The ‘Secret’ to Success

Secret To Success

It’s been said luck happens when preparation meets opportunity. In 1995 a major milestone occurred in my world that would reinforce that definition of luck. In the early spring of that year, I moved out of my home office and garage and into my first building in an industrial park. I had arrived! I felt like the king of the world moving into that huge 1,800 square foot rented space. That’s when I saw it. A gigantic, massive, 36,000 square foot building with a sign out front that read “In The Swim.” I thought “how cool, there’s somebody else doing something with water. I’ve got to stop into that place and see what they do.” (So me, by the way.) The next day I did just that.

Walking into the lobby I introduced myself to the receptionist. “Hi, I’m Greg Wittstock, The Pond Guy from Aquascape, your new neighbor. I’d love to meet the owner of this place!” She gave me the once over and then said, “Let me see if Mr. Coxsworth is available.” A few minutes later a big dude comes up front and I extend my hand. “Hi, I’m Greg Wittstock, The Pond Guy from Aquascape and your new neighbor!” He chuckles and says “Hi, I’m Jim Coxsworth, The Pool Guy.” Turns out that Jim, a 6’4” former hammer thrower from Arizona State was the owner and founder of In The Swim, a direct-to-consumer pool supply catalog company selling everything from chlorine to rubber ducks. I asked to see his operations and he proceeded to take me on a tour of his facility that blew my socks off!

He took me through his customer service department with row after row of reps taking orders. We went past the accounting department with people clicking away on their calculators and into the warehouse which was a bee hive of activity. One thing I will never forget was the rolling conveyer belt of brown cardboard boxes going through an assembly line of packers and labelers ending with stackers putting the packages into a half full semi-truck bound for a UPS terminal. As a businessman with big dreams I felt like a chocolate lover visiting Willie Wonka’s factory!

The tour ended in his corner office with me sitting in front of him and machine-gunning questions and then furiously taking notes of his answers. He gave me, a young and inspiring business owner, a hundred great nuggets of advice. But it was his answer to one question that changed the course of my life and that of many others as well. The question I asked him was this: “What was the best business decision you ever made?” Without hesitation he responded “Hiring O’Keefe Henry Direct as my list broker.” Now, I too had a catalog at the time, but I had no idea what a list broker was. Jim explained that a list broker rents consumer or trade lists from magazines and organizations and then tracks which lists generate the most sales. Every list and mailing gets analyzed and names from better performing lists get mailed more often.

I left that impromptu meeting with pages of notes and a business card for O’Keffe Henry Direct. Here’s where the story gets crazy. I went right back to my little, teeny, weeny, 1,800 square foot building (amazing what effect perspective has) and called the number on the card. I ACTED ON WHAT I HAD JUST LEARNED! Crazy huh?! Taking action is what separates those who get things done and those who talk about getting things done. It’s the old “luck happens when preparation meets opportunity” phrase.

The next week a BMW convertible pulled up outside my building and Peter Henry of O’Keefe Henry walked into my life and changed everything in my life. I showed him what I did and then specifically how I marketed what I did. After I was through, he leaned back in his chair and spoke. He told me I was doing it all wrong. My assumption that people received my catalog and filed it under “P” for ponds was just not the way the world worked. He didn’t add “sonny” when addressing me but he might as well have! I’m no pushover myself and I went right back at him. He didn’t flinch.

Impressed in how resolute he was with his conviction and how I was off base with my convictions, I asked him how much it would cost to hire him. He said his fee was $4,200 plus list rental commissions for each mailing. I thought it was a little high, but I agreed in principle and that’s when he added. “You do understand that’s $4,200 per MONTH!” I was floored! “I thought you said you would only work a few hours a month on my account?! I could hire someone full time for less than that.” Peter responded with a line I’ve now used countless times when in numerous situations “You could hire a lot of people for less than me, and none of them would be as good.” Ouch! I hired O’Keffe Henry Direct and he revolutionized my marketing.

I went from mailing 26,000 catalogs once a year to mailing 3.2 million catalogs spread out over eight times a year! And our sales went from hundreds of thousands, to tens of millions annually. We even became an Inc. 500 Fastest Growing, Privately held Company, four years in a row from 1998 to 2001. All because I took initiative and went and said hello to my neighbor. All because I asked questions. And most importantly all because I listened to seasoned advice and then did the one thing most people don’t do when they “hear” good advice. I ACTED ON IT! The secret to success is taking action. Taking action is the only way anything important ever gets done.

What good advice have you heard today or last year that you have failed to act on? Taking action on it today just might prove to be your “lucky” break.