The Parable of Caviar
John is a grocery store owner in a very small town in Maine. On the occasion of their 20th wedding anniversary, he went with Linda, his wife, to New York City for a few days. During his stay there, he went to see a major food supplier who introduced him to caviar, the most expensive food he had. Excited at the idea, John immediately placed the minimum order of 10 medium-sized jars of beluga, the highest quality for a total of $2000. When his wife learned of his purchase, she berated him for it, noting that there was very little chance anybody in their small town would pay $200 for one lousy jar of fish roe.
Actually, he replied, they will have to pay $400 because $200 is my cost, and the retail price is double that. But don’t worry, he said, you know how I send gifts at the end of each year to my top customers: there are 5 of them that will probably enjoy such an exclusive, classy and expensive gift. Plus I am dying to try this thing, so instead of taking you to an expensive New York restaurant and eat it, we can have one jar at home for a quarter of the price.
With that, Linda was convinced and a few days later, they were back in Maine and they received the shipment. Soon after, they dispatched 5 jars to their top 5 customers:
- 2 customers were very pleased as they had had it before and really appreciated the gift.
- 2 customers knew how expensive the gift was but let it be known that they would have preferred the usual basket of jams and maple syrup.
- The remaining customer had never heard of caviar, tried it, didn’t like it and fed it to his cat. When he found out how expensive it was, he became very upset and John had to offer him the usual basket of jams and maple syrup to appease him.
John and Linda took one jar home, and had it with expensive champagne. While they liked it, they both agreed it was an acquired taste that they could live without.
A few days later, John’s neighbor, Joe, came by and wanted to buy a jar as he couldn’t bear the thought of being one of the few people in the neighborhood who hadn’t tasted the stuff. But he wouldn’t pay full price for it, so he and John settled for $300.
After that, the remaining 3 jars stayed on the refrigerated shelf for what seemed like an eternity, until Linda noticed that their expiration date was near and told John that he had better sell them or they would become worthless.
After making calls to all his customers, John was able to sell one jar for $200 to the richest man in the village and another for $100 to a young web designer. One jar remained, and he was waiting for the expiry date to take it home and eat it.
A day before expiry, a British man on vacation in the nearby inn came by, looking for directions: he wanted to know if there was a gourmet store within 100 miles as he had just gotten a juicy job contract and just learned that his wife, who was with him, was pregnant with their first child. No gourmet store within 500 miles, replied John, but we do sell caviar here.
- No kidding, said the Brit, I can’t believe my luck. Must be something in the stars.
- Of course you’re lucky, said John; I have just one remaining jar. Give it to your inn keeper and he will prepare a full Maine gourmet meal around it.
- I’ll take it, and give me some of your best cold cuts and cheeses. I am sure the innkeeper won’t mind it if I bring all those ingredients.
- Its $500 for the caviar and my wife will show you the other stuff. Congratulations for the baby and the job!
After the Englishman was gone, John called his wife and wondered:
- Can’t believe this caviar. Some people would pay $500 for a small jar, others would not have it even for free.
- I guess it is a special food that doesn’t appeal to many people. You have to be sophisticated and have a taste for it.
My primary purpose in telling you this story is not teaching you marketing. It is to tell you that a part of each one of us is caviar. While being able to blend in with the crowd is useful, our primary purpose is to discover the caviar in us and make sure, professionally or personally, that it reaches the people who will understand it, appreciate it and, most importantly, need it.