Frank Kiick was one of the best-dressed men I ever met. His shirts and suits were always immaculate and precisely tailored to fit his lanky frame. His beard was perfectly trimmed and he always got his accessories – tie, cufflinks, watch, shoes – just right. So imagine my surprise when I walked into the headquarters of Surrey’s Menswear and found Frank sitting at a workable in his shirtsleeves behind three stacks of the ugliest ties I had ever seen. Frank greeted me without looking up, his hands moving quickly between the different piles.
Frank started with the long corrugated box of ties laid out directly in front of him. He’d pull one tie off the top of the pile, examine it closely for a quick moment and then either toss it onto the stack on his right or drop it into the much smaller group on his left. Then he’d yank out another tie and repeat the process.
I tried to figure out what Frank was trying to do. Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“What’s up Frank?” I asked. “I don’t understand what that’s about.”
“I’m choosing ties for the stores,” he answered without pausing. “This box,” Frank motioned with his chin, “has the tie samples the mill sent for our consideration.” These ties,” he gestured left, “are the ones we’re going to sell. These,” he gestured right, “are going back to the factory.”
I looked at the three piles but still couldn’t see any difference.
“But Frank,” I finally asked in desperation. “All of these ties are ugly. You wouldn’t wear any of them. How are you picking between them?”
What Frank told me next was a life changer:
“I’m not our customer, Bruce. If I only ordered ties that I like we’d go out of business.” He paused to drop another reject on his right. “None of these ties are wearing ties. They’re selling ties.” The most important thing is to know the difference.”
There’s a difference between wearing ties and selling ties? Who knew?
My great-uncle Manny once put his money into onion futures. The way he explained the investment to me, he bought a future interest in a boxcar of onions that hadn’t been harvested yet. When it came time to sell the onions, he’d make money if prices were higher when the vegetables were ready for market than when he bought them.
Unfortunately, Manny wasn’t a sophisticated investor and waited too long to sell his futures. One day he got a call from the train depot wanting to know where he wanted his onions delivered.
Apparently Uncle Manny’s selling onions turned into eating onions (and then rotting onions). Manny’s investment got eaten up too.
A few years ago there was so much construction going on in my hometown that people said our official bird was the crane. Then condo sales hit the fan and the real estate business plummeted into the crapper. Estimates were there was a seven- to ten-year glut of empty condos available on the Miami market. But within the last two years the surplus has all sold and the sky is again streaked with cranes.
But while all those condos sold, the buildings they’re in are still dark at night because most of the properties were bought as secure places for off-shore investors park their money, not raise their families.
Turns out there are also selling condos and living condos.
If you’re not in the men’s ties, onion futures or real estate business you might be wondering what this has to do with you. It’s simple – if you’re creating products or services for yourself instead of your customers then you might be building wonderfully creative and functional products that no one wants to buy. And no matter how well you construct your products, nor how little you charge, if they’ve been created for a market of one then they haven’t been created for the market.
If you’re in the business of creating beautifully crafted products for yourself you’re not a businessperson, you’re an artist. And to steal a line from the movie industry, there’s a reason why that trade is called “Show Business” and not “Show Art.”
Because just like ties, there are “watching movies” and “selling movies” too.