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July 7, 2005

The journey from Yagui, Ecuador to founder and CEO of 1–800–Mattress begins with a single dream

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On March 8, 1941, in a little town in the mountains of Ecuador, Napoleon Barragan (above) was born.

He was the son of poor farmers.

At age 17 he left Ecuador for Colombia without telling his parents, hoping for a better future for his family and himself.

He knew no one in Colombia and slept in a park for three days because he had no money; he didn't eat.

He left Colombia for New York City in 1968.

At the time he was married, had a 2–year–old daughter and was almost broke.

He worked in factories for three years, then got a job working in a furniture store.

He eventually was able to open his own second–hand furniture and mattress store.

Because he worked endlessly long, late hours, during the day he would occasionally take the train to Manhattan to go to a movie.

One day he was on the train reading the New York Post and came across an ad for Dial–A-Steak.

He started thinking, and changed the word steak to mattress.

Thus did he begin Dial–A–Mattress, which today flourishes as 1–800–Mattress.

Here's his story as told to Eve Tahmincioglu and as it appeared in this past Sunday's New York Times Business section.

    A Long Road From Ecuador

    I come from a small village in the mountains of Ecuador.

    When I was 5 I moved to the next town, where there was a school.

    I lived with my grandmother and my aunt during the school months, and in the summers I would go back to my parents.

    They had a little farm.

    My mother told me that I used to show her maps and say to her, "One day I will be in some of these places and countries."

    She would say, "You can do it if you want."

    At 17, before I finished high school, I left for Colombia.

    I didn't tell my parents.

    They were very worried about me.

    I'm not proud of what I did, but at the time I was influenced by radio programs from Colombia - the music, the news.

    I wanted to see that country.

    And I was thinking about a better future for my family and me.

    My parents had very limited resources, and I thought, "I'm the first child with five more to go."

    Maybe I could help them.

    But it was about the adventure more than anything.

    I had no friends, no relatives in Colombia.

    You find ways to survive.

    I got a job in Bogotá working for a distributor of soda and beer.

    We distributed the soda and beer on donkeys because cars and trucks couldn't go to the places we delivered.

    My boss, Diomeres Sanabria, treated me well, like a member of his family.

    After two months, he said, "I wouldn't like it if my son did to me what you are doing to your parents."

    He took me to the airport, bought a ticket and sent me back to Ecuador.

    He said, "Go back and finish high school, and when you finish you can tell your parents you are more than welcome to come back here."

    After high school, I did go back to Bogotá and then to Barranquilla.

    I had 24 pesos in my pocket.

    For three days I slept in the park.

    I didn't eat.

    There are moments in your life that help you, teach you, make you understand and appreciate where you come from and where you want to go.

    When I came to New York in 1968, my circumstances were similar to what I faced in Barranquilla.

    I was married, had a 2-year-old daughter but hardly any money.

    Even the plane tickets were on credit.

    We went to live with my mother-in-law, in one room she rented in an apartment in Jamaica, Queens.

    She found a second-hand sofa bed for my wife, my daughter and myself.

    I went from one factory to another for three years and then got a job working in a furniture store in Manhattan, in the finance department, taking applications for credit in Spanish for Spanish customers.

    Then I went to work for a furniture store in Jackson Heights, and ended up managing another furniture store there.

    I didn't know anything about business.

    When a customer asked for something and I didn't understand, I usually answered that we didn't have it.

    One lady came in looking for an ottoman.

    I said, "Sorry, we don't have it."

    She looked at me and said, "Do you know what I'm talking about?"

    I said, "I have no idea."

    My boss proposed opening a Jamaica store with me.

    My initial contribution was all our savings, $2,000.

    One day, after the store was opened, he called me into his office and said, "Let's change the name of the company."

    He explained to me how we would not have to pay the creditors if we changed the name.

    That scared me.

    I said, "I'm sorry, I can't be a part of it."

    Since I didn't agree with my boss, he decided to empty the store while I was out to lunch.

    I called the police, and that was the end of our partnership.

    I started on my own with second-hand furniture and mattresses.

    A friend offered me a store he owned three blocks away that was 10 times as big as mine.

    I joked and said I could afford only $500 in rent and with a postdated check. He said, "No problem."

    I used to work long, late hours, so during the day sometimes I would take the train to Manhattan to go to the movies.

    One day on the way to Manhattan, I was reading The New York Post and came across an ad for Dial-A-Steak.

    I started thinking, and changed the word steak to mattress.

    It became 1-800-Mattress 20 years later.

It seems to me that when Napoleon Barragan is asked to name his favorite business book, that's one book I could learn a lot from.

His favorite: "Discovering the Soul of Service," by Leonard L. Berry.

Gotta run — I'm outa here and over to amazon to get a copy.

July 7, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Migraine Magic™

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We come in peace to relieve your migraine.

You have nothing to fear.

Trust us.

    From the website:

    Migraine Magic™ mask helps relieve stress headaches, sinus pressure and eye fatigue.

    Poly–magnetic feelers massage and stimulate circulation around the eyes.

    High and low settings; timer.

    Adjustable headband.

    Requires two AAA batteries (not included).

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$39.98 here.

July 7, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Money is frozen desire

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Calvin Woodward wrote about the thriving barter system in Floyd, Virginia, deep in the Appalachian mountains.

Yesterday's Associated Press story told how the counterculture met the mountain culture there and brought back to the age–old system of "I'll give you this if you'll give me that."

Of interest is that in 2002, Floyd created its own labor–based currency, called Floydian Scrip, also known as Floyd Hours.

Two denominations were printed on recycled denim: a note that valued one hour of labor at $10 and one that valued 15 minutes at $2.50.

In theory, wrote Woodward, "A customer could pay for groceries with a $10 Floyd note. The store could use that note to pay for an hour's worth of service from an electrician. The electrician could then take the note to the local masseuse for a rubdown. And so on."

But the system didn't work.

Stores found themselves with lots of blue notes they couldn't pass on.

And then Woodward closed his story with this blockbuster sentence: "Without universal acceptance, a local currency breaks down at its weakest link."

Stop right there.

The whole idea of money is one of a collective illusion that we choose to believe in.

Because why should a piece of paper entitle me to anything just because of what's written on it?

James Buchan, in his superb book, "Frozen Desire: An Inquiry Into The Meaning of Money," explored this mystery with great insight.

And it is indeed a mystery.

Take, for example, the gift card.

Here is an invention which takes a universal currency — money — and transmutes it into a much more limited version that can only be used in one place.

Yet people buy in big–time, more so every year.

How is that possible?

The retail industry has succeeded in a mass brainwashing that has resulted in the widespread belief that giving someone money is tacky, crass and thoughtless as opposed to giving that same money in the form of a plastic card that in many cases, unlike money, begins to lose value from the instant it's purchased.

And unlike money can't be used anywhere the recipient wishes but only at one merchant.

Here's Woodward's story.

    Forget The Wallet And Barter Instead

    They came to Floyd to get back to the land, to be alone, to find community or to make music.

    They fit here because they didn’t quite fit in anywhere else.

    Here the counterculture met the mountain culture and something unique was born.

    The two lifestyles had something in common: a lack of money.

    The locals wanted it but didn’t have it.

    The newcomers with tie-dyed shirts didn’t care much about the dollar but, like everyone else, they had to pay bills.

    So together they took something ancient and made it new.

    It worked, and still does, like this: I’ll do this for you, if you give that to me.

    The practice is bartering, defined as trading goods or services with no money involved.

    Today the barter system courses through Floyd, an Appalachian town that still attracts people who are off the beaten path in life.

    At Dr. Susan Osborne’s Barter Clinic, people have brought in firewood, meat and soap to trade for her medical services.

    In Floyd, goods tend to be bought the usual way, with cash.

    But trade has its place.

    A man dropped by the Harvest Moon natural foods and exotic gifts store, worked for 15 minutes on the grounds, and claimed a few croissants as payment the next day.

    "He’ll show up for our smoothie test run," said Tom Ryan, who runs the two-story, cedar-planked store with its founder, his wife, Margie.

    Out in the country, Dawn Shiner and her family spend a day helping a farmer cut or bale hay, in return for taking all the hay they need back home to their garden and work at a market for the five pounds of almonds she wants for baking.

    And when Erika Johnson and her husband wanted to open a restaurant and music place downtown, they got the space by offering the seller $2,000 worth of food and drink at the place, Oddfellas.

    Payment in full.

    Many oddfellas inhabit these hills.

    Scores of artists have been drawn to a town where many people can’t afford what they create.

    Noses are pierced, a new generation of Earth Shoes is sold.

    On the other side, the old-time corner hardware store sells Red Flyer wagons and a country store hosts a Friday night bluegrass jamboree.

    Economists think informal commerce – including bartering, baby-sitting, lawn mowing and unreported moonlighting – make up at least 6 percent and even as much as 20 percent of the national economy, according to an analysis done for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

    And that doesn’t count criminal transactions.

    In Floyd, as anywhere else, money still drives the bulk of commerce.

    But in 2002, Floyd took the leap and created its own labor–based currency, the Floydian Scrip, also known as Floyd Hours, inspired by a pioneering effort in Ithaca, N.Y.

    Two denominations were printed on recycled denim — a note that valued one hour of labor at $10, and one that valued 15 minutes of labor for $2.50.

    In theory, a customer could pay for groceries with a $10 Floyd note.

    The store could use that note to pay for an hour's worth of service from an electrician.

    The electrician could then take the note to the local masseuse for a rubdown.

    And so on.

    In practice, it didn't turn out that way.

    Stores found their registers stuffed with blue notes they couldn't pass on.

    Margie Ryan took up $500 worth of scrip but was hard–pressed to use it.

    "Once my building's built, I don't need carpentry anymore," she said.

    Without universal acceptance, a local currency breaks down at the weakest link.

This article has given me cause for reflection and I have decided to undertake an experiment that, if nothing else, will provide much amusement for me as well as material for an occasional bookofjoe post.

What I'm going to do is order a bunch of business cards in bookofjoe green with "bookofjoe" printed in white just like atop this page.

I will sign and date each on the back, as well as place my thumbprint on it.

Then I am going to offer this new currency, as yet unnamed, for a price yet to be determined.

Like Edwin Starr in his great 1970 song, "War," you may ask, "What is it good for?"

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And like Edwin Starr I will reply, "Absolutely nothing."

July 7, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Ben Stein's Travel Secrets

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In this past Sunday's New York Times Business section Ben Stein, who spends about half his life on airplanes, weighed in with a few travel secrets gleaned from millions of miles in the air.

    My favorite follows:

    Travel with several Three Musketeers bars and a few bags of honey–roasted cashews.

    If your hotel has shut down its room service for the night, or if room service is as bad as it often is, you will want those snacks.

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    I might add that it's a rare hotel that has room service that tastes as good as a Three Musketeers bar. (When I was a child they were a nickel — sniff, sniff.)

    And if the airline food is disappointing — isn't it funny that I say "if"? — you will be happy that you have that reliable Three Musketeers chocolaty goodness in your pocket. (No, I am not a spokesman for Three Musketeers. I just love them.)

    Sometimes a rush of chocolate can cover even the worst sins of an airplane.

I'm so down with Ben it's not even funny.

July 7, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

'The alpha male is on a never–ending journey of dissatisfaction'

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A London–based unit of Interpublic's McCann Erickson advertising agency has just issued a provocative new report which essentially accuses the world's luxury good makers of failing to recognize how dramatically business life — and those at the very apex of the financial food chain — have changed in recent decades.

So wrote Gary Silverman in his Financial Times column of this past Tuesday.

    More:

    They are the "alpha males" — the leaders of the financial pack.

    They are rich, they are relentless and they are misunderstood.

    Many of the world's leading advertising agencies are trying to adjust to what could be called the post–metrosexual era.

    McCann's study found that today's successful man is a haunted character — not unlike Willy Loman, the uneasy hero of Arthur Miller's landmark play about business, "The Death of a Salesman."

    But unlike Willy Loman, who was ultimately destroyed by his circumstances, these men use their sense of unease as jet fuel, propelling them to greater heights.

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    The alpha male, McCann says, is "on a never–ending journey of dissatisfaction."

    To survive his long, strange trip, the study says, the alpha male becomes a "talented chameleon," willing to spend big money on the packaging that will help him look good, keep fit and stand out from the competition.

    He is a connoisseur of "luxury alpha drugs" such as racing, flash cars, boating, private aircraft, gambling and risk, cocaine and a "fast lifestyle."

    "He is never going to be happy with anything — even his relationships," says Dawn Coulter, managing director of a McCann unit called Luxury Box.

    "This is a big opportunity," she says. "There is no bible of the alpha male."

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    Marian Salzman, an expert on business trends, said, "The more successful a man is, the more likely he is to embrace 'deep hobbies' that will make him seem more interesting to others."

No bible of the alpha male?

You mean this isn't it?

Where did I go wrong? But I digress.

The problem with "seeming" interesting is that the veneer is rather thin and shatters easily, exposing the fiberboard underneath.

Not a good approach, that one.

And I suppose if Mr. Alpha's going to spend "big money on the packaging" that mean's he's going to have to also spend a lot more than 30 minutes a day in the bathroom wrapping his package — as it were — before presenting it to his fawning, adoring world.

No, it's just not gonna work for me.

To me "luxury drugs" are time, love, books, music and a sense of wonder.

They don't cost much in terms of money but boy do they get me high.

July 7, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Molcajete — Grind like an Aztec

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"The mortar and pestle carved from volcanic rock is among the world's oldest kitchen tools."

This fierce–looking kitchen implement has made it from the shores of Lake Texcoco to the Williams–Sonoma catalog looking very much like it would perfectly at home in the great Aztec city of Tenochtitlan.

Carved from a single basalt rock in Mexico.

$49 here.

Molcajete is the Spanish word for this tool.

July 7, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World's easiest podcasting

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Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal yesterday wrote about the rise of podcasting.

Like me, he believes it's not quite ready for prime time; the headline of his article was,

    Podcasting is Still Not Quite Ready for the Masses

But then, toward the end of his piece, he noted that the GarageBand website (not to be confused with the free GarageBand program for Macintosh) offers a free, simple podcast creation studio for anyone regardless of whether they're musicians or sushi chefs.

Here's what you do:

1) Dial a toll–free number

2) Dictate your podcast over the phone

Mossberg and his assistant Katie Boehret tested the site from both landline phones and cellphones; Mossberg wrote, "We were very impressed by how easy it was to do and with how good it sounded."

Then GarageBand makes it easy to post your podcast by assigning a web address for it and providing RSS (don't ask and I won't tell) syndication.

But wait — there's more.

Garageband also has a player built right into its website so you can hear your recording right away.

Then, if you know how to go behind the curtain of your website and fiddle with its HTML innards, you can post the player right onto your blog so that anyone who happens to visit can hear your podcast by simply visiting your site.

That's exactly what Mossberg did; try his here and see.

Tell you what: I just did and it's pretty darn impressive.

I'm not nearly as capable as Mossberg so I'm gonna bypass this opportunity to drive myself crazy trying to build a podcast function into bookofjoe.

Besides, it's all about bookofjoeTV, you know that.

I'm keeping all the wood behind that arrow for now.

July 7, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Golf Club Drink Dispenser

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No one will know you're carrying.

    From the website:

    This clever fairway companion keeps 48 oz. of your favorite beverage cold without the inconvenience of carrying bottles and cans.

    With a dispensing head that resembles a three wood, this 44" cooler slips into any golf bag.

    To pour, simply move the pump lever back and forth.

    Spout folds back into club head.

$39.95 here.

July 7, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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