Hard Work — October 5, 2018
Every Friday, Tuffy fields a question that benefits from his worldly wisdom as #TheMostInterestingRhinoInTheWorld.
This week’s question is: “Hey Tuffy, I recently read that more and more people are starting their own small businesses. Do you have any advice on how I can start one of my own?”
Tuffy’s answer:“My friend, you’ve come to the right place! Unbeknownst to most people, I’m a little bit of a serial entrepreneur, and have started a few businesses over the years, so I feel qualified to answer your question. Before I do, I must share the story of my first business with you. When I was in my mid-20s, it was very popular for people to embark on photo expeditions to rural parts of Africa to observe and photograph rhinos, so naturally, I thought that there would be a market for the reverse – expeditions from rural Africa to major metropolitan areas such as New York City, London and San Francisco, to observe and photograph the lifeforms in those places. I had a “Eureka!” moment when the idea hit me, and I immediately went to the local advertising agency to get them to design a logo, stationery and print collateral, and my friend Jimi (Henderson, not Hendrix, though he *was* a leftie *and* played guitar) even wrote me a jingle for radio advertising. This was before the days of computers and smartphones, of course, otherwise, you bet I would have invested in a sweet website and a mobile app too. I poured a bunch of money into advertising, and even took out a full page spread in the New York Times and the Indianapolis Star (hey, I’m a Hoosier). Needless to say, that was not a money making venture. I never got a single customer, though a hippo I met at a bar in South Africa once told me that it was a splendid idea. So that brings me to my first piece of advice – start a business that revolves around a thing or service that people actually want. If you already have an idea, great! Go out and talk to people to validate that idea, and make sure that you ask them the difficult questions, “Would you buy this if someone made it?” and “How much would you pay for this?” If you don’t have an idea, there are lots of ways you can come up with one. You can look at what people are already doing and make your version better, you can ask people what they think is missing from the market, or you could just listen to people when they gripe about stuff. In every complaint is an opportunity to provide a solution, but you have to be sensitive and discerning with what you hear. For example, lots of people complain that they wish they could zap the driver who cut them off with a laser that would make them disappear, but the legal and technological challenges of producing that product would be difficult to overcome. So now you’ve got a brilliant idea for a product, you’ve developed it, and figured out how to manufacture it. The next step is, “How do you sell it?” There are multiple ways you can sell a product – directly to a customer, through distributors, through a reseller or retailer, through a partner, or on Amazon or eBay. Your choice will depend on the pluses and minuses that each way of selling, or “route to market” has. If you sell through a distributor or retailer, you’ll give up some profit, and won’t have a direct relationship with your customer, which means that you don’t have much control over the customer service portion of your business. The benefit is that you’ll have the opportunity to sell a LOT more products, since you can get access to the retailers’ customer base. If you sell online, you’ll be able to shape the customer service experience in the way that you want, as well as make higher margins on each product that you sell, but you’ll have to spend more effort and money on marketing. You should study the pluses and minuses of each route to market. Then of course there’s marketing, which most people equate to selling, even though they are different. Marketing is more about generating awareness of your product, and educating your prospective customers about its benefits. Where marketing gets a bad rep is when companies make outlandish or fraudulent claims about their product and its effectiveness, and blast the message in your face ev-e-ry-where you go. My personal philosophy is that if you have a strong message, are creative and honest with your marketing, and make it worth someone’s while to read or watch what you have to share, the results will follow. It always helps to have a handsome rhino that doesn’t seem to age be your front-man, of course, but since I’m taken, my friend Geoffrey, who used to be the Toys R’ Us mascot, is your next best bet. So there you have it, my friend, some fundamental things to think about when you’re considering starting your own business. It’s not an exhaustive answer, of course, but it’ll give you some things to think about as you embark on the fine adventure that is entrepreneurship. I wish you much success!”
TUFFY the Rhino is more than just the Armstrong Tire mascot. On the surface, TUFFY appears to be a tough, hardened character, and arguably there is “none tougher.” In fact, he’s really a softie at heart, charming folks wherever he goes – a gentleman, for sure, but one who would equally be at home blazing frontiers as he would be dancing the waltz at a grand soirée. Often referred to as “The most interesting rhino in the world,” TUFFY has traveled the world and made many appearances representing Armstrong Tire, from advertisements co-starring stars like Lucille Ball to being featured on many eBay listings. However, he remains a simple, Midwestern rhino at heart, one that’s rooted in empathy, humility, and family values.