Today’s post is going to be a little different…
I’ve mentioned before that a pseudo-secret dream of mine is to be a writer – whatever that means. The earliest manifestation of this dream was entering a few online flash fiction contests. Flash fiction is a wonderful genre, calling for creative stories in the range of 500 to 2,000 words – or about the length of a blog post.
I entered a dozen contests probably, a very small effort, and didn’t receive so much as a rejection from any of them. Despite this, I’m still proud of a few of my stories and think I’ll take this opportunity to finally get them “published” 🙂
At any rate, I might make this something of a series, and all series need a beginning.
My city is home to 145 Walgreens, 111 CVS, 42 Walmart, and 18 Target stores. Each store stocks 8-pack boxes of Gillette Fusion razor blades for retail between $27.99 and $34.99. The very same product can be sold on eBay for $18 ($20 if in original packaging) shipping included, no sales tax.
I find most people are dismissive of this set of facts, a few, those in want of quality razors, see it as a chance to save a little money ordering razors online. As for me, well I’m an entrepreneur, and when I mapped out the network of grocery superstores and pharmacies within easy driving distance of my house I saw an opportunity.
Being an entrepreneur requires a totally different mindset. For example, most people think of Walgreens as a retailer, which is a difficult preconception to overcome. But if you’re able to look past the registers by the door and security cameras on the wall you’ll see them as I do, as a supplier. They’re not a supplier in the traditional sense, like the ones Walgreens itself uses, you don’t call them up and ask for a dozen so & so’s or a new shipment of what’s-it-called, and no one from Walgreens has ever sent me a box of Christmas chocolates and thanked me for my many years of business. In truth, aside from me, a few punk kids, and a handful of bored housewives, no one seems to have made the connection. But I must retract a little, I don’t wish to be lumped in with the hoodlums and shoplifters, I’m no shoplifter, I’m a businessman.
The acquisition of the razors is actually quite simple; I group the stores by proximity so that I can visit at least a dozen on any given day. With subtle nuances, my routine generally follows this script: I enter a supplier and knock over several shaving supply products while surreptitiously placing two packages of Gillette razor blades in a purpose-built pocket stitched inside my suit jacket. If an employee comes to offer assistance I apologize for my clumsiness and ask if Burma-Shave is carried, inevitably it is not, which is too bad really because I once saw a quite clever ad for it above the urinal at a Plucker’s. Next, I go to the restroom to remove the annoying cardboard and plastic packaging as I find it garish and difficult to ship, leaving it in the restroom bin for the store to do with it what they will. Inventory acquired, I make my exit and move on to the next location to repeat. To the 13 year old pilfering Red Bulls or the mom shoving Maybelline in her purse my methods border on theatrical, but as any entrepreneur will tell you – attention to detail is paramount.
My business, like any other, is susceptible to certain risks. There are of course competitive risks, the barriers to entry in this line of work are quite low, given the appropriate moral aptitude there are virtually no start-up costs and eBay is already flush with discount razor dealers. The more prevalent risk, however, is the complex system of legal and compliance regulations facing small businesses. Texas classifies each of my acquisitions as a Class C misdemeanor, punishable with a $500 fine; my business taken as a whole is deemed “organized retail theft”, which is quite a bit more serious, landing fines up to $10,000 plus restitution, and more troubling yet, 2 years in prison.
Even when you set aside the myriad laws and regulations, the environment for small businesses in this country is toxic. How am I meant to compete with the larger brick and mortar shops, with their devoted security personnel and den of lawyers? Previously Kroger and Albertson’s were my suppliers, but they began putting locked plastic boxes around all of their razors. While this can be circumvented, it is such a hassle and the move seemed so deliberately aimed at me that I stopped using them altogether. What is truly unfair is that I’m working my ass off to provide my customers the highest quality product at reasonable prices, and big business is trying to force me out! Who do you think pays for the plastic lockboxes? Kroger? Hardly, they pass the cost on to the consumer. I mean $34.99 for eight razor blades!? It’s a wonder anyone shaves at all.
I’ve been doing this for six years now, and the routine has gone stale. It’s important to keep things fresh, keep the passion alive, and it’s with this in mind that I’ve decided to expand operations beyond my local county. Did you know there are 8,000 Walgreens, 6,200 CVS, 4,100 Walmart, and 1,800 Target stores in the lower 48 states? I find most people are dismissive of this set of facts, but as for me, well, I’m an entrepreneur.