Mr Conwell, have you lived in Philadelphia for thirty-one-years and don’t know that the time has gone by when you can make anything in this city?” “No, I don’t think it is.” Yes, it is; I have tried it.” “What business are you in?” “I kept a store here for twenty years, and never made over a thousand dollars in the whole twenty years.”
Russell H. Conwell wrote his now classic essay Acres of Diamonds in 1869 which I first read in my early twenties. Conwell shares numerous true stories in the book that illustrate that we are often standing on acres of diamonds and we don’t even realise it. I recommend that you buy the book, download the kindle or audiobook as it will take you less than an hour to read and only costs a few pounds. But it is worth far more than the asking price or the time required to read it.
There are many wonderful stories in the book that illustrate how many opportunities there are right under our feet that we miss because we are so intently ‘looking over there’ for other opportunities. I will share just one as it relates to independent retailers. Conwell goes on to tell the retailer in this story that it would have been better for Philadelphia if they had kicked him out of the city 19 years and 9 months ago. He said that a man has no right to keep a store in Philadelphia for twenty years and not make at least five hundred thousand dollars even if it’s a corner grocery store down a side street.
He suggested that the reason that this retailer didn’t make money was because he hadn’t taken the time in all those twenty years to find out what his customers wanted. “If you will just take only four blocks around you and find out what the people want and what you ought to supply, you would very soon see (a profit). There is wealth right within the sound of your voice.” This may sound a bit farfetched, but I agree with Conwell. I believe there is wealth on your door step. The trick is we need to ask. Ask our customers what they want. I have read many articles and books on target marketing and I have even written a book myself on the subject. However, I didn’t realise that someone had already written about target marketing in 1869!
Listen to what Conwell says next. “The man over there who said he could not make anything in a store in Philadelphia has been carrying on his store on the wrong principle. Suppose I go into your store tomorrow morning and ask, “Do you know neighbour A, who lives one square away, at house No. 1240?” “Oh yes, I have met him. He deals here at the corner store.” Where did he come from?” “I don’t know.” “How many does he have in his family?” “I don’t know.” What ticket does he vote?” “I don’t know.” What church does he go to?” “I don’t know, and I don’t care. What are you asking all these questions for?”
If you had a store in Philadelphia would your answers to these questions be similar? Would your answers be similar if someone asked these questions about your store? Knowing about your customers needs is crucial. The more you understand about your customer and the more you care about them the more likely your business will flourish. Perhaps we can all learn some lessons from this Baptist minister who shared some universal principles nearly one hundred and fifty years ago.