Fun amid gloom and doom


Guatemalan worry dolls, oversized calculators and mes­sages in bottles might be just what struggling business­es need to survive this recession. They’ve been keeping Jay Wallus in business.

Wallus, 44, sold his photocopier business in 2001 and struck out on his own as a consultant who has helped struggling business owners follow the money since 2002.

“I seem to be the person going all over New England to calm people down,” said Wallus, who has been hired to present a Jan. 14 seminar at the Northwest Connecticut Chamber of Commerce on Kennedy Drive in Torrington on how any business can use the eco­nomic downturn to its advantage. The hour-long lunchtime event will feature plenty of photos. “It has, over the past five years, evolved from education to infotainment.”

Wallus, who gives his talk about twice a week to chambers throughout the region, said the secret for many struggling businesses is to first get over the despair, and to redirect efforts. One client, he said, turned a failing fish store into a successful bakery, and there are other examples: bankruptcy attor­neys, people who clean out foreclosed homes, and recycling specialists are all doing well in these tough times.

“My message is, follow the money,” Wallus said, adding the downfall of many business own­ers is “they get so emotionally involved that they’re not looking where the money is going.”

Wallus, based in Woburn, Mass., maintains a Web site and drums up much of his business visiting chambers of commerce struggling to maintain membership as a growing number of firms fail.

JoAnn Ryan, executive director of the North­west chamber, said another “horrible” retail report had just aired as a reporter called, and “we just have to keep going forward and be more creative than we ever had before.”

Ryan said her chamber has been keeping up with the losses, recruiting new businesses to re­place the two to three chamber members that go out of business each month. Wallus’ message, she said, fits perfectly with her group’s effort to lead the charge away from gloom and doom.

“What he’s saying is such common sense, and yet we don’t think about it,” said Ryan, who saw Wallus’ presenta­tion to the New England Association of Chamber of Com­merce Executives in October and was sold on the spot.

“I just was totally blown away,” Ryan said. “He was down to earth, very, very, very funny, and he hit the nail on the head when he talked about what we have to do to survive in this very challenging economy.”

Guatemalan worry dolls, tiny handmade figures of wood and fabric, are traditionally given to worried children to put under their pillow at night. Wallus hands them out at the start of his seminars.

“First, to get them a little bit unemotionally involved. It’s kind of a fun little approach,” he said. “I never thought these little 3-cent items would have so much meaning to people.”

He then launches into tales of sales, successful and otherwise, that began with an approach he calls “softening the beachhead.”

Wallus once sent a literal message in a bottle to a corporate exec­utive who had not responded to his previous sales calls.

He said the plastic bottle, with a palm tree inside, contained a message: “Dear Mr. Decision-maker, I’ve been unable to reach you by any other method.”

Gigantic calculators and fishing lures also have been successful at getting the attention of those who spend the money, and “people are spending money, although it is less,” Wallus said.

Among his favorite tactics, though it did not lead to a sale: Wallus recalled hiring a courier to deliver a sales pitch dressed in a suit and dark glasses, arriving at the potential customer’s office with a briefcase handcuffed to the courier’s wrist. From the briefcase, the courier withdrew the pitch and presented it with a dramatic flour­ish. Wallus knew it was almost a hopeless case, even before he hired the courier.

“I figured why not spend $300 or $400, just to take a shot at it,” Wallus said. “It brings down their walls. They almost feel guilty not to let you come in.”