"I find that smiles are bringing me dollars, more dollars every day."
- How to Win Friends and Influence People
Robert Waxman, 22, has read Dale Carnegie's manual for the self-made man four times and virtually worn out a copy of Napolean Hill's 1937 treatise, "Think and Grow Rich."
When he tells you about his recent metamorphosis into "Waxman Productions," promoters of "One of the World's Largest Flea Markets and Merchandise Shows," the eyes in his dark, handsome face light up like the digits on a pocket calculator.
Of course, Waxman hasn't quite made it yet. The first of his projected eight flea markets will be held August 19. He has rented grounds adjacent to the RFK Stadium for Saturday and near Rosecroft Raceway for Sunday, acid booths to over 100 vendors of bargain-priced new and used goods, distributed hand bills and advertised widely in newspapers. But there is no assurance that the public will turn out.
After all, no one has ever put on a large merchandise show in this city before. And Waxman, for all his self-promotion, is essentially a novice in the business of big promotions.
In this case, however, it is worth recalling Napolean Hill's observation that ". . . too many of those who begin at the bottom never manage to lift their heads high enough to be seen by opportunity, so they remain at the bottom."
It all began last December when Waxman was visiting his family in Oceanside, N.Y., on vacation from his job with a Virginia hospital supplies firm. "I was thinking about going off to embalming school. My dad does pretty well with his funeral home - there are certain monetary rewards in the business. Then one day I was leafing through the paper, and I noticed there were big blocks of ads for flea markets. I thought, if it can work in New York, why not in Washington.
"Everyone thought I was out of my mind - my family wasn't about to give me the money to start." But, as Waxman puts it, "I had this nice thing." When he was 12, Waxman broke his leg in a fall in a vacant lot. "Basically it was my fault. But my father - he's a real shrewdie - sued the owner and we got $7,500. "He calls the sum, which has since grown to $10,000, "my leg money." He had capital.
But he had no experience. To get some, Waxman approached a New York firm, one of the largest promoters of flea markets in the area, and presented himself as junior member in a firm of fellow-promoters. He told them he had two major facilities lined up "somewhere in Virginia."
"The angle I took was that I was looking for investors . . . I went in with 25 questions written down on my little pad - about getting merchandise, how much space to give vendors, gimmicks to get people to come out . . . Well, you take an interest in people and their ideas, and they talk for two hours. They were so proud of what they'd done - they told me everything," Waxman grins.
Waxman's next move was to scout 20 flea markets in the Northeast, compiling a list of possible merchandisers.A few times, rival promoters spotted his game and showed him the door. But he managed to gather some 500 names, about 40 of whom answered letters of solicitation.
The next step was the most preciptious. With nothing but a head full of plans and an inspired smile, Waxman needed a big-name facility.
A location, that is, that would draw customers in a city unacquainted with big merchandise shows - and would establish the name of Waxman Productions in its (his) dealings with concessionaires, insurance firms, and other businesses. A location, for instance like a major metropolitan sports stadium. Well, thought Waxman, why not?
After all, his instincts had worked before. When he was a student at American University, Waxman earned $300 a week selling hot bagels door-to-door in dormitories on Sunday mornings. He'd stopped at a bagel emporium near the campus one day and been impressed by the variety of bagels sold there. "There was rye, sesame, egg, onion - I thought, this is great! If I could offer this to students in their rooms . . . I took their orders - and their money - every Tuesday. And on Sunday, they were waiting all right. They were standing there with their plates."
Why not RFK Stadium, indeed?
So Waxman approached the management of RFK Stadium and Rosecroft Raceway, who, it turned out, had been looking for ways to use their facilities between sporting events. Wearing its best business suit, Waxman Productions haggled over rights to parking fees and concessions, and a bargain was struck.
(When Waxman discusses his venture, it is "we" who are spending more than other flea market on publicity, "we" who are offering Washington "something unique, something different," and, if it rains on Saturday, "we" who "will be dead.")
Waxman Productions, which operates out of his basement apartment, is essentially a one-man operation. But to deal with business questions too subtle for even a wily beginner, Waxman takes advice from two young professionals - a lawyer and a financial consultant. They work mainly without pay, on the understanding that if Waxman succeeds, they will share in his success, both in fees and in future patronage.
The lawyer, whom Waxman offered a "creative outlet" for her skills, was impressed "that with one idea someone his age got in to see the directors of these large orgainzations . . . he always gets in to see the big guy - that tells me something. He's got a nice, engaging manner, and he believes he has a good idea." And, she says, "He likes my advice."
Waxman's financial adviser also likes the way he uses his resources. "He's got chutzpah - he eats, sleeps and drinks the business . . . He's got together the right organization. And he's listening to the advice."
But Waxman's main source of advice remain Carnegie and Hill - the philosophers of success. "Carnegie is the Bible," he says."These people show you the key - they've done the work for me." (Waxman studied business and communications in college, but believe that other things are more important. "It's the charm - you get around people . . . I'm not a negotiator. I'm a sweet-talker.")
The Carnegies, says Waxman, "give examples of people who started with nothing and who succeeded through sheer human conviction." It is Waxman's conviction that in offering Washington a low-priced selection of brica-brac, handicrafts, remaindered sports shirts and costume jewelry, he is "giving the people something they really want . . . They'll come for the variety, especially on Sunday when the stores are closed. And its all cheap - really cheap!"
Looking ahead, Waxman sees an expanding repertoire of promotions - "maybe convention-type shows, coins and stamps, maybe small concerts." And he counts on this first bold venture to help establish "the good name of Waxman Productions." His family remains doubtful. "They think I'm crazy back in New York," he says.
But, looking ahead, Waxman sees visions of shiny Mercedes and expensive suits. Telling the story of his recent advances. Waxman is unceasingly gleeful. He wants to share with you the sheer wonder of his precicious success, because he is himself astonished, truly surprised and delighted. "This is it. I've got it - I can feel it. It'gonna happen."