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I Learned Sales from the Wolf of Wall Street Himself (and Then Became His Competition)

I Learned Sales from the Wolf of Wall Street Himself (and Then Became His Competition) Credit: Ekaterina Markelova/Shutterstock

The following piece was contributed as part of Business News Daily's byline series:

One of my first real experiences in heated competition began with a near-fight. My opponent could've easily beaten me in a fight; he was much bigger. But in reality, he wasn't going to do anything. We were engaged in illegal vending.

He might not have liked me in that moment, but I had earned Jordan Belfort's respect.

I was familiar with Jones Beach, having spent a good deal of my childhood and adolescence there. But I'd never paid attention to the vendors, so I headed out to the island for reconnaissance. I watched Belfort, an ice cream vendor who would later be known as The Wolf of Wall Street, to see how much he was actually selling. It was a lot, as it turned out, so I decided to give it a go.

I had just finished my first year at Penn State, where I studied business logistics, learning about supply chains, transportation and warehousing. I called on these skills to research and purchase frozen treats, dry ice and Styrofoam coolers from wholesale distributors.  

I made $100 my first day, $200 my second day. Over time, Belfort and I became friendly competitors, selling ice cream every summer for five years.

During those years, I learned much about supply and demand — and human nature. People could get their own ice cream at the concessional stand for half the price, but consumers want convenience. I learned to work smarter, keeping my eyes open for people contemplating purchasing, then move in for the sale. I listened for people calling out to me. I bought product cheaper, increasing my margins. I got into better physical shape so I could walk farther and faster. The hot sun was grueling, so the positive reinforcement (the more I sold, the lighter my cooler) was quite an incentive.

After graduation, I worked as a management trainee at J.C. Penney. Every weekday, in suit and tie, I commuted from Queens to Manhattan, earning $250 per week, far less than the $300 to $400 per day I earned selling ice cream. I quit my corporate job to sell full time.

Belfort was still selling on the beach, too, but by then, he and a partner had started Manchester Farms, selling meat door to door. Jordan knew I could hustle and that I had the appropriate temperament and nerve for sales. He invited me to apply for a job.

I knew nothing about selling meat, but it was the end of the summer and soon I’d be unemployed. I interviewed in the backyard of Belfort’s partner and started a two-day training session with Jordan the following day.

Belfort was an amazing salesman: first in the company, selling double and triple the amount of the next highest earner (me!). His sales approach was “"necessary to make the sale," including high-pressure tactics until customers gave in — though, as 23-year-old, I didn't analyze this too much.

Within six months, I'd decided to start The New York Steak and Seafood Company out of my parents' garage. I had saved money living at home and bought a freezer and inventory, and leased a truck loan-free.

Belfort was furious, seeing me as direct competition (which I was, but New York is a big place with lots of potential customers). He had me blacklisted by suppliers. I found different suppliers.

Business grew quickly. I added salesmen, leased additional trucks and outgrew my parents' garage in 18 months. By this time, Belfort was already on his way to becoming the "wolf." He tried recruiting me into his new brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont, but I was now in business, doing fine. I declined the offer.

The New York Steak and Seafood Company is a viable, long term business. Technology may change, but people will not. People will always have to eat. And consumers will always want convenience without sacrificing the sensory enjoyment of good food.

About the author: Andrew Shack is the president of The New York Steak and Seafood Company, based in Queens, NY. Since 1985, the New York Steak and Seafood Company has provided the finest grade prime meat, seafood, fish and poultry, gourmet food and gifts to customers nationwide.

Edited for length and clarity by Shannon Gausepohl. Have a great entrepreneurial story to tell? Contact Shannon at sgausepohl@purch.com to learn more about our contributed content program.