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February 17, 2004

Street Corner Selling – Lesson #1

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing with you some illuminating insights about marketing and business through a most unlikely source – drug dealers.

The insights are from a book titled, Dealing Crack authored by Bruce A. Jacobs. The intent of the book was not to parallel street corner drug dealing business models with legitimate business models. However, when I read this book some years back, I couldn't help but draw the parallels myself.

Before you automatically dismiss this as outlandish and ridiculous – think for a second. Drug dealers must design their business in the same ways that legitimate businesses do. From procurement of product to making strategic real estate (location) decisions to acquiring customers … the parallels between street corner selling and running a legitimate business are endless.

As business practitioners, we can learn from our street corner selling counterparts.

Today’s lesson is on Customer Acquisition: Bum Rush and the Myth of First Mover Advantage.

In this competition (bum rushing), at least two sellers – but usually more – would make an entrepreneurial wind sprint to a newly spotted customer. Whoever arrived first would get the sale or, at least, would be in the best position to get it. The more desperate for money one or more sellers were, and the more of them convened in space and time, the more prone to bum rushing they appeared to become. As A-Train (street corner seller) put it, “It be like ants tryin’ to get a piece of crumb.”

Being surrounded by throngs of hucksters, all proclaiming the superiority of their product, spitting rocks into their hands, clutching rocks with a death grip, shoving each other out of the way, and jostling the buyer in the process, is no doubt disconcerting to the buyer. The buyer does not know whom to deal with, who is selling the real thing and who is not, whose rocks are the biggest, whose rocks just look bigger by virtue of clever packaging, and if or when the police will appear.

Transacting with the first seller on the scene – though expeditious – is not necessarily wise. Taking the first stone offered may allow users to leave the area quickly and reduce their risk of arrest, but they might not come away with the real thing. A better deal might be forthcoming with a little patience.

Street Corner Selling Curriculum:
Lesson #1: Customer Acquisition
Lesson #2: Ten Minute Rule
Lesson #3: Procurement
Lesson #4: Merchandising
Lesson #5: Angel Customers and Demon Customers
Lesson #6: Developing Enthusiastically Satisfied Customers (pt. 1)
Lesson #7: Developing Enthusiastically Satisfied Customers (pt. 2)


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Don't want to put my name to this for obvious reasons, but my partner dealt when he was young and wild and he has taught me a hell of a lot about marketing from it. Basic lessons might be:

- Supply doesn't create demand, so don't buy a lot of coke and just hope you can sell it.

- It's cheaper to keep an old customer than get a new one, so don't cut your stuff with too much icing sugar

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