As many times as I’ve told this story, it just recently hit me. Math got me my first job. Let me explain.
I was heading out with a friend on a Friday night, it was 9th grade, and it started to rain. I was equipped, but my buddy was just wearing a t-shirt. Being close to a mall, we went in search of a jacket. While he was picking out a jacket I noticed a shirt that I liked and saw the BOGO sign: “Buy-one-get-one” 50% off. I asked my friend if he wanted anything else, and after saying no, I immediately gave my pitch.
“Ok, so you’re just getting this jacket. I just found a t-shirt that I want. Since they have this promo lets both save a few bucks…”
He didn’t follow. So I broke down the math, “your jacket is $99.99 and my shirt is $29.99. Instead of buying our things separately and paying a total of $129.98, we can put it on the same bill and pay $114.99. Your jacket will be the regular priced item and the shirt will be half price. $99.99 + $14.99. We’ll both save $7.50”
Now he got it. Done deal.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I had found my first niche and I was incentivized to perform.
What I didn’t know until we got to the cashier was that the assistant manager heard my pitch. He asked me if I was interested in working there. It seemed like the most obvious answer, what 15 year old kid wouldn’t want to get paid to help customers with the stuff he wants…. And get a discount on the things he would be buying anyway?
The job interview was set for the next morning and my resume was practically blank. My references were my basketball coaches and teachers, my job experience was just odd jobs. But I was prepared. It didn’t matter what was on paper, I knew the products they were selling. I knew I could sell them too. I was offered the job on the spot, with an incentive bigger than a discount on my gear. The job paid minimum wage OR commission, which ever was higher at the end of each week. It was like getting a bonus structure with a guarantee that I’d be making the same as my peers with jobs in retail or fast food.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I had found my first niche and I was incentivized to perform. I had leveraged a skill set and passion I had for athletic sneakers, apparel and found an opportunity where I could utilize it. My commission structure got me excited. I started to think about how to get more people into the store instead of just sitting around during my shift, like almost every other retail employee I saw in the mall.
First it was my teammates, then classmates, then I others that worked in the mall, business people that became regulars and even some celebrities who were in town working on movies and TV shows. I had a blast and was getting paid for it. Each shift flew by, to the point that I would rather take a closing shift on Friday and Saturday night than go to a party.
Eventually, I found ways to maximize my commission by getting bigger orders. First was going after basketball teams to get uniforms done. I had just worked with a local screen printer to do some custom jerseys for my 3-on-3 basketball team and asked if they would screen on logos and numbers if I sent some teams their way after they had purchased the Nike gear from me. They said yes and it was a big hit. Most of the players that I was working with were in the same situation as our team: we couldn’t keep our high school uniforms at the end of the season, they were considered property of the school. Getting custom uniforms looked awesome and turned into a keepsake for all the players.
Second, was eBay. Being 2001, eBay was a relatively new platform and there was a lot of demand for sneakers. Our store had a 3-day hold policy at the time. The same amount of time as a quick auction. I cleared it with my managers and started with shoes that were just sitting around, not selling. One pair in particular was super ugly, but I learned to love it after it was a hit in Brazil. Selling on average 4-5 times what I was buying them for at the store. It was a great system for everyone involved. I was making my commission on the sale at the store, and some profit on eBay. The store benefitted with higher sales numbers and moving product that other stores couldn’t sell. And most importantly, the buyers on eBay were getting the kicks they couldn’t find anywhere else.
I found my second niche audience. Still leveraging my knowledge of sneakers, eBay was my oyster. I could serve more people that I ever could on the retail floor, and controlled more of the process. I didn’t have to deal with people who didn’t care about my product knowledge or the latest gear; all the sneakerheads became my best customers. To this day, I still have friends on facebook that I met in store, talking sneakers.
How can you make the most of what’s already inside your head?
I kept selling sneakers until my first year of college. It was a tough good bye. The retail environment was my proving ground. So much of my sales foundation today was based on the training I received, and the constant practice of taking care of people who walked through the door. My marketing eye was developed through merchandising training, point-of-purchase (POP) and window displays, and seeing the ad campaigns that supported new product. Learning process from inventory, stock duty and cashing out makes me appreciate systems to this day.
Look back at what you’ve enjoyed over the years. I truly believe that you can become profitable by leveraging your existing skills, experience, passion or hobbies. You can reach so many people, so easily today, that no idea should be crushed before you at least test demand on google searches.
Find your niche. There is an audience for almost anything you can dream up, and they’ll give something in return, the question is, will that be enough for you? How can you make the most of what’s already inside your head?
Years after leaving my retail career, I went back to school to finish my BBA and had to find a topic I was interested in for a blogging project. Instantly, I thought of sneakers and used my nickname from my retail days; Skip. To this day, the blogs that I started about sneakers continue to grow and I’m proud to be a part of such an awesome community of #sneakerheads.