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The Brilliant Business Ideas You Can Learn From a 1950s Sitcom

Beaver Cleaver’s ability to spot an immediate business opportunity can serve as a blueprint for any entrepreneur.

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BY Steve Cody - 15 May 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Leave it to Beaver, the iconic 1950s and early '60s sitcom, was canceled just before I was old enough to watch it. But, thanks to cable, I've seen (and loved) every episode of the brilliantly-written show.

But, as The Beav would say, "I will stop giving you the business" and pass along six ideas from an episode entitled "Water Anyone?"

Here's a synopsis of the plot and Beaver's brilliant, entrepreneurial ability to quickly recognize and capitalize on an immediate opportunity:

The Beav's older brother, Wally, and his buds want to start their own baseball team and wear their own uniforms. But uniforms cost money and, when Wally asks his dad to underwrite the endeavor, he's told to work for it.

The other dads follow suit and, soon, every one of Wally's buddies are breaking their backs doing yard work on the hottest day of the year.

Not allowed to participate because of his tender age, Beav goes for a walk and runs into water supply engineers. They tell him the main water line has been damaged and all water to Mayfield will be turned off in the next 30 minutes.

The budding entrepreneur immediately recognizes an ingenious way to make money. He runs home, grabs 15 or 20 buckets and fills them to the rim with water from the garden hose. The last drop comes out just as the city shuts down the water supply.

Beaver immediately starts dragging his wagon full of water from yard-to-yard where the boys are trimming hedges, mowing lawns and rooting out weeds in the intense heat.

When Beav offers fresh, cold water, the kids jump at the chance. But, Beaver tells them small cups will cost five cents and large ones a full dime.

"Whoever heard of paying for water?" asks one appalled, but rapidly-dehydrating teen.

Beav gives the kid a shrug and says, "Suit yourself."

Needless to say, just about everyone within walking distance ends up paying top penny for Cleaver's H20, resulting in $4.25 (an enormous sum for a little guy in Eisenhower's America).

There's a great twist at the end. Seems those same water supply engineers had told The Beav that the water main break would also force the entire town to go without electricity for the next 18 hours.

Guess who uses his $4.25 to buy and then sell every candle in the neighborhood to desperate residents? Brilliant.

So here are my quick tips:

1.) You never know from where the next new business opportunity will come. In Beaver's case, it was a perfect storm of a water main shutdown, his older brother's friends undertaking serious manual labor and the triple digit weather.

2.) Listen hard. When the Beav ran into the water supply engineers, he didn't just exchange pleasantries, he asked pointed questions and uncovered two priceless pieces of market research: There'd be no water or electricity.

3.) Speed. Beaver didn't dawdle. He raced home and made sure he collected copious amounts of water.

4.) Charge what the market will bear. Because he became the sole source of a precious commodity, Beaver charged what the market could bear. And, he made a killing.

5.) Keep listening. How many times have you paid close attention to the beginning of a conversation only to find yourself daydreaming by the end? By listening to everything the engineers told him, The Beav was able to score twice: first with water and later with candles.

6.) Rebuilding bridges. Beaver knew he had alienated other players on the team so, to win back their friendship, he used his windfall to buy uniforms for everyone. That's called doing the right thing or, in your case, making sure your organization serves a higher purpose by giving back.

I'd share other entrepreneurial gems from the show, but I need to catch a Twilight Zone episode.