Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Microstory 1813: Niche Market

I don’t know why my parents chose to live in a neighborhood with so many old people, but it inspired a business opportunity that taught me the skills that I would need later in life. We were rich, so that wasn’t a problem, but I wanted to make my own money without their help, and I didn’t want to do that just by flipping burgers at a fast food restaurant. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but growing up with my lifestyle, it would have looked like I was just trying to rebel. I also needed to do something interesting, so I could put it on my college application. When I said we were rich, I didn’t mean that we were one of the families that ruled the world. My dad couldn’t just write a check to an Ivy League school, and get me into any program. I still had to prove myself, and my academic record was average to slightly above average. One day, I was watering the flowers in my mother’s front garden when I noticed the old lady next door receiving a pizza delivery for the third time this week. She didn’t seem like the type to like that kind of food; not that much anyway. I hadn’t seen any teenagers come and go, so it just looked really weird. I thought about asking her about it, but that could be embarrassing for her, so I just tried to put it out of my mind. A few days later, the delivery boy was back, so I decided to confront him about it. He told me that he didn’t really know, but she made it sound like she couldn’t get her own food because of her mobility issues. When she was having trouble with her hips, she just ordered in, and since she didn’t like Chinese food, pizza was the only choice. The only choice? That was a travesty. Someone ought to do something about that, I figured. I was technically someone.

I had just turned sixteen, and had my own car. I could have easily been a delivery boy, but working for one store would not have solved the problem that this woman was facing. So instead of going to the restaurants, I went straight to the people in the community. With help, I compiled a list of the oldest and least mobile people in my neighborhood. Then I just knocked on their doors, and pitched them my business plan. It was simple. When they needed food—and they didn’t want pizza or Chinese—they could call me with their order. I would drive to the restaurant myself, and bring it back to them. I charged them fifty cents for the service, which was a lot more than the pizza joints were charging for it in 1964, but I was providing them an unprecedented convenience. I could travel to any place in a twenty-mile radius that had a pick-up option. I even later expanded my partner list by convincing sitdown restaurants to make an exception for me. I mostly worked by myself, but my older sister helped me out when her school was on break. If any of this sounds familiar, that’s because this sort of thing happens all the time now. There are a handful of companies that provide the same thing with an application on your phone. It’s so common now, it’s hard to believe that it ever wasn’t. I laugh when people ask me whether I think all those companies stole my idea. No, I wouldn’t say so. I was in such a niche market, and before all that technology. You can’t really say they were much alike. I never would have thought to grow that large. It was just about making a little cash, and giving me an edge for college applications. I shuttered my small business when that actually came to fruition, but that experience gave me insight that my business school classmates didn’t have. I did well, and learned everything I needed to know to start my nationwide flower delivery service.

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