By that time, I had already understood one thing clearly: working for someone else is the worst future a person can choose. You only have to build and develop your own business. The sooner the better. And no matter how much you want to reach the heights of life in the blink of an eye, you must be prepared for a long road. The basis of any business is a progressive movement and Chance. Progressive movement means to set only those tasks that are feasible. After accomplishing them, it is necessary to set the next tasks and move on to the next step. And so on until the second factor – Chance – comes into play. One must always wait for it and feel its approach. And when it comes, do not hesitate. Chance will immediately take you to a new level, just hold on tight on your way up. Intuition feels the Chance, they’re on the same team. The ability to listen to intuition, to sense the Chance is as necessary as the ability to move progressively. If the latter skill is the ability to be a stayer, then Chance is a sprinter. If you are always a stayer, you will run less in your life than you could, and if you are only a sprinter, life will kick you to the curb on one of the turns. I realized that Fate had given us another carte blanche that we had to use, we were going to run a stayer race to a new Chance. And we needed a fax machine. There was less and less money every day. We bought the cheapest one we could find. I was so proud – now we have a fax machine! And I wanted to use it as soon as possible.
Looking for a warehouse, we drove to the previous depot without thinking twice. It was noticeably revived; about a third of the warehouses were already occupied. The “sugar guys” were working, the food wholesalers had disappeared, the neighbors with household chemicals were still occupying part of the huge warehouse.
Suddenly we had a rental problem. We needed a small warehouse and none was available. Once again, chance came to our rescue: the “sugar guys,” who had used their summer earnings to buy a store in another part of the city in the winter and opened a second store there, offered us a lease. It was very cost-effective, and we didn’t hesitate to accept.
Spring came early that year, with temperatures even above freezing at night. The warming sun quickly cleared the roads of ice and snow. The first truck arrived after the March 8 holiday, bringing four pallets of goods for sale. Within an hour and a half, my father and I were excitedly unloading everything into the store. I was in a state of euphoria – the work had begun! A week later, another car arrived from the second company. We paid for half of the batch and had about five thousand rubles left. Just enough to live on for a month.
We toured the wholesale depots, offered new goods, quickly signed sales contracts, and within two weeks we had the depots filled with the goods. We were still running our business in the same primitive way: no Internet, no cell phone, no computer. The fax machine was our only office equipment. Cell phones were expensive, and only the very wealthy could afford them. My father kept the books, recording all the movements of the goods in a notebook by waybills. We continued to write them by hand. Shipments were infrequent, there were few bills, and the accounting took little time. A normal working day was as follows: we called customers in the morning, collected orders, prepared waybills at home, drove to the warehouse, loaded the goods into the “second” and delivered them.
The “sugar guys” store was in an inconvenient location, so we hung around there for a month and decided to try our luck again at the previous depot. But there were still no small warehouses available. And then we ran into our former neighbors again. Of the entire warehouse, they rented only the section closest to the entrance for household chemicals. The empty back meters went into a dull, dark void. We were offered to rent any space in their warehouse, we agreed, and within two days we moved our inventory in.
It got warmer every day. The goods were selling little by little. But money was scarce – to pay one supplier, we used the money of another, and vice versa. In addition to the mixed depots in the city, there were more grocery stores and specialized stores for household chemicals, perfumes, and housewares. They also accepted goods for sale. Money came slowly, but sometimes there was no other way – no one would buy new goods from unknown suppliers. It is always difficult to get started.
After gathering some information about the specialized depots, we first visited the largest one, “Arbalest”. After wandering through the busy corridors of the two-story building, my father and I met the manager of the purchasing and sales department. Phlegmatic, about thirty years old, tall, balding and therefore with a machine haircut, kind-hearted, he listened to us and immediately ordered to “try” the first batch of detergents. When I realized the size of the order, I almost jumped for joy, because the manager had ordered a third of our stock of the product, adding a minute later that he had ordered it for a week or ten days. The next day we stuffed thirty packs into the “second” to the gills and took them to “Arbalest”. The car sank almost to the ground. The storekeepers and loaders at the depot, when they saw it, just grunted and shook their heads.
The second place we visited a few days later was “Mongoose”, also a fairly large company. We quickly reached an agreement with the managers and received exactly the same order.
In addition to a couple large depots, there were about two dozen medium and small wholesalers that we wanted to visit.
“There’s a fax for you, bismissmen!” my mother said loudly and ironically as my father and I appeared on the doorstep. Just like that – bismissmen, a deliberate distortion of the word.
Another working day was over and I wanted to get out of my clothes and into a hot bath as soon as possible. I went to wash my hands. A minute later, when I came out of the bathroom, I saw my father reading a piece of paper that had been torn off crookedly.
“What is it that they sent us?” I said.
My father read the lines and remained silent.
I stepped closer and ran my eyes over the text.
“Dear partners, we are pleased to inform you that our company has started the production of laundry blue in 200 ml containers, pack of 30 pieces. Hope for further fruitful cooperation”. And at the bottom was the signature of the director of the second company.
I was terribly excited, but then I realized that I had no idea why they needed such a product, so I said irritably, “Damn, big thrill all right! Laundry blue!” and went to my room.
“Ooh!” came from behind me. “That’s interesting!”
“Laundry blue!?” I was surprised and came back. “What’s so interesting about it!?”
My father sat down on the old couch, worn at the corners, and crossed his legs.
“This stuff should sell well. I remember when I was a kid, my mom used to use it to whitewash the walls and ceilings in the house. It’s a good product!” he said loudly, pointing his finger at the sheet. He nearly pierced it. And then he started to dangle his foot in his slipper.
“What’s with the blue if you have to whitewash it? It’s blue, isn’t it?” I stared at my father.
“They put it in the whitewash on purpose, to give it a slightly bluish color, otherwise the walls would turn yellow,” my father said in a proud tone, and from his inner satisfaction he jerked his foot even harder. The slipper wiggled its heel, jumped off his foot and bounced away.
“Sure…” I mumbled and went to the kitchen.
I remained critical of the new product, but I trusted my father’s confidence. He offered to order thirty boxes. We received them in the second shipment and sold them within a few days. I felt the adrenaline rush again; we had to move fast. Once a month we would get a truckload of goods. Wait a month? No way! I encouraged my father to call the manufacturer and order just the blue, without waiting for a scheduled delivery. We had not paid for the previous batch, so we negotiated a concession with the owner of the company: we agreed to pay for half the batch in advance and the rest upon sale. We barely scraped together the money we needed, transferred it to the company’s account, and waited for the car. On the day the “GAZelle” was to arrive in our city, we walked around the apartment as if tied to the phone, waiting for the call. The convenience of a cell phone was becoming more obvious every day, but we still couldn’t afford one. To give away eight to ten thousand for a phone, a third of all the money we had? What was there to work with? An unattainable luxury.
The “GAZelle” crawled into the depot almost on its back axle. “That’s quite a load,” I grunted and opened the warehouse gate. Our instincts were right; the entire batch was sold through “Arbalest” and “Mongoose” within two weeks. That’s how we first got a feel for our product intuition – sales of the blue were increasing rapidly. There was a catastrophic shortage of money and almost no inventory, so we did the best we could.
The rest of our lives went on as usual. My parents fought from time to time, and I avoided their squabbles by spending my free time away from home.
In the spring of 2001, our sales were growing, the first significant revenues were coming in, and hardly noticeable amounts of free money were appearing. Understanding that they should not lie idle, I again delved into commercial information and, following the tried-and-true technology, came across a small manufacturer of cheap detergents from Moscow. The price he told me on the phone was not bad, but taking into account the delivery, the profit turned out to be miserable. I thought about it, the problem had to be solved. And then it hit me: barter!
The beginning of the “aughties” was the heyday of barter schemes in the country. Such trade had many advantages, the most important of which was the acceleration of turnover by several times for the same money. Barter was accompanied by price chaos. In the murky waters of prices, the most shrewd made a fortune. The high markup on our goods allowed us to work in barter. I told my father about the idea, and he called Moscow again. The scheme worked and lasted all summer. Once a month we rented a “GAZelle”, loaded it with goods, and I went to Moscow with the driver. We would leave at ten in the evening, and by six in the morning we would be on the Moscow Ring Road, unloading and loading before lunch, and leaving Moscow in the afternoon.
By the end of the summer, our inventory had swollen considerably. We were working with almost every major company in the city. Business was growing and the neighbors in the warehouse started staring at us – it was time to find our own warehouse and move out. Walking around the area of the depot, we found a small warehouse that was perfect for us – seventy meters in area and with two entrances. The first had an empty doorway, the remains of the door hanging dully on its rusty hinges. The second entrance had a double iron gate with a lock. As if on cue, the depot administration decided to rent out the warehouse in September. Although there was a lot of work to be done to bring it up to code, we decided to move in.
In two days, the rental agreement was prepared and we ordered a new metal door for the entrance with rusty hinges. While my father drove the goods, I cleaned all the rooms in the warehouse. The next day, the door was ready. It was installed, my father left with the goods again, and I spent a few hours painting the door a rusty brown color. The next day was spent moving the goods. The warehouse turned out to be just the right place – compact, in the middle of the depot, and not on a main thoroughfare. The rent was no longer nominal, but now we had our own warehouse.
At the same time, the unpleasant news came that the second manufacturer was closing down. Its owner decided to go out of business. He brought us some leftover goods to sell, which should have been enough for a couple of months.
That’s how we lost one of our suppliers.
Autumn came. The petty squabbles between my parents continued. We had also lost the Moscow manufacturer of cheap powders. I started looking again: I was not satisfied with building my business on a single supplier with only one really strong product line. After a long, unsuccessful search, I clung to the first one that met the key factor: the goods for sale. It was a small producer of chips from the Rostov region. I brought my father an advertisement, he called the phone number, and within a week we had our first shipment. It was clear that this product was temporary and would only allow us to keep our heads above water.
Chips added four wholesale depots to our client list. Two of them were located in former movie theaters and were quite weak. The third was “Pelican”, a grocery depot with an excise warehouse, which specialized in alcohol, but also had a good turnover in other goods. The fourth depot dealt only in wholesale and only in food – two thirds of the chips went through it right away. The depots in the cinemas did not last long. At the end of September, rumors of their imminent closure spread throughout the city, and I suggested to my father that we get the goods out of there. No sooner had we done so than the depots were closed a week later, and many of the suppliers never saw their goods or their money.
At “Pelican”, chips were selling so-so, but there was also a department of household chemicals, which we loaded with our goods. Sales at “Pelican” went up, and the total income froze at a minimum tolerable level. The uncertainty of the business was once again very much in evidence.
Two notable events happened that fall: my father and I had our first big fight, and we finally bought a cell phone. I don’t remember the reason for the fight, but it was because of the difficult business situation. A crisis always makes things worse. After the quarrel, both of us were in a tense state for a few days, talking dryly and only about business. After a few weeks everything was forgotten, we returned to normal communication, but because of the quarrel the purchase of a cell phone was spontaneous and unseemly. The weather was warm and dry at the beginning of October. It was six o’clock in the evening. We returned to the depot and stopped at our warehouse. The work week ended with a very pleasant ritual – a tour of the wholesale depots and a collection of money. On Friday night, the depot looked deserted; everyone had left work early. My father, looking for the man he needed from the depot administration, searched almost the entire territory – in vain, he was long gone. I walked patiently near the depot administration building, squinting in the warm rays of the setting sun, waiting for my father.
“He’s nowhere to be found!” he finally stopped looking and walked over, spreading his arms and slapping them on his hips. “For cripes sake!”
“It’s Friday after all… Everybody went home long ago, including this one…” I said, staring at the red disk of the sun and blinking my eyes alternately. “Why on earth would he be here…”
The weather was fabulous. Stillness. Not a breeze. It was warm, like summer was coming back.
“Do you need him right now or what?” I asked.
“Not really. He asked me to stop by tonight, he has a matter to discuss,” my father said absentmindedly as he continued to look around.
“Yeah, just another piece of cake…” I brushed him off a little irritated and walked slowly along the sidewalk away from my father, putting one shoe next to the other and moving in an imaginary straight line.
There was tension in the air between us. We had quarreled, so to speak, but neither of us apologized to the other or gave up our positions. Both of us just swallowed the lump of contradictions with an effort of will because the common cause demanded it.
I knew exactly what I was annoyed about: my father’s overcommitment. That in itself was a good and necessary quality. But everything has to be in moderation. Lack of commitment is bad, as is overcommitment, and the extremes weigh heavily. My father’s fussy commitment fell on the fresh soil of our scolding and caused me a fit of irritation. That’s why I turned away from him and measured my steps – I was struggling with the reaction, and it was boiling inside me. I held back my emotions, trying not to think about the fact that the agreement with my father had simply been forgotten, that the other man had long since returned home, and that my father, absent-minded and oblivious to the obvious, was rushing around the depot with his overcommitment, knowing that no one needed it, not wanting to put up with it, and therefore getting angry. In order not to get all worked up, I switched to a positive thought – I started thinking about the upcoming Friday night and the two days off. “I should go to a nightclub tonight, just to chill out,” I decided, and switched to another pleasant thought: the desire to buy a cell phone. The question was obviously overdue and was discussed with my father, who was in favor of it. There was money in the glove compartment of the “second” and the thought of it and the phone tickled my brain pleasantly.
“I’ll go look for him again, okay!?” came from behind me.
“Go look…” I nodded, turned around, and walked back along the imaginary line.
“If you see him, stop him and tell him I’m looking for him,” my father added.
“Uh-huh,” I muttered without raising my head.
My father turned around and went deeper into the depot. I immediately forgot about the imaginary line and just started hanging around the building. The silence in the depot made even the local dogs lie down on the grass of the big lawn and doze off. The thought of the phone became more and more insistent.
A “ninety-nine” slowly pulled into the depot gate and turned in my direction. The owner, a guy a couple of years younger, was a good friend of mine. He came over and we got to talking. I told him I wanted to buy a cell phone. My friend called his friend at a cell phone store and she said that the phone model I was interested in was in stock and could be purchased at a discount. The thought of the phone whirled in my head like a teddy-go-round, and I looked around for my father. He was already walking back at a leisurely pace. Then everything happened quickly and spontaneously – I wheedled the money out of my father, got into my friend’s car, and we drove to the city center.
We had barely entered the shop before closing time when a magical dream began to come true – a new cell phone appeared on the table in front of me, it was unpacked, turned on and checked. I twisted the phone in my hands and looked at the tiny display window. There, like the heart of the device, the antenna indicator in the form of the letter “T” was flashing. The handset was weighty and pleasant to the touch. “SONY”, I read under the display and ran my fingers over the convex letters. The purchase was completed, I paid eight thousand rubles and received the coveted box in my hands: “There, my first cell phone! Yes, for the two of us with my father, but it doesn’t matter – it’s our own phone. We deserved it.”
On the way back, I took the phone out of the box several times, examined it, and happily looked out the window. It seemed to me that everyone in the neighboring cars could see my purchase even through the door and looked at me respectfully. At that moment, at the age of twenty-four, I felt like a kid who had finally been given a long-awaited train set.
At home, I solemnly handed the box to my father. He sluggishly began to turn it in his hands. I grabbed the box, quickly unpacked it, and placed the contents on the table in front of him. His eyes remained indifferent. I knew it was because of the previous argument. “Hurt people get the short end of the stick,” I thought angrily and left the room. I wanted to prolong the small happiness that had come over me a little earlier than I’d planned, which made it feel so much better. My father’s indifference seemed to want to rob me of the euphoria I deserved, so I took a quick shower and headed downtown – it didn’t matter where I was or what I did, as long as I could keep the feeling of joy alive for as long as possible. At ten p.m. my head in the clouds brought me back down to earth in the flow of people on one of the main streets of the city and I looked around. A neon sign across the street caught my eye, “Clear Skies”. I had never been to that place, so I crossed the street and ducked under the sign.
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