““Business is a good game – lots of competition and a minimum of rules. You keep score with money.”” -Nolan Bushnell (Atari founder)

I wish you could know my friend BM. He might inspire you. He certainly inspires me.

I’m sure you would like him. He’s very nice, very self-effacing. If you met him in a bar, you’d never guess he was so successful. And it’s not just his millions. He has a great life. Everybody everywhere seems to know and like him. He can’t pay for a drink at any of the local bars. And he has success with romance as well. His fiance is better looking than Cindy Crawford and as sweet as Shirley Temple.

It all comes from the way he’s structured his life. And that’s what I want to tell you about today.

BM loves what he does. He loves his business, his home, his cars, and virtually everyone he meets. His first response to everything and everybody is positive.

Some might say that’s his nature, but I know BM better. He has as many doubts and worries as the rest of us. And he’s certainly had as many challenges. He grew up with a big family in a small house on a very mean street in Manchester, England. When he was in his early teens, he saw his little brother die in an accident with a street trolley. Then it got worse.

But he had one thing going for him. He was taught by his father that it is impolite to feel sorry for yourself. And he took that message to heart. You will never hear BM complain about the difficulties in his life. He’d much rather find something to laugh about.

There’s another thing about BM. He thinks work is fun. And he shows that by working all the time and making it seem like fun to those around him. This quality has fueled his business.

Add to that two solid business instincts. He likes to sell what people like to buy. And he likes to undersell his competitors.

I first met BM about 15 years ago. He had just come to America and opened up a little furniture store on a side street in Boca Raton, Florida. I had been looking to buy an antique-looking pine chest. I had shopped around but couldn’t find one in my price range. BM had one –at half the price I’d seen it for elsewhere.

“How can you afford to sell it so cheaply?” I asked him.

“I’ve got my tricks,” he said, smiling.

I got the chest home, and it didn’t fit. I called him up, wondering if I was going to get a hard time. Not only was he happy to take it back, he said he’d send someone by the next day so I wouldn’t have to go to the trouble of hauling it back to his shop.

Needless to say, I have been buying furniture from him ever since.

I did eventually discover how he was able to sell his furniture so cheaply. He has relatives and friends in England who are in the business of taking old wood and manufacturing it to look like antique furniture.

BM was the first furniture salesman in Florida to recognize the beginning of what turned out to be a huge trend in country-pine furniture. He not only foresaw the rising demand, but also figured out a way to underpice his competition. Ten years later, he was the leader in an industry of a hundred knock-offs. His business had grown quickly because he sold into a growing trend with advantageous pricing (the one-two punch for entrepreneurial growth that we talked about in Message #106).

In recent years, he’s been able to successfully introduce several high-end lines of furniture, including real antiques that happily I (and some of his other earlier customers) can now afford. But his main business is still selling popular knock-offs at greatly reduced prices. He does it honestly and with good humor, and his customers appreciate it. He doesn’t have the snob appeal that some higher-priced retailers might enjoy, but he has something better – hundreds of very loyal and increasingly wealthy customers.

It’s a powerful combination for success. Be positive. Work hard. Give great customer service. And sell at a big discount products/services that people want.

Just the other day, BM told me he was going to open up a new operation at High Point in North Carolina. (It’s the site of one of America’s biggest wholesale furniture exhibitions.) For years, he had gone there simply to buy. But the market has become so strong that he couldn’t resist putting in his own store. The only problem? The competition is severe. There are dozens of operators selling the same stuff he’s selling, and they have been there for years.

“So what are you going to do to distinguish yourself?” I asked. “Are you going to specialize in some way?”

“I’m going to sell all the popular stuff,” he said.

“And that’s all?”

“Of course, I’ll sell it cheaper.”

His plan is to mark up his product by 60% – a very narrow margin for this type of business. Most of his competitors have 250% to 300% mark ups.

“How do your competitors up there feel about it?” I wanted to know.

“Oh, I don’t think they’re thrilled,” he said. “But they’ll live with it. They seem to like me.”