Four Business Practices I Will Adopt From My Fourth-Grade Self …

… When I Eventually Abandon My Moral Compass And Set Out to Claim My Piece of the Pie:

1. Manufacture need
As an entrepreneurial fourth grader with a target demographic of suburban, middle-class 9-year-olds, my actual product was very much secondary to the techniques by which I marketed it. I decided to build my business around a novel but utterly useless trinket. I collected rubber bands of various colors and dimensions, snipped them into segments roughly 1 centimeter long, and, most importantly, gave them a cool name: Chops. 

To lend mystique and a mild sense of danger to the experience of purchasing and owning Chops, I carried my inventory in a suggestive Hefty sandwich baggie that I presented to potential customers only after leading them to discreet corners of the playground or lunchroom. There, I’d set down the bag, spread out the tiny rubber rectangles, and negotiate deals in secretive whispers. The price was ever-changing, depending on the supply that I had on hand. “Standard” Chops, cut from ubiquitous beige or red bands, sold for less than “Exotic” Chops made from bands of unusual color, thickness, or width.

I encouraged first-time buyers to choose an assortment that not only spoke to their individuality but also established a well-rounded collection—Tim, I’ll sell you two beige, three green, and, to match your Chucks, six red Chops, all for twenty-five cents; Chris, because you love Smurfs so much, let’s talk about putting together a more blue-leaning package, but I don’t want you to leave here without a few staple pieces, too. From there, customers could begin to acquire specialty Chops to refine their collections—There are only eleven white Chops in existence, and I keep seven in my private reserve, but for fifty cents you can have two of the remaining four; they’ll be the crown jewels of your collection. Of course, I limited the supply of certain colors to inflate their value, even going so far as to actively find and remove them from school grounds and hoard them in my desk.

I made probably a half dozen sales before someone thought to ask, “What do I do with them?” The question was answered, implicitly, by the jeers of my dedicated customer base: “They’re Chops. They’re awesome.” He became a customer.

 

2. Minimize production costs
The debut Chops shipment was sourced from materials found in my bedroom desk. After selling out on opening day, I needed to find a steady supply to keep up with demand, but I didn’t want the steep shelf price of rubber bands to cut into my profit. Fortunately, forsaken rubber bands are everywhere, just waiting to be appropriated. Once I opened my mind to finding them, they revealed themselves under school desks, on bus seats, in hallways and trashcans, and wrapped around bundles of produce. I took them, cut them, bagged them, and sold them at a division-by-zero percent markup. It was a pretty foxy con.

 

3. Build brand equity
A couple months before Chops dropped, and one week after Reebok-endorsed Dee Brown won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest, this one kid showed up to gym class in a brand-new pair of Pumps. I watched with burning jealousy from the opposing side of the dodgeball court as he knelt at the endline and ostentatiously squeezed the iconic, orange orbs on his tongues, just before the opening whistle.

The kid was an incompetent dodgeballer—my team sidelined him in seconds—but he, along with the kid with the extensive assemblage of slap bracelets always wrapped around his wrists, turned out to be an early and ardent adopter of Chops. Those two needed little convincing to buy into the brand, and their outspoken pride in ownership helped put the word “Chops” into circulation. This created the momentum I needed to entice the class’s less-conspicuous consumers, and within a couple days of my first sale, Chops frenzy was in full stride. For several days straight, I arrived in the morning to find kids talking Chops, comparing Chops, and awaiting my entrance with coins in hand.

During this boom time, a competitor emerged. In a lull before music class, I noticed three boys huddled suspiciously behind a shelf full of glockenspiels and xylophones. One was offering Chops knockoffs, and brazenly calling them “Chops,” to the others. He winced as I approached. I hovered over them, paused for a dramatic beat, and said dismissively, “Those aren’t Chops. They’re just cut-up rubber bands.” Then, as if by plan, another kid, a loyal customer, appeared behind me and echoed, “Yeah, those aren’t Chops!” The two almost-customers shamefully returned their worthless rubber bits, the would-be rival packed up shop, and I maintained my 100% market share.

 

4. Mind the bubble
I knew that the lifespan of my enterprise was limited by 1. the finite variety of available rubber bands, 2. the number of pliable classmates, 3. those classmates’ scant funds, and 4. the inevitable triumph of rationality. Enthusiasm began to wane after about a week and a half, but that coincided with a fortuitous event that gave my sales a brief second wind. Our teacher, Mr. Weiner, caught me in the middle of a transaction and politely demanded that I stop selling Chops on school grounds. I took that as an opportunity to label Chops as “black market” and raise prices accordingly. I made a few illicit sales before being caught a second time, at which point Mr. Weiner confiscated my entire stock.

 

William Foster sells Chops.

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17 Comments / Post A Comment

francesfrances (#1,522)

William Foster, I officially have a creepy crush on you. Your Etsy store is the most phenomenal thing I have ever seen, at least on Etsy. You have serious style.

Bill Fostex (#573)

@amyfrances Photos were art directed and styled by Anne Parker of City Country City.

kellyography (#250)

Oh my god. Please do a follow-up regarding your Etsy sales and customer base.

Bill Fostex (#573)

Today only, Billfold readers get 10% off any order at The Chops Shop by using the coupon code LOGANDANGDANG.

Mike Dang (#2)

@Bill Fostex Do I get an additional discount for having my name be part of the coupon code?

Bill Fostex (#573)

@Mike Dang I might send a freebie to Billfold HQ.

sockhopbop (#764)

Style AND MBA swagger! Let me know when Chops goes public.

My best friend’s little sister invented something called “Monica Money” when she was in first grade. It was fake money made out of construction paper, with “MM” emblazoned on it in crayons. Kids gave her real money for Monica Money, which quickly became the currency of choice in her classroom. Eventually I think the principal had to intervene? Her mom always said she’d end up either president or in jail, but now she’s an engineering student, so who knows.

Laughing quietly to myself in a corner of a coffee shop, just like a mad person. Worth it. And yes, seconding the demand for a follow-up on the Etsy sales!

honey cowl (#1,510)

SO GOOD SO GOOD

ghechr (#596)

This whole thing- the article, the Etsy shop, everything- is perfect.

TARDIStime (#1,633)

@ghechr Also the stock pic – just the icing on the cake, that is!

You are a Genius, Bill Fostex. You have made my day and it’s only 9:08am in Sydney.
It’s downhill from here and I’m OK with that!

faustbanana (#2,376)

Bill Fostex, get right outta town. You opened an Etsy store to sell Chops. I’m lolling so hrd right now. I am going to favorite you on Etsy.

aeroaeroaero (#1,422)

<3 this so hard. I am crying at my desk, trying to stifle my laughter.

aeroaeroaero (#1,422)

Also I lost my stupid wallet over the weekend (alcohol!) and have to means to purchase Chops at the moment. :( I want the gold one.

J C Trepitone (#3,224)

A Pet Rock for the 21st Century, cool. In grade school I saw at my Dad’s office a card-punch machine for card-driven computers (remember them? of course you don’t) and prevailed on my dad to bring home the little punched-out pieces of card (we didn’t know they were ‘chads’ then). I bagged them up in sandwich baggies and sold them for 50 cents each as confetti to throw at football games. I made a killing, until the bleachers’ clean-up staff traced me down and convinced me to fold my tent.

fake coffee snob (#2,227)

My brother’s little third-grade entrepreneurial friend was my favorite:

1) he sold paper clips as “locker locks”. He then sold insurance on them.
2) he subcontracted kids to clean other kids’ desks. In third grade! I don’t believe he ever actually cleaned a desk himself (maybe not even his own).

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