I’ve known since grade school that Alexander Graham Bell is credited with inventing the telephone but I did not know that Elisha Gray had worked independently on the telephone, developed it but then was beaten to the patent by Bell. Gray invented a telephone, was as much of an inventor as Bell but never received the credit for his invention because he was number two to the patent office.
Now nothing that I have ever invented was as revolutionary as the telephone but I did invent a chip-o-matic vegetable chopper, a clapper-type switch to turn off the lights, a fishing rod that folds up so you can carry it in your pocket and a cell phone app that allows you to take pictures with your phone. I invented them all but guess what, they already had them and I was nothing but a sort of modern day Elisha Gray. The story of my life. Although I was disappointed it made me realize that it’s just been timing that has gotten in my way of making it to the inventor’s hall of fame and that if I keep plugging away my day will come. If I keep my eye on the opportunities and keep focusing on how to manage and then make the most of those opportunities I can’t lose and that’s where I found myself recently when our dealership general sales manager told us to look for what makes the customer smile. I smiled at that directive because that is what I am good at.
When I see a young guy come in to look at one of the new models I pretty much know that he’s not looking for a mini-van. When I see an older lady come in to the dealership I know that she’s most likely not looking for a little red convertible. You have to size up the customer, focus and then make the sale by meeting the real (or imagined) needs and wants of the customer. I know that I am on the right track because those techniques have been used forever but then I go an extra step and combine my abilities to zero in on what’s important to the customer with my abilities as inventor.
About two weeks ago a lady came in to look at a new mini-van. She said that she had seen her friend’s van and she realized the mini-van was just what she needed to haul around her three kids and her dogs. She loved the mini-van XL with its luggage rack and audio/DVD system, front/rear air conditioning/heater controls and back-up camera that lets you see behind the car electronically on a screen in the middle of the dashboard. We talked about van’s features, went for a test drive and came back to work on financing but I could sense that she was resisting. She was just about ready to buy but was still running the price of our van against the competition. I needed to separate our van, dealership and myself from the competition and help her see she should choose us and buy our van.
So I said to her, “Let’s get serious here. What do I have to do to put you behind the wheel of this fine vehicle?”
She hemmed and hawed, and this is where my observation and inventor skills came to the front. Did I mention that the lady was, I believe the term is, a “full figured gal”?
Then I said, “You know a lot of people not only want to like the car they drive they also want to know that the car they drive makes them look good. What would you say if I can work with our people to make a few adjustments on the back-up camera so that if someone else is driving your van and you’re standing behind it your rear end looks 30 pounds smaller?”
I start next week at Dairy Queen and am thinking about an ice cream product that will include not only M&Ms but also crushed aspirin in case you eat it too fast and get an ice cream headache. I don’t think that’s been invented yet.