventory of products, the inventory had to be assessed in January each year and an inventory tax had to be paid to the state. They elected not to have an inventory by the end of a year. I would not have an inventory either. I would not have to collect and provide the state with sales tax on product sales to retailers because they would make the final sale to their customers. However, I did have to collect the tax on point of sale to Maryland residents. I did that, and I always kept a sales receipt to be able to show a paper trail to a tax auditor. The Federal Tax process was very interesting. Mostly, I got all of the guidance that I needed from Federal Tax publication 17 at irs.gov. The publication was clear, and advised us on how to set up our businesses, account for tools, parts, shipping, and anything else we needed to produce and sell products. All of us were intrigued to see that we needed to be profitable for only three years out of every five. In other words, we could get what we needed to start our businesses and have a losing tax year (no tax owed) for the first two years while we got the businesses up to operate efficiently.
Sell a Product by Promoting Yourself
I learned that I could usually walk into a storefront business without an appointment, identify myself as a business owner, ask to see the owner or manager, and actually get to have that meeting. This was my job. After a brief introduction, I had about five minutes to get to the point, which always had to be that I had a product that I thought might sell in their store. It worked best if I had a sample of the product in the trunk of my car. Once the store owner or manager understood the product, he/she decided then and there if it might sell. Then, they wanted to know the price. Since I had negotiated a wholesale price on every trial product with the woodworkers, I needed to determine a likely retail price to the store owner’s customers. Ideally, I would offer the store owner the product for half of that estimated retail price. That would be an offer of a “keystone” price, which means that the owner could double his/her cost (what he/she would pay me for the product) and attain a 100% return on the retail sale. I knew that most store owners use a mathematical formula to determine the minimum acceptable cost to price ratio of store products per shelf space in the store. I would not know what that was, but could guess it to be between 30 and 50% for them to break even. By offering the keystone price, I could get beyond that to position my product as the better candidate (likely, he/she had many options and a limited amount of store space) for the store owner to accept. I established the keystone price for bulk purchase. Depending on the product, that would be six or twelve. Yet, because this was a first sale, I would give the keystone price for a single purchase. That way, the owner’s risk was low while he learned if he/she could sell the product at all, could sell it at the keystone price, and could measure the time that the product sat on his/her shelf before it sold. These factors determined if the store owner would or would not invite me to sell six (or twelve) of the product, keystone, to him/her again. Sometimes the owner agreed to try the product only at no risk, i.e. asked me if I would consign the product. I agreed to do that once. In every situation, the owner/manager had to establish a rapport with me. If he/she liked me, trusted me, felt like I would support him/her as a partner or friend while we tried my product in the store, I usually got the chance.
The American Pride Display Case
We tried seven products before we finally found one that was a best-seller. The product was a triangular wooden-framed display case with a glass front. The triangular folded American Flag of a deceased veteran could be installed inside the case for protection and it could be displayed (seen through the glass). We called this product “The American Pride Display Case” and I promoted it with this slogan: “An American Hero Deserves The American Pride“. Customers preferred this product to be constructed with Mahogany,Black Walnut, or stained Cherry wood. All three wood types are hardwood and are recognized as furniture quality. Customers would also buy the product in dark-stained oak and dark-stained knotty pine wood in order to get a lower price and because the knotty pine (a softwood) produced a unique design. Occasionally a customer would request a case constructed in an exotic wood (like Zebrawood). We would do it if we could obtain the wood type. The cost to the customer was high (payable in advance). Our market for the American Pride Display Case was direct to families of a deceased veteran. However, we could keystone the product to funeral directors, who tended to buy twelve of the cases at a time. Small furniture stores also made a good business with the product. We had a challenge shipping the product. The points of the triangle case were vulnerable if the product was dropped. The glass would shatter, ruining the product. We were not able to resolve this issue cheaply (special protective packaging cost more than the cost to produce the display case). We were not able to arrange mass production (ideally in a third world nation). The cost to pay government officials, to hire a local representative who was skilled in production and in managing laborers, the cost of the production line itself, and other associated costs were well beyond us. Instead, we added new local woodworkers for the local production line. Woodworkers regularly quit, mostly because they got tired of making the same product. The entire operation folded when I moved to another state. But, that was OK for all of us, for we all had a marvelous years-long experience that began with an idea shared over lunch. Pursue your idea!