While traveling in El Salvador, I found myself in the surfing city of El Tunco. Not being excellent in Spanish made it a little difficult to get around at times, but enough people spoke English that I managed to do just fine. When I did overhear English, I’d typically strike up a conversation. While walking along the beach checking out the small town, I heard some English and struck up a conversation. Within a few hours, I was hanging out on that same beach with a group of Aussie travelers, surfers, and a drug dealer who also happened to run a tattoo and piercing shop in Nicaragua. Being that I have a few tattoos and run some business myself, I figured this might get interesting.
The conversations all started out normal with people talking about who they are, where they came from, and what kept them going on the road. As the night wore on, everyone had some time to enjoy the party favors and loosen up and connect. Before I knew it, I was deep into a conversation with an “out of jurisdiction” drug dealer whose life’s mission was to purvey happiness and push self-expression amongst those with whom he engages. He told me that tries to do that by following 3 main rules:
1. Whatever it is you do, be passionate about it. There is an art to everything you do. So learns the ins and outs of it and be good at it. Learn how to tell good product from bad product. Learn how to determine your customer type and their wants. Know what is trade secrets and what is confidential information. And arguably most importantly, learn how to identify actors that could potentially have a negative impact on your business and your customers. “The passion lies in that never ending pursuit of refinement“. He even found that only knowing Spanish and English was becoming a problem and taught himself Miskito and (Brazilian) Portuguese to expand his customer base while on his travels.
2. Know your customer. This friend has some very strict rules about who he would sell what types of substances to and who he should pass on. If people weren’t going to be happy with him and his products, then he didn’t sell to them. His own personal goal of helping as many people have a good time as possible contributes to his choices in lines of work. His tattoo and piercing business are to help people look and feel, “as beautiful on the outside as they are on in the inside.” And his distribution business is to “help people feel as good on the inside as they look on the outside”. And to refer back to the previous point, he is passionate about making those things happen for his customers. He considers all of his work to be a consultative sales approach. Those were my words, not his. But he decided to use them going forward.
3. Looking the part isn’t as important as getting the job done. As much as I would like to show a picture of my friend, it wouldn’t be in the best interest of his business if I even had one. But I will tell you that he looks and talks like a happy go lucky surfer type. It is in no way obvious that he keeps detailed (but totally anonymous) transaction and inventory records. His books show that he does well for himself and is able to fund his drifter tendencies. You don’t always expect well balanced inventory and accounting ledgers from a quadra-lingual drifter who looks like it’s been a minute since they showered.
The following morning, after we all passed out on the beach post sun-rise, each person got up, exchanged hugs, and went our separate ways. But it reminded me that good business practice is good business practice, regardless of industry, person, or place.
Some people have learned these lessons in harder ways. Thankfully mine did not involve selling and moving drugs through some of the more “interesting” and potentially dangerous places of central and South America. But having these ideas reinforced by an incredibly good hearted individual who has walked a very different path makes me feel as if these are worthwhile lessons to continue to carry into my own professional life.
Author’s note: Anything in quoted italics is as close to a direct quote as possible.