Money, death, taxes and the ones that got away


From the 4-16-00 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

A few years ago, a major New York City museum placed a satellite facility inside a major mall.

The New York Times dutifully asked the curator why such a prestigious institution would do such a thing. The gentleman replied that the museum had to go where the people are.

"In the United States, shopping is the principal cultural activity," he snorted.

Many new enterprises proceed from a fresh combination or variation of the tried and proven.

Decades ago, a good man owed me a good chunk of change. I went to his house one day to pick up a small payment. I had a very full schedule on a very hot afternoon.

My frame of mind blinded me to what was perhaps the greatest opportunity of my life. I walked into his sparsely furnished living room to see long strips of teletype paper laid out wall to wall on the hardwood floor.

In a corner, a noisy wire service teletype machine busily downloaded onto the floor. Reading any part of the printout revealed lines of different lengths comprised of only x's and o's.

My client became very excited as he placed the last sheet.

"Step back toward the door and look at the whole floor," he instructed.

When I did so, the strips of teletype paper ceased being graphic nonsense and turned into a portrait of a quite pretty and quite naked girl.

This gentleman was not a very good businessman, but he was an excellent engineer. He had turned a photo into an analogue program and printed a huge picture using a newsroom teletype machine.

Actually, it was not an original idea. Such stunts had been around for awhile.

I didn't have time for small talk. I accepted his check and went on my way. I never did collect most of my money, but I did learn a valuable lesson: Always take the time to see what you're really looking at.

On an uptight afternoon in 1977, I had been in the same room with a working model of a rudimentary personal computer.

Perhaps, had I taken time to learn more about how he got that teletype machine to print that portrait, I could have turned a debt into an investment in a fledgling computer company.

My friend the engineer had produced the picture as a lark, probably to take his mind off his own problems. I didn't open my own mind to notice what I saw.

Combine a marketer who recognizes the potential of an application and a constructor who can build the apparatus and you've created entrepreneurial critical mass.

This technician had taken commonplace items - paper, ink, a mechanized typewriter capable of sending and receiving over telephone lines - and created original art and original science.

Alas, producer and promoter failed to communicate. Many businesses have wilted when manufacturing and sales didn't talk to each other. This one died aborning.

I was reminded of all this when I saw a story from Las Vegas about someone who combined the mundane and made a killing.

Kevin Jordan was an IRS agent who went into business as a tax preparer. He certainly had the qualifications, but needed a gimmick.

Many casinos offer incentives to workers for cashing their paychecks. The clubs know that some will start with the lucky buck and free drink and end up blowing the rent and grocery money.

Jordan told the Las Vegas Sun that, to many Las Vegans, a casino is their center of social activity.

"It's a place where people go very devotedly," he stated, sounding very much like a New York museum curator.

"People that go to these casinos are very regular. In Phoenix, it worked in places like grocery stores. In a casino, it brought in new clients," he added.

Sun reporter David Strow wrote that "Jordan electronically files the return. Within two weeks, the IRS wires the refund into a Bank One account established for the customer. The check is then sent to the casino, where the customer can pick it up from Jordan employees and cash it at the cage, less return preparation fees.

"The advantage, Jordan said, is that customers can get their checks cashed by casinos without paying a check-cashing fee.

"'The biggest (number of users) don't have checking accounts, so it's very convenient to have it done here,'" said gambling executive Brad Feitush.

Jordan has expanded his service to four neighborhood casinos. He has successfully enterprised a new way to exploit human weakness.

Another brilliant synergy which once came my way seems benign by comparison.

Back in the 1970s, a realtor presented me with an idea for a surefire business combination, a new company which would provide three services: senior citizen housing, funerals and cemetary plots.

I found it both chilling and cynical. Others thought it sensational. A few years ago, I heard of a startup company offering exactly that.

If you must send a check to Uncle Sam tomorrow, go down to your friendly local wine merchant afterward and buy three good bottles. Spend the rest of the day staring at them, assessing the finer points of the packaging, labeling, and glass design.

Try to get a whiff of all the marketing considerations which went into providing the final product.

Then start thinking about how to repackage various old wines in new bottles. You might end up with good reason to pop a cork in celebration this time next year.

Good drinking, and good thinking.

Be well. Raise hell.

NevadaLabor.com | U-News | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
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© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is an occasionally observant marketing man. He is a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of U-News, where the past four years of columns may be accessed. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988 where an earlier version of this column appeared on 4/16/00.

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