McDonald’s doesn’t need to sell a great hamburger to be one of the richest companies in the world. Great hamburgers are not what McDonald’s is selling.
And that’s why I learned to sell surfboards better than the surf shop down the street.
Let me back up a minute.
There were two surf shops in the local beach community I grew up. Both of them were on an island.
One of these shops had the great fortune of an oceanfront view, directly above an arcade, and blessed with a catchy name. It had everything at it’s fingertips, sitting directly on the beach where everyone was going to go anyway.
It was a gate to the beach, and to summer fun itself.
A Salty Kingdom
This particular surf shop could afford to have dingy dressing rooms, dodgy clothes, and even dodgier employees. When you’re positioned on the best corner in town, you don’t need to make the greatest hamburger in town. Convenience will suffice.
But I don’t want to tell you about this surf shop. I don’t want to tell you about a surf shop that had everything at it’s fingertips. I don’t want to tell you about the shop that’s convenient.
I want to tell you about the other one.
I want to tell you about the one I know. The one that was not lined up, like a target, for anyone headed to the beach, who, upon seeing it, realized they needed a pair of flip flops they’d later never wear.
This other surf shop was hard to find. It was tucked away in a corner, far out of view, on the edge of a parking lot, desolate and far from the fun.
To get to this shop, you had to make a special stop on your way to the beach. It was not on the oceanfront, it was not above an arcade, and the only gate it provided was to a salty, boggy, and stinky marsh where one of us kids’ bicycles died a watery death (that’s another story).
Easily unnoticed, and too much trouble to visit, this other surf shop was stuck in a corner, surrounded by a bunch of other shops you had to pass by to get to. If you hadn't spent all your money by the time you arrived, this shop had just one small room where you could spend your remaining cash.
If you were to go there at all, you had to really want to go there.
This is where I worked.
The shop was owned and ran by Ken and Ennis, and I still remember going there with my dad to buy my first surfboard as a birthday present.
At the end of that first summer, I was offered a job.
They showed me how to punch things correctly into the cash register, how to keep the clothing racks organized, and what to tell people when they called to ask how the waves were.
(Whether or not I was any good at any of this is beside the point.)
The point to remember is that in order to run either shop, these skills were always necessary.
As long as the shop on the beachfront could run it’s cash register and keep it’s shelves stocked, it’s customers were guaranteed, right?
And yet, everyone I knew was hanging out at and buying from the other shop, instead:
The one that was tucked away, hidden out of view, and surrounded by a marsh. The one that was inconvenient, and therefore, harder to sell from, but all the more valuable because of what we created to insure it’s survival.
We’re faced every day with the dilemma of paying for things because of convenience, and not because of value. Perhaps that’s just it: We pay for it.
You pay for your surf wax from the shop conveniently on the beach, the burger from the McDonald’s beside your busy street. You pay for that. You pay for eating unhealthy, for not exercising, for not taking risks, for not doing the difficult things.
But I never paid for my experience working in that surf shop that was inconvenient.
I benefited from it.
And so did the customers who bought from us. They benefited from buying from a business that cared enough to be inconvenient.
Let me explain:
It wasn’t easy for Ken and Ennis to run a shop that was off the beaten path. It required them to create something the other shop didn’t have.
It required them to build value.
Ken required us to read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” before spring break one year, and then he gave us a written test from the material. If we passed the test, we earned some discounts in the shop.
When we graduated from high school, Ken took us on a surf trip to Cape Hatteras to celebrate. (In this case, the reward must have been for surviving adolescence- Because I can’t say my graduation was as clear an achievement.)
This wasn’t just a surf trip, it was an investment in the community he had created. I am absolutely sure the owners of the other, convenient, shop on the beach did not take the employees on a surf trip.
When tourists came from Ohio and left the next week, they were not forgotten. We were encouraged to make friends with them, stay in touch with them over the winter, and when they came back the next year, they'd have remained a part of the community. Those who hung out at the shop, in turn, felt encouraged to buy from the shop, and we all benefited.
No shop of convenience with the gates to the beach at it’s fingertips will do this. To a shop of convenience, you are just a passing tourist. The negotiation is this: “Give me a cheap hamburger, and all I want is convenience.” So you can’t complain when they respond in kind: “I’ll give you a cheap hamburger, but what you get is convenience.”
Because everyone, both the seller and the buyer, knows this negotiation: It’s a cheap burger.
But not everyone heeds the wisdom.
The businesses of today teach you how to automate, how to work the 4 hour work week, how to build a system where the burger shop doesn’t need to make the best burger.
Just be sure to put it in a convenient location, be sure to put it where the money can buy your convenience, and you’ll be rich.
Take this with a grain of salt.
And I will tell you why.
The only value in convenience is convenience. Make it all about convenience, and you might sell the surfboard, but you eliminate the culture.
The trade is catastrophic.
On the other hand, create value within the community, and you give the community a reason to buy the surfboard. Be it automated or not, this is the only sequence worth investing in, and it's the only one that will sustain.
It’s my conviction that most of the kids buying from us were not buying the merchandise: They were valuing the culture first, and then making a purchase.
I know this is true because I don’t remember anything I bought or sold in those years, but I can tell you numerous enriching experiences that surrounded the job.
I can’t tell you what film was discussed last week in an online film club, but I can tell you everyone who was involved and what funny things they said. That’s the value, that’s the purchase.
We’ve been building a project for three years already. Without any sales.
That all changed the previous week when we made our first offer on some products from behind the scenes, and in turn, donating to the community.
Upon each transaction, I’ve thought about the art of creating value, and I never thought once about the art of selling. There is a difference. I’ve worked in sales before, I know the protocol. But I also know the protocol of a surf shop which built value in the community rather than make a sale to a tourist.
Is this the best way to get rich?
I don’t know. Depends on what you mean by rich.
I know there’s tons of information competing for attention on your way to the beach.
I know there’s other film projects out there like ours.
I know there’s others trying to make a film about the same story we’re working on.
These production companies have more at their fingertips than we do, and they can afford to have dingy dressing rooms, sell dodgy clothes, and employ even dodgier people.
They don’t need to make a great hamburger. They have a great location.
And when I realize this, I guess I could get scared. But I don’t. Instead, I think of A Tale of Two Surf Shops. Two surf shops- each with their own contribution. The one on the beach where everyone was seen as merely a tourist, and the one I hung out at and worked for.
And I realize I don’t remember much about the other one, the one with the great location.
I remember seeing it. I couldn’t help but see it. It was there every time I went to the beach. I went in it. I knew the people who ran it. I may have even bought something from them. It was always there. But I don’t remember anything valuable about it. It was just convenient.
Plus, they were always telling us to get off the steps.
Instead, what I value, more, are those summer nights, sitting on the deck of the other shop with friends, going on that surf trip to Hatteras, finding friends who just happened to become customers, and realizing that they remained friends. And knowing now that that was always the point.
I don’t even remember a single thing I purchased on discount for reading that book Ken assigned us. Instead, what I remember is there was a discount for reading a valuable book.
In such a shop, which we'll call Potential Unlimited, the sale is made after the value is created.
What you sell me today, I forget tomorrow.
What I value today, I remember tomorrow.
So I’m not interested in making something fast. We’ll be first because we make things that last.
The Journey Continues
Tyler Gooden is the director of TheFCStartMovie.com