Posts Tagged ‘entrepreneur’

“The THING”

January 3, 2014

Wednesday January 1st, 2014 – Tucson, AZ/Roswell, NM

A new year begins with a new attitude and new direction. I couldn’t feel any better about all of it, but I still can’t figure out why it took this long to get in the game. It did, but I’m here now and that’s all that’s important. I have a lot I want to do this year, and sniveling about the past isn’t it.

I’m glad I went to Tucson, but now I have to make the long drive back to Chicago. Apparently there’s going to be a lot of snow for the next several days, so that’s going to be interesting. All I saw in Tucson was sunshine, and that’s what I’m seeing on the inside too. I want to keep that up.

I feel like I’ve been dropped into another person’s body or something, and I’m growing to love it more with each passing day. I’m thinking clearly, and am in a stellar mood. There are still idiot drivers on the road for example, only now I don’t flip out like I used to. I’M the changed entity.

Rather than question, I need to just let it happen. I know I’ll have bad days and make some bad choices, but those will be the exception rather than the rule. I feel like I’ve established a winning vibe, and right now it feels like I can keep it indefinitely. If I have my way, I’ll never get rid of it.

My focus for 2014 is going to be marketing, showmanship and improving everything having to do with business. I plan on keeping immaculate tax records, and making it a weekly maintenance task rather than an annual stress fest trying to untangle it later. I am making rock solid decisions.

I’ve got a list of the first dozen books I want to read this year, and hopefully I’ll get to a whole lot more than that. I am also making time to exercise daily, if nothing else just a 30 minute walk. These are all things I’ve done off and on forever, but this is the year it all needs to become habit.

There’s a Sweet Tomatoes salad buffet restaurant a block from the hotel, so I stopped there for my first meal of 2014. It never hurts to run some roughage through the pipes, and I did just that. I then stopped at a grocery store and bought some water for the trip so I can start drinking more of that as well. It’s something we all should do, but my kidney stone of 2013 converted me for life.

As I drove east on I-10 I saw signs for a tourist gimmick I stopped to see years ago called “The Thing”. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but they advertise it for miles on billboards. The $1 cover charge is never mentioned until one enters the building, but by then curiosity has been aroused.

I had to pay another buck to see it again. I wanted to study how they handled it as marketers to see if I could reallocate any concepts for whatever I might be doing in the future. I thought their display was mediocre at best. If that were my attraction, I’d shine it up a lot more. But that’s me.

Apparently they know what they’re doing, even though I was the only sucker that forked over the buck out of all the people in the gas station. I know it’s a holiday but there were some drivers on the road. None of them had the desire to see “The Thing” except me, but I’m still glad I did.

The most important observation I made was that it’s not really important what the product is if it gets promoted strongly enough. That’s going to be the continuing theme for 2014 and beyond. I made it to Roswell, NM, and got an expensive cheap motel. This is another operation to study.

"The Thing" is an attraction at a tourist trap at Exit 322 on I-10 in Arizona.

“The Thing” is an attraction at a tourist trap at Exit 322 on I-10 in Arizona.

There are signs advertising it for miles in both directions.

There are signs heavily advertising it for miles and miles in both directions.

After all that hype and $1 later - this is what it is. Welcome to the wonderful world of extreme disappointment.

After all that hype and $1 later – this is what it is. Welcome to the wonderful world of extreme disappointment.

Making The Radio Rounds

October 29, 2013

Friday October 25th, 2013 – Springfield, IL

I’m back in Springfield, IL this week at one of my all time favorite stops, Donnie B’s Comedy Club. I’ve always enjoyed working here, and this week is no exception. Donnie B is a hustler of epic proportions, and I mean that in only the most respectful way. He’s a fantastic entrepreneur.

I don’t think I have ever seen a comedy club owner work as hard as he does to get the word out and keep it out. He’s got a car full of posters and flyers and coupons, and everywhere I go I’ll see his club mentioned somewhere. That guy knows how to promote, and he deserves all his success.

Unfortunately, he didn’t pick the greatest town to work his magic and he’s not living in the lap of luxury like I think he should be. The economy has hit him like most everyone else, and he’s in the same boat as almost everyone who has their own business. He’s busting ass just to stay even.

He runs a bar and restaurant in the hotel where his club is located, and that keeps him busy for most of the week. Comedy shows are Friday and Saturday, and he runs the comedians around to get on four radio stations on Friday mornings. Nobody could ever accuse Donnie of being lazy.

I made it into town last night, and was glad to do the four radio interviews. That’s what gets the word out, and even if people don’t come out this week at least it’s awareness for the club. I can’t believe how many club owners and comedians alike don’t realize how crucial radio exposure is.

We did an AM sports station, the classic rock station, the oldies station and the hot hits station “Kiss FM”. Everyone was very nice, and I tried to talk fast and say “Donnie B’s Comedy Club” as many times as humanly possible. Donnie knows I know what I’m doing, and I could see a big smile on his face every time I’d mention the club or plug the shows. A lot of comics don’t get it.

Like it or not, a comedian and a club owner are in business together for the week. It’s not smart to have a hostile relationship, as it will hurt everyone. If the club can get a dozen media outlets to have the comedian on, the comedian needs to get up and go no matter how early or inconvenient.

Another thing I respect about Donnie is that he hosts his own shows. Who else but the owner is able to extol the virtues of a business, and that’s what he does. He talks about drink specials and upcoming events, and personally greets the regulars that happen to show up on a particular night.

He books an opening act to do a very short set – usually about 12-15 minutes tops. It works for him, and I for one am a fan of this system. It might not be the greatest for developing local talent, but from an audience’s standpoint it’s a very solid show. He’s not in the business to develop acts, he’s in business to sell tickets, food and drinks. I grasp that a lot more now than when I started.

Donnie makes no bones about the fact that he’s in business to earn a living. I have no problem with that, and we get along great. He knows I’ll deliver on stage, and I know my check won’t be short or bounce at the end of the week. If every club was this cut and dried, life would be peachy.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t look to be a great weekend due to Halloween and the World Series. Sometimes circumstances can kill even the best of promoters, but at least we did all we can do.

Donnie B's Comedy Club in Springfield, IL is one of the best run comedy clubs in America. www.funnybonecomedyclub.com

Donnie B’s Comedy Club in Springfield, IL is one of the best run comedy clubs in America. http://www.funnybonecomedyclub.com

Weak End Weekend

September 2, 2013

Saturday August 31st, 2013 – Homewood, IL

   This is not a great weekend for comedy, so I arranged a couple of door deal shows to hopefully make the most of the situation. Everyone has to be more entrepreneurial these days, but that’s no guarantee even one paid customer will show up. Making a living performing is harder than ever.

   Not only does one have to have an act worth booking, part of the game is now running events at least from time to time. I’ve never enjoyed that part of it, but there’s little choice if one wants to stay in the game. There are 52 weeks to fill every year, and that’s getting harder all the time.

   It’s a combination of everything from gas prices soaring to too many bad acts bastardizing the business and clogging the toilet, but the entertainer of today needs to develop a whole new set of skills to survive in the ever changing economic jungle. Things just aren’t what they used to be.  

   It’s not just for comedians either. My friend Dave Rudolf is a musician and he’s facing exactly the same situation. He’s always been one to stay working regularly, traditional or nontraditional venues included. Whatever it takes to pay the bills, he does. I respect that, and can totally relate.

   Tonight Dave booked me in Homewood, IL at a venue called ‘The Twisted Q’. It was formerly a bakery, but is now a barbecue joint that has a stage with live music of all kinds. Dave asked if I would like to try a comedy night, and I said I would. It was a roll of the dice, and everyone lost.

   This was just not the right week to be trying indoor live shows. Last night in Libertyville was a sparse turnout and tonight’s was even sparser. The people who did show up had a great time both nights, but there weren’t enough of them to make it financially viable. All our wallets took a hit.

   I was really disappointed, because everyone involved all weekend are people I like and respect. This was the cream of the crop as far as nice people go, and I hate to see nice people take it in the shorts. Unfortunately, those are the ones that seem to do it most. We took a risk, and got burned.

   Dave and I had an agreement that this was a door deal, and we knew from the start this wasn’t a stellar weekend. Still, when it actually happens that there’s a small house it’s a kick in the balls of the heart and hard not to take it personally. It’s even harder to get up for performing for such a small audience, but that was part of the agreement too. My whole time on stage, I felt like crying.

   James Wesley Jackson was there too, and he did a splendid job as he always does. He is one of the nicest human beings walking the planet, and always has a positive attitude about everything. If there was ever a night I needed that, it was tonight. James and Dave are two favorites onstage and off, and if nothing else I wanted the joint full to support them. But it wasn’t. What a letdown.

   Also on the show was former student Joe Nuccio and eleven year old Trevor Burke whose dad Joe took my class many years ago. Again, these are all high quality individuals who came out to support. I felt really bad there was such a small house, but that’s how it is in this fickle business. It all boils down to the ability to put butts in seats, and that’s a puzzle I am still trying to solve.

Entrepreneurial Thoughts

January 9, 2013

Monday January 7th, 2013 – Nashville, TN/Chicago, IL

Up early to make the long drive home from Nashville. This used to be a perk of the business in the beginning, but now it’s a painful chore. Eight hours in a car thrills me about as much as eight hours in a gay bath house – maybe less. At least in the bath house I could stretch my legs a little.

In the car, there’s no way to do anything but drive. It’s so many miles to get home, and nothing will change that. I can stop all I want, but that won’t shorten the trip any. I need to get behind the wheel and put those miles behind me – even though I just drove them the other way last Friday.

At least today I had some incentive as I was booked to host the Rising Star Showcase at Zanies in Chicago. Sometimes I can tend to fart around a little too much on my way home from gigs and that wastes even more time than I need to. It’s helpful to have somewhere to be to provide focus.

I did make a few stops on the way though. I’m still sniffing around the whole antiques thing to see if it could possibly be worth my while to make extra money. I’m still not sure if I want to put my time and effort in to invest in something that won’t pay off. There are no shortages of greedy idiots out there trolling for the million dollar mother lode, but I don’t have delusions of grandeur.

I’m looking to build a network of people who specialize in certain fields of collectibles, and try to be a bird dog and find items they can spin and make a decent profit. I will make a few bucks at it myself, and also educate myself as to what makes a profit. I’m not going into it without a clue.

I dabbled in sports cards on the road for several years. I’m still not sure if that was smart or not but it sure was fun to hunt for treasure all over North America. This time I’ll expand my scope to include anything and everything else I can possibly use to turn a buck. I might find I like it or my instincts will tell me to move on and try something else. I want to see how the current vibe feels.

I stopped at a few thrift stores in Louisville and Indianapolis, but didn’t find anything I thought was worth buying. I’m trying to get rid of stuff rather than stockpile, but if I run across a trinket I think I can spin I’m willing to roll the dice on it. I have to pass through those towns anyway, why not take a few minutes to buzz through the thrift stores and scope them out? I could hit a jackpot.

The main thing is, I’m thinking like an entrepreneur. Like it or not, that’s how most Americans need to be thinking these days. Everyone I know could use a few extra bucks, and the job market is shrinking rather than growing no matter what CNN says. We all have to hustle for ourselves.

Unfortunately, being an entrepreneur is not necessarily for everyone. It’s just like owning one’s own home. I for one am not cut out to be a homeowner, and my brief experience trying it has left a horrible taste in my mouth that will not only last a lifetime but also into the next if there is one.

Entrepreneurial endeavors are different. I’m very intrigued by the process of finding a need and filling it, even if I’ve never had any actual success of note at doing it. The choices I have made in life have put me in this position, so I need to put my energy into making the best of the situation.

To Pick Or Not To Pick?

December 30, 2012

Saturday December 29th, 2012 – Reno, NV

   There’s a part of me that absolutely loves the process of treasure hunting. Shows like American Pickers and Pawn Stars have made it hot with the masses, but I’ve been around it as long as I can remember. My grandfather loved to visit thrift stores constantly, and my father of all people had a great eye for junk and was an excellent picker himself. He scored regularly with antique deals.

 On my exercise walk today I discovered a really neat antique shop in downtown Reno. I wasn’t looking to buy anything, but the prices were so reasonable and the people were so nice that I did happen to pick up a couple of tiny items to give as gifts for some friends who are also collectors.

I found a patch from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for $5 that I’ll send off to my old friend Dave Wilson who lives in Indianapolis and is a huge race fan. Dave is a great guy and he booked me at his comedy club One Liners for years. The least I can do is send a small gift to say thanks.

I also ran across some clean old professional wrestling magazines from the California territory of the mid ‘70s. There were four of them, and they’ve got the great old blood soaked pictures of wrestlers from that era like Ray Stevens, Pat Patterson and even Andre the Giant. They’re really cool, and I picked up all four at $10 each. If I can’t at least break even, then I’m a flaming idiot.

Depending on who is asked, there are rather serious doubts as to whether I am an idiot anyway. It’s not gambling rent money, and it’s something I had never ever seen in all my travels. I looked them up on Ebay and there was another issue that I didn’t have that had an asking price of $25.

I was talking to one of the dealers at the shop, a very nice guy probably in his late 50s. He said he’s been wheeling and dealing for decades, and his specialty is pocket watches. He’d purchased a new old one from a walk in customer about an hour before I got there, and he told me he’d paid $50 for it. A pawn shop had offered the guy $25 apparently, but he wanted $50 firm so he bolted.

The guy at the antique shop showed it to me, and said it was worth probably $300 minimum as is, but quite a bit more with just a little cleaning and maintenance work. He said he expected he’d get about $450-$500 depending on how long he chose to sit on it and hold out for the best price.

I had a nice long talk with the guy, and compared notes on how the collectibles game is playing out in the tough economy. He said something that really resonated with me. “There’s a whole lot more junk than people in the world to go through it all. There will ALWAYS be deals around.”

Like anything, there’s work involved and it’s not easy but he seemed to think anyone with any kind of work ethic and drive could turn a fair profit by putting one’s effort in. He suggested there be a field of specialization, only because there’s too much out there to know about everything.

My quandary is, do I slice my time even more and wheel and deal part time to bring in an extra few bucks or blow it off and put every last ounce of energy into comedy? Nothing is ‘stable’, and I’ve had time issues in the past. But I need money and I love the hunt. I’ll have to think carefully.

This really got my mental wheels spinning though. I’m at the point in my life where I am either going to make my mark or fade into obscurity like everyone else in my family. I’m the single nut off our family tree that actually has a chance to do something noteworthy. As much as I love and respect my grandfather, he was a small time hustler. He admitted as much, and he regretted it.

On his death bed he told me a story about how he and a couple of friends of his could have had dibs on early McDonald’s franchises in the Milwaukee area. It would have been risky, and would have involved selling off some rental properties they all owned together. Gramps turned it down, but his buddies didn’t and they ended up doing extremely well. Gramps wouldn’t pull the trigger.

Gramps told me that was his biggest regret in retrospect, but at the time he said it was a matter of stability. He knew for a fact that people needed a place to live, but fast food wasn’t what it is today and he said he just didn’t see the potential of the big picture. He said he’d worked hard for that money, and just wasn’t willing to put it all on the line. It was everything he had in the world.

I can’t say I blame him, and it’s easy to look back on what could have been. I look back at how many things I’ve screwed up in my own life and I have no fingers to point at anyone else. I made more than my share of stupid decisions, but at the time with the information I had, they appeared to be correct. It’s a whole different perspective from the heat of battle than it is from hindsight.

Right now I’m in the heat of my biggest battle. I’ve given everything I’ve got inside me to both comedy and radio, and my results have been extremely disappointing. In hindsight, I should have chosen one or the other, but I didn’t. I kept getting radio opportunities, and then I’d get fired and go back to comedy. Just as that got going, another radio offer came along and it started all over.

It’s too late to go back now, but here I sit with lots of comedy and radio experience – just when both of those industries are sliding down the dumper at a lightning pace. Radio jobs are harder to find than Amish video games, and it’s a struggle to keep myself booked every week in comedy.

It’s a different world than it was twenty years ago, and I’m twenty years older. Nobody thinks of that being a factor, but it always is. Everyone ages, and our needs evolve as it happens. I don’t have the same needs or wants I did twenty years ago. Being a major star was never on my agenda mainly because I was too busy trying to survive month to month. I thought it would all work out.

How wrong and naïve that was. Nothing just ‘works out’ in life. We have to plan in detail, and then follow up and work that plan. IF and only if we do that, then we can hope for luck to put us in the elite class we may dream of being in. I didn’t do the right things it took to get myself there. I did what I had to do to survive, and that’s exactly what I’m doing now – but not anything more.

Am I a small time hustler like my grandfather and father? Unfortunately, I’d have to say yes to that very difficult and humbling question. I aspired to much more, but never achieved it. Now, do I continue to pursue the long shot that gets longer by the day, or change plans and begin to wheel and deal collectibles because I enjoy it and could probably do ok. I really don’t have the answer.

Uranus Is Coming To Life!

February 28, 2010

Friday February 26th, 2010 – Chicago, IL

Slowly but surely, Uranus is showing signs of life. It’s my job to determine whether that life will be intelligent or not, so I’m trying to think things through thoroughly beforehand so I don’t make any stupid mistakes. It doesn’t guarantee I won’t, but I’m being cautious.

My t-shirt printer Marc at Innovative Ideas in Antioch, IL called to let me know my first batch of t-shirts was ready and I hurried over to pick them up. It’s a simple design and it’s only on two dozen items, so if I can’t sell them all at least I’m not gambling my life away.

I’ve heard about all the websites where they’ll make one shirt on demand, and I suppose that’s the least gamble, but I didn’t like their products and fee structure so I decided to do it this way. I wanted to find a t-shirt printer guy I could work with, and I think I did. Marc is very laid back and has twenty years experience in the business. I feel a synergy there.

He put one of my shirts in his store window and said he’ll gladly test them out. If we hit on a winner, I’ll gladly cut him in on sales if he displays them for me. He’s willing to give me some test marketing, and that’s what it’s all about. Comedians test jokes on stage, and this is testing them on his store wall. What lines will get people to pull out their wallets?

I’m excited about this process, but I’m far from finished. I still have to create content on the website in addition to getting the whole mailing fulfillment system down pat for when I do actually start getting some orders. Then there’s records, taxes, advertising, coming up with new product ideas, it’s never going to end. That’s what it takes and I’m fine with it.

This is either going to be my retirement fund or a flaming explosion of a failure. I think I have a winner of an idea, but so does everyone who starts out in business. I’m sure every meeting before releasing the Edsel or New Coke was loaded with smiles and optimism.

I think I’m doing things right, and that’s why they’re taking so long. I had the chance to partner up with several people already, and I’m glad I turned them all down. In retrospect, I don’t think any of them would have worked out, and I’d be into someone for percentage of a company that’s either limping along or out of business altogether. I’m still in charge.

I waited to find the right website guy in Mark Huelskamp, and I think I did. He’s been a great help and he feels totally right. I feel the same about Marc with the printing aspect of it. He’s the right fit. We all understand if this works we’ll all have business for the future.

With the economy and times the way they are, even if this does all end up blowing up in my face, it will have been a fantastic learning experience and I ended up doing it my way. I love the challenge and accept the responsibility. Now it’s time to prove that I was right.

One thing I wasn’t good at in comedy was savoring every little milestone when I started out. There are many steps, and I was always looking to the next one. Today I’ll let it settle in that no matter what happens, my first shirts are DONE. It’s real! Uranus is underway!!