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How to turn a folding chair into a $500,000 business


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"I'm pulling chairs out of the car. I have an employee comes up to me and says,'what are you doing?' I said, 'well, I'm gonna rent these chairs for a dollar to who people don't wanna stand." It was an employee, and he was older than me. And he said, "that's a dumbest idea I've ever heard." So now that chair program is three dollars a chair, and they've earned over $500,000 since we started the thing." — Mike Johnson

How did entrepreneur/writer/journalist Mike Johnson see a simple need and turn a folding chair into a $500,000 business in the middle of Cody, Wyoming?

Find out in this episode, which is Part I of II in our discussion with Mike.

More on Mike Johnson here.


[00:00:00] Curt Mercadante: Hey there. Freedom lovers. This is Curt Mercadante. Welcome to another episode of the freedom media network podcast. Now, if you have been with us for the past four and a half, five years, however long we've been doing this show, then today's guest will be no stranger, but perhaps you're a newer listener.

[00:00:17] Perhaps you just don't have a memory that goes back that long. But Mike Johnson, who we featured today, uh, interviewed him. He was one of our very first guests. And over time that interview has stood the test of time. It is the number one most downloaded interview we've had. On this show, if you wanna go back and listen to it, we'll put it in the show notes.

[00:00:38] It's, uh, I think living your life like a perpetual Saturday or how to make your life a perpetual Saturday. So we brought back Mike and, and, and Mike and I have gone back and forth. We like to, to be a member of the 5:00 AM or 4:00 AM club. I, I, I look back, we were. We were, uh, one of the few non drunks, uh, on new year's day.

[00:00:56] And you did an early post on LinkedIn and, and we were messaging back and [00:01:00] forth. And you had a post last week called the 21 club. And so I wanted to have you on to talk about that and more, uh, Mike, I, I, I don't know how to, you're an entrepreneur, a philosopher, a writer at heart, uh, a journalist. Uh, an opportunist in a good way.

[00:01:15] I know some people in our society like to think of that as a bad term. And you, and you reposted, I noticed the other day, uh, about one of my very favorite stories, which I'll ask you to, to share again. Uh, but Mike Johnson, thank you for coming on the freedom media network

[00:01:28] Mike Johnson: podcast. Thank you. You're welcome.

[00:01:30] Very good.

[00:01:32] Curt Mercadante: How do you describe yourself if people say, what do you do, Mike?

[00:01:36] Mike Johnson: I tell 'em, I'm retired and I'm just a normal guy who. Really went after what he wanted. And it turns out that some of the things that I achieved and got a lot of other people wanna achieve and get to. So I've reached a stage of life where, you know, I'm, I'm not.

[00:01:55] As rich as might, but I have enough and enough [00:02:00] is where I stopped. And so now I'm just giving back and Sharon and I get kicks of sharing the information I've learned. I just turned 65 at the end of last month. Um, I'm still happy, just sharing my stuff. So if I can help somebody get there quicker, shave a few decades off their journey, I'm, I'm all for that.

[00:02:20] And that's kind of what lights me up.

[00:02:22] Curt Mercadante: And I, and one of the things I always love is, uh, and I always think about it because it's, it's. Something I'm moving toward. Um, and so your, your face pops up into my head. When I think about this, uh, you're living rent free in my head. Mike is, is you, you always pride yourself on, and we joked earlier today about it, of not having and trying not to have anything on your schedule right now.

[00:02:46] I'd love for you to dive into that more about how you get to that point, why you like it. But also I can hear whenever I post or I ask these questions, I can hear the people. I know the comments that are [00:03:00] coming before. They're there. Well, that's, that's easy for you to do Mike. You're just privileged living there.

[00:03:06] You're a rich dude living in. Yeah. And, and so, um, can you jump into that? Moras a little. Yeah.

[00:03:14] Mike Johnson: I mean, life is what's you demand of it. It'll pay the price that you demand. And it it's really, as simple as that, there's no cookie cutter way to copy somebody, you know, a hundred percent. And Hey, if I do it exactly like this guy, because you know, everybody's got different levels of self-confidence self-worth self-esteem self-discipline um, everybody's got D.

[00:03:39] Desires different character traits, personality. So, which what I always say the fastest way to get anywhere you wanna get is to study people who have already gotten it because they know the shortcuts they've done it. It's not somebody just giving you a fairytale that might work. They know it, they know it, they did it.

[00:03:58] You can see it by their fruits. [00:04:00] You shall know them. So the idea for me was I wanted to escape the corporate world. I wanted to escape work schedules. And then I wanted to escape freelance writing. Then I wanted to escape being an entrepreneur. And then I even wanted to escape passive income. My passive income was 90 or 95% when I owned trailer parks.

[00:04:19] Now I've sold the parks to my daughter and her husbands. So now it's a hundred percent passive income for me. So, um, it's an evolution. It's a journey, but until you demand it, you're not gonna get. Yeah. So I tell people that, you know, if you don't have it and you want it, there's a journey to be taken, you know, and the faster the journey, the more you demand, it it'll go faster.

[00:04:45] The more you demand it just make it happen.

[00:04:49] Curt Mercadante: It's. And when you say, and be just because I know you and I, and I, you know, I follow your writings. There's a lot of people on LinkedIn who the words are similar, [00:05:00] demand, it, make it happen. But the way in which they're saying to go about it is much different, right?

[00:05:07] It's, it's struggle. Drive yourself into the ground, abuse yourself. And, and you also say, you know, by your fruits, you shall know them, but really know what the fruits are. Right? You have to know what you want first, because I see people saying, well, success leaves clues, but you haven't decided what success looks like.

[00:05:23] So it might be a dude with a lot of money who. Health sucks. Relationship sucks. Who's stressed. Who's about five years from death, right. But we say, I need that. And so when he says demand, it, he means don't sleep. You know, get three hours of sleep like Arnold Schwartzenegger says and all these people. Um, so how do you, how do you, I find that's a harder message.

[00:05:45] The, the hardest message to get people to adopt is one of ease. It's easy. If I tell people to go beat their head into the wall, they'll pay me for that. The hardest thing is like, relax. So how, how, where do you find the fine line between demanding making it happen, but also chilling out? [00:06:00]

[00:06:00] Mike Johnson: Well, to me, it was where my life really changed.

[00:06:03] When I look back, it was getting up an hour early and giving that first hour to me and my dream and other people have said that, but if you live it, it works. Um, You know, I used to love Saturdays was my favorite day when I was in corporate. So my mind said, well, how can I get more Saturdays? And I thought, well, just get up an hour early.

[00:06:23] And now I can put on the Saturday jeans, the Saturday moccasins, listen to the Saturday music, read the stuff I would read, do the stuff I would do. Only direct it toward my dream. And my dream then was to become a writer. So by getting up first and giving myself dessert first, You know, that made me look forward to getting up to every day.

[00:06:45] And that was an easy way to ease into getting your head right before you entered your day. And the other thing was, is in the corporate world, 24 hours can be really miserable in a long time. So if you have to put up with 24 hours of another day, you sure as [00:07:00] heck wanna advance somehow during that 20 out four hour period, or you just wasted it and you face you're just where you were.

[00:07:08] Yes. Tomorrow. I always said, eat diverse, divert dessert first. And then if you give yourself the first hour, no matter what happens the rest of the day, no matter what gets thrown at you, you've made progress first toward your dream before the whole world dumps on you after that. So that, that's my way of making it easy.

[00:07:30] Curt Mercadante: It's uh, we do a mindfulness program, a mindful month program and, and we start with five minutes in the morning. Getting up, first of all, don't sleep with your phone in your room, you know? Uh, don't check screens, go get up pee. And then sit. We just literally start, we don't start with me meditation. Sit in silence for five minutes.

[00:07:54] Now it sounds so easy. People are like, ah, I can do that for some people. [00:08:00] We're 11 days into this program, uh, the current monthly program and there's some people. Haven't done it. It's sitting and, and, and eating your dessert first. And just sitting in silence in the morning is so counterintuitive to everything we've been programmed to do, which is probably explains the state of health and consciousness in our world today.

[00:08:21] Mike Johnson: Yes, that's why I say that. Uh, I've been social distancing since 1957. And the reason is, is because society. And civilization has this energy about it. It is just frenetic and harried and hassled and stressful and move, move, move faster, faster, faster, more complexity, more complexity. So getting yourself away from the world for the first hour of the day gets you out of all of that buzz and gets you.

[00:08:59] Slow [00:09:00] down and get you back in tune with who you are inside. It's it's just kind of magic.

[00:09:07] Curt Mercadante: I, I know that waking up early and, and eating your dessert first is part of the 21 factors or, or things we're gonna talk about today, but I'd love to re because I, it, it, I put in my book, we talked about it last time.

[00:09:19] I know you just recently, re-shared it. Um, but it is it's, it's a, I've shared it with my kids. I share it with my clients. I share it with anyone who says last week, I posted about a limiting belief, which is, um, I can't remember what the original limiting belief was, but someone replied with another limiting belief and the other limiting belief was it takes money to make money.

[00:09:41] And I said, no, it takes creativity. And immediately my mind goes to this story. So the story is of course the folding chairs and the was, I think it was a wild west show, right. In, in Cody, Wyoming. Can you share that with our listeners? Because I think it is. There are so many facets of this in [00:10:00] terms of creativity, the fact that it doesn't take money to make money, the naysayers who told you, you were dumb and foolish for doing it, but the fact that you didn't have to hustle and grind.

[00:10:10] To make a good deal of cash. So if you would, I, I would love if you would share that. Sure,

[00:10:15] Mike Johnson: sure. We had a trolley tour company. It was based on the porch of the Irma hotel and Cody, Wyoming, Buffalo bill built the hotel himself a hundred years earlier. And each night, six nights a week, the hotel would put on a little skit, Western skit that always ended in a gun fight right in the street, in front of the hotel while our trolley booth was based right on the porch.

[00:10:39] Literally. So every night we saw that show and we saw what was missing. There's two questions. I always ask as an entrepreneur what's missing. How can I profitably provide that? And what was missing was adequate seating at this show it'd been going on for 50 years. You could sit on the curb, you could sit on six picnic tables, [00:11:00] or if you were the other 275 people, you stood up and it was a 40 minute deal.

[00:11:06] There were some commercials beforehand and then the show. And so it was a long time to stand. Well, a lot of times we would bring chairs out for elderly people from the hotel because we knew they couldn't hack stand in 40 minutes. So. Just looking at that. And every night, every night, it's the same problem now not being solved.

[00:11:24] So I ordered a dozen folding chairs and my idea was. It's a free show, but I'll rent chairs for a dollar to people who don't wanna stand. And so I pull out 12 chairs. It was my test case. They were $10 a piece. It was 120 investment. I'm pulling chairs outta the car. I have an employee comes up to me and says, what are you doing?

[00:11:45] I said, well, I'm gonna rent these chairs for a dollar who people don't wanna stand. It was an employee and he was older than me. And he said, that's the dumbest idea I've ever heard, right. To. So I just smiled. I get about six chairs out and a couple comes over, asks me [00:12:00] what the deal is. And I said, well, the show's free.

[00:12:02] You can sit on the curb or you can run a chair for a buck and I'll get you a front row seat. So they immediately run in two chairs. 12 chairs went in about two minutes. Didn't even have to sell 'em. People walked up to me. So I'd ordered more chairs and it took some time for him to get there about four or five days later, 48 chairs come in and I'm standing there in the middle of 48 chairs.

[00:12:24] People begging to hand me money. And the employee comes up to me and said, well, I was wrong. Clearly, this is a good idea. So I went to the hotel, told them the story. We made a. I said, I'll set up the chairs. I'll buy the chairs. I'll take the chairs down. We'll pay all the expense. And it's your show. So I'll split half the profit with you guys.

[00:12:46] And they said, great, do it. They didn't have to do anything. I had to do everything. They got free money and it solved the chair problem. So we were running 175 chairs a night for six nights a week. A hundred, 120 days a [00:13:00] summer. So it came out to about $17,500 a year. Then when we sold the trolley nine years later, uh, we talked the buyer into raising the price to $2 a chair.

[00:13:11] So that went up to 35,000 a summer. So now the chair program is $3 a chair and they've earned over $500,000 since we started the. Simple folding share, solve a problem what's missing. How can we profitably provide it? That's the story.

[00:13:29] Curt Mercadante: And, and, and, you know, a lot of people try to think of money making ideas as if it has to be tied in with their life purpose.

[00:13:37] I mean, it like, like what they're doing. And it was like a very simple idea that, I mean, once you bought the chairs and set 'em up after that, and how much time did you spend on. Right. It's just like printing money. Right?

[00:13:49] Mike Johnson: Right. We hired kids to do all the work, to sit down and tear down. We put stickers on the chair.

[00:13:54] We put post-it notes when people would reserve, we'd write their name, put it on the chair so [00:14:00] they could shop longer, eat longer and walk right up to the show a minute before it started and have a reserve seat. So the kids did most of that. And the person in the booth collected the money and sold tickets all day long.

[00:14:12] So everything was sold out before the show ever started. There was no selling shares live. It was all sold out. By the time the show started.

[00:14:22] Curt Mercadante: Even backing up from that, you know, Cody, Wyoming, Buffalo, Bo Cody. And, and when you moved there, you didn't move there to get in the trolley business. Right? Is, is that, was that another instance of you seeing the need and filling the need?

[00:14:35] Mike Johnson: Um, Cody was picked out of the whole world. We decided to live there. Um, we'd run a newspaper. It worked for everybody except us. We filed bankruptcy in 96. And then we could pick anywhere in the world to live, start over fresh. I, the day after bankruptcy, I got a freelance writing client that paid me actually a little bit more than what I was earning at seven 11.

[00:14:57] When I was running 50 stores was a corporate [00:15:00] guy. And, uh, at that point it was all freelance phone interviews. I could live anywhere. So we picked Cody, Wyoming out of the world cuz of Yellowstone, low taxes in Wyoming and beauty. And I had packed in Wyoming as a kid, and I knew I just wanted to get back there.

[00:15:17] So I moved to Cody cuz I had the freelance income and we did that for five years before we started the trolley tour and the trolley was what's missing, you know, that we had a big museum that did a great job of explaining the history inside. The museum with our artifacts, but no one was doing the history of outside in the town that Buffalo bill started.

[00:15:42] So we saw trolley tours were successful in other parts of the world. So we did a trolley tour here and it worked out real well.

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