by Lyle R. Hill
He rarely talked, and even when he did, it was very difficult
to understand his fractured English spoken through a thick Italian accent.
In the summer, he made wine in his basement but his favorite pastime,
weather permitting, was to sit on his front porch smoking an oversized,
hand-carved pipe while he watched the neighborhood kids play ball.
To most of the kids in our ethnically and racially diverse neighborhood
back in 1959, he was simply “Old Man Vitucchi.” But to me he was much
more. In spite of the fact that I was only 12 and he was well into his
70s, Mr. Vitucchi was my friend.
On hot summer days, Mr. Vitucchi and his wife usually would wave me over
to their front porch where he would expound upon the virtues of living
in America while his wife served the best lemonade to be found anywhere.
Most of the time I didn’t understand what he was saying because the Vitucchis
had only been living in the States for a little more than ten years and
had developed their own version of the English language.
He also was a customer of mine. He was far and away the best tipper on
my newspaper route. And I shoveled his snow in the winter and cut his
lawn in the summer.
On one particularly hot June day, Mr. Vitucchi put his arm around me and
told me he had a surprise for me. We walked to his garage, opened the
overhead door and there, right in the middle of the floor, was the most
magnificent-looking example of American engineering and technology that
a 12-year-old could ever imagine.
“Whatta you tink, kid?” he asked.
“It’s beautiful,” I said. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”
“It’sa for you to use. You gotta read da little book first, but then sh’s
ready to go. And you know what, kid?” he continued. “You now got da only
powder motor in da neighborhood.”
“I think you mean power mower, Mr. Vitucchi.”
“Whatever … now you can do a better cut in half da time,” he said, obviously
very proud of himself and his new machine.
As I stared down at the mower, my mind filled with ideas. For one, I had
about nine regular lawn care customers and each one was worth a dollar
per cutting. I was accustomed to cutting lawns by hand with an old steel
reel push mower that was slow and tiresome. With this baby, I could cut
faster and, therefore, add additional customers.
“Listen, kid,” Mr. Vitucchi continued, snapping me out of my daydreaming.
“Here’s da deal. You can use it all you want, but, in exchange you cutta
mine free and put in your own vasoline.
“I think you mean gasoline, Mr. Vitucchi,” I said.
“Whatever … we gotta a deal or not?” he asked.
“Of course,” I quickly answered.
Within minutes, I’d mastered the art of starting, stopping and operating
the nifty little machine. I then proceeded to cut Mr. Vitucchi’s front
and back yards in about half the time it would have taken with the push
After I finished, my old friend waved me up to the front porch for a lemonade.
“Kid,” he said. “It looks great and with da bagger thing, you don’t even
gotta shake da yard when you’re done.”
“I think you mean rake the yard, Mr. Vitucchi.”
“Whatever … I thinka we gotta somethin’ here,” he replied.
I was now on my way to fame and fortune. But I quickly found out that
in order to entice new customers away from my chief competitor, a 13-year-old
named Norton, I had to drop my price to 75 cents per cutting. Naturally,
it didn’t take long for my customers to find out about the price cut and
they too demanded the reduced price. After only three weeks, I realized
what a mess I was in. Originally, I had nine customers and made $9.00
per week. Now that I was doing 14 jobs a week at 75 cents each (except
Mr. Vitucchi’s free one) and after paying $1.10 for my own vasoline …
I mean gasoline, I only had $8.65 to show for my efforts. I was actually
doing more and making less.
Tired and feeling like a complete failure, I approached Mr. Vitucchi and
told him of my dilemma.
“Kid,” he began, “you’re a knuckle-head. The new machine does a nicer
job than da old kind, so you shoulda raised your price. An why you wanna
be a big salami and take Norton’s customers from him? You looking at da
wrong ting … you gotta say how much money you gotta in your pocket at
the end of the week … not how many yards you cut.”
He was right. I had focused on the sale, not on profitability. “Kid,”
he went on, “I tella you somethin’ else too … You never gonna make it
in the glass business.”
“I think you mean grass business, Mr. Vitucchi.”
Lyle R. Hill is the managing director of Keytech
North America, a company providing research and technical services for
the glass and metal industry. Hill has more than 40 years experience in
the glass and metal industry and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read his blog on Wednesdays at lyleblog.usglassmag.com.
You can order his new book, “The Broken Tomato” at amazon.com.
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No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.