What starting a firework stand taught me about marketing and sales

I can’t remember if I was ten or eleven. Probably ten. What I do remember distinctly was being strapped for cash. Most ten-year-olds aren’t usually too worried about cash, but I had set my mind on buying something, and I needed to make some money.

Before I get started, I need to give a shout out to my parents. They were always willing to let me do my little projects and make a mess (and probably just cross their fingers that I would learn something from it). They were (and still are) really awesome like that. So, thanks mom and dad.

I guess entrepreneurship has just been ingrained in me from the beginning. Instead of asking mom what jobs I could do around the house to earn the couple of dollars I was after, I rummaged around in my room for something to sell. During my search, I happened upon a few boxes of party fireworks (pop-its, pull-its and so-on), which immediately became the product in which my little venture would specialize. After some R+D, I decided upon a piece of real estate that I hoped would see a heavy amount of traffic: the living room. I set up my stand, made a sign, and went to work advertising my new brand.

Although the initial traffic was good and I generated some revenue from a few passersby, I couldn’t bask in the sunlight of my own success for too long. I built a graph that showed a dramatic decrease in sales in the second quarter (of the hour). I panicked and scrambled, but despite my best efforts, I finally had to shut the stand down before my real estate got foreclosed on.

Looking back, the simplicity of this example makes it one of the most important lessons in sales, positioning, and marketing that I’ve ever learned.

How many times have we seen the exact same progression in the real world? How many startups have launched with a bang, and faded just as quickly? How many restaurants have started in a certain building, and a few months later, closed up shop only to have the same thing happen to the next one to occupy the space? The firework stand example is exactly that, on a much smaller scale.

There’s several things I would do differently today if I were to start a new stand (or store, or firm, or service company):

  • Find out what the market needs, not just what I have to offer (I had fireworks, but it wasn’t close to 4th of July or New Years – the demand wasn’t there)
    • Ask what problems they have
    • Empathize and provide a solution that best suits their needs
  • Position myself in a different way, not only in location, but in the market
    • I’d figure out where my market hangs out, what they like to buy, what they value
    • Make it much easier to buy, not only by having a simple sales process when people are able to pay, but anchor the cost of my product as an investment not an expense – make the sale a no brainer for them
  • Once positioned in the market as the solution to problems, the marketing would be much easier and I could spend less time interrupting and more time connecting
    • Tell the story about how I solve their problems
    • Build relationships instead of transactions

Who knows? Maybe one of these days I’ll get back into selling fireworks.

Do you have a story on a sales or marketing goof? Let me know below!

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