With No Website or Marketing Department, He Became a Millionaire Selling Potato Peelers on Park Avenue
Entrepreneurs and sales people are always looking for new sources of inspiration. Inspiration is part of the fuel that gives us energy -- it helps us solve problems in new ways, and get new perspectives on how to approach our daily work with enthusiasm.
Back in 2008, I happened to see a video segment on live TV that has stuck with me and that has given me a lot of inspiration in my sales career. It’s the story of a man named Joe Ades who became a millionaire by selling potato peelers on the streets of New York City for $5 each. Joe Ades died in 2009, but his legacy of salesmanship is an inspiring example for anyone who works in sales or who runs a business.
A video shows Ades selling potato peelers in the middle of New York’s pricey Park Avenue neighborhood. He grew up during World War II in Great Britain, and well into his seventies he was still getting up before dawn, six days a week to sell high-quality potato peelers on the street, wearing a suit and tie.
Ades was a master sales person. He had a unique way of turning something as simple as potato peelers into an engaging, attention-getting live sales demo “show” on the street corner. He sold potato peelers for 60 years, and made a great living; he even lived in a Park Avenue apartment and helped put his grandkids through the best colleges. When asked if he ever takes a vacation, he said, “Life is a vacation. Every day’s a vacation.”
Here are a few great lessons from Joe Ades that any sales person or entrepreneur can learn from:
Find joy in the craft.
Lots of people might think that selling potato peelers on the street is not the most glamorous job -- but Joe Ades found a way to make it into a must-see, live performance. He enjoyed the everyday work of starting conversations, engaging customers and gaining people’s trust.
Joe Ades never stopped honing his sales pitch. He worked six days a week. Whenever there were people in the streets of New York, there were potential buyers for his potato peelers. Instead of getting burned out, he kept seeing opportunity and kept making things happen.
Always build relationships.
The video of Joe Ades selling on the street is like a short master class in salesmanship -- every sales trainer in America should watch this video. As you watch the video, you realize that he’s not just “selling,” he’s starting conversations. He’s not trying to ask people for money, he’s trying to engage with them and earn their attention.
In the busy rush of everyday life in New York, he found a way to draw people to him and build a bit of connection -- enough to persuade them to part with five dollars. Instead of the classic sales training line, ABC: Always Be Closing, Ades was an example of ABR: Always Build Relationships.
Value every sale.
Joe Ades was in a unique business -- high volume, low margin sales -- so it made sense to him to sell his potato peelers for five dollars each as long as he kept getting the foot traffic to justify his time. But another lesson from Ades is valid no matter what business you’re in, and that is to value every sale and every customer relationship.
Sometimes in B2B sales, people get so preoccupied about landing the biggest fish in the sea, they forget about the smaller sales targets. Sure, it’s great to get those major accounts, but it takes a lot of time and effort. You can often build a successful business by serving smaller customers. Don’t get so hung up on what you think your “ideal customer” looks like that you fail to spot good opportunities at have lower dollar amounts.
Joe Ades was a great example of how to be a successful entrepreneur, and he was an iconic part of NYC street life. Even though his sales techniques might seem to be from an earlier era, his sales skills were truly timeless. Whether you’re selling complex major account B2B solutions or selling simple potato peelers, we can all get better at the craft of selling by learning from Joe Ades.