Everybody Eats Hot Dogs

I went to law school with a guy named Victor.  Victor had arrived at school in a private railroad car with his father’s valet to move him into the dorm.  It was a little much for my white bread Midwestern classmates who thought maybe Victor was crazy, which he was not.  He was just very rich.  

I learned a great deal from Victor about business survival.  You wouldn’t think that a rich kid would know about survival, but Victor did.  

Victor’s grandfather had been one of the men to finance the DeBeers Diamond Company and Cecil Rhodes in South Africa and Rhodesia.   Though the grandfather had already been very rich, this investment sealed the fortunes of the family.  His grandfather became even richer and built a 100 room house in Haifa, then Palestine, overlooking the Mediterranean.  Later Victor’s Hungarian mother inherited care of the house after her mother-in-law died.  Her duty required her to walk around with a massive ring of keys.  Victor said that the happiest day of her life was when that house burned down.  

Victor’s father was English, and before the war they were living in Alexandria, Egypt, where Victor was born.  His father was manufacturing the world’s first plastic.  Victor’s first language was Arabic, learned from his nurse.  Much later, after the winds of war had blown out of the world, Victor’s father, Nathan, decided for tax reasons to move to Canada.  The grandfather advised Nathan “When you go to America, make hotdogs.  In America everybody eats hot dogs.”

Victor told me this story more than fifty years ago.  Being me, I tested the idea. As I looked around me, the hot dog theory was true.  Products that were cheap and useful sold easily, like hot dogs.  My dad sold the hot dog version of oil products.  Everyone used oil products which weren’t expensive.  (At the time, gas was 25 cents a gallon.)  Moheiser’s, our local department store, sold the hot dog version of clothing.  The A & P grocery not only sold hot dogs, but the hot dog class of groceries.  In those days, we still ate food, not cuisine.

But I was a tax lawyer.  How to apply the hot dog theory to tax law?  What did people need that was in demand, and didn’t cost a lot?  Tax returns.  I was already a tax lawyer, so I made myself into everybody’s tax lawyer.  I sent out direct mail letters to everyone within walking distance of my NYC office – 60,000 people.  Not only did I have a talent for tax law, and a curiosity about people, but my use of tax law marketing fit the hot dog theory like a bun.    

Over the years my practice changed.  At first I had very few big ticket clients.  Now I have several, but I still have about 300 hot dogs as clients.  

It takes a lot of skill and energy to maintain good service to so many people, but if a client dies, moves away, or changes to Turbo Tax, it is only a rainy afternoon.  There are always hot dogs who need help.  (And the Turbo Tax hot dog will be back next year.)    

Not everyone has a skill set suitable for hot dogs.  I have one client who does the concrete contracting for high rises, building the foundation and the concrete superstructure upon which the walls of the high rise will be hung.  Yes, he can pour a sidewalk, but that is not what he does and it would be silly and unprofitable to go after that business.  Some people only sell flawless diamonds, but it might be right for you to consider whether or not there is a line of hot dogs to incorporate into your goods or services which may provide steady, on-going income, though maybe not a lot from a single source.  

It’s there for your consideration:  Everybody eats hot dogs.