In the ‘80s, I had two stores in Manhattan; one right down the block from the UN. Foot traffic was steady on weekdays, but on weekends it quieted down ... a lot. We could catch up for the week, and typically didn’t expect to see many new customers.
One Saturday, two young women walked in just before noon, wanting to look at frames. After 20 minutes the door opened and out of the rain, and into my life, stepped John Travolta and Marilu Henner. I caught John’s gaze and, in that instant, he knew I knew exactly who he was. He asked, “Can we come in?” I chuckled when I said, “Are you kidding? Of course. What can I do for you?”
He wanted to look at frames for a role he was doing. I told him I’d be with him shortly and returned to the young ladies. When they were content to keep looking by themselves, I excused myself and approached John. He said they were filming a movie called Perfect. (A film, I would learn, that featured Travolta as a reporter who seduces an aerobics instructor played by Jamie Lee Curtis.)
We engaged in easy conversation as we looked for frames. Soon, John, Marilu, the two young women and I were caught up in an impromptu eyewear try-on session. John adopted the role of ECP, jumping behind the counter and helping the young ladies. It was almost surreal.
I had always liked John Travolta and knew he was a pilot. At the time I was learning to fly and was frustrated with my instructor. I asked John for his advice. He said something profound. “Get rid of him” he told me. “He’s not helping you. He’s not letting you make mistakes, he’s not letting you fly yourself so you’ll never learn.” So, a few weeks later, I fired my instructor, got a new one who let me “fly the plane” and within two months I had my license.
As I wrote up the order, John stood over my shoulder, smiled and said, “Make sure you sharpen your pencil.”
John chose six or seven frames and Marilu four or five. As I wrote up the order, John stood over my shoulder, smiled and said, “Make sure you sharpen your pencil.” I laughed and challenged, “Are you going to pay today?” He added, “I’ve got Amex!” The sale was made.
I’ve always wanted to thank John — not for the sale (though it was a nice order for a Saturday), and not just for the flying advice — but for the larger life lesson he taught me that day.
His simple lesson? We all must be the captain of our own ship, run our own show and set our own pace. In doing so, we’re able to make the very mistakes that teach us to find solutions and better ways to do things.
As a business owner, it’s important to take back control of things when they’re not heading in the direction you’d like — to set a new course. In one afternoon, John Travolta with his easy manner, humor and philosophy for taking control of your life, taught me something that positively impacts me to this day.
So, John ... thank you.
Rich Baum holds dual degrees in ophthalmic dispensing and business management. He’s held various optical roles at a number of stores, eventually owning and operating several retail locations in NYC. His latest venture, Vari (varieyewear.com), provides cool, comfortable and convertible eyewear options.
This article originally appeared in the October 2017 edition of INVISION.