Charlie Hatchet’s jaws worked up and down, up and down, as he shaved away at the bottom of an aspen tree. Flying chips of wood dropped onto a growing pile at his feet. Being an energetic fellow of fine beaver stock, getting things done was certainly one thing that came easy for Charlie.
Charlie’s mind was going as fast as his jaws. This one ought to sell for a good price. Maybe old Miles Moose would even buy this log, Charlie thought. He pictured Miles stepping down to the stream at twilight, his broad antlers swaying above his regal head against the backdrop of the fading sunset.
That would be a great sale to make, Charlie mused. He admired the old moose, who was well-respected in those parts. Charlie’s face brightened. If I could just get Miles Moose to buy this beautiful, sharpened log, maybe others would follow his example and buy, too! he said to himself.
Charlie’s teeth chiseled faster. Miles Moose might even now be on his way to the stream. Maybe Miles would purchase the log tonight if Charlie had it ready to sell when he arrived.
Charlie Hatchet’s business fails.
Charlie had been working hard for several weeks now in the log-sharpening business he had just launched. His evening tea times in the lodge with Mrs. Hatchet and their four kits were shorter than ever. Starting the new business was more demanding than he had expected, but he was sure it would be worth it.
The last few days, though, Charlie’s anxiety had grown. He was “as busy as a beaver” from sunup to sundown six days a week, but he hadn’t sold a single log. He wasn’t sure how long he could keep going. Why had no one bought one of his fine sharp logs? If things didn’t change soon, he would go under.
Charlie Hatchet had invested his life savings in log handling equipment and a large warehouse for his inventory of sharpened logs. When he had started the business, he had dreamed of hauling logs in and hauling them back out to his forest folk customers.
That was then. But today, though the warehouse was almost full, he wished he had never thought of such a foolish idea. Somehow his dream had morphed into a nightmare.
And it wasn’t because of poor quality. Charlie worked fast, but he did his work well. The sharpened logs were beautiful. Charlie always neatly chiseled each end to a strong, sharp point. He removed the branches, cutting them at the trunk so the log was clean and smooth.
The logs smelled wonderful, too! Charlie selected only trees with the finest fragrance, rejecting sycamore logs because most forest folk didn’t care for the smell. Each log was solid through and through—you wouldn’t find rotten places or insect damage in a log from Charlie. Yes, quality was one of Charlie Hatchet’s selling points; except, could you call it a selling point if it didn’t sell any logs?
Surely one of the forest folk would buy a log from him soon! He couldn’t imagine how his neighbors could walk past his beautiful logs day after day without buying one. These were the finest sharpened logs a beaver had ever crafted!
But Charlie’s business was doomed. A week later he chewed a final ring around a rough, ugly trunk in frustrated desperation. He would let it stand as a grave marker for his dead dream. What was wrong?
Fred Squirrel helps Charlie with advertising.
“Good morning, Charlie,” Fred Squirrel called out when he saw the beaver approaching his tree house.
“Hi Fred,” Charlie said. “I’ve got myself in a real logjam, and I don’t know what to do. I’m wondering if you can help me.”
“I’d be glad to listen,” Fred offered. “Come on in and have a cup of coffee. What’s on your mind today?”
Fred Squirrel stroked his furry chin as Charlie shared his journey from the excitement of the early idea all the way to last evening when he declared himself officially “stumped.”
“I have noticed your growing stockpile, Charlie, but honestly, I didn’t realize those sharpened logs were for sale. I wonder how many of the rest of our forest friends didn’t know you wanted to sell them.”
“What do you mean? You didn’t know I wanted to sell them? Why do you think I was making them?”
Fred shrugged. “I guess I figured you were going to use them for a new dam or something. It just never occurred to me. Charlie, you need to get the word out. I think I can help you.”
“Wait!” Charlie interjected, “I don’t have the time or the money for that. I need to get back to work so the missus and kits have food.”
But Charlie listened as Fred Squirrel explained his plan. Before they did anything else, they would make a sign that every passerby would see. Then they would prepare a few questions that would help them gain insight from potential customers. They could then plan strategy based on the feedback they received.
Charlie was interested. “If we can get folk’s attention and help them see how my logs will make their lives better, I’m sure I’ll sell more than enough to pay for this. Let’s get started on that sign.”
Fred Squirrel sketched out the letters. Charlie chiseled out the short message: “Sharpened Logs for Sale.” After they planted the signpost beside the trail, Fred Squirrel scampered off. “Stick around your warehouse for the afternoon,” he called back over his shoulder.
But it wasn’t till the next morning that Charlie made his first sale. Bruce Bear ambled by. “I’ll take two of these logs,” he said. “My wife’s birthday is today and I just couldn’t think of what to give her. I think she will like to use these in her flowerbeds.”
Charlie thought those were some of the sweetest words he had ever heard. But the rest of the day went by, and no one else stopped by.
Fred Squirrel helps Charlie with market research.
Fred Squirrel perched on a limb, listening as Charlie posed one of the questions the two of them had formulated: “Mr. Miles Moose, what would we need to do to make this sharpened log more useful and attractive to you?”
Miles Moose chewed his upper lip. “Well, Charlie, I don’t really need a log right now, but I wonder if that sharp point would help me remove a sliver of a twig that’s been stuck between my teeth since last week. I have a few points, but none of them reach into my mouth!” He grinned and gestured at his big rack.
“Sure!” Charlie said. “Let’s give it a try. Maybe the finely crafted tip on my log will do the trick.”
Miles put his head down and tried to pick away at the splinter between his teeth. The log slid over the forest floor, scuffing the leaves. “Can’t get it,” he said.
“Here,” Charlie said, “let me sit on the log.” He clambered on top and clutched the log to try to keep it from moving. Miles lifted his leg and set a heavy front hoof on the log to hold it steady, but it rolled sideways when he put pressure on it. Charlie scrambled to stay on top.
“If the log was square, it wouldn’t roll like that,” Charlie said, his mental gears turning. “But I don’t have any square logs.”
Miles didn’t answer. Instead he wedged the log between two large rocks where he could hold it steady. “It’s out!” he exclaimed. “Thanks, Charlie, I can feel a difference already. You should get into the dentistry business.” He chuckled at his joke.
“No, thanks,” Charlie answered. “But I would be happy to sell you the log so you can use it the next time something is stuck between your teeth.”
“It was a bit hard to use, the way it rolled around,” Miles said, “but I’ll go ahead and buy this one since I used it already. Do you offer a reduced price for used logs?” Miles laughed again.
Fred Squirrel helps Charlie with product development.
“Charlie, here is my proposal.” Fred Squirrel outlined the idea he had been developing. As Fred spoke, Charlie listened, his nose twitching in excitement. “That will be just the thing! Let’s try it right away.” Charlie hurried home, selected a log from the pile, and got to work.
The next evening when Miles Moose appeared through the trees, Charlie shouted, “Miles, over here. Come look at my new and improved tool for cleaning your teeth! Is anything stuck between your teeth today?”
“What’s new and improved about it?” Miles looked down his big nose at Charlie. “All I can see is that it is much smaller.”
“You’re right. But look at this flattened notch. It helps you hold and maneuver the stick.”
Miles Moose’s grandson Max stepped over to see. “Let me try it,” he said. Charlie watched closely as Max easily removed a piece of tough marsh grass from his mouth. The new concept worked perfectly!
But what came next was even better. “How much do these cost? I’d like to give one to my brother for his birthday.”
Charlie grinned. Not only was the new product catching on, but he knew from his discussion with Fred this had nice profit potential. He could make six “toothpicks” out of each log while selling them for the same price . With Fred’s help, maybe he wouldn’t be a business failure after all.
To be continued…
Moral of the story
Many new businessmen invest heavily in hard assets like buildings and equipment, but fail to invest in a marketing system to deliver the orders they need to keep their equipment running. Without orders from customers, our equipment and facilities will sit idle. Invest in market research, product development, and marketing before you invest heavily in production.