How did an entrepreneur build a fortune selling products on the streets?
The protagonist of this story is Joe Ades, who was born on December 18, 1934, in Manchester, England.
Joe was the youngest of 7 children in a low-income Jewish family and his childhood was full of difficulties. He grew up in an adopted home because his parents spent all day working and did not have time to take care of him. His father worked in the textile industry and his mother was a housewife.
At the age of 14, Joe abandoned his studies and began working as a street vendor in the local street markets that sprang up in the north of England following the Second World War.
“I was intrigued. She saw several people who were selling his products: shoelaces, cough syrup, all kinds of things. They were mostly people much older than me, but very good at their game. “They were showmen.” –Joe said in an interview.
Young Joe was fascinated by comic strips, and his taste led him to be a street seller of second-hand comics. He also sold textile products, jewelry, and toys.
After two years, he had already earned enough money to make a decision that would mark his life: emigrate with his family to the United States. He, along with his parents and siblings, settled in New York City. There he would continue his work as a street vendor, selling all kinds of objects.
“The strangest thing I sold were Christmas trees in the middle of February.” –Joe said in a report for NBC in which he recounted how he dealt with the first months after his arrival on the streets of the United States .
As time went by, Joe gained experience in the world of street sales, until, suddenly, love would knock on the doors of his entrepreneurial heart.
In 1956, he married Shirley, a woman with whom he would have three children. The family moved to Sydney, Australia, in search of a nicer life, and Joe immediately began setting up markets in drive-in parking lots. His passion for street sales had no limit.
For the next 25 years, Joe and his wife lived on Australian soil, running a business selling textile products at street fairs and loading their products into the back of a haulage truck. Unfortunately, various factors affected the relationship, and decided to divorce.
Joe‘s marriage to Shirley ended in 1980. Joe subsequently remarried and divorced two more times before returning to New York.
Before separating from his third wife, she gave him a book that became his bible: “London Labor and the London Poor,” a four-volume work by Henry Mayhew.
Mayhew, a contemporary of Charles Dickens, recorded the activities of Victorian peddlers. In the book, Mayhew explored and compiled hundreds of testimonies of all kinds of street work of that time, including everything from street performers to fakers, scammers, and thieves.
“In a category all to themselves were the peddlers, whom Mayhew divides into two main groups: the charlatans, as he calls them, and everyone else.” -Joe pointed out about his favorite book.
Joe was amazed by this literary work, and it would open his eyes to continue growing in the world of street sales. Guided with new knowledge, he returned with his daughter to New York to settle specifically in Manhattan.
Finding a winning product: Potato and vegetable peelers
Starting in 1993, his date with success would begin. Joe began selling stainless steel potato and vegetable peelers for $5 each, which were made in Switzerland. His main post was located on a plot in the Union Square Greenmarket.
At first, Joe was the unnoticed guy in the corner. He looked a little crazy peeling potatoes in a polyester suit and sweating like a track star in the New York summer heat.
“I’ve sold things for a lot less than the potato peeler . People say, ‘How can you make money selling something for $5?’ “I sell a lot, that’s right. There was a guy in Trafalgar Square who sold packets of birdseed to tourists. They were little packets to feed the pigeons, and that person owned blocks of flats, as I know the story.” –Joe explained .
The “Peeling Gentleman”, as Joe was also known, wore Chester Barrie suits and Turnbull & Asser shirts and sat on a wooden stool demonstrating his peelers and offering samples of peeled potatoes to passers-by to seduce them with his product.
Their stainless steel peelers, made by a Swiss company, were so small they fit in the palm of your hand, and Joe was the only one in New York who had them.
“My product is portable, it works and I have never received a complaint.” –She stated forcefully.
According to one of his clients, Joe‘s strategy was to get attention by talking out loud to himself:
“His tone really got through, making people stop. And once he had one, he had a crowd, and once he had a crowd, he would sell peelers.” -The client reported.
Joe, a self-described ” hustler,” never bothered to get a license to work on the street. Consequently, the police often meant trouble for him. Sometimes, he hired a burly individual named Tony, whose role was to warn him when the authorities were about to arrive.
Mr. Joe liked recognition and was never rude, but privately he questioned the use of the word “salesman . ”
“I couldn’t sell real estate or cars, for example. What I like to do is show up in front of a crowd, gather a crowd and get them to give me their money.” –He explained.
Joe sold enough potato peelers, and, in October 2000, he was able to enjoy the coffee society at the Pierre Hotel on the Upper East Side, where he lived with his fourth wife, Estelle Pascoe, in their three-bedroom apartment on Park Avenue.
After his long days of work as a street vendor, Joe would gather to rest among people from high society and always drink a bottle of Veuve Cliquot brand champagne. When someone asked him what he did, he very happily raised his glass and proudly shouted: “I sell potato peelers on the street!”.
According to Ruth Ades-Laurent, Joe‘s daughter, her father managed to sell more than 10 million potato peelers during his lifetime, becoming a legend in New York, where he is still known as “the best street vendor in the city. ” It is estimated that throughout his career as a salesman, he accumulated a fortune of between $10 and 20 million dollars. Of that money, he donated much of it to various charities.
Joe Ades passed away on February 1, 2009, at the age of 74, just one day after being informed that he had been granted US citizenship.
Business lessons we can learn from Joe Ades
What lessons can we learn from this success story? Below, we share some of them:
- Follow your passions: Joe was passionate about street sales and dedicated his entire life to them, becoming the best salesman in his area. When you do what you love, it shows.
- Find a winning product: Although he could have sold products with a much wider profit margin, Joe found great success in potato peelers because he identified that it was useful, practical, and very attractive provide the importance of creativity in sales: Although Joe was not the only street vendor in his area, he did manage to stand out from all the others thanks to the fact that he was always looking for ingenious ways to attract customers’ attention and awaken in them the desire to buy their products.
- Build relationships with your clients and provide exceptional customer service: Joe was very effective at building relationships with his clients. He was always willing to listen to their needs and offer exceptional service. His story is a reminder that customer relationships are essential to success.
- The importance of image in sales. Another aspect that was undoubtedly key to Joe‘s success is that he always took care of his image to look impeccable in front of his clients. His polyester suit was part of his communication strategy; he knew that conveying elegance helped him gain the trust of potential clients. Always remember: the image sells!
Thus we conclude the fascinating story of Joe Ades, an entrepreneur passionate about sales who found the streets the perfect showcase to unleash all his ingenuity until he earned a reputation as one of the best street vendors in New York, thus becoming a reference and inspiration for all those who fervently dedicate themselves every day to the exciting world of sales.