6 Priceless Lessons Learned From a Coconut Vendor in Maui

It was late July, and I was riding up the west coast of Maui on a cherry red Honda Ruckus. I had just finished snorkeling in a tiny inlet, where I hung out for an hour or so with a pair of sea turtles. I was exhausted and my mouth was horrifically dry, two common side-effects of intense snorkeling sessions.
Fortunately, I spotted a sign that read “The Coconut Caboose, Next Right.” As I approached the small, brightly covered shack, I was greeted by a Hawaiian man that looked to be in his late twenties. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would learn more about the right way to run a business from this coconut vendor than I ever had in college.
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One hour later, after consuming massive amounts of coconuts, coconut ice cream and coconut snow cones, I left on my scooter hydrated and my brain bursting with valuable business insight. Here is what I learned:
1. Stop selling, and start sharing your passion.
Coconut Bob was more passionate about coconuts than most parents are about their kids. He knew every single fact, statistic and use a coconut could provide. He ate coconuts and studied coconuts. He used them as a conditioner and body lotion, to rehydrate and as a chaser with his vodka. I mean this guy’s entire life revolved around the coconut. I didn’t feel like Bob was selling coconuts to me. I felt as though he was allowing me the privilege to share in his passion.
2. You have to be willing to grind like a maniac.
Coconut Bob’s side hustle was his coconut business. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, he worked as an arborist — his primary business. On Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday he was a coconut vendor. He told me that he woke up at 4 a.m. every morning to climb trees and forage for coconuts. That way, he could be at work by 7 a.m. This guy did not stop working. He was willing to grind like a maniac to get what he wanted, and that was to make money doing what he loved.
3. Do what you do best, even if that is only one thing.
I hate walking into businesses and being handed a list of 101 services they offer. Listen, if your business is offering more than five services and calling yourselves experts on all of them, you’re lying through your teeth. Coconut Bob kept his business model simple. He sold coconuts, and that was it. He didn’t try to get into the Hawaiian taco business. He didn’t attempt to sell seafood. He sold coconuts because that was what he did best.
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4. Location, location, location.
Coconut Bob parked his tiny air-conditioned shack next to the hottest snorkel hole on the island of Maui. He knew that when people snorkeled, they got really thirsty due to the hot sun and salt water. Sure, he could have probably set up shop in town where there are a greater number of pedestrians. But he was smart. He went where there was no competition and where there was a obvious specific need. He sold hydration to thirsty tired people.
5. Keep your costs down.
Coconut Bob sold three products — shaved coconut ice for $6, whole coconuts chopped and ready for drinking for $7 and coconut ice cream for $8. How much did he pay for each coconut? Nothing. Coconut Bob found a product that would cost him next to nothing to sell, and every time someone bought a coconut from him it was close to 100 percent profit going directly into his pocket.
6. Treat every customer like they are the most important person in the room.
I bought a snow cone from Bob, and when I finished with it, he refilled it for free. He also forced me to sample his homemade coconut ice cream, which was probably the best ice cream I have ever had. He taught me how you can use the slime from an aloe vera leaf to protect your skin against the sun — and how it wasn’t toxic like sunscreen to sea life. He asked me about my family, where I was from, what I did and what my dreams were. He cared. I wasn’t a customer, I was a friend. The next day I brought back seven people who were vacationing with me because I was so impressed with the level of service he provided.
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Businesses have this mentality that their customers are just dollar signs. They forget that money is suppose to be evenly exchanged with the value that is offered. It is really pretty simple. I hate when business leaders sit around in a pow wow and talk about ways they can increase their ROI. As a customer, I don’t care that you want to increase your revenue by 10 percent so you can buy another company jet. I will continue to give you my business if you treat me like I am the most important person in the room. Remember that — each one of your customers is the most important person in the room. Treat them as such.

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