The Lamp Repair Man and the Factory Owner
How do business and passion mix?
A man had a small business repairing oil lamps. He repaired wicks or refilled lamps with oil—whatever was needed. He took his cart to different neighborhoods and called out for business: “Lamp repair” and “Fix your lamp.”
When people brought their lamps to the man, they would watch him trim or replace the wick, refill the oil and polish the glass. The man had a quick rhythm to his method: he sang a song softly that guided him through his process of checking each lamp. The man was unfailingly kind and full of joy and neighborhood kids loved to watch him as he worked. He would often say providing light was what he was meant to do.
One day a factory owner was home for the morning. He was feeling a bit unwell from celebrating late into the night after successfully negotiating deep concessions with the largest union at his factory. When he heard “Lamp repair” shouted outside and remembered his children exclaiming over the charms of the lamp repair man, he stood and picked up the lamp he had been reading by and made his way outside.
The lamp repairman took the lamp and quickly sang his song to himself as he checked it over. Then he trimmed the wick, polished the glass and handed it back to the factory owner since it was nearly full of oil.
“What do I owe you, Mr. Lamp Repairman?” asked the factory owner.
“Oh, nothing,” said the man. “That took no time.”
The factory owner would not have it.
“But surely your time is worth something,” he said. “Surely you have some small fee for checking and trimming and polishing. I own a factory and I must pay for every bit of my employees’ attention.”
“Well,” said the man. “I’ve found that I am most interested in how light works and what it provides. I love a well-lit page when I read and I am eager for good lighting for others. So it actually rewards me when I can get someone’s lamp working well.”
“But can you live on good feelings?” asked the factory owner. “Do your good feelings buy potatoes or flour? Can you pay your landlord with good feelings?”
“True,” said the man. “Good feelings don’t buy much in the open market. But good intentions find their way back. I have found that helping those along my regular route helps build my business. People return when there lamp needs repair because they know I’ll be fair and they know I’ll do my best to get their cherished lamp working. You give a little, you get a little.”
“I see,” said the factory owner. “Give a bit away free and then get rewarded with loyal customers. Good strategy.”
“Yes,” said the man. “It was a good strategy for many years. But today I am actually well-provided for. I’m not rich, but my wife and children and I have enough. I actually charge only rarely because I don’t need to and because I am interested in the lives of these customers who have become friends over the years. Children and grandchildren of long-time customers bring out their lamps. I am eager that they have enough light for the many books they read and drawings they make and conversations they have.”
The factory owner took his lamp and walked back to his home, thinking back to the work he did that started his own factory.
Image credit: Kirk Livingston