So this guy is selling beer and soda off the back of a pack mule (This is 60 years ago in Ecuador. Who has a truck in Ecuador?) and ends up building a $100 million business. Not with beer and soda. With mattresses. And not in Ecuador. In Jamaica, Queens, not too far from my old neighborhood of Bayside.
His name is Napoleon Barragan. Not exactly a household name, I know. But where I grew up you couldn’t blink without seeing one of his ads or hearing his iconic jingle.
How did Napoleon become so successful? First, he comes to America. A Peace Corps volunteer had taught him English and he had to borrow money from his parents (who had to mortgage their home to make it happen). Back in Ecuador he was a teacher, but with broken English the best job he could land was selling used furniture at a local store.
Use other people’s money
Then he decides to start his own used furniture store. He borrows money to do that too. Obviously with $100 million in sales, he succeeded wildly. But by using other people’s money he’s making sure that if he fails, he fails elegantly.
If you don’t understand this concept, then get my Straight Line Persuasion System where I explain it in detail. If you’re even thinking about being an entrepreneur, you MUST know this stuff!
Here’s something else to keep in mind – entrepreneurs do not waste their time reinventing the wheel. What they’re good at, or train themselves to do, is see opportunities where others don’t. Sometimes that means borrowing concepts used in other industries and adapting them to their own business model. Be careful here. I said borrow from other industries, not your competitors in the same industry.
So here’s what happened to Napoleon. He’s riding the subway into Manhattan one day and spies an advertisement in the Daily News for Dial-a-Steak. Call this number, place your order for a filet mignon and it’s shipped right to your door. Simple enough. So why not mattresses? And right then and there Dial-a-Mattress was born.
Be an early adopter
When toll-free numbers became available, 1-800-M-A-T-T-R-E-S (and leave off the last ‘s’ for savings!) was born. When the World Wide Web was still in its infancy, mattress.com was registered. Today, even Facebook may be yesterday’s news. It all depends on who your market is. So pay attention to how people in their teens and 20s are communicating today, because that’s where you’ll need to be tomorrow. More on this in future posts.
Adapt to your environment
New York is called the city that never sleeps. So Dial-a-Mattress delivers 24-hours a day, every day. And during the peak hours of 10 am to 8 pm there could be as many as 50 salespeople manning the phones.
Be seen – Run lean
Barragan’s first advertisement cost him $18. Out of that he got five leads and two sales. He understood early on that he had to advertise heavily, but that can get expensive. He found a niche in late night TV ads at $30 a pop. The phone began to ring off the hook.
Challenge the status quo
Don’t assume “we’ve always done it this way” is the right way. Conventional wisdom says you sell mattresses in a showroom because buyers need to see the mattress, touch it, sit on it, lay on it … get a feel for it.
The truth is buyers want convenience and instant gratification. Barragan understood this. That’s the whole point of the toll-free number, an army of experts waiting to assist you and next day delivery, even same day delivery, at any hour of that day and a 60-day exchange policy.
Stick with what works
This may seem like the exact opposite of challenge the status quo, but not exactly. If you’re paying attention, you just get a feel for what works.
Barragan broke that rule in 2001 by expanding into too many new markets with brick-and-mortar stores, then hiring “outsiders” to run the show. A culture clash ensued pitting delivery and sales people, who had their collective finger on the pulse of the company’s customer base, and the new bosses, who didn’t fit well with the entrepreneurial atmosphere.
Train your salespeople
Ultimately the success of Dial-a-Mattress rested with the salespeople who knew their products and used scripts to gather intelligence and close the deal, often in as little as five minutes. You might think these people we’re just glorified order takers, but they were facing stiff competition from other retailers who were undercutting their prices at every level. Ultimately, Barragan’s marketing and selling systems won prospects over.
No one is born a business expert or a sales pro. I was gifted with the ability to sell, but to become a pro I had to study and work hard. I bought every book and tape available at the time and it was from these resources that the core of the Straight Line Persuasion System was created.
Barragan says he’s spent upwards of $175,000 over the years on courses and seminars. That may sound like a lot of money, but the $100 million in annual sales that came as a result is a lot more.
All the best,