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Selling Ice to Eskimos?
by Matt Robinson
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I’ve heard it said that you can’t sell ice to an Eskimo and I must admit that it seems like a rather daunting task. You know…the whole supply and demand thing. I think the same could probably be said of Europeans, who for some strange reason insist on drinking their beverages at room temperature. Personally, I love the frozen stuff but I must admit that even I may give the “cold shoulder” to an ice salesman. After all, wouldn’t even we avid ice connoisseurs view it as an unnecessary luxury if we had to pay for on it a regular basis?

Consider the proverbial “wandering man in the desert.” During his journey across the hot, barren land he comes across a water salesman who just set up shop next to your ice selling business. At first, it seems like the perfect marriage, a win/win situation with both businesses servicing the needs of the other’s customer. The water salesman charges $1.00 per glass and you ask a relatively small $0.50 fee to top it off with some icy cool goodness. Our desert wanderer reaches into his pockets and finds his last $2.00, just enough to satisfy his craving for an icy cold glass of H20. However, to your overwhelming dissatisfaction, the thirsty man makes a decision that quickly turns your business model on its head. He opts to spend his money for 2 glasses of water, and passes on your frozen version of the same.

One would think that selling ice water to a man in the desert would be an extremely easy sale. But on closer examination, does this man really need the ice? The temperature at which he consumes the water is not nearly as important as drinking the water itself. After careful consideration, this man came to the logical conclusion that he was unlikely to pass too many water salesmen in the desert, and so he opted for an extra helping of hydration. Finding himself in a time of personal recession, with only $2.00 to his credit; our friend was forced to spend his money wisely.

During an economic downturn, individuals are forced to make extremely difficult decisions with the limited resources in their possession. Consumers eliminate flippant buying decisions, and begin to analyze each expense with a greater deal of caution. Therefore, it is extremely critical that entrepreneurs in these trying times make sure that their product or service is in fact filling a need in the marketplace, and not just a want or desire (think Starbucks).

Many times a recession lends itself to creating new needs in the marketplace, which opens up new opportunities for wealth and increase for those who can identify and meet those needs. Debt elimination, mortgage modification attorneys, and loss mitigation specialists have already begun to pop up to meet some of the obvious needs in the current marketplace. To one person, a recession and the accompanying corporate layoffs and high unemployment are a sign of doom and gloom, while to the opportunistic entrepreneur they are a path to unlimited riches.

I recently heard of a tremendous recession success story that was started in Silicon Valley, California. The company helps executives that have been fired from large corporations to write resumes, obtain additional training, and prepare to find a new job. They are hired by the HR department of the company making lay-offs, and their services are made a part of the terminated employee’s severance package. The company was started specifically to fill the need created by the economic downturn, and last year alone recorded over 3 million dollars in total sales. The entrepreneurs behind this company capitalized on an economy-specific opportunity, but oftentimes we also see location-specific opportunities present themselves during recessionary periods.

After the devastation of Hurricane Ike, and the great need for rebuilding in the area, a long-time friend of mine founded a construction business in Galveston, TX. As unemployment rates climb near 10%, and many small business owners are closing up shop, his business is expanding on a daily basis. He is just one of many who are finding needs in the current marketplace, as well as locations with a demand for their services, and are being rewarded handsomely for adequately meeting that need.

This same economic phenomenon is found in the Biblical story of Joseph. After accurately interpreting Pharaoh’s dream of anorexic bovine feeding on their obese counterparts, Joseph was given charge over the Egyptian leader’s entire kingdom. During the 7 years of abundant harvest, grain wasn’t such an easy commodity to sell (remember that whole Eskimo thing?) and Joseph did little more than preserve and maintain the wealth of the Kingdom. However, when the years of famine came, Joseph was well positioned to profit by selling his product to those who had a tremendous need for it. By being in the right place at the right time with the right product, Joseph’s business was able to thrive during a recession and accumulate untold wealth and possessions for Pharaoh.

It may seem counterintuitive to start a new business, or even expand an existing one, in the middle of what has been called, “The Greatest Financial Downturn since the Great Depression.” But a recession can actually be the perfect time for entrepreneurs to take action on their passions and ideas. There is certainly less competition during a recession, and many times during an economic slow down the prices for advertising, raw materials and other business essentials will drop significantly.

In fact, many of the nation’s most successful companies (General Electric, Southwest Airlines, & Microsoft, just to name a few) were started right in the middle of recessions. Why did these companies succeed, while most of their competitors were hemorrhaging cash, cutting production, and eliminating employees? It's because the visionaries that started these successful enterprises recognized a market need and then worked tirelessly to fill it. That union between the supply of a product or service combined with the market’s demand for it is the ultimate key to any thriving business, regardless of the economic climate in which it begins.

What opportunities are there in your area or market? What new needs have been created by recent events in your community, including the local impact of this current worldwide recession? How can your company fill those needs and capitalize on the growing demand in your specific niche? By opening up our minds and allowing God to reveal his ideas to us, we can see great prosperity in a time when the world is searching for answers. When the lost and suffering see our businesses thriving, we’ll begin to see the fulfillment of 1 Thessalonians 4:12, as our success begins to “win the respect of [the] outsiders.” It is then that we will see God’s entrepreneurial mandate begin to assist in the fulfillment of His higher priority, something affectionately known around Christian circles as “The Great Commission.”

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