by Art Rathburn
Morning activity came slowly to the streets of Constanta, Romania. The City did not begin to stir until 8:30 AM. We sat on the balcony of Aunt Maria’s small flat and watched the street below come to life. As we sipped our strong sweet Turkish coffee and enjoyed the cool morning breeze off the Black Sea, the staff of the Cafe Crizantema across the street set out their tables and ice cream stand. This entrepreneurial activity was much the same as could be found on any street in the Western World. However, some of the other activity was a bit unique to this part of the world. We were most fascinated by one local entrepreneur selecting his site and setting up shop on the corner. One could see he had once been a man of means by the faded, worn, three piece business suit he wore.
His “shop” consisted of a camp stool, a cloth bag (probably with his lunch), and a small bathroom scale. Despite his lack of real estate and real property he was obviously a businessman of considerable experience. Just watching him set up for the morning was a lesson in salesmanship.
He carefully stood and surveyed several sites along the block. At each site he would set down his stool, sit down on it and look left and right, move it a foot or two, re?seat himself, and then move to the next spot to complete the site selection survey. Seemingly satisfied with one particular piece of real estate he set up his stool, sat on it, and carefully studied the view from his seat. After the usual minor adjustment of about a foot he sat down again. After another careful survey of the new view from his stool he nodded his head in satisfaction and rubbed his hands together with the gesture of a man well pleased with himself. He then placed the scale in front of his stool, adjusted it a few inches and resurveyed the street scene. Seemingly not yet totally satisfied, he then walked out into the street and looked, with an obviously experienced and critical eye, back on to his shop. He did this from several angles. At last all was ready. Despite the growing noise of the awakening city, I am sure that I heard a determined and satisfied sigh.
This master of the art of business location at last sat down and awaited the fruit of his labors. But wait, there seemed to be a moment of indecision. He cocked his head and looked down at his scale. Yes, all was not in order. He had not adjusted the scale to zero. This he took care of immediately by getting up and stepping on and off the scale several times, adjusting it ever so slightly each time. I could tell by the negative shake of his head that he was not pleased with himself at such an oversight. After a few more minor adjustments to the placement of the scale in front of his stool all was now ready for sure.
To my surprise my mentor in the business of street vending did not have long to wait. Two couples of Gypsies in their colorful costumes appeared. After a bit of discussion each took their turn standing on the scale. After they paid and left, the scale man took something out of his bag and seemed to do some sort of blessing over the scale. It is interesting to note that I did not see him do that when several non Gypsy customers used his services. Later when we went down on the street the scale man was gone. We saw him later in the day at another location.
If anyone I saw in Romania symbolizes the plight of a people that have had to make do in a broken economic system it has to be the scale man. Here was an obviously good and dedicated business person. If all people that offered a service were as careful and meticulous as that gentlemen their chances of success would be greatly enhanced. Here was a man with nearly nothing, offering a service that we take for granted as free on our personal bathroom scale. Not only was he doing it with care, but was performing this service with no sign of being dejected or down trodden in his meager economic status. He took pride in what he had to offer and how he did it. We all should try harder in our business activities to be more like him than trying to emulate most American multimillionaire business people. We in America are prone to studying the ultra successful, such as Microsoft guru Bill Gates. How many of us have any chance of emulating Mr. Gates? Would it not be better to seek out the “scalemen” of this world and learn the stripped bare basics that mean the difference between success and failure?