Lessons on Entrepreneurship from the 1940s

The first story I always tell about my grandfather, J.D. Gammel, Sr., is one of entrepreneurship.

As the story goes, JD Senior had started a small appliance store in the early 1940s and had a number electric ice boxes he was trying to sell. He lived in Western Kentucky which was in the midst of significant change as the Rural Electrification Administration set up electric cooperatives that ran wires out like spokes from a hub as TVA built hydro-electric dams across the middle of the U.S.

Granddad would load a few electric ice boxes into the back of his pickup truck and follow the newly strung lines out into the countryside. He would stop at a modest farmhouse and ask if the man of the house was about. (Early 40s, remember!) If so, they would shoot the breeze for quite some time until finally the farmer would ask what he had in the pickup truck. The farmer, who was using electricity to light a bulb or two in his home, if that, was always skeptical. “We don’t need an electric ice box! Our root cellar has worked for my family for as long as I can remember.”

Granddad would admit as to how that was true but offered to leave one of his boxes on the farmer’s front porch for a week at no cost and with no obligation. He would come back and take it away if they didn’t want it. Novelty usually won out and he would leave with one less ice box in his pickup truck.

As you might foresee, while the farmer thought the root cellar was fine his wife had a very different idea once they had had the electric box in place. No mess, fresh cold milk, ice on demand, less spoiled food, and so on.

Granddad would come by the next week and the farmer would come out and arrange a plan to pay him for the new electric ice box. Every single time. As the old saying goes, if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!

Some thoughts to consider for your organization:

  • What electrical lines can you follow to discover new markets and customers?
  • Who is the true buyer for what you are offering?
  • Are you taking the time to build a relationship with your best prospects before going for the sale?
  • How can you let your prospective customer, member, or volunteer experience what you have to offer before they have to buy?

Big thank you to my dad, the little guy in the picture above, for helping with the details of the story and to my sister Lisa for providing the scanned photo.

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One thought on “Lessons on Entrepreneurship from the 1940s

  1. Pingback: Funding Web Projects from Reserves | High Context Consulting

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