Sunday 25 Sep 2016

Selling Sea Shells
AJ Robinson

Now there's an odd expression eh? Sort of sounds like that old tongue twister about selling seashells by the sea shore. But no, this was my first foray into the business world. I never did the lemonade stand bit, or the psychiatric help like Lucy from "Peanuts". No, one summer on Martha's Vineyard, I got the bright idea to gather shells from the beach, and then sell them on Circuit Ave; the main road through the business area of Oak Bluffs.

So, I did what any young entrepreneur would do; I checked out the local beaches for the very best in shells, and filled up several pales with them. Bringing them home, I washed them off, and set them out on our picnic table to dry. As I knew I'd need some way to "display my wares", I got a big box with a flip-top lid to it, and laid everything out in it. Of course, only my best "product" went in that "display case"!

After that, I headed down to Circuit Ave and "set up shop". That is, I found a comfortable spot on the sidewalk - out of the way of the foot traffic, and "opened for business". Flipping open the box, I spread out the shells and waited for prospective buyers. Thus I learned my first lesson in marketing. It isn't enough to have a great location; you have to do something to bring in the customers.

Now, I was always a shy child, not accustomed to making a scene or drawing attention to myself; so this was not going to be easy for me. Yet, I was in business, and a true businessman has got to do what he's got to do!

So, taking a deep breath, I called out, "Selling shells!" over and over again.

It proved less than effective. For some reason, people weren't interested in paying money for something they could get free at the beach; go figure. Yet, I was determined, and kept up my "sale's pitch". And, eventually, it did pay off - I did manage to sell a few shells. At the end of the day, my "take" was sometimes as much as fifty or sixty cents. For a boy of seven, in the early 70's that was a small fortune. That would buy me a couple sodas out of the machine or a ticket to the movies, or a couple rides on the "Flying Horses" merry-go-round. Or, I could head over to Darling's or the Wigwam Paper Store and get a whole mess of candy!

And so, off and on, for the rest of the summer that was my source of income. Never a lot, but enough. Until my parents took me to Florida on a little vacation. We happened to visit a place called "The Shell Factory" in Fort Myers, and I saw more shells than I ever could have imagined existed. And not just lots, but different ones. There were shells that looked like a bleeding tooth, big wide flat ones, swirly colorful ones, and so on. I truly was a "kid in a candy store". I had my basket so full; I looked like an employee re-stocking the shelves. My father made me put most of them back. Yet, I still walked out of there with a nice pile of shells.

The next summer, my cry to the crowd changed. Now it was, "Selling shells, Florida shells!"

Ah, and now they sold quicker, and at a much better price. I didn't have to be to a rocket scientist to put two and two together and see a potential moneymaker here. My problem was, I lacked a source for more Florida shells. So, I had to wait for our future trips to the "Sunshine State" in order to acquire more "stock". Still, it did prove a profitable endeavor, if a limited one, and it taught me a lesson about business. It isn't enough to have a business; you have to have something that people truly want.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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