You will spend more hours working than doing anything else except sleeping.
In my early thirties, I started a general aviation aircraft sales company that I named STOL West. In aviation parlance “STOL” is a common acronym that stands for “Short Take-Off and Landing.” The “West” part of the company’s name came from my location in Sacramento, Calif. The Maule airplane that I was selling at the time was a four-place, single engine, tail-wheel airplane capable of taking off and landing out of a football field. The takeoff part was easy. The landing part took a lot of practice and skill.
The 22 years that I spent building STOL West, and its follow-up company, Performance Aircraft Inc., were some of the happiest of my life. That is not to say that there were no stressful times. The nature of operating a small business is that worrisome nights are part of the package. But on balance, the company grew from a single person proprietorship to a multi-state string of stores extending from Long Beach, Calif., to Seattle, Wash. During that time I flew over 9,000 hours as Pilot-in-Command, flying a variety of airplanes from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to Point Barrow, Alaska, and from Long Beach, Calif., to Saint Johns, New Brunswick, Canada, with trips down to Key West, Flan, and Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. I was able to go where I wanted and when I wanted. It was a wonderful time.
I met Bonnie, my wife, when she was art director at “Plane and Pilot Magazine”, where I placed the first display ad for STOL West. We had a wonderful little girl that we named Mikaela. The company’s income and aircraft allowed us to spend long weekends in Cabo San Lucas, and go on spur-of-the-moment trips to Carmel, Napa Valley, and Monterrey, California. Many times I flew my daughter on the 30-minute flight from balmy Long Beach to the airport at Big Bear, California, for an afternoon romp in the snow. The business was a joy.
In one of my earlier businesses, KeyPort Marina, I learned that I enjoyed selling big-ticket items. As a rather shy person, I never thought that being a salesman was my bag, but the vagaries of business can encourage one to discover qualities in yourself that you did not know were there. KeyPort Marina was on an arm of Keystone Lake, a 26,600 acre Corps of Engineers impoundment of the Arkansas River, 15 miles west of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was part of a string of large flood control and recreational lakes that the Corps of Engineers built during the 1950s and 1960s.
My Marina had 70 covered boat rental slips from 25 to 55 feet long, a 30-seat restaurant, a retail boating store, fuel sales, boat repair, boat rental, and new boat sales. We were a dealer for several boat manufacturers, from small fishing boats and runabouts, to traditional cabin cruisers, plus two makes of large houseboats. I hired a boat salesman to handle that portion of the business. He ordered over $250,000 in inventory, placed ads in the want-ad section of the Tulsa newspaper, and waited for the customers to roll in. You can get an idea of what $250,000 in boat inventory was in 1965 when you know that a new Ford Mustang listed for $2,500 and I bought my first new car, a Pontiac, for $3,100.
After three months, few boats had been sold, but a lot of coffee had been drunk. In 1965, an Oklahoma boat dealer with an August boat inventory of $250,000 was heading for real financial trouble. I decided that I could drink coffee as well has my boat salesman and maybe sell just as many boats. His salary plus commission, of which there had been precious little commission, would go away, and the coffee would cost the same. So I set to work selling boats.
By then, I knew more about our boats and about our competitors’ boats than my ex-salesman did, though less about coffee. Personal shyness was a problem for me, but impending bankruptcy delivered high motivation. And sell I did.
By the end of September, our boat inventory was down to less than $40,000 and still dropping; our financial statement showed adequate cash on hand; we had paid off almost all of our boat floor-plan debt, and I had become a salesman. Perhaps I was not yet a polished salesman, but I had learned that “Doing What You Are Good At” was financially rewarding and personally satisfying.
At KeyPort Marina, I found that selling was the business activity at which I excelled. Selling became my core business function that would guide me for the rest of my life. Over the years, challenges aplenty were still to come, but I had discovered that I had the ability to sell my way out of many financial problems. That ability to sell a product’s benefits, as opposed to selling low price, became a talent that I would use repeatedly for the rest of my business life to build companies into profitable organizations. Since profitable selling is the mainstay of most business, learning how to sell benefits is something every entrepreneur must know how to do.