On July 4, I turned 63. In that 63 years, I hardly remember a time when I was not either involved in a business or at least thinking about one.
My entrepreneurial journey started in the summer of 1964 in Okolona. I was 8 and needed $2 to buy a new model car. If memory serves, it was the new 1964 Jaguar XKE no less!
The solution I came up with was to get the shoeshine box from my father’s closet and walk the two blocks to Main Street and go to work. On the way to my new job, I decided 10 cents was the market price for a good shine. My new venture offered two colors, black and cordovan … evidently Daddy had two color shoes, black and cordovan.
Upon arrival it did not take long to realize most of the shoes that were candidates for a shine were walking in and out of The Bank of Okolona. I put some black polish on my finger and wrote my price on the side of the box and set up shop under the massive bank clock that is still there today. Looking back (bank entrance = shoes that need shining) would be my first successful business strategy.
A week or so later I was leaving the Ben Franklin dime store with my dream car in hand. I have very clear memories of the excitement from my foray into the world of business. More than the money I made and even the Jaguar XKE, I remember the constant “atta boys” I received from every man and women who came by. I remember thinking to myself, “I think I like this – attention and money.”
Soon I transitioned into the first of multiple refrigerator box retail stores, the last of which was in the parking lot of my father’s retail lumber business, Henson Lumber Co. The next summer I was assigned to help Jessie Stevens or Louie Shackleford deliver lumber and building supplies.
Not long after I pivoted from delivering building material to real estate development. “Greentown” was my first taste of real estate. Greentown was a complete city, with roads, post office (washing machine box) and fire station, (probably the dryer box). I remember it was a homey development with a drive-through entrance (the gate to my grandmother’s garden). This development was carefully scaled specifically for tricycles and small wagons. While my father was impressed with the overall concept and especially my use of green space, I was just too early for that demographic.
Later I sold rides on the go-cart my father made out of an army surplus bomb cart (no idea where he got an army surplus bomb cart) and the motor off a portable concrete mixer he bought from Henry Brevard. That is until my best customer’s mother out negotiated me by offering to buy gas (27 cents per gallon) for my go-cart instead of paying the going rate of 1 cent per trip around our house, garage and pecan tree.
This past 4th of July I felt especially blessed.
At our core, we Americans are an entrepreneurial culture; it’s in our DNA. We love an underdog. We love watching people work hard and succeed, especially young people. Is this a great country or what? n