My Grandpa Joe was a farmer through and through. My uncle, Joe Jr., worked the farm with him. Every August was time for sweet corn. They would drop off buckets of deliciousness to all the homes of family members. My grandpa would also drive around our small town selling it to people on the street. Everyone looked forward to his delivery operation.
While I was in college, Uncle Joe and I decided to expand the enterprise a bit. Our target was the city of Lincoln. He’d bring me corn from the farm, we’d fill the back of my Dad’s pickup, and I’d setup shop in a parking lot somewhere and just see what happens.
The first time we did this we sold quite a bit of sweet corn. It was a Sunday and I setup in an bank’s lot at a busy intersection. From their cars, people would see my sign and the corn in the back of a pickup truck. They flocked. We sold a few hundred dollars worth. Not bad for an afternoon of sitting around and handing people bags of corn.
The second time was different. It was during the week and I wasn’t able to use my Dad’s pickup. Instead, we thought it would be fine to put the corn in the trunk of my beige Ninety-Eight Oldsmobile. This proved fatal.
I had a hard time finding a place to setup. A grocery store kicked me out of their parking lot and a gas station wanted a hefty location fee for its use. The nail salon I ultimately convinced to let me use was an okay spot. It was on the corner of a busy intersection but with my new setup, selling corn out of the back of my trunk just didn’t add up for folks. I mean, if you want a legit, from-the-farm product, who in their right mind would trust corn out of the back of a car that looked like it was made for selling Mary Kay® beauty products? No one, that’s who.
The purveyors of the nail salon even felt sorry for my sad looking state of affairs. I had given them $20 for use of their lot but when they came out to see what I was doing they gave the $20 back. And then they bought a couple bags of corn out of pity.
This entire episode taught me something important in a very real-world way: when it comes to selling sweet corn, it has to be on brand.
That corn remained in the back of my trunk for a week. Almost all of the corn my uncle had brought me was returned to him. On the day I handed over the unsold corn, we both just sort of shrugged. Deep down, I think we knew we tried to cheat capitalism in brand America. And we both knew we would never do it again.