Luck, What Is It?

So what is this thing called luck anyway?

The following story might give us some insight. It is also a real-life example of seeing an opportunity instead of a problem and expanding into the demand.

Here’s the story.

If you were in the market for a watch in 1880, where would you go to get one? It sounds funny now, but if you wanted one that was better than most of the store watches you went to the train station. For about 500 towns across the northern United States, that’s where the best watches were found.

Why were the best watches found at the train station? Well, the railroad company wasn’t selling the watches, the telegraph operator was. Most of the time the telegraph operator was located in the railroad station because the telegraph lines followed the railroad tracks from town to town.

Most of the station agents were also skilled telegraph operators and that was the primary way that they communicated with the railroad. And it was the telegraph operator who had the watches. As a matter of fact, they sold more of them than almost all the stores combined for a period of about 9 years.

An employee named Richard, a telegraph operator himself, was the one who arranged all this.

He was on duty in the North Redwood, Minnesota train station one day when a load of watches arrived from the east. It was a huge crate of pocket watches but no one ever came to claim them.

So Richard sent a telegram to the manufacturer and asked them what they wanted to do with the watches. The manufacturer didn’t want to pay the freight back, so they wired Richard to see if he could sell them.

So Richard did. He sent a wire to every agent in the system asking them if they wanted a cheap, but good, pocket watch. He sold the entire case in less than two days and at a handsome profit.

That started it all. He ordered more watches from the watch company and encouraged the telegraph operators to set up a display case in the station offering high-quality watches for a cheap price to all the travelers. It worked! It didn’t take long for the word to spread; before long, people other than travelers came to the train station to buy watches.

Richard became so busy that he had to hire a professional watchmaker to help him with the orders. That was Alvah. And the rest is history as they say.

The business took off and soon expanded to many other lines of dry goods. Richard and Alvah left the train station and moved their company to Chicago — and it’s still there.

The company they started was called “Sears and Roebuck and Co.” and from its mail order beginnings, the company grew to become the largest retailer in the United States by the mid-20th century, and its catalogs became famous.

The moral is simple: Keep your eyes open and your powder dry.

Luck is all around you – if you’re also awake enough to recognize it when it shows up and take advantage of it.

daniel w. jacobs
(c) 2011-2030, all rights reserved


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