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The Land of Opportunity
I spend a lot of my time writing and talking about opportunity because it is so important to a person’s success.
What is opportunity?
One workable definition of opportunity is “a condition that will allow success to occur.” Is this the only definition? No, but it works for our purposes. For example, what do many people—especially immigrants--call America? That’s right; they call it “the land of opportunity.”
“Conditions that will allow success to occur”
Because this country provides people, no matter where they’re from, no matter how recent they’ve arrived, the “conditions that will allow success to occur.” It’s no wonder that there are so many immigrant success stories; they know opportunity when they see it. This is usually because they’ve come from a place that didn’t provide conditions that will allow success to occur.
Now granted, some people get more opportunity starting out than others—some are born from privilege, with a silver spoon in their mouths, so to speak. But even then, some of these people fall from those positions because they don’t take advantage of them, or allow negative aspects of their personalities get the better of them, or for many other reasons. I bring this up because we all have negative aspects in our personalities of one kind or another, which can prevent us from seeing the many opportunities that are before us.
So, when people ask me where I see opportunity, I just ask them the same question….”Where do you see opportunity?”
You see, the first thing you have to do is see something before you can act on it. And that usually means making a conscious effort not to buy into what the media is telling you about how there are no jobs and no opportunity; that, after all, is their job. Your job is to open your eyes and see what opportunities exist around you.
Now, I can probably guess what some of you are thinking: What does George Ross know about seeing business opportunities? He’s a real estate guy.” Fair enough. But what you don’t know is that I have started several businesses in my career, and each came from seeing an opportunity that was right in front of me. In other words, I was looking for an opportunity and several were always available.
So, what kind of opportunities did I see, and more importantly, what did I do about them?
The “Art” of Opportunity
Well, one such opportunity was a surface company that I started. It came out of a simple idea. Some people I knew were in the business of sculptures out of plastic that looked like stone; granite, to be exact. I saw one of these sculptures that I thought was granite, touched it, and was amazed that it was only plastic. I said, “Wait a minute, this stuff looks so much like granite, why don’t we make it into a solid surface?”
Well, there was my opportunity. We made a solid counter top surface that looked great, but it cost $2,000 per square foot. Well, there was no market for $2,000 per square foot faux granite surfaces. So I had to re-think the situation. What did I do?
I worked with the factory to see how we could get the production costs down to a competitive level. Not the cheapest, but the most competitive. There’s a difference. The opportunity that I had identified was to introduce into the home building market a hard, durable counter top surface that looked like granite—or any other stone you wanted it to look like. The big player in that market niche was a very established company called Corian. They dominated the counter top surface market, and it came in any color you wanted, as long as it was white.
I knew that my product—called Avonite—could not compete on price with Corian, but I also knew that I had a superior product in terms of being able to make it any color or stone pattern you wanted. Now in the meantime, of course, a manufacturing process had been developed, which I patented, and I and my partner took space in builder trade shows and we were very successful. Builders immediately saw the advantages in making kitchens look much more expensive yet without the expense of real granite.
And then, a very large company called Aristech Chemicals contacted us—yes, they saw opportunity—and made us an offer. They agreed to buy 50% of the company and finance a factory. Well, sales went very well. We were selling $5 million a year and making a profit of about $2.5 million. Then, Mitsubishi bought Aristech Chemicals, and Mitsubishi didn’t care much about the company—it was too small for them to worry about.
Well, I didn’t want to run the company, they didn’t either, so we hired a CEO and he ran the company. I figured that he would run it into bankruptcy and then I would pick it up at a good price, but to my surprise, the company continued to do well! It did so well that Mitsubishi wanted total control of the company. I said “great, here’s what it will cost you for me to get lost.” And they paid me what I asked, which was several million dollars.
All of that from a little faux granite plastic sculpture!
And the funny thing is, after they bought me out, an Italian company figured out how to slice granite in slabs, and that really hurt the market for Avonite.
I want you to know this story because it shows the importance of keeping an open mind, which allows you to see opportunity. You see, not only is America the land of opportunity, but more importantly, like the newly arrived immigrants, it is your state of mind that allows opportunity to be seen.
All the best,