How can you know what you don’t know?

You have to be about, look around, and “hope” (one of the times this is a worthwhile strategy) that something comes along which is important.

Take yesterday for example.

I went to see a new friend and a vendor at the same time. It turned out we both knew some of the same marketing people and it cost good money to pick their brains. John and Lara just did theirs earlier than I had.

I am not able to afford having a great digital camera (whatever “great” in that context means). Nor do I have space for a room to put all thing associated with taking great pictures. But I did chance upon two people who were at an event called “Riverssance” which is where people from around the area display their crafts and talents. I try to go every year. I am always on the “lookout” for the Great Unknown.

Some things excite me, but they cost way, way more than what chess “people” are used to paying. Yet, I see people taking some expensive things home so I know my chess set, the Grand Turk, has a chance if I am among the right people.

I talked to a photographer but he did BIG stuff. Hard to control.

But he had a friend at the event who was capable of the smaller stuff like I had. So I took a chance and visited him. Two days ago I was in his studio with his ultra brainy and experienced wife. Met them again yesterday.

They got a down payment on a project I am working on–a brochure about the Grand Turk and the two boxes I had made for it.

Now Here Is Something Funny–Listen Up!

Do you remember at the beginning I posited, in effect, “How can you know what you don’t know?” Well I have one more example. The first day I brought a box over that John hadn’t seen. He had all kinds of questions. He’s kind of a perfectionist and takes his work seriously. So I can relate to him.

He wasn’t exactly criticizing my taste or my woodworker but from out of nowhere he had already formed a bunch of opinions. He thought the price was too high ($1,595.00). He questioned this and that. When he was finally finished, with his wife sitting patiently by, he pronounced it “Not bad.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but, hold on.

I took my time on Wednesday and answered ALL of his questions. All. I said “John, one of the reasons price is what it is is me taking the time to answer all your questions, and as you know, that’s called ‘overhead.’ Instead of ‘thinking’ why this or why that, you saved yourself time but let me expend mine!” He smiled right away and said, “I got it,” meaning he saw it coming.

So, this new guy, by the time I was finished, was coming over to my viewpoint on this “expensive” box.

Yesterday, I brought over my deluxe “Emperor board” and the OTHER box. I revealed it (The Taj Mahal) and he kind of wrinkled his nose. We all know what that means. But, I am there to protect my woodworker’s skill. So, onward.

I said, “John, yesterday you weren’t that excited about the Topkapi Palace. After an hour discussion you pronounced it “fit for resale.” Gee, thanks. Now I show you the other one, and the one you weren’t so keen on is now your number one favorite! I have a real selling job in front of me if all future customers are like you!”

I signed a contract for great photography, but not when it would be done. It looks like maybe a couple weeks.

His wife, Lara, came up with a great idea I should have thought of, based on past experiences, but, it won’t stop this project. In the meantime I showed John some laser prints for the 18-page catalog I am sending out (more on that in a minute). After finally deciding to add two pages with shots of the Grand Turk IN the boxes John, being John, said my color printer was doing me no favors (it’s a Lexmark). I had taken the photos, re-touched them in Photoshop, and printed… some of them were too dark, not enough definiteness on the Knight, my centerpiece. ALL OF THIS WAS OVERHEAD.

He gave me the name of a place I had done business with many times, but not in their printing department. He said they have a “copy machine” which is better than anything I had ever seen if I can provide them the original files. How much better? All John could say was, “A lot.”

As I am trying to get this catalog out Thursday evening I got my stuff together and went over to see this guy. The business was open, but the guy who knew how to run the machines was not there. What’s new?

That is a problem I have as both a winner and a non-winner. Persistence! I was back the next morning. I got 25 of the “much better” stuff, 2-sided. $15. A lot more than a 600 dpi laser printer. But the product, to my eye, was significantly better. The 20 people I will be mailing this too won’t think anything of it. But, had I used what I originally had, it would have been much harder to convince them to buy the Grand Turk!

My skillset does not include, at this time, being a great photographer with great equipment. But, I have an eye for what is good! The guy who handled my print request is a nice guy, competent at what he was doing, tattoos and all. But even though he knew he was working with a superior machine, compared to mine, he couldn’t see much difference UNTIL I pointed out the ridges on the Knight’s mane, The grain of the budrosewood. The jawline of the boxwood Knight. THEN it all came to life. Even John’s wife noticed those things.

So, what did I learn? I want a better desktop printer. That’s a couple thousand bucks and I don’t know if it would make much difference to my customers. But, I also KNEW this: If the quality was weak, that is enough for potential buyers to silently turn up their nose, no matter how “eloquent” the words might be. But if the QUALITY is really good, from the start, at least THAT will not be an issue for turning down the purchase of a truly fine set.

But, I have learned that COMPARISON is a great selling tool. That is, John, so far has liked the box he didn’t originally like. I suspect the next time I see him, he will like both of them, probably equally as they both have their points. In other words, no matter which one a buyer may get, they will probably be more than satisfied.

I Can’t Turn Out Crap!

The thrust of all this is Quality – Price – Expediency. Since 1985 I have learned a lot about chess sets. Take lots of pictures. Bought lots of sets. Spent time with them, examining them, and, babying them. I haven’t designed a chess set, that’s not really my area of interest. But, I can tell when a set is mediocre (I’ve seen a lot of them!) Or, a set might look good at first blush, but not on a second take. And I do know we live in a world of constraint financially. So I will be offering some varieties in size and most likely have 1-2 other words. I do know this, the less expensive, sheesham wood, makes my blood curdle. It’s what I would call a lukewarm wood. You will NEVER get excited about showing it to friends. You bought it because that’s what you could afford! Wait a bit, then get a better one. Patience no longer seems to be an American virtue except when it comes to politics… we call that “Do Nothing.”

Think of a Lincoln or a Rolls-Royce. I’ve never owned either. But I have ridden in a Lincoln. What a smooth ride! As I get older, I am looking for comfort. When I am having chess sets and boxes made, I want something for my customers that will so “blow them away” they can relax knowing they need no other! Just look at it, just play with it! Just use it!!

So How Can I Get Return Customers?

Repeat customers keep us in business, right? If they have already bought the best, how do I ever get them back? Referral can get me NEW customers, but how about the “original customer?” How do we sell him/her back end merchandise? I have to create different incentives.

When I suggested to my woodworker that I had thought about “diamonds” in the eyes of the Knight, he flipped out and said, “The ladies would love that wouldn’t they?” I am hoping they would but who knows? Imagine me selling that to you or your wife (if you could afford it). We could put rubies in the boxwood, and diamonds in the budrosewood–they both have the same crystalline type structure. Imagine the “work” that might take to convince someone (or, unusual as it may seem, they might go for it on the first take). If there is anything a seller hates to hear, it’s “Let me think about it!”

All told, my summary is this: Thinkers’ Press, inc. (TPi) wants to sell the best possible products at a fair price. If we succeed at that as well as introduce our creativity, the customer will be back.

At this time I have a great idea for a chess scorepad but how can I make any money with a scorepad? More thinking, more creativity AND anticipation. What do I mean by that “anticipation?” It means, what if, in the future, some system (affordable) is developed where scorepads would no longer be needed? It happens.

In the meantime

I am working on a new pricelist while all these other projects are in various stages of completion. It’s a “catalog” of great previously owned bits with big price drops. I am really, really, not kidding. Chess stuff is taking up too much room in my home/office house. I don’t have a place to put furniture, a rug, or a place to dream and relax. Pitiful. So I want to sell shelves and shelves of items so I can get what I have ON the floor, off the floor. As usual, the October issue of BNL (Bob’s News Letter) will have more to say.

When I was talking to John yesterday he reminded me of something every entrepreneur learns, and learns fast, or they are out of business. He said, “Let’s say you buy something for a dollar, and you sell it for $3. Do you really make $2.00?” The answer is NO, because a big chunk of that $2 gets eaten up by “overhead” (rent, insurance, replacement, wages, etc.) For example, I ordered a print cartridge a couple days ago for my Primera CD and DVD burner/printer. It was almost $50. I have to sell several books just to pay for that with the profits from those books. I need that cartridge because the one in it, has had it. The nozzles are clogged from infrequent use.

Projects like this play a part (such as the Morphy Coin and Chess Club) in why new things are always being introduced.

I have friends who sell in what is called the “Opportunity Market.” They make money off of telling other people HOW to make money, and they can because they have done it (usually) themselves. I have tried to make my living off of selling chess products. Which one is the tougher sell?

Here’s what I have found out: whatever it is, to be effective takes work, usually hard work which takes its form in thinking and implementation. Even if Rohleder could show someone how to make a million bucks, a certain percentage drop out because they “like” their regular job “enough” to be told by others what to do because, that’s “less work.” When you have invested “yourself” you have more to lose and more to gain. I am trying to do that with chess. It’s work.

By the way, if you want more information on the Grand Turk, the boxes to hold them, discounts for early purchase, or the Paul Morphy Chess Club, drop me a line at — Thanks, Bob

PS: Yesterday, or the day before, I issued on of my “email bulletins” and I found a lot of typos in it. I apologize. I was working late and I wanted to get it out while it was fresh on my mind. But I forgot to go over it. It was sloppy work, I am sorry for that. At that time of day I suspect my brain was only working at 50% speed.

PPS: I asked people to allow me to put their name on a list to get that Special List I am working on. 4 people replied! Underwhelming. I will get more requests dribbling in over the next 2 weeks or later. So what’s the problem? The “choice stuff” at choice prices is gone first. So an “I suppose it wasn’t meant to be” is the response of some. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean I will be getting more or even can GET more. ANd even if I could there will probably be a price rise. For example, if I have a great collection of “CHESS” magazine, the older ones, bound and they are worth $400… how many will I sell. My only answer is, “Few.” But that same batch has been discounted to $138!! OK, we agree that is a little insane. Probably more than 1 person will be interested. But if someone comes later and says “Can I still get that?” Yes, but it will cost you $400 for me to find duplicates to put such a package together. Time does equal Do-Re-Me. The list is FREE, so, what is the problem? Read the October issue (coming) of BNL to get more information.

Time to make a sandwich…BOB


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