The saga of two brothers, a monster truck, a field of watermelons and a dream of becoming rich.

Two brothers, Bubba and Goober, were a couple of hard-working good 'ole boys. They had worked hard all their lives and, having just finished high school, decided it was time to find a business of their own. No more of this part-time work for them; armed with a high school education, they were ready to make their marks on the business world.

Well, it just so happened that the watermelon farmer they had worked for all through high school had just come into harvest time and was looking for some help. Bubba, being the most entrepreneurial of the brothers, told the farmer that, after 10 years of slaving in his field, he no longer wanted to hire on as a melon picker. Instead, he and his brother were going into the watermelon business so they could get a taste of that money that the farmer always made. “How much for a truck load of them melons, if we pick 'em and load 'em?” Bubba said in his best big-business voice.

“Lesseee here …” mused the savvy old farmer as he sized up the brothers' pick-up truck, which they had built up as a monster truck for the four-wheel drive mud races. The farmer was glad he wouldn't be the one loading that rig since it stood nearly 6 ft. off the ground! “I'll tell you what - give me a $100 bill and you can have as many melons as you can load into that truck.”

“It's a deal,” Bubba quickly replied, forgetting that a good businessman was supposed to haggle for a better price. He was already daydreaming about the custom chrome wheels he was going to put on that truck as soon as he collected on all those melons.

Early the next morning, the brothers were out in the field, loading that monster truck as high as they could with the very best melons they could pick. Man, they were going to be rich! By the time the truck was loaded, its oversized springs were mashed down to the riser blocks. Even in 4WD Lo they could barely get the rig out of the field. On the way out, they handed their former boss his hundred dollar bill and away they went.

As they drove into town, they discussed how much they ought to be charging for the melons. As they drove past the A&P market, they noticed a sign advertising its melons at $1.50 each. Goober said, “We can do way better than that! I know our melons are better than the scrawny ones at the A&P. If we sell these rascals at a buck a piece, we'll get all the melon business in town. We'll be countin' our money and gettin' another load before tomorrow morning!”

Goober painted up a sign and they found a parking spot near the A&P and set up shop. To make sure passersby knew just how wonderful their melons were, they broke one open and sat it on the tailgate.

Business was brisk as those $1 melons were flying off the truck. At about the middle of the afternoon, the town constable came by and asked if they had a street vendors' permit. Of course they didn't, but they had no problem shelling out $20 for the permit. After all, they were going to be rich! By the end of the day, the truck was empty and the till was full. Goober exclaimed, “Wow! If I had known business was this easy, I would have been in business a long time ago!”

As soon as they got home they counted up their sales. They had sold exactly 100 melons at a dollar a piece, so they collected $100 for their truckload of melons. After paying for their permit they were left with $80 cash money. Not bad for a solid day's work. After all, when they were just melon pickers all they got was $5 per hour - about $40 each.

But then they discovered a problem. They had paid $100 for their truckload of melons and the truck would only hold 100 melons, even when expertly stacked by a couple of high school graduates with years of melon-stacking experience. So here they were, at the end of a long day of hard work, with a net loss of $20. “What are we going to do about this?” pondered Bubba. “I mean, we just spent $20 for the privilege of harvesting and hauling a load of melons.”

Goober sat quietly for a moment then spoke up. “You know, Bubba, them melons sold pretty fast, so I know we had the right price. I think what we need is a bigger truck!”

Food For Thought

Will a bigger truck solve Bubba and Goober's financial problems or just make it worse? Will these two brothers figure out the solution to their profit deficit or are they destined to return to their $5 per hour melon-picking jobs just so they can recover their losses? Tune in next month for the next thrilling episode of “The Watermelon Barons.”

In the meantime, here's something to ponder:

Is your business treating you like the watermelon business? You know that you have profit figured into every single job yet, for some reason, when you count the money at the end of the week there's just not enough left to cover all the bills. As a business owner, you're supposed to have money and freedom, places to go, people to see, things to do. You need profits to grow your business; and let's face it - if you're not making a profit, you don't really have a business anyway. It's just a hobby.

Here are a few tips to help you get on the right track for turning your business into the profit-churning machine it ought to be:

    $ Take a cold-hearted look at your cost of doing business. Add up ALL the expenses that are associated with running your business.

    $ Decide how much you would like to earn if you were working for another company. Be sure to include benefits, such as insurance and retirement, as part of your package (unless you don't think you're worth it).

    $ Once you know all these costs, include them in your selling price and don't forget to figure a profit - just like any other legitimate business would do.

Remember, if you're not earning a profit, it's just a hobby.

Plant The Seed

In case you haven't noticed, there's a never-ending ebb and flow of contractors entering and leaving the PHC professions (if you don't believe me, just compare a two-year-old phone book to the current one). Typically, a technician or plumber will climb the ladder of achievement; beginning as an apprentice, then becoming a trained plumber/technician. After climbing both rungs of the ladder, the only place left to go is to take over the owner's job.

Facing a dead end, the skilled plumber/technician launches his/her own shop. Since the new shop owner learned “business” from a boss who really doesn't know how to run one, the cycle repeats. If the new plumber/tech-turned-business person stays self-employed long enough, he/she will eventually hire someone who, after a few years, will climb both rungs of the ladder and will also end up as another drop in the ebb and flow of contractors in the PHC professions.

Never in the history of the plumbing/heating/cooling professions has there been a greater reservoir of mentors, training material and coaching than we have right now, yet the cycle continues to repeat. This month's column is for those contractors and technicians who need to break the cycle but most likely don't even know that resources like Plumbing & Mechanical exist.

That's why I'm asking readers to photocopy this column and spread it around. Leave copies at supply-house counters; slip them under the windshield wipers of contractors' trucks wherever you find them. Think of it as planting seed. The more we spread, the better the harvest we can hope for.