We always talk about farms being a family operation. A family business. The first lesson you learn when running any business is that you will not be “in business” if you can’t make a profit, aka make money! But along the way of trying to be profitable there are certain hurdles that must be jumped — decisions that have to be made in order to ensure success.
My first profitable venture was a small business I started when I was 11 years old. We grew up very close to several golf courses. Selling used golf balls was something I knew would be profitable. So, that summer I began looking for and gathering lost golf balls in the woods, creeks and ponds on the courses nearby. I would bring the balls home, sort them out, clean them, then sort them again by brand and quality. I then determined the best times to sell and where to sell them. Knowing how to price my inventory and understanding when and where to sell (locating myself where most golfers would lose balls) was equally important.
As I found my small business growing, I enlisted the help of my younger brothers Dave, Derrick and Dale, to help me look for inventory and prepare our product for sale. Although with their help I had more inventory to sell, I personally could only sell a limited number of product. After paying my employees, I found myself actually making less money and having more inventory then I could sell.
So, I hired my brother Dave, who was 10 years old, to join me in my sales effort. And he was good, really good. At one point he started making more money then me. My brother was actually selling his product for more money then I was and giving away and or discounting the less-quality stock. It was when he positioned himself in a better location than me (selling to customers before they got to my location) that drove a wedge (excuse the pun) between us and eventually led to a split in our business relationship. I wasn’t mad that he was making more than me, but the fact that he found a better way to make more than me.
We both knew where the good spots were to find the most golf balls. We both knew when and where to sell. We both had willing workers to help us. So, I started to work harder, longer hours and only selling the best — (Titleist only). My brother, however, chose a different route. Although I thought that there was limit to how much I could ask for when selling my product, my brother Dave was asking for more money … and getting it! He would only work the course nearest to our house, in the neighbor’s yard (as to not interfere with the players), selling Kool-Aid, and watching where they lost their shots, and either helping them find it, and getting tipped — or finding it after they gave up looking for it and selling it back to them the next day! He was working smart.
The lessons we learned that summer became the start of several other ventures. And whether we were selling newspapers, creating a neighborhood Muscular Dystrophy Carnival, or selling the World’s Greatest Chocolate bars for school, our competition helped us grow in our ability to be successful and profitable.
Today, Dave has his own business and I have mine. What we learned at a young age was to work hard and work smart. We also learned that family was cheap labor (LOL) and partnerships don’t always last. And understanding who your customers are, how to service customer needs, how to create needs, and more importantly, how to price your product and services for optimum profitability, are the keys.
Quick note: Mom and Dad always shared in the profits, too — let’s just say it was an early introduction to taxation.
Here’s seeing you, in Ohio Country!
The writer is the owner of Wilson 1 Communications. He is an award-winning veteran broadcaster for more than 30 years and the co-host and producer of “In Ohio Country Today,” a nationally recognized television show, and offers radio commentary and ag reports including locally for 92.1, the Frog WFGF Lima.