Friday, September 28, 2012

"The Ride Stuff"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a guy who is often compared to the back end of a horse, I had always wanted to see how the other half lives. I got a chance recently when I met Frank, the mane man at Greenlawn Equestrian Center on Long Island, N.Y., where I had gone for a horseback riding lesson.

I was very impressed with Frank, not only because he is a retired police horse who used to work for the NYPD (if a cop show were filmed in his stall, it would be called “Law & Odor”), but because he stands 16.3 hands high (5-foot-7 at the withers, though he is more than 6 feet tall at his full height) and weighs about 1,200 pounds, roughly the size of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

At 13, Frank is too old by horse standards to be chasing bad guys, but he can still outrun the fastest human, even with a police partner -- or, in my case, an eccentric equestrian -- on his back.

According to a gallop poll conducted by trainer Hannie van Kretschmar, Frank didn’t run, trot or canter during my lesson, but he did saunter, stroll and otherwise walk.

“Frank is a sweetheart,” said Hannie, 24, a proud graduate of the Lookout Mountain School of Horseshoeing in Gadsden, Ala. “He’s strong but gentle. And he has a good life here.”

“You mean he leads a stable existence?” I asked.

“Definitely,” said Hannie, adding that the same is true for all 15 of Greenlawn’s horses, who eat four times a day, have late-night snacks and get their stalls cleaned twice a day.

“They also get pedicures,” said Hannie, who keeps the horses’ nails neatly trimmed so they can hoof it on out to give people rides.

“This is like a spa,” I noted, “except it doesn’t smell like one.”

Hannie gave me a helmet (Frank didn’t need one) and led us both outside, where I stood on a platform so I could climb aboard.

Sitting atop Frank was like being in an SUV (Saddled Utility Vehicle), with bucket seating, power steering and, considering Frank’s luxurious mane, driver’s-side hair bag.

“Frank is a Thoroughbred quarter horse,” Hannie told me.

“If he had the other three-quarters, he’d be as big as an elephant,” I retorted.

Frank snorted.

“Technically,” Hannie said, “he’s a dark bay Appendix gelding.”

“Poor guy,” I said.

“The procedure helps keep males calm,” Hannie explained.

“I can just imagine,” I said, wincing at the thought.

Initially, Hannie led Frank, with me in the saddle, around a covered ring. But after giving me instructions on how to handle the horse -- tugging on the reins to steer him left or right, pulling back and using voice commands to put on the brakes, directing him around orange cones, standing in the stirrups and leaning forward in a two-point position -- Hannie let me take control of Frank myself.

“You’re doing an excellent job,” she said as she walked alongside.

“Are you talking to me or Frank?” I asked.

“Both of you,” Hannie replied.

It was clear that Frank and I had bonded. Yes, it’s a guy thing (or, in his case, a former guy thing), but we hit it off beautifully.

When the half-hour lesson was over, I dismounted without breaking a leg, in which case I would have to be shot, and told Frank he was great. He shook his head.

“You’re too modest,” I said. Then I asked Hannie if I had the potential to be an equestrian in the next Olympics.

“Maybe,” she answered. “You have three and a half years to train.”

I turned to Frank and said, “Want to go for it?”

Frank didn’t say nay.

Copyright 2012 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, September 14, 2012

"They Mean Business"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Ever since the economy turned so sour that a lemon would seem sweet by comparison, I have wondered if there are any entrepreneurs out there with a bold business model that can help get the country back on its feet.

I am happy to report that I recently found two of them. They are Sydney Lippman and Isabella Nuzzo, co-owners of Syd and Izzy’s Lemonade Stand, a budding Fortune 500 corporation headquartered in one of the nation’s top corporate headquarters, my hometown of Stamford, Conn.

I met them on Scofieldtown Road, where Sydney and Isabella, both 10 and fifth-graders at Northeast Elementary School, had set up shop. In a brilliant advertising ploy designed to attract customers quickly, the girls were shouting and waving their arms as I drove down the street.

As a father who remembers when my two young daughters sold lemonade and made more money than I had in my wallet at the time, mainly because the money in my wallet went to buy their lemonade, I turned around and parked near the stand.

“You’re our first customer!” Isabella chirped.

It felt good to get in on the ground floor -- or at least the ground, since that’s where the stand was situated -- of such a promising enterprise.

The girls’ corporate slogan, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” was handsomely hand-lettered on the cardboard sign attached to the front of the stand.

“Did you actually make this lemonade?” I asked the two young entrepreneurs, who also had written “Secret recipe!” on a corner of the sign.

“Yes,” Sydney assured me.

The tycoons explained that they had squeezed the juice of several lemons into water but that it was taking too much time, so they combined their lemonade with a store-bought brand to come up with their now-not-so-secret (sorry, girls) recipe.

It was uniquely delicious. And worth every penny of the 50 cents they charged per cup.

“We were going to charge $2,” Sydney said, “but we thought it would be unfair to overcharge people, so we decided to charge 50 cents.”

If you have a fair price, customers will buy more of your product and you will end up making more money, the girls noted.

I was impressed, not only with their business acumen, but with their approach to customer service.

“In business, you don’t want to be too grumpy to your customers,” Isabella said. “Always smile,” she added with, of course, a smile.

At this moment, a woman and her two young daughters came along and bought three cups of Syd and Izzy’s lemonade.

“This is very good!” the woman exclaimed. Her daughters agreed.

“If you have a quality product,” Sydney confided after they left, “people will buy it.”

“Business leaders and politicians could learn a lot from you girls,” I said. “If they followed your example of combining quality with fair pricing and good customer service, the economy would rebound.”

“We would be happy to give them tips,” said Isabella, who is thinking of selling the bracelets she has made out of soda can pop-top rings. She also has a line of colorful duct tape products, including a pocketbook and a wallet.

“She’s very entrepreneurial,” said Isabella’s mom, Gerri Nuzzo, whose older daughter, Ariana, 14, also is creative and would be part of the corporate team.

When I called back later in the afternoon, Gerri reported that Syd and Izzy’s Lemonade Stand had grossed $10 in two and a half hours, pretty good considering that Scofieldtown is not a heavily traveled road.

“They did all right,” Gerri said.

Sydney’s dad, Craig Lippman, concurred when I spoke with him by phone a couple of days later.

“I’m delighted that my daughter understands the supply-and-demand curve,” said Craig, who works in financial markets for Thomson Reuters. “I’ll go back and cut prices if it will increase business.” He paused and added: “I could learn a lot from these girls. The whole country could.”

Copyright 2012 by Jerry Zezima