Storytelling at Work
July 09, 2020
Barney and the Gatekeepers


My father, a pharmacist by profession, retired to Florida at the age of 55. His retirement lasted three weeks. After a lifetime's worth of waking up each morning with a PURPOSE, now he had none. Golf didn't count. Nor did watering his lawn or reading People Magazine. In fact, nothing counted.

Without having something to DO that had meaning for him, my father was very much lost at sea. And so, he decided, one fine air-conditioned day, to begin importing exotic foreign cars. The business model was a simple one. Buy low. Sell high.

As his only son, I was impressed. Mercedes were not only way cooler than nose drops, there was a much bigger profit margin. Plus, who knows, it was always possible that one of them might trickle down to me one day.

My dad's foreign car venture lasted six months.

Now 56 and, again, unemployed, he decided to take a left turn and open an art gallery with my mother -- a move that shocked the entire family. It wasn't fine art they were selling, mind you. It was decorative art -- the kind that newly retired people were in search of to match their living room couch. Like maybe something in green.

That venture lasted two years.

Barney and the kids.jpg

Now, closing in on 60, with two false starts under his belt and a shrinking nest egg, my father decided it was time to get his real estate license. After all, he reasoned, the building boom was huge in Florida and somebody had to sell all those houses -- right -- so why not him?

Getting his real estate license was easy. He studied. He took the test. He passed. Getting customers? Not so easy.

With tons of other real estate agents to compete with, he needed a creative way to differentiate himself from the competition. Newspaper ads were out. Too expensive. TV commercials were out. Also too expensive. And so, in honor of Willie Sutton -- the bank robber who once replied "That's where the money is" when asked why he robbed banks, my father launched his West Palm Beach "gatekeeper campaign."

Here's how it worked: Armed with nothing but his electric yellow business cards, he "made the rounds" to the guard houses of the most popular gated communities in the area. After the requisite amount of schmoozing, he introduced himself as "Barney the Real Estate Agent", handed a stack of his cards to each gatekeeper and declared, "If you ever meet anyone looking to buy a house, give them my card. For each person you refer that buys a house from me, I will give you $100."

Once month, after that, my father would make the rounds again, bringing each security guard a fresh supply of business cards and a hot pizza. Soon, he had a "sales force" of 25 armed security guards representing him -- a uniformed crew of highly knowledgeable locals perfectly positioned to introduce him to hundreds of the house-buying public.

Two years later, my father was making more money as a retiree than he ever made in his prime. He worked until he was 89.

FAST FORWARD: I am now the age my father was 17 years into his retirement. Like him, I find great meaning in work. Like him, I have gone through my own rites of passage. And like him, I cannot afford to hire a sales force to get the word out about the services I provide. Which is why I have, in honor of the man who brought me into the world, just launched my own version of my father's gatekeeper campaign in my efforts to represent the portrait painting services of my wife, Evelyne Pouget. Maybe it will work and maybe it won't, but I just love the feeling of reprising my dad's idea and tweaking it for the times.

This is just one more reason why stories are such powerful agents of communication. First, the story I just told you, above, is how I remember my father's experience. Secondly, the story helps me reflect on its meaning and apply it to my own life. And third, it's how I share the wisdom of it with you.

Who knows? Maybe my father's experience, so many years ago, communicated via STORY to you now, will be enough to get your own wheels turning, as you figure out a newer, cooler, simpler way to get the word out about the service you provide in the world.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: What "unusual suspects" in your life, might make for good referral agents -- people who can help you get the word out about what you do and, somehow, be compensated for their efforts?

Evelyne's Pet Portraits
Evelyne's horse portraits
Evelyne's people portraits

NOTE: If YOU want more information on what my Barney-inspired "gatekeeper campaign" (in service to Evelyne's art) looks like and how you can make a 10% commission for your efforts, email me with the words "Barney's Gatekeeper Campaign" in the subject line.

Inspiring quotes on possibility
ONE LIT CANDLE: Stuart Hoffman and Jennifer Edward's new anthem

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at July 9, 2020 02:05 PM

Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember me?


Storytelling at Work is a blog about the power of personal storytelling – why it matters and what you can do to more effectively communicate your stories – on or off the job. Inspired by the book of the same name, the blog features "moment of truth" stories by the author, Mitch Ditkoff, plus inspired rants, quotes, and guest submissions by readers.

Order the book:

Storytelling for the Revolution
Storytelling for the Revolution is Mitch Ditkoff's newly published book about the power of personal storytelling to elevate the conversation on planet Earth. Provocative. Evocative. And fun. YOU have stories to tell. This book will help you tell them.
Storytelling at Work
"The world is not made of atoms," wrote the poet, Muriel Rukeyser. "It's made of stories." Learn how to discover, honor, and unpack the stories of yours that show up "on the job" in Mitch Ditkoff's award-winning 2015 book, Storytelling at Work.
Do you want to know more about the book before buying it? Click here for Mitch's response to frequently asked questions about Storytelling at Work – the perfect book for people who think they have no time to read.
The Workshop
Storytelling is an "unconscious competency" – an ability we all have that all too often remains inaccessible to us. Enter the Storytelling at Work workshop – a simple way to activate this powerful, innate skill.
Wisdom Circles
Want to establish a culture of storytelling in your organization or community? Looking for a simple way to help people to share their meaningful, memorable stories with each other? Here's how.
Podcasts & Videos
Click here to view and listen to a series of interviews with the author of this blog. Go beyond the written word. Listen. Feel. Elevate the conversation. Understand what the big deal is about personal storytelling.
Blogs 'R Us
If you like this blog, you might also like Mitch's other two blogs: The Heart of Innovation and The Heart of the Matter. Mitch is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.
Idea Champions
When Mitch isn't writing, he's captaining the good ship Idea Champions, a leading edge innovation consulting and training company based in Woodstock, NY. What their clients say.