. Everybody called him Al, even though his real name was Elmer. He lived in the industrial heart of Ohio back before it was the “Rust Belt.” The people who knew him thought he was an oracle.
I met Al at a dry goods convention. I was there to give a speech. He was there because he owned and ran a dry goods store. In those days I spent a lot of time on the road and eating in hotel restaurants.
I don’t like to eat alone, so I approached diners in the restaurant and asked if they would like company. Al was one of the ones who said “yes.” Dinner turned into a long conversation and then a friendship. I learned a lot from Al.
He told me how to tell if a big storm was coming. “When wind blows, and you see the bottoms of the leaves, a big storm is on the way.”
People at the convention said Al was good at knowing what would happen next. People in his hometown told me the same thing. Al always knew when things were slowing down or picking up, way before everyone else.
The town was in the metal-bending part of Ohio. They still made lots of cars and steel things in big plants in those days. The economy of the town was tied to the plants located there. He learned to tell early when the plants were cutting back so that he could cut back on his orders.
He claimed that the purchase of foundation garments was the first thing to go when income dropped so he should stop ordering them as soon as he knew business would slow down.
I asked him how he knew. All he said was, “Every time something big is going to happen, there are little things that happen first.” I asked him how that applied to business. At first, he wouldn’t tell me.
But after he made me swear on a Bible (since I was a preacher’s son) and swear by my Marine code of honor (Al was a former Marine) he finally agreed. The only condition was that I couldn’t share the secret until he was gone.
Al noticed that before big layoffs, the plants started cutting back in ones and twos. In didn’t rate a story in the paper, but it was enough to affect the number of cars in the plant parking lots.
Every week Al drove around to all the big plants and looked at their lots. When they were full, he ordered big. When there started to be less cars in the lots, he started cutting back on his ordering.
That was the magic and, as always, it wasn’t magic to the magician, it was technique I swore to keep it secret until Al died. A couple of years later Al sold the store and retired to Florida, which he called “God’s Waiting Room.” We stayed in touch sporadically until Al’s daughter sent me an email telling that Al had “left the Waiting Room.” Now I can tell you about what I call “Al’s Rule.”
“Every time something big is going to happen, there are little things that happen first.”
Identify the little things that happen before big things in your world. Watch for them. Act on them.