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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Not all my early flower deals were sales related. When I was somewhere between seven and eight years old, I negotiated what I like to refer to as my first broker’s deal (well, sort of!). Mid summer in the Ohio Valley of West Virginia can be very hot and very humid, and this summer was proving to not be an exception. I remember one day in particular, because it was on this morning before Mom left for work that she offered me an unusual deal. She said that for every dandelion I dug up by the roots she would pay me a nickel, stressing that they had to have the roots attached or she wouldn’t pay me. I was pretty excited by this offer, as our yard was chock-full of these golden weeds that I imagined could make me rich. Looking out over the yard and seeing all those little yellow flowers, I quickly estimated that I could probably make fifty to one hundred dollars, or maybe even as much as a thousand dollars! (Remember, I was only seven or eight.) I figured it would be fast, easy money for pulling up all those little weeds, a job I could knock out in no time and still be able to make it to the swimming pool in the early afternoon. What a sweet deal this was going to be! Almost as easy as going out and picking up nickels right off the grass.

Mom left for the flower shop at her usual time, just before 8:00 AM. I decided I had plenty of time, so I’d just watch TV for a couple hours before beginning on my project. (By the way, we only got three channels in my small town, and you had to go outside to turn the antenna in order to pick up one of those three channels. If you were really lucky, and the weather was just right, you could get the antenna in precisely the right position, a feat which required some fairly good guess work and several trips back into the house to check the reception, unless someone was standing with his head either inside or outside the front door, hollering when the channel finally came in clear enough to watch.) About two hours went by before I decided it was time I’d better go out in the yard and start digging up all that money I was going to make! Luckily, we owned a special garden tool made just for this particular kind of job, which I knew would make the whole business even sweeter. As I started digging I couldn’t believe that a dandelion could have such a long, deep root! Who knew? Plus, the ground was so dry that the digging was harder than I expected it would be too. This whole job was a lot tougher than I had calculated, and it was definitely going to take longer than I had estimated. After about fifteen or twenty minutes of very hard work I had dug up only about three or four dandelions with their roots intact, while at least as many dandelions had broken off their roots before I ever even got them out of the ground. Those I decided to just leave, thinking there was no need to struggle so hard to dig them up since they weren’t going to bring in the big bucks anyway. No need wasting my time; I’d just move on to the next one.

Before it was even 10:30, it was already miserably hot, and I was totally drenched in sweat. I quickly decided that I needed to develop a new strategy. (I hate to sweat more than anything, and as cut flowers need to be kept cool, I learned early on that I preferred working with them.) So, deciding to take a break, I went into the house to pour myself a glass of iced cold lemonade, after which I went back outside to my thinking spot at the picnic table under the shade tree to consider a plan of action for how I might better extract those weeds from that hard dry ground. I started thinking about all sorts of things. I thought about this new kid, Steve, who had just moved into the neighborhood two weeks ago to spend the summer with his aunt and uncle, and I thought about the carnival coming to town this upcoming weekend. And I thought about all those nickels and how badly I wanted them. Soon I was cooled down and refreshed, but sitting there wasn’t making any me money. So, with a new plan in mind, I got back to work. I went down the street and around the corner to the third house on the left. I walked up to the screen door, and hollered in for my new friend to come out. Steve hollered back that he had to finish eating his breakfast first, so I just sat down on the porch and waited. When he came out he sat down with me, and we started talking. I asked him if he was going swimming later, just to break the ice. Then I asked him if he was planning on going to the carnival. Of course, he said he was; after all, what kid in a small town wouldn’t be there? I brought up the fact that carnivals cost a lot of money, and expressed my concern over whether he would be have any extra for things he might want to buy when he got there. He seemed a little anxious, and so I mentioned that I knew of a way he could make some money if he was interested, which of course he was. I told him that if he came over to my house and pulled up the dandelions with the roots still attached I would pay him two cents for every one, as long as it had the root. He was agreeable and excited to get started working right away, so we immediately went back to my house. Steve was doing a great job getting the roots out of the ground without too many breaking off, which really pleased us both. It was only a couple of hours later when Mom stopped by to check on me and make sure I had some lunch (since the flower shop was only about one mile from the house, she was close enough to stop by to check on me frequently on days I didn’t go to work with her). When she came out the back door and saw Steve doing my work she sternly asked me to follow her back into the house. As I followed her inside, she suddenly stopped, turned around, and asked me why Steve was digging up the dandelions while I lay in the hammock in the shade, drinking lemonade. I went on to explain that I had hired Steve, and was going to pay him for his work. She also seemed irritated that I might have let Steve work in the hot sun without offering him anything to drink. I told her that I had given him a break earlier and that I had given him a glass of lemonade. She wanted to know how much I was paying him, and I told her two cents per dandelion. She said that didn’t seem very fair, and told me she would take care of it. She went back out to the yard and paid him, I’m sure, all of my nickels, and a handsome bonus as well. When she returned inside she informed me that I would not be getting paid since I had not done the work. I immediately protested the unfairness of it all, but she refused to listen to me or talk to me about it any further, and went back to work. All those nickels I had added up in my head were suddenly gone.

Anyway, it was way too hot outside by that point to even think about digging any more dandelions out in the afternoon sun, so there was only one thing to do -- go to the swimming pool and cool off! I was hoping that it would also cool down my anger about not getting paid since I was feeling pretty mad at my mom! I’m not sure how Dad got involved in all this after he came home from work that day; I imagine that Mom told him what I had done. I think she was pretty mad at me too! However, Dad must have seen my perspective, and so in my defense told Mom that he thought I should still be paid all the money I had been promised for each dandelion, plus a bonus for having made the deal in the first place. He explained to her that he believed I had demonstrated some good thinking for a kid, and should not be penalized for having figured out a way to get the labor done for me, and yet still make a profit!

This was just one of many lessons I was learning about being in business. At the flower shop Mom would often take time to teach me how to count money and make change. She taught me how to assist customers by allowing me to stand beside her and watch as she helped each one of them. I also watched as she took orders over the phone, and I paid attention to how she went through the entire process of collecting the necessary information, selling the flowers, and inquiring as to the nature of the occasion and how the card was to be signed, among other things. Sometimes the lesson came through by osmosis, as I stood by waiting to ask her if I could go somewhere or do something, and had to listen without interrupting while she was with a customer. I had a lot of freedom growing up by being allowed to choose whether I stayed home alone, or went to the flower shop, or just went out running around or riding my bike all over town. Growing up in a small town in the ‘60s was good, and for me it was especially good!