Turning your commodity into a legend

August 19, 2022

“I know you’ve taken it in the teeth out there, but the first guy through the wall, he always gets bloody. Always….But really what it’s threatening is their livelihoods, it’s threatening their jobs, it’s threatening the way that they do things. And every time that happens…the people who are holding the reins…go bat&#$% crazy.”

The above is one of the “money quotes” in the movie Moneyballin a 2002 conversation between Red Sox owner John Henry and Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane. Henry is one of the few people in baseball to believe in Beane’s new method of management, and proves it by offering him a $12.5 million check to change teams.

In the movie and in real life, Beane turned down the offer. But his methods didn’t go away; over the next 15 years, they became the new normal, completely changing the way teams recruited and activated players.

Breaking the mold can be risky. It can make you a pariah in your industry, as happened to Beane before he became recognized baseball-wide as an innovator. It can get you fired, as paint mixer Tony Piloseno found out. But it can also make you wealthy and influential beyond belief (Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates), and put you in the record books (Chutters Candy Store).

Many organizations do well enough, keeping their doors open and making decent profit. And right next to them can be the innovator nobody realizes is becoming a legend.

Here are a few people who dared to break the mold, take the hits (sometimes literally, as you’ll see), and become legends.

Making cars and supply chains cool

Tesla founder Elon Musk is the coolest guy in business, in space, and on social media. Anything he says or does can dominate a news cycle, change the course of a war, or transform an industry.

Musk is a PR machine. And he has to be, because mostly what he does is make cars – something that’s been done for 100 years. He’s made the world excited about cars, batteries, and supply chains in a way that has become the envy of the automobile world, and led Tesla to sell a million cars last year.

It is Tesla, which is really just another car company, which gave Musk the power to disrupt Twitter, the money to fund satellites which are helping Ukrainians fight Russian invaders, and the influence to dominate news cycle after news cycle.

It’s very difficult to be a legend; it’s even harder to be one when you’re disrupting the established norm. Henry Ford is a legend because he invented the manufacturing process still used today in and outside of the auto industry. Lots of car companies have flirted with electric vehicles for decades, including established companies like Ford and General Motors. And Elon Musk is blowing them all out of the water.

The world’s longest candy counter

Every year, tens of thousands of tourists flock to Northern New Hampshire to ski, hike, and watch the leaves change color.

And at some point on their trip, they’ll probably end up at Chutters, the general store which has become a destination location for candy, chocolates, and New Hampshire-themed mugs, syrup, and sweatshirts.

There’s nothing more generically small-town than the general store, which is what Chutters was in the 1800s. Its transformation from generic to legend began in 1995, when Mike and Carol Hamilton took over. They built a 112-foot candy counter, still officially the world’s longest of its kind, according to Guinness Book of World Records. Their penny candy and Jelly Bellies frequently drew my family and others from the local communities.

By the time Mike and Carol sold Chutters, it was a key part of the region’s tourist attractions. Since then, it has grown to four locations, three of which are at popular ski resorts. And while many of the restaurants and retail stores around the original location have been there longer and are doing well, there’s only one store that rings a bell when my parents, who now live four hours away, mention Northern New Hampshire.

“Oh, that’s where Chutters is!”

Mix it up: Don’t watch the paint dry

You can do a lot of cool things with paint, but selling it? That’s about as exciting as…

Well, you get the point. And so does Tony Piloseno. He’s a social media star whose sponsors pay him not to watch paint dry, but instead mix it up on-camera for tens of millions of people.

It’s hard to mix things up in an industry as old as painting. That’s what first put Tony on the media map, after Sherwin-Williams fired him for suggesting creative marketing ideas. Today, Tony runs Tonester Paints; has sponsors like T-Mobile, the Orlando Magic, and media giant YouTube; and is regularly in media outlets like CNBC, Insider, and Orlando Magazine.

Even Sherwin-Williams recognizes Tony’s value. The company started a TikTok page less than 18 months after firing him.

“Change comes slowly to established industries,” Piloseno told me. “I’m glad that Sherwin-Williams sees that social media marketing is a great way to reach the paint buyers of today and tomorrow.”

Defining martial arts

For decades, America’s view of martial arts was dominated by Bruce Lee’s lightning-quick kicks, punches, and theatrics; David Carradine’s slow-motion Kwai Chang Cain; and the jump-kick of “The Karate Kid.” Thousands of karate, Kung-Fu, Judo, and other martial arts schools opened around the country, but none of them could answer the big question: Which one was best?

In 1993, one man gave us the answer. Skinny 6’1”, 170-pound Royce Gracie entered the mixed martial arts octagon as an unknown fighter from Brazil. By evening’s end, Gracie defeated professional fighters from various disciplines and was crowned the first “Ultimate Fighting Champion.” It wasn’t a fluke; Gracie won several more tournaments over the next 13 months, fighting multiple opponents each time from diverse arts like boxing, wresting, and kickboxing – and often being outweighed by 50 or more pounds.

Gracie was undefeated. The traditional martial arts world was scratching its head. And a new legend had been born: Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.

Over the next decade, Royce and his family became the most recognizable practitioners of the most recognizable martial art in the world. By 2004, the U.S. military had incorporated Gracie Jiu-Jitsu into its training; and today, the Gracie brand includes schools, books, a video series, clothes, and other products.

Becoming a legend

Every once in a while, someone comes along and shocks the establishment with a new innovation to a tired industry. Billy Beane did it to baseball, Piloseno did it to painting, and the Gracies did it to American martial arts.

They found what everyone else was missing, and poured grease on the fire. And they are legends because of it.

This piece was originally published by Dustin Siggins at Real Clear Markets.

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