Guest post by Dr. Gary North
Find out whether your targeted market is growing, stagnant, or shrinking.
Marty Nemko did not mention this in his article: https://www.psychologytoday.com/sg/blog/how-do-life/201602/the-un-mba
He gave the example of a shoeshine stand. This was a good example from the point of view of explaining his nine-point research strategy.
The problem is this: it begins with an assumption, namely, that it would be a good idea to get into the shoeshine business. I think that would be a bad idea.
On Sunday, I finally noticed something which has probably been right in front of me for a decade or more. I now sit at the back of the church, right next to the door. Under my present therapy, there’s no warning when I may have to make a run for the men’s room. So, I want to be by the door.
I noticed men’s shoes. I literally have paid no attention to this before. I noticed that a lot of them were wearing what, 60 years ago, were called boating shoes. They are canvas and have rubber soles. They are not tennis shoes. They are not running shoes. I sit right across the aisle from the new assistant pastor. He sits in the back because he greets people on that side of the church on their way out. He wears them all the time. I thought he was alone in this. He isn’t.
Canvas shoes do not need to be shined.
Setting up a shoeshine stand seems to me the equivalent of setting up a service to iron permanent press pants.
The only shoeshine stands I ever see are in airports. There used to be shoeshine “boys” in barbershops. They were not boys. Sometimes, they were middle-aged men. In my youth and until about half a century ago, these men were familiar sites in barbershops. Once in a while, there would be a stand in front of a business on the street. It would have an awning in many cases, so that it would be profitable during rainstorms.
That was back when businessmen wore leather shoes. But these days, they don’t. Anyway, the ones I see don’t. But I don’t see that many businessmen anymore. I don’t live in a large city. I don’t visit the business district of any city.
Here is what I would do if I decided I wanted to start my own shoeshine business. I would go through the nine-step procedure that Nemko recommends. But I would target a specific audience.
Here is a basic rule of business: sell to people who have money.
Businessmen have money. They also still wear leather shoes.
I would target businesses that are concentrated in the business district of the closest city. In my case, this would be Atlanta. I would go into each high-rise business complex. I would ask for a business card. I would also ask for a brochure if the business had one. I would ask for the name of the general manager. If the secretary gave me that, I would write this down on the back of the business card. I would do this myself. I would keep a digital note-taking device in my pocket. As I walked out of each business, I would make verbal notes of what I saw inside the office.
I would look for stock brokerage firms and other firms that had at least 10 employees. I could not see this from the front desk, but I could ask the secretary about the number of employees in case I decide to come in and want to meet face-to-face with one of them. I would look like a customer. She might give me the information.
I would then produce a sales letter. I would send it to the general manager. I would make the offer to come in once a week with my shoeshine equipment and shine men’s shoes or women’s shoes while they are in the office. This way, they would not be tempted to stop at a shoeshine stand during their paid hours. Also, the business manager would know that everybody in the office has a shiny pair of shoes. Also, nobody in the office would have shoe polish on his fingers the day after he shines his shoes at home.
There is still a commitment to looking sharp in businesses that serve people with a lot of money to spend. There is a big commitment to saving time. I would market myself as a specialist in shining shoes exquisitely, rapidly, and regularly.
I would do a video card post on YouTube. The video would show me with the ugliest pair of dirty shoes I can find. I would then go through the whole procedure, step-by-step, showing that this pair of shoes can be turned into a respectable pair of shoes suitable in a business setting. I would recommend to the business manager that if he does not hire me to do this, at least he should forward the video to everybody in his office. It would be a how-to video. The point is this: this takes time to do. Men don’t like to do it. I don’t think women like to do it. If they can spend ten dollars a week to have this done while they’re at work, that would be an advantage.
Since it would be a business-sponsored operation, the fact that a man wore no shoes for 20 minutes would not be a big deal. Since everybody is doing it, it would be acceptable.
I would want at least three two-hour sessions a day. If I could get the shine time down to about 10 minutes a pair, which is reasonable, that would be $60 an hour. That is a reasonable rate of return on a small business that has close to zero overhead.
I would do all of this myself for maybe three months. I would want to find every way to cut costs, especially time. I would also work on how to increase the response from my direct response marketing letter. Once I had the operation broken down so that I could create a manual on how to do it, I would then hire people to go out and do the work. I would be paid for my marketing ability, and they would get something close to middle-class income.
The problem would be locating people who would take a low-status job like this for the sake of a middle-class income. In a recession, I don’t think this would be hard at all.
There are services that will not be done by robots. That is where I would want to look for starting a small business. That means it is local. It is labor-intensive.
In this case, it is a low-status job that people with marketing ability would not consider. I would not be training someone who would set up a rival company. I would look for somebody who is diligent, hard-working, can take orders, is stuck in a low-status job that pays practically nothing, and who wants a middle-class income.
I would go to a conservative Protestant black church and meet with the pastor. I would ask if he had a recommendation for somebody in his congregation who would do this job. I would not limit this to men. In fact, it would probably be better to have women do it. There are probably women in the congregation who are struggling with low-pay jobs. They might have children at home, with a grandmother doing the babysitting.
I think it would be a unique selling proposition to have groups of black women doing this work. Maybe they wouldn’t want to be called “shine girls,” but if the money is good enough, they probably wouldn’t care. I would warn them of this in advance. I would probably use the line that comedian Ray Romano uses about his wife, who is not always happy about his jokes about her. “I tell her she can cry into a bag full of money.”
Nemko is correct about setting up a low-status business. The barrier to entry is obvious: the low status.
The best movie I’ve ever seen about this is Daddy Day Care (click here). It is literally on the money.
This article was first published here: https://www.garynorth.com/members/17293.cfm