It is a universally repeated truism in marketing that the most important aspect of a business is location. In fact, the word isusually repeated three times for emphasis, since people often have trouble remembering words with more than two syllables. But you’ll certainly get no argument from me that the question of “where” is paramount in trying to make money. I learned this lesson the hard way when I was 11 years old.
My best friend was the 10-year-old girl whose grandparents lived across the street. We didn’t think it particularly odd that two opposite-gender adolescents could be best friends, and one Saturday in the fall of 1983, we decided to take our relationship to the next level. We went into business together. Both of us had a pile of unused toys and board games, so we came up with the idea to have a yard sale.
We borrowed some TV trays and what-not stands and proceeded to display our wares. Tonya contributed three Raggedy Ann dolls, a stuffed bunny rabbit and other assorted girly things. I reluctantly let go of four tennis balls, a plastic bank in the shape of a globe, a few used magic tricks and so forth.
I also threw in a slice of rubber peanut butter that had been a tremendous disappointment. Inspired by my triumph pranking a friend with some rubber vomit on a Beta Club trip the year before, I had bought the latest in latex foolery at the novelty shop, hoping to play the mother of all sandwich-related practical jokes. Just a few months earlier, we had traveled out of town with the youth group to the Lads-to-Leaders convention and were staying at a hotel. Our room served as the hospitality suite, so all the junk food was stored there.
One night, I sneaked into the room and made a fake sandwich with two slices of white bread, and the rubber peanut butter. I left it on a paper plate, certain that someone would blithelybite into it and get the shock of a lifetime. Long before people were using the phrase “epic” every five minutes, that’s exactly what I was expecting this trick to be.
But the sandwich remained untouched for the entire weekend. Needless to say, the shock and awe that were promised on the rubber peanut butter packaging did not happen. And even without the use of DNA evidence, the gag was traced back to me, and I got in trouble for wasting two perfectly good slices of bread. Since the magic was long gone by the time of the yard sale, I had no problem slapping a 10-cent price tag onto the failed faux spread and trying to talk some naive prankster into buying it.
But I digress. Even with all this spectacular merchandise, we did not have a single customer all morning. Hour after hour passed, and the two pencil boxes we had hoped to fill with cash remained empty. No one had come. Cars didn’t even slow down as they passed. I eventuallywent inside for a snack. My mom asked how the yard sale was going, and I said “terrible.” So she came outside to see how we had staged our items.
But when my mother saw our set-up, she only had one question: “Why is the garage sale in the back yard?” Oops. Having admittedly done no marketing research into neighborhood trends, we hadn’t considered that the back yard had virtually no foot traffic. Somehow, we had even neglected to hold the garage sale in the garage. I blame Tonya for this, simply becauseI had been focused on my sales pitch for the rubber peanut butter. Fortunately, TV trays and what-not shelves are easily portable, and within minutes we had opened a front-yard branch of our operation. Sales picked up considerably, even though there was evidently not much demand on our street for used magic tricks.
Ten years later, I had apparently learned nothing about fundraising. As treasurer of the French Club at Oglethorpe University my sophomore year, I organized a bake sale to retire some debt from an ill-conceived Escargot Festival. I had never run a bake sale before, and I was put in charge of display and pricing. Club members brought the croissants and éclairs, and I came up with a pricing structure.
But then, deja vu. Even with a prime location, we sold nothing the first hour. We begged our fellow classmates to try our pastries, but we had no takers. The low point happened when my economics professor, Dr. Shropshire, walked by the booth. He took one look at our $2 pastries and began to heckle us with jargon from his class. He said we had priced ourselves “above the market” and would no doubt have “disappointed expectations.” To prove his point, he refused to buy a Tarte Tatin and went on his way, mumbling something from John Maynard Keynes.
But we showed him. By the end of the day, we had sold several macaroons and even a crepe suzette.We actually exceeded our expectations and cleared well over $6. What was our secret? Quelle surprise.Very low expectations.
So as the last month of fundraising winds up before the summer, I am available for consulting for your club or charity. If anyone has a sandwich booth, I can bring the peanut butter.