Remember Who You Are

Simba: Father?!
Mufasa’s ghost: Simba, you have forgotten me.
Simba: No! How could I?
Mufasa’s ghost: You have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the circle of life.
Simba: How can I go back!? I’m not who I used be!
Mufasa’s ghost: Remember who you are.

My father was a salesman. I don’t think I realized this when I was a little kid growing up in the Midwest, but he definitely was one, even though his real occupation was working as a foreman for the Indiana State Highway Department. Back then, I’d spend time with my dad who was always looking to find ways to supplement his income to make an honest living. On weekends, Dad would drive me around in one of his old, beat-up cars or trucks he fixed-up himself. My family and I wouldn’t get too used to whatever vehicle he was driving at the moment, as it generally wouldn’t stay around long. The car merely served as a short-term means of transportation, and a roving billboard that advertised its own sale. While he didn’t have any long term relationship with the vehicle, he did have a certain attachment to it that came from having pride in his work, illustrated through his own mechanical abilities, which enabled him to fix things that were broken.

On any given Sunday, Dad and I would be out on a mission, looking for other “For Sale” signs on tractors, lawn mowers, cars, trucks, boats or trailers parked haphazardly in some stranger’s yard. We’d spend hours on end in search of whatever we could find that not only suited Dad’s liking but also matched his mechanical skills to buy, fix-up and sell again for a profit.

On any one of those days, my handsome dad would pull our car into some random driveway, climb out, smooth back his hair, hoist his pants and walk confidently up to knock on the stranger’s door as I stayed lingering, paces behind. “I’m here about the lawnmower you’ve got for sale out front,” he’d say, and then he’d follow the owner out to the yard to look the product over, while I stood quietly nearby.  I learned a thing or two about the basics of selling alongside my dad back then. After all, he was the master of the “wheel and deal,” and one of the best negotiators I’ve ever met. But while my father would sometimes negotiate the terms of the sale or offer a barter or trade when he didn’t have just enough money, the biggest lesson I learned back then is that my father, ultimately, didn’t mind paying a fair price for the right product.

Part of my father’s “business plan” included his self-reliance on his mechanical knowledge and his ability to fix-up something that was broken, while still keeping in mind its full potential or value. This is what differentiated him from other buyers and sellers in the local area. He understood the cost of parts and labor as well as what was involved in buying something that needed to be fixed for resale. He’d buy it, only if he felt he could breathe new life into it and if he was guaranteed a profit for it when he turned the product.

Looking back on all this now, I realize my father would have made an amazing entrepreneur/business owner. He had the right mindset and business acumen. He never compromised who he was or deviated from his goal of turning a profit to put food on the table or to simply provide for his family. He’d buy something. He’d fix it up. He’d resell it. And, then he’d start that process over and over again, honestly and fairly, always being mindful of his profit margins along the way. If he were still around today, and if he had an actual business, I know that he wouldn’t have wavered from his business approach much along the way. After all, he was in the business of making money.

While all of this may be nothing more than simple lessons I learned early on in life, they made a fairly significant impact on me, nonetheless. In this crazy, mixed-up economy we are experiencing today, it’s so easy to become desperate and to sell yourself, your qualifications and your talents short. If you devise the perfect formula for success, it should include differentiating yourself to create value, to make an impact and to stand out, while still minding those margins to make sure you get fairly compensated in the process of all of that hard work and steadfast determination. For my promotional products industry friends, remember to rely more heavily on what you know: Buy a product, fix it up with your client’s brand and sell it–at a fair and honest price. Showcase your skills and knowledge, and this will differentiate you from the masses. “Remember who you are,” but most importantly, don’t compromise yourself along the way.