Norbert Braun via Unsplash

3 Sales Lessons from Beach Vendors

If you’ve ever spent time on a public beach in countries like Mexico, Costa Rica, or the Dominican Republic, you no doubt are familiar with the roaming vendors.

In some places they are rather aggressive and annoying, so much so that they can steal some of the joy from your vacation if you let them. Others try to get your attention as they stroll by but move on quickly if you show no interest or offer a polite, “No gracias.”

Over a few days of beach time, you might notice the same people selling many of the same things – fresh coconut water, jewelry, pottery, t-shirts, toys for the kids, fresh ceviche, or snow cones made with hand-shaved ice.

Most of it is inexpensive but still overpriced because the quality is questionable. Except for the coconut water and the snow cones, of course. And maybe the ceviche.

Because these vendors are toiling all day in the hot sun for pretty low wages, it’s tempting to think they can’t teach us much about leading and managing people. In my experience, however, life lessons are like seashells – they are there, but you have to take the time to look for them.

The social status of workers has little to do with what they can teach us. You can learn what to do and what not to do as a leader from a CEO earning millions of dollars a year; and you also can learn what to do or not do from a beach vendor selling $2 snow cones. So here are a few seashell leadership lessons from the beach:

Be persistent, but patient.

Timing is everything. Vendors walk up and down the beach all day, passing (and approaching) the same people multiple times. Or they set up a stand and wait for hours. They never know when someone will feel the urge to drink some coconut water or, after thinking it over, decide to buy some bracelets. They just know that if they aren’t there or don’t ask when the time is right, they won’t win the business. At the same time, if they are too pushy, they’ll get nowhere fast.

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Be nice.

The successful vendors tend to be the ones who are friendly. They smile. They laugh. They fight through language barriers to communicate. They don’t take rejection personally or let the inevitable jerks they encounter steal their joy. Imagine that a high percentage of the people you speak to each day purposely ignores you and does all they can to avoid eye contact. That can’t be fun! Be nice anyway.

Be creative.

Many beach vendors seem stuck in a routine, but the best use some creative tactics that work for them. Maybe they promise a money-back guarantee if their coconut water isn’t the “coldest and best” on the beach. Maybe they add a marshmallow and an edible cookie straw to their snow cones. But they find some way to make people see them as different and memorable, which may result in a sell later even if it doesn’t the first time around.

So, what about you? Would your leadership improve if you were more balanced in your persistence and patience, if you were nicer to people, and if you were more creative in your approach? This is all pretty simple stuff, and yet the weight of our challenges and the speed of business can distract us from the simple, but important, aspects of leading well. Leadership, after all, is no day at the beach. Then again, you don’t have to carry a five-gallon bucket of coconuts or push a snow cone cart through the sand.

Get ready for this episode here.


  1. Mario Tamasi

    Hope you are well! Have a great Memorial Day weekend Walt!

    Reply to Mario Tamasi

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