Business 1.0 March/April 2022

April 4th, 2022 by Nathan Hobbs

Mr. Vitucchi

By Lyle R. Hill

He rarely talked, and even when he did, it wasn’t easy to understand his fractured English spoken through a thick Italian accent. He made wine in his basement in the summer, though his favorite past time, weather permitting, was to sit on his front porch smoking an oversized, hand-carved pipe while watching neighborhood kids play ball.

To most of the kids in our ethnically and racially diverse neighborhood back in 1959, he was simply “Old Man Vitucchi.” But to me, he was much more. Although I was only 12, and Mr. Vitucchi was well into his 70s, he was my friend.

Scorching Summers

On hot summer days, Mr. Vitucchi and his wife usually would wave me over to their front porch, where he would expound upon the virtues of living in America while his wife served the best lemonade around. I didn’t understand what he was saying most of the time because the Vitucchis had only been living in the states for a little more than 10 years and had developed their version of the English language.

He was also a customer of mine; he was far and away the best tipper on my newspaper route. And I shoveled his snow in the winter and cut his lawn in the summer.

On one particularly hot June day, Mr. Vitucchi put his arm around me and told me he had a surprise. We walked to his garage, opened the overhead door and there, right in the middle of the floor, was the most magnificent looking example of American engineering and technology that a 12-year-old could imagine.

“Whatta you tink, kid?” he asked.

“It’s beautiful,” I said. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

“It’sa for you to use. You gotta read da little book first, but then sh’s ready to go. And you know what, kid?” he continued. “You now got da only powder motor in da neighborhood.”

“I think you mean power mower, Mr. Vitucchi.”

Leveling Up

As I stared down at the mower, my mind filled with ideas. For one, I had about nine regular lawn care customers and each one was worth a dollar per cutting. I was accustomed to cutting lawns by hand with an old steel reel push mower that was slow and tiresome. With this baby, I could cut faster and, therefore, add additional customers.

“Listen, kid,” Mr. Vitucchi continued, snapping me out of my daydreaming. “Here’s da deal. You can use it all you want, but, in exchange, you cutta mine free and put in your own vasoline.”

“I think you mean gasoline, Mr. Vitucchi,” I said.

“Whatever … we gotta a deal or not?” he asked.

“Of course,” I quickly answered.

Within minutes, I’d mastered the art of starting, stopping and operating the nifty little machine. I then cut Mr. Vitucchi’s front and backyards in nearly half the time it would have taken with the push mower.

After I finished, my old friend waved me up to the front porch for a lemonade.

“Kid,” he said. “It looks great and with da bagger thing, you don’t even gotta shake da yard when you’re done.”

“I think you mean rake the yard, Mr. Vitucchi.”

“Whatever … I thinka we gotta somethin’ here,” he replied.

Business Practice

I quickly found that to entice new customers away from my chief competitor, a 13-year-old named Norton, I had to drop my price to 75 cents per cutting. Naturally, it didn’t take long for my customers to find out about the price cut and they too demanded the reduced price. After only three weeks, I realized what a mess I was in. Initially, I had nine customers and made $9.00 per week. Now that I was doing 14 jobs a week at 75 cents each (except Mr. Vitucchi’s free one) and after paying $1.10 for my own vasoline—I mean gasoline—I only had $8.65 to show for my efforts. I was doing more and making less.

I approached Mr. Vitucchi and told him of my dilemma.

“Kid, you’re a knucklehead,” he began. “The new machine does a nicer job than da old kind, so you shoulda raised your price. And why you wanna be a big salami and take Norton’s customers from him? You looking at da wrong ting … you gotta say how much money you gotta in your pocket at the end of the week … not how many yards you cut.”

He was right. I had focused on the sale, not on profitability.

“Kid, I tella you somethin’ else too,” he went on. “You never gonna make it in the glass business.”

“I think you mean grass business, Mr. Vitucchi.”

“Whatever … “

Lyle R. Hill is the former owner of a window film company in the Midwest. He also serves as president of Glass.com®, an information portal and job generation company. Hill has more than 50 years of experience in film and glass-related industries and can be reached at lhill@glass.com.

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