Formula for Small Business Success: Stick With What You Know

Kirby Company executive Daniel Blalock knows all about starting in door-to-door sales and working his way to the top.

A door-to-door salesman stands on the front porch while talking to a female homeowner.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Today’s story is about my uplifting and inspiring interview with Cleveland-based Daniel Blalock, president of North American Field Sales for the Kirby Company.

That’s right. Kirby, as in the Kirby vacuum cleaner. The company is one of the most positive examples I know where hard work, competence and perseverance teach us lessons for achieving personal and financial success.

But first, let me tell you how a phone call from a Kirby distributor — when I was a consumer fraud deputy district attorney in Kern County, Calif. — had a profound influence on the way I looked at the people in sales, door-to-door and overall.

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It was the mid-1970s, and Kirbys were turning up in “vac shops” all over the country at much lower prices than the normal selling price, but with their serial numbers illegally removed.

So, the homeowner who purchased a Kirby from a door-to-door salesperson at the retail price (which includes a sales commission) saw the same machine advertised for less at “Honest Abe’s Vac Shop,” canceled their contract under the three-day cooling-off law and bought from Abe — only to discover that the all-important serial number had been illegally ground out, thereby voiding the Kirby’s extensive warranties.

That’s what happens when stolen items enter the supply chain.

The Customer, Salesperson, Distributor and Manufacturer All Lose

These sales violated state law, harming the consumer, salesperson, Kirby distributor and reputation of the manufacturer. For me, as a DA, these were morally compelling cases.

I successfully prosecuted “Honest Abe” for knowingly selling a consumer product whose serial number had been illegally removed, and when I opened my own law office, I was retained by Kirby distributors all over the country who were being cheated this way. We sued the bad actors, obtaining large fines and refunds for consumers.

How Distributors Discovered Keys to Success

The many distributors I met began by selling Kirbys door-to-door, and all had one thing in common, Dan says: “They believed in the product, knew that direct sales is tough but stayed with it. They had grit and perseverance.”

Dan’s career path is an example of both, taking him from selling Kirby products via in-home demonstrations beginning in June 1995 to being promoted to president of North American Field Sales in 2019.

Dan’s Formula for Lasting Success

Does he have a formula — a recipe — for lasting success? You bet he does!

“I tell new salespeople, ‘Yes, direct sales is a challenging line of work, but once you sell your first Kirby, that builds self-confidence. You get to know and believe in the product, and this comes across to the customer. Keep at it! You will succeed!”

He adds, “As you increase your sales, in time you will have the chance to own your own distributorship. But don’t spread yourself thin! While it is rare for a Kirby distributor to fail, don’t get involved in other business activities that take you away from running your own shop! None of us can ride two horses at the same time, and we need to realize that time taken away from our primary source of income can’t be replaced and often leads to both the new venture and your established business suffering financially. Don’t shoot the horse that you rode in on.

“Never lose sight of the fact that just because you are good at your regular line of work does not mean that you will have the same level of success — or any success — in other areas about which you know little. Accept what you are good at, stick with what you know, and don’t be in a hurry to ‘make it big.’”

Start With Owning Your Building Instead of Renting

Dan’s career path also parallels his approach to building wealth. “A gradual, slow, conservative approach to investing will serve you best,” he says, “beginning with owning your own building instead of paying rent. Once you’ve done that, start maxing out your tax-deferred investments. Put out of your mind wanting to become wealthy in the next couple of years and put your money where it will grow and be secure in conservative funds, such as indexed S&P 500 funds. When you put your money away in conservative investments that don’t take your time to manage, your money can then grow on its own, and you are able to spend your time doing what you do best.”

Caring About People Makes a Difference

A common denominator of successful, respected CEOs and company presidents is that they care deeply about their people. That dedication came through loud and clear during our meeting. Dan wants Kirby salespeople to succeed — and made it evident that he wants to help them along that path.

When advancing to the top, so many forget their roots and how they were nurtured by others.

Dan hasn’t forgotten where he came from, who helped him along the way and his sense of duty to pass these sound values along, a lesson for all business leaders.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield, Calif., and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993, or e-mailed to And be sure to visit


This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

H. Dennis Beaver, Esq.
Attorney at Law, Author of "You and the Law"

After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California's Kern County District Attorney's Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, "You and the Law." Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge. "I know it sounds corny, but I just love to be able to use my education and experience to help, simply to help. When a reader contacts me, it is a gift."