by The Macleod

I have a very weak grasp of the workings of the Canadian economy. My mind is simply ill equipped to understand the finer points of the TSE, financial planning, mortgages, any of it. Numbers scare me; I prefer to remain a literary man. Letters instead of digits, sentences instead of equations. The business world is some kind of mystical abstraction to me, the comprehension of which is beyond my numerically retarded mind. I’d have an easier time believing in witchcraft or unicorns or an ever lasting J.Lo marriage than I would in understanding how our economy works and is regulated. This commercial ineptitude would go a long way in explaining why my own stab at an entrepreneurial venture collapsed like a house of cards in a hurricane. It was 1983. I was four years old. I sold pinecones door to door for a nickel a piece.

It sounds like a straightforward business plan: pick up the pinecones, shake off the dirt and any of a variety of different rodent turds they may have gathered while sitting on the ground, stick’em in a bowl and hit the pavement to peddle my wares. I thought it would be an immediate success. Pinecones are fascinating things, mysterious both in origin and purpose, so who wouldn’t want one? I envisioned people using them in some kind of dining table centerpiece, maybe gluing them around a picture frame to spruce up the living room, or as a garnish in a nice Sunday dinner (I had watched my baby brother eat some dead flies he found in our garden earlier in the week and naively assumed that if that constituted food then pinecones were nothing short of culinary dynamite – I should’ve done more product testing.) The price was right as well. How can you argue with five cents for a pinecone? Show me someone selling them cheaper and I’ll show you a business that’s guaranteed to fail. My overhead was low since my only real expense was the bowl, and I stole that from the kitchen sink. Also, I’d somehow managed to skirt any and all taxes and start-up costs from Revenue Canada in regards to small business. I was on my way.

And so, with my best jogging pants and my Wildcats sneakers on I was dressed for success. I hit the neighbourhood streets with nothing more than a bowlful of pinecones and a pocketful of dreams. I would be the next great Canadian success story. I could already see it in my memoirs: plucky young Calgarian pulls himself up from the mean streets of the Northeast to become the richest and most powerful pinecone magnate on earth. I would corner the market and exterminate the competition on my way to global pinecone hegemony. The business would be called PineCo. I had a dream and nothing was going to stand in my way.

A half hour after the big launch PineCo was finished. My hopes and dreams lay battered in a bowl of unsold pinecones. I had made it about four houses down from my own when I called together an emergency meeting of my board of directors (which consisted of me, my little sister, and my pet hamster.) It was a labour of love and was tough to call it quits, but we all had other projects to pursue. I was going back to school to upgrade (back then you had to have at least your kindergarten to get a decent job), my sister had a nap to take, and my hamster had to eat her own children. Like Crystal Pepsi and New Coke, PineCo went the way of the grand commercial graveyard.

Why did I fail? Inferior products? Couldn’t have been that. I only chose the choice pinecones in my backyard. Was I targeting the wrong demographic? In retrospect I see that I should have gone after that target 18-24 group. Those kids have money to burn, unlike the audience I had targeted, the bonbon-eating-housewife-without-a-sense-of-humour demographic. No, in the end it was my own failings as an entrepreneur that doomed PineCo. In an unwise move I had put all my cones in one basket (or bowl in this particular case.) I gambled big and lost. I’m a little older now, a little wiser, a little more jaded. I can look back on my one and only foray into the world of Canadian business and say to myself, “I gave it my best shot.” And although I accept my shortcomings as a businessman I’ll always think that the world simply wasn’t ready for PineCo. Maybe my sons or my grandsons will some day resurrect the legacy that never was and build it into something that would make me proud. Until then I’ll spread my message: you can find dreams and business opportunities in the smallest of places, even in dead pinecones sprinkled with cat urine.

  • Business
  • by The Macleod
  • Published on May 1st, 2003

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