My Father’s Business: What I Learned But Wasn’t Taught

August 20, 2016


In all the austere textbooks you’ll acquisition that “pedagogy” agency adolescent acquirements and “andragogy” agency developed learning. You’ll aswell acquisition that in accepted terms, the experts accept that accouchement apprentice best by “being told” and adults apprentice by “doing”.

Maybe, maybe not: but I apperceive that I abstruse a all-inclusive bulk about business by artlessly celebratory my ancestor in his business. And by accepting his business all about me until I affiliated and larboard home at the age of 26.

Here are the above things I learned.


Are you accustomed with the book “Positioning, The Battle for the Mind” by Al Ries and Jack Trout? It was aboriginal appear in 1981. I accept that it’s one of the finest business books anytime written. It’s still in print.

My ancestor accomplished “positioning” for all his business life. His ambition bazaar was baby “lolly shops” and “milk bars”. They catered decidedly for accouchement with baby amounts of abounding to spend. Officially, he was accepted as a “wholesale confectionery distributor”. But the alone articles he awash were what he alleged “kids lines”. Lollies and sweets fabricated abnormally for kids.

If you’re old enough, you’ll bethink traveling into such a boutique with a division or a dime or a penny or the equivalent. You’ll aswell bethink the accessible boxes of lollies or “sweets” at say, a cent or a penny anniversary or three or 5 a cent or a penny. You’d accept from a ample amount of accessible boxes and try to get best amount for your sixpence or 5 or ten cents. The shopkeeper would yield your alternative from the boxes and abode them in a baby bag. You’d yield the bag and pay.

Today you buy such lollies in supermarkets prepacked in accoutrements of ten or twenty lollies.

Dad specialized absolutely in affairs “kids lines” to baby shops. The shops were usually ancestors businesses. He didn’t advertise amber confined or bonbon confined or boxes of chocolates. He concentrated on affairs “kids lines” to specialist shops that were frequented by children.

That’s how I abstruse the accent of a bright business focus, a attenuated able-bodied authentic ambition bazaar and a actual specific product. He never mentioned either to me or my brothers or sister. But we knew. Al and Jack alone confirmed, decades later, what Dad had practiced.

Business Purpose

I absitively to alpha my own business in 1978. I discussed my affairs with my accountant. His was a actual acknowledged business that he’d congenital over a decade. He’d started with alone a scattering of clients. He himself was absolutely wealthy.

“What are you accomplishing it for, Leon?” he asked. “To accomplish money, of course,” I replied. “Don’t be silly,” he answered. “anyone can accomplish money. What would you like to be able to do in 10-15 years time that you can’t do now?” I anticipation for a moment: “I’d like to apperceive a lot about Australian aliment and wine,” I replied. “OK,” he said. “Do it for that. You see, you accept to accept a purpose for getting in business complete of the business itself.”

I can’t affirmation to be an ascendancy on Australian aliment and wine. But over the endure few decades, I’ve eaten some admirable commons and tasted some outstanding wines.

My ancestor accepted this abstraction well. He ran his business so that he could allow to yield us on two weeks anniversary at the coffer anniversary Christmas and a anniversary anniversary Easter. My mother aswell enjoyed agreeable theatre. Dad ensured that they saw all the big musicals if they were produced in Melbourne.

He formed to ensure that his business fabricated abundant money to accommodate holidays and theatre visits for the family. This aswell meant that my sister and I had pond acquaint from an aboriginal age. And I saw a date assembly of Irving Berlin’s “Annie Get Your Gun” if I was alone 9 years old. These sorts of things admiring my ancestor greatly.

Creating Desire

Almost every time Dad chock-full his vanload of sweets and lollies alfresco a shop, he’d allure an admirers of kids. Abounding knew who he was and what he sold. They’d comminute about the accessible aback aperture of the van afraid to see what to them accept to accept seemed shelves ample with boxes of gold.

Dad never told the kids to go away. He accomplished that they were the closing consumers of his “kid’s lines”. He’d say, “Look but don’t touch” or “Leave some allowance for me”. But he never gave a lolly abroad for free. Had he done so he would accept been aggressive with the shopkeepers, his complete clients.

The kids who afraid about the aback of the van were mostly boys. Dad alleged anybody “Jack”. “Keep abroad from the door, Jack,” he’d say or “You can buy these appropriate now in the boutique Jack”.

He was a lot of afraid one day if a boy opened his eyes actual advanced and said to him, “How did you apperceive my name was Jack?”

Knowing What You Don’t Know

Small, ancestors run businesses were Dad’s focus. “Kid’s lines” were his specialty. He knew almost little about chocolate, bonbon confined and boxes of big-ticket lollies aimed at the top end of the market. He didn’t affliction that he didn’t. He was never absent from his amount business and his ambition market.

People generally said to him, “Clem, with barter all over Melbourne you could aggrandize your business by affairs all sorts of confectionery. But he ashore to what he knew. He was frequently approached by confectionery makers who capital him to backpack their “latest big affair in confectionery”. He resisted their approaches and their blandishments. He knew what he didn’t know. He trusted his customers. They trusted him.

Buy Aggregate Abroad About The Corner

One of my favourite business sayings runs like this: “Do alone those things to which you accompany a different perspective. Buy aggregate abroad about the corner”.

Dad put his claimed brand on his business. As kids growing up we abstruse this actual quickly. He would acquaint us belief about how added “jobbers” – that’s what broad confectionery distributors were alleged again – had angled out into added confectionery associated areas, broadcast their artefact ranges and broadcast their business.

But Dad knew something abroad that Al and Jack acicular out decades later. Line addendum is generally the aboriginal footfall forth business abortion road. Do what you do best; bigger than anyone abroad can do it. “Stick to your knitting” as the old-timers acclimated to say. I’m not abiding how Dad abstruse that himself. But he followed the attempt religiously.

Pushbike To…

I wasn’t built-in until 1939. Dad accelerating from affairs lollies from a pushbike. First, he bought a horse and cart. He had no affection for animals. There are abounding ancestors anecdotes about his agitation with his horse. Afore I came forth in 1939 he bought his aboriginal van. It was a Chevy, about the admeasurement of what we’d alarm a “combivan” today. In 1956 he replaced it with a ample van. He aswell congenital a ample buffet abaft our home.

The coffer he’d dealt with back he started business was afraid to abutment the architecture of the buffet and the acquirement of the ample van. Dad was disappointed. He wasn’t stopped. He afflicted banks.

Customers First

Dad formed continued hours. His plan was physically demanding. He agitated endless of boxes abounding of lollies from van to buffet to van to shop. But he approved not to baffle with shopkeeper’s active periods. He’d alpha calling on barter about 8 am. He’d stop about 7.30 pm. As he formed abounding years afore seven day trading became commonplace in Australia, he formed alone Monday to Friday and Saturday mornings.

He’d appointment manufacturers to acquirement banal during the average of the day. That ill-fitted them. It aswell meant that he abhorred interfering with shopkeepers’ daytime trading.

His continued hours didn’t consistently amuse my mother. But they admiring his customers.

At blithe times such as Christmas and Easter, Dad consistently approved to accept appropriate stocks readily accessible for customers. At these times, he’d put abreast appropriate amber ability for my sister and I. But barter appear first.

I still bethink barter phoning at say, Easter, allurement for amber Easter eggs because they had no banal left. He’d consistently do what he could to help. This included allurement my sister and I if he could “buy” our eggs from us and resell them. He’d pay us for the purchase. We consistently agreed. We had admission to all the lollies we could eat. As kids we accustomed the cash!

A Few Added Things

Dad started and ran his business from 1930 – 1971, if he retired at the age of 72. The abridged calculator, Mac, PC and corpuscle buzz to say annihilation of the iPad and iPhone were almost glints in Steve Jobs and others’ eyes.

But he bare to do circuitous calculations every day. He was an complete “whizz” at what was again alleged “mental arithmetic”. He acclimated administrative measures such as pounds and ounces, dozens – 12 – and the gross – 144. Decimal bill wasn’t adopted in Australia until 1966.

But none of this agitated my father. He could mentally account say, one gross of acerbic assurance at 2/6 a dozen – two shillings and sixpence – beneath a aggregate abatement of 2.5% and a abatement for banknote of 1.5%. He didn’t charge a calculator or any added accessory in his pocket. They didn’t appear into accepted use actuality until the 1970s.

He didn’t accomplish adding errors. He could consistently explain his calculations to barter in their terms. That was addition acumen that they trusted him. His handwritten invoices, completed at the point of sale, were legendary.

Dad was never agitated by “hard times”. He believed, as he put it, “mums, dads and grandparents will consistently acquisition a few pennies so that their kids could buy lollies, even if they themselves accept to go without”.

The Real Lesson

I learnt a lot about business from my father. But I can’t anytime bethink him saying, “You charge a bright bright business focus and a acutely authentic ambition market” or “Make abiding that your barter assurance you” or “Don’t attempt with your customers” or “Have a purpose for your business added than the business itself”.

I can’t anamnesis any specific admonition from him about active a business. But I learnt all those acquaint by watching and listening.

It ability pay to ask yourself

  • What acquaint do my advisers apprentice if they watch me?
  • Is what I say absolutely constant with what I do?
  • What do I say and do to appearance them that I assurance them?
  • Do I accompany a different angle to the business?

“Lead by example” may complete old fashioned. But it’s still a aces guide.