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Homeless, Not Helpless

I’ve never thought of the homeless as innovative or entrepreneurial. I suspect few do. Some might say these lost souls don’t have an enterprising bone in their bodies; if they did, they wouldn’t be homeless. I understand why people come to this conclusion; when they see homeless people, they see them sedentary – lingering in the streets, slouched on park benches, lying under blankets in alleys or crouched against buildings with cups in extended hands. They may be homeless, but are they helpless?

On the sand below the Santa Barbara Pier is the domain of a homeless entrepreneur. Within reach of your coins from above are 5 picnic blankets spread six-feet apart, each with novel merchandising themes to entice charitable currency. On the first blanket is a large empty beer mug accompanied by the sign, “Won’t Lie, Need Beer Money.” Our homeless merchant is targeting a male audience. His audience concludes that he is an honest humorist. At this point, they haven’t figured him for a good marketer.

The next exhibition is a checkered tablecloth, a candle, a vase of flowers and a beautiful place setting for one. Of course, the plate is empty, (except for a couple of quarters and dimes). The hand-drawn cardboard poster’s call to action reads, “Help Me Make Dinner.” Women threw a lot more cash into this marketing net than did men.

“Try your Luck” appealed to the gamblers. Our homeless entrepreneur offers an entertaining game of chance. He has constructed a circular target with numbered rings and a cut-out bulls-eye. The target lays flat on the blanket with an assortment of coinage scattered within the rings. Positioned next to this display is “Bet You Can’t” – three glasses suspended on a wire. People are tossing coins for two-pointers, challenging each other and keeping score; all the while, the loot adding up.

The last and final display offers the “brand” pay-off. Entertainment gives way to an appeal to the audience’s head and heart; this is his rational and emotional positioning. He’s written, “Homeless, Not Helpless.” People seem to feel good about lending a hand as they walk away with a smile. Worth 50 cents? You bet it is.

This entrepreneur must be the wealthiest panhandler in Santa Barbara. He’s making a living by practicing the 4 P’s of Marketing – Product, Price, Place and Promotion. His Product is entertainment. His Price is whatever the customer chooses to pay. As for his Place of business? Location, location, location – walk the Santa Barbara Pier and you can’t miss him. In Promotion is the power of an entrepreneurial mind to create the persuasive call to action.

The image accompanying this blog post was found on-line – in my view, a great example of creative ingenuity. If you’ll pardon the pun, I suspect we are going to see an extension of this kind of creativity amongst the homeless. Homeless or not, creativity costs nothing – it continues to be the last great bargain in any business.