Surprise ’em — Underdress for Success
A friend of mine insisted that I meet his young friend Clark. Clark has an innovative spirit and is working on a product that my friend Mike thought not only would I be intrigued by it, but I’d also be a customer. I can’t get into the product details, but it has something to do with making gym bags smell better.
Mike knows of my innovative spirit, but he also knows I love to play hockey, and so does Clark. If you ranked smelly sports bags, hockey must be on the top of the list.
Years ago, I was able to convince my original business partner, Steve Little, to join me in playing pickup hockey once a week. I used to rent an ice rink once a week near the office, and we would play a pickup game at 6:00 a.m. What a way to kick-start the day.
Being new to the sport, Steve didn’t know about the hockey sports bag. Unless you play hockey, you won’t know that you sweat more playing hockey than any other sport, even though you are playing on ice.
The immense number of pads, along with the aerobic workout, leaves you and your equipment drenched in perspiration. Then you put the wet equipment into a sealed bag till the next game. “Putrid” is the only word to describe what a dressing room smells like when 25 guys open their bags to dress for a game.
Clark and I met as Mike had suggested, and Clark insisted that I join him in returning to play pickup hockey — despite my 57 years, and he’s a mere child, and most of the guys I would play against could be my sons.
I agreed, and I showed up for the game on a Monday evening. I felt like I was transported to another planet in some “Back to the Future” event. The night before, I had taken inventory on my old yellowed equipment and packed up some hockey tape, sure that I would need it. I was right.
In the locker room as we dressed, all these eyes stared at me, wondering who the old guy was. My jersey choices were either my Mario Lemieux away jersey (black), or my Jaromir Jágr home jersey (white). Lemieux hasn’t played in eons and now owns the Pittsburgh Penguins; Jágr, now 45, somehow is still playing for the NHL’s Florida Panthers.
As I put my shin pads on, the dry rotted straps ripped or disintegrated in my hands, and I had to tape most of the pads onto my body. The other guys were all wearing spandex leggings, like a bunch of girls.
What took the cake is when I pulled my helmet out of my stinky bag.
One of the goal tenders looked at me and said, “Dude, do you know what you can get for that?”
I had no idea what he was talking about. He said, “Your helmet, it’s retro.”
He quickly looked it up online and saw that it was selling for between $150 and $250, under “Retro Hockey Helmets.” Let’s just say that you can probably see my exact model helmet hanging on the wall of any bar in Canada, beside a copy of my wooden skis, wire cables and all.
I stepped out on the ice and nearly fell on my face — it had been too long. Clark wondered what he had done by inviting me.
I have told my kids over and again to let your actions speak for you. They will know about you when they see you perform. Surprise them.
My son Jonathan did that once. We all knew he was an amazing wide receiver, but was overlooked for years because of coaching favoritism. He played every other offensive play and never a defensive play; his teammates played both sides of the ball and every play.
I told my wife not to worry, JP will get his chance, and when he does, it will take only one play. It happened.
It was a playoff game in sixth grade. His buddy went against the coach and instead of running the ball, stopped and threw JP a pass along the sideline. JP kept both feet inbounds as he made the reception inches from the ground. That’s all it took. He never missed an offensive play again.
Be ready and surprise them.
Back to the hockey game. When I started getting my legs under me, it all started coming back to me. I was taking more breaks than the rest of the guys, sure, but I was gaining my confidence. The old guy in the old jersey, with the yellowed pads, all taped to his body, ended up scoring four of the team’s six goals in a 6-2 victory — a “hat trick” plus one. I also assisted on both other goals. The next week, I scored another hat trick, same old pads.
I love surprising people.
Our company isn’t fancy. We aren’t slick with marketing, just slick with engineering skills and technology.
I think, as a society, we forget that titanium hockey sticks, which are lighter than wood, really don’t make a difference unless you are already at the top of your game.
I scored seven goals in two games with an old wood stick that you can’t even buy anymore. All the other guys had composite sticks.
Unless the basics are understood and strong, the latest equipment won’t get you the project. The slickest ad won’t get you the business unless you understand the business.
One of the largest lighting companies in the world came out with a parking garage fixture that is an absolute copy of ours in a different package. After trying many times to pull our company apart, they changed their strategy and decided to copy us, instead.
The most satisfying victory our company has enjoyed was winning a huge bid against them. They had all dressed in matching hockey outfits and spandex leggings, forgetting that image wasn’t what the client was interested in. The client wanted innovation and knowledge and trustworthiness.
They stumbled from the start, slipping on the ice, never a shot on goal. We caught them cheating the specs, and we were awarded one of the largest lighting jobs in North America that year.