Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dog Shows Teach A Business Lesson

I have a tremendous admiration for success, and I really admire success that is subversive; success that challenges the status quo and is achieved against overwhelming odds.

In 1994 a very good friend of mine informed me that he was going to begin showing dogs because he loved animals and he felt he would be "good" at it.  He asked me to go to a couple of dog shows and let him know what I thought.

So, I went to three dog shows with him and I, as I am accustomed to doing, just wondered around and observed.  Of course he kept hounding me about what did I think and until the third dog show I just kept my mouth shut.  Finally, after the third show I told him what I thought:  Dog Shows are a racket!  They are a very expensive hobby where winning has nothing to do with your dogs or your skills but rather everything to do with who you know, who you are, and what money you have behind you.

After a very long period of silence in a very dark van, as we were trying to reach home on a Sunday night, the little 5'4" 110 lb. Chinese guy in the car said, "I think I can do it!  I think I can change things and be successful....."  A guy that can buy his clothes at the young boys department has decided that he was going to become a subversive and take on the most entrenched power structure I had ever seen.

So off he went with his Shih Tzu where after the first year he had won a total of 1 point!  Since it takes 15 points to achieve the status of 'champion' I had to be the one to inform him that at his current rate the dog would be dead before it ever became a champion; talk about raining on someone's parade!

All he said was, "Just wait till next year," and not another word was spoken the remainder of the trip home.  

Now, I have known this young man since he arrived in the USA as a refugee and I learned very early on that you should never underestimate the guy!  When he puts his mind to something he will learn everything that he needs to know about it and then he will work at it until he is perfect; he hides his determination to succeed behind the most endearing charm and people skills I have ever seen.

Well, next year was different and within a couple of years he was winning every time he went to a show; not just in the breed ring but also in the group ring, which is where the game changes.  By 1997 he had won his first Best In Show.  You have to realize that dog shows are big business; most handlers have been in the business all their lives and they expect, if they are to campaign a dog and win big with it to be paid a minimum of $150,000 a year and then you have another $150,000 a year in advertising and expenses at a minimum.

In three years this young man had achieved what 99.9% of the people who participate in the sport of dogs all their lives can only dream of, he had one a Best In Show, and he was only warming up; he made it seem so easy and so natural!

Now, I can attest that no one worked harder than he did to win:  When he wanted to train his dogs around people he talked the Manager of the local Walmart Supercenter to let him train his dog IN THE STORE!  When he wanted to get his dogs accustomed to cars and traffic he did so by walking them along the busiest road in town.  When he was at a dog show he would wake at 2 am every morning and groom, trim, and prepare; six to eight hours worth of work for no more than 20 minutes, at best, in the ring!  Small show or big show didn't make a difference because the routine was the same.

By 2000 he had a cult following, he was the little guy that had taken on the status quo and won!  Even the elites of the sport were cheering him on! 

By this time he was campaigning the number 1 pekingese in the United States, had bred the number 1 pekingese in Japan, won the Pekingese Club of America's J.P. Morgan trophy, which is bigger than the Stanley Cup!  His Shih Tzu's were winning beating the biggest names in the sport, winning specialities and group placements!  He could claim that he campaigned the number 1 owner handled pekingese of all time and was in the top 5 of owner handled toy breeds of all time.  

He was dining with Bette White on the west coast and Lauren Bacall on the east coast.  He had a fan club in Europe and he was being invited to judge shows in Asia.

Then in 2006 at the same dog show that had been his very first dog show in 1994 he decided while in the breed ring with his Shih Tzu that he wanted to help a friend of his.  It was obvious that day that he could win Best In Show with his Shih Tzu, the judges that day were perfect and the competition just wasn't there but he decided that he wanted to help his friend when the breed and so he took her dog in and let her take his dog in for the breed.

He won with her dog and when he came out of the ring I looked at him and said, "What in the hell are you doing?"  He just looked up at me and said, "Somethings are more important than winning...."  Just the weekend before he had finished a pekingese by winning three 5 point shows in one weekend over all the top names in the sport!

He went home and never attended another dog show again.  Dogs that he was selling for $5,000 to $10,000 he turned around and gave them away for free and he has never watched a dog show on television and he has turned down every request for an interview from print and or television sources since.

The only comment he has made since is that, "...I lost sight of why I loved dogs in the first place...."  I hope I never forget this lesson.

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