In 1983 I had a stroke of genius, or so I thought.
I was unhappy with my career in retail and ready for a change. One evening after a grueling day of peddling hardware I picked up one of Mrs. Chatterbox’s decorating magazines and noticed that a few of the rooms on display had reproductions of famous paintings, not prints but high caliber oil copies. I had a degree in Fine Arts and I decided to try and make a go of it as a painter. Creating copies for rich clients might be a lucrative way to start. If somebody wanted Gainsborough’s Blue Boy hanging above their fireplace and couldn’t convince the Huntington Library in San Marino to part with it, they could call me and I’d come up with the next best thing—a superbly painted copy. And if they wanted Lawrence’s famous Pinkie hanging on the opposite wall, I could paint that as well.
Before launching my business I needed to come up with a snappy name. I chose Masterstrokes which, I believed, said it all. I checked the Department of Licenses, Permits and Registrations at the State Capital to be certain nobody was already using the name, and when I learned it was available I licensed it and had business cards printed up. I bought an ad in the yellow pages, mailed out flyers to local interior decorators and waited for the calls to pour in. I had a good feeling about this venture. I couldn’t help wondering what I’d be asked to copy first, maybe a Canaletto or perhaps a Rembrandt. But things didn’t go as planned.
No art lovers or interior decorators called to offer me fat commissions to replicate old masters; the calls I received all came late at night. The first call went something like this:
Ring. Ring. Ring.
“Er…hello?” I asked, trying to shake the cobwebs from my head.
“Hi, how you doing?”
“I’m doing all right. Who is this?”
“I’m someone calling to inquire about your services.”
“Yes, this is Masterstrokes, isn’t it?”
“Yes it is.”
“Good, good; that’s why I’m calling. What do you charge?”
“Well, it depends on how big a job it is.”
“Believe me when I say I have a big job.”
“That’s wonderful. Some things are harder to do than others.”
“You’re absolutely right, and what I have in mind is really hard, exceptionally hard.”
“Great. There’s nothing I can’t do; I went to college to learn my craft and I’m not embarrassed to admit I’m very good.”
“I believe you.”
“I also offer a money-back guarantee. If you aren’t satisfied, you pay nothing.”
“You can go anywhere and get the cheap stuff.”
“That’s been my experience.”
“I deal in quality.”
“Great! You know, my wife is interested in getting in on this too. Would she be extra?”
Mrs. C. was now awake and listening in. After a few minutes she looked at me like I had “moron” embossed on my forehead. She reached over to disconnect the call.
“Masterstrokes, my ass!” she mumbled as she struggled to get back to a night of fitful sleep.
Neither of us would sleep well until the new phone book arrived without an ad for Masterstrokes.
Have you ever had a business venture, or an idea for one, that just didn't work out?