I grew up in the late 1940s and early 1950s on a farm where there was always enough money for food, clothes, and the other necessities of life, but beyond that, life was simple. My family and all the other families I knew were working-class people who had gone through the Great Depression in the 1930s and didn’t really want, appreciate, or enjoy anything that would be considered a luxury. I, on the other hand, experienced my first taste of luxury and knew I wanted that to be a part of my life forever.
My first brush with luxury.
I didn’t really give anything like this much thought until I was 11, and my mother and sister took me along on a shopping trip to Cleveland, which was about 60 miles from our farm. Cleveland in those days was a big and important city, certainly in the top ten in the United States. I was fascinated by the big city — so many people, so much activity, so many different things to think about.
In Cleveland, there’s a building called the Terminal Tower, which for decades was the tallest building west of New York City. The main train station lay underneath it, and, of course, this was the age of the train, so it was a very busy train station.
Coming up the elevator to the lobby of the luxurious hotel that was also part of the complex, I remember being overwhelmed by what I was seeing around me. The fine-quality finishing and furnishings and the atmosphere of wealth absolutely filled my senses.
As we were going through the lobby to get to the big department stores on Public Square, we reached the door, and I asked my mother if I could just stay in the lobby and watch what was going on, promising I wouldn’t go anywhere. My mother knew me well and knew I would do as I promised. She gave me some money so I could get a snack, and away they went.
The benchmark is set.
I chose a chair, and I sat in it for about three or four hours, content to watch everything that was happening around me.
I thought, “This pretty well describes where I’m going in life.” Over the years, as I entered the business world and then founded a very successful entrepreneur coaching program that’s afforded us the luxury of having the lifestyle I once dreamed of, I realized that my family never knew how much that afternoon in the hotel lobby shaped my life as an entrepreneur and the company we built.
It was almost like I had a gene for this, and the moment I experienced the hotel, I responded to it. Ever since then, I’ve had a set of criteria in my mind that would constitute a first-class experience.
As we packaged ourselves as a company and an entrepreneur coaching program, I’ve always used these criteria to make decisions. I’ve designed my future to be sure that, more and more, I have first-class experiences like the one I had that day when I was 11.
I remember the waiter in the lobby, who went around bringing people drinks. He brought me a sandwich and tea for lunch and then cookies. He asked if I was staying at the hotel, so I told him about my mother and sister going out shopping, and that I had asked to stay behind in the lobby because I found it fascinating. He told me he’d take very good care of me.
“Well,” I thought to myself, “that’s first-class service I don’t get back on the farm!”
“The future is your property.” #DanSullivan
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Defining experiences that stick.
People are born with unique skills and very different instincts. You can be born into the same family, but where you’re heading can be completely different.
In my life, I’ve found there are experiences from childhood that if I link them together, actually point in a particular direction based on what I really like and what I really dislike.
From the moment I sat in that hotel lobby, I knew that this was the life I really liked and that I was going to go out and become successful so I could surround myself with that kind of luxury for the rest of my life.
First-class all the way.
When we were creating the Strategic Coach entrepreneur coaching program, the first-class types of experiences I’d had up to that point in my life came into play, and they can be seen in all areas of our company.
If I learned one crucial lesson from my experience in the lobby, it’s this: As an entrepreneur, if you want to attract a certain level of clientele, you have to embody — both personally and in your business — the type of memorable first-class experiences they’re having in other areas of their lives.
At Strategic Coach, everything we do has to be and feel first-class, so when entrepreneurs are attending their quarterly workshops, they leave at the end of the day thinking, “This is one of the real first-class experiences in my life.” Just like I did that day at the Terminal Tower hotel.