“Buy high, sell low.” That’s been my lifelong motto when engaging in any sort of business transaction. And that’s what I told an acquaintance one day – an immigrant from Europe who was dating a relative of mine.
To say he was speechless would be an understatement; and he didn’t ordinarily have any difficulty finding words.
What’s that you say? I’ve got it backwards? No doubt, that acquaintance assumed I was either joking or confused.
Sorry, no: I was neither. I stated it just right, and meant exactly what I said. When it comes to business ventures of any sort, that’s how my life has always gone. That little phrase is in fact the story of my financial life.
For the business-minded and entrepreneurial among us, buying at a low price and selling for a higher one is indeed the correct method. That’s the one that yields a profit in the end: the essence of capitalism, the one that allows you to make money from whatever you’re trying to sell.
My lack of business acumen started early, as a 10-year-old struggling to sell metal nameplates door to door. To the best of my recollection, I sold nary a one. A few years later, having failed to find a real part-time job while in college, I became a salesman for Winfield China – a company that used door-to-door salespeople to push dinnerware sets on young women who were contemplating marriage. After months of feeble effort, I sold one set – to a friend who actually wanted one.
Next business failure was a stint with the Book of Knowledge, a second-rate encyclopedia set that was popular at the time. We’d be given leads of likely prospects by our sales manager, then went in pairs to visit the unwary folks – usually young couples with small children.
We weren’t “salesmen,” of course. We were compelled to represent ourselves as office workers for the company, who were simply trying to “place” the encyclopedias with a few selected families in the area, as a promotional gesture.
After making our rounds each evening, we’d meet back at a coffee shop with the sales manager. Eventually, he got tired of hearing me say, over and over, that I’d sold nothing. Then one day, I made an actual sale – to a couple who wanted the encyclopedias so badly that even my meager sales pitch couldn’t dissuade them from signing on the dotted line. Realizing that this was not the route to business success, I departed from that organization immediately afterward, glad that I’d been able to chalk up at least one sale along the way.
Even that teeny success wasn’t to be when I tried my hand as a telemarketer – or phone solicitor, as we were called in those days. A longtime friend was in this business at the time, demonstrating true skill at setting up appointments for a home-improvement company. Not a day passed when he didn’t manage to acquire at least one solid prospect. During my brief stint on the phones (which I dreaded), my scorecard of appointments made revealed a big fat zero. None.
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