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Victor Niederhoffer

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8/2/04
The Creative Power of Enterprise...

...is to count the number of establishments, separate business units in an area.

I find it particularly beautiful to see the basic human instinct of trade at its sharpest by visiting places such as Barcelona, Chinatown and Hong Kong. The human desire to get ahead by purveying something of benefit to another is so much in evidence at these locales. I'm always happy to come home to the USA and see the same instinct in full throttle.

I would guess that there are 15 million separate active business units in the United States, and a look through D&B statistics, census bureau data, or lists of business owners is a most edifying and uplifting exercise. Recently I have come across some wonderful businesses in my travels, and I wish to share some of them with you.

  1. A helicopter father and daughter team goes around taking pictures of homes, and then the daughter comes down with a framed picture to the owner, and asks $200 for the picture.
  2. The clam shack in Kennebunkport, Maine where a little 250-square-foot business has to sell millions of products including the best fried clams in world. Ditto the Papaya King on 86th Street in New York where they serve the best papaya, and a good frank.
  3. A toy museum on Route One in Rockport, Maine where the owner, a former professor at the University of Connecticut, likes pornographic tattoo art and assemblages of Disney art and sells them in conjunction with a 5-buck tour of his toy museum.
  4. A vegetable and fruit stand in East Haddam, Connecticut, where they leave the tomatoes and blueberries out and everyone is encouraged to pay by depositing their payments in an honor box on the highway.
  5. A violin maker in Rockford, Maine in the middle of a rural town.
  6. A cheese store in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, which uses the secure marble facade of a 2,500-square-foot bank that had been vacant for over 30 years, (and had not yet been converted to a Starbucks or Barnes and Noble) as its selling space.
  7. A dress shop called Zion in Tribeca, Manhattan, where the owner fits and designs all her products and sells a line to department stores when the discounts and returns don't become onerous.  There are tens of thousands of businesses like this: a woman, an idea, a fitting, and a mass purveyor in almost every major locality.

The impressions from all these establishments is of wide diffusion of skills, enormous variety of tastes, the urge to improve oneself with a trade, and the incredible entrepreneurial effort latent in humans.

Note from Alex Castaldo:

According to one govt estimate there are more than 7 million business establishments in the US. See http://censtats.census.gov/cbpnaic/cbpnaic.shtml and select "United States". An establishment is defined as one or more employees working at one location.

8/2/04
Tim Melvin Comments

Anytime I get too depressed by business conditions or talking head doom and gloom predictions, I like to get out and go drive the back roads to remind myself this spirit still exists....Drive Route 302 from MD over towards Dover DE.....Every house has a pick up truck with a sign it seems...well diggers, septic tank services...there's beauty salons run out of homes, knife sharpeners, swimming pool builders....any variety of independent operators offering the services that make life work and improve the quality of life offered by good people who get up, work hard to better the life of themselves and those they love....nothing fancy...just hard working entrepreneurial people...they are the reason that capitalism works and our economy grows......

8/2/04
Yishen Kuik Comments

I've noticed that the aptitude for finding business is particularly vigourous in poorer countries.

At least this has been my experience after being followed a great distance on foot by trinket sellers in Indonesia, trapped in lengthy tea drinking sessions with carpet merchants in Istanbul and standing in the cold winter in Russia as a shivering young street vendor who had been standing there the whole day was trying to sell me army surplus.

When I was a serviceman in Taiwan I had the odd experience of having a refreshment seller follow my infantry company around on our military exercise. He would find a way to get up on top of a ridgeline with his cart, down a ravine, or on a narrow mountain path and start serving up cold drinks and souvenirs whenever the company halted movement.

It suggests that the nearer one is to subsistence the more innovative and vigourous the business instinct is in the human animal.

Since pain and survival acts as a lens to focus human ingenuity and energy in business, might this be a contributive explanation among others as to why buying companies in distress and "Dogs of the Dow" trading philosophies work?

That just like individual human beings, groups of human beings working together under the legal form of a corporation become more focused on business when they are in collective pain.

8/2/04
Clive Comments

Following Victor's post from earlier this morning, Manhattan residents and future visitors to New York might be very interested to know that Jacques Torres is opening up an 8000 square foot chocolate factory in the West Village. His motivation: Willy Wonka's chocolate factory! I think it's going to be beyond impossible to worry about oil and S&P 1104 while biting into one of his pithiviers.