First Impressions: Who Wants Gum?

Rick Siegel |

LOS ANGELES — In my many years in the comedy world, I have had some amazing moments. I introduced Chris Rock the first time he ever went on stage; almost from the moment he hit the stage I could tell he’d be something special. And I was with him the night he shot the one-hour comedy special that changed his life.

I watched Sam Kinison offend his audience so completely that he literally cleared a comedy club, doing the same material he would do the next night on the HBO Young Comedians Specialthat opened the door to his fame. “Don’t worry,” I told him, “if this comedy thing doesn’t work out for you, you can always become a bouncer.”

I’ve shared stages with Colin Quinn, Dennis Miller and Jerry Seinfeld; golfed with Norm MacDonald, Tommy Smothers and Samuel L. Jackson; bantered with Mel Brooks and Kelsey Grammar; met icons Lily Tomlin, Milton Berle and Johnny Carson.

But perhaps my most surprisingly memorable moment in comedy happened in March 1987. Spring break, Daytona Beach; I was part of an arena filled with 11,000 half-drunk rambunctious college kids all there to see someone else, the headliner, when juggler comedian Michael Davis was introduced. Had it been me, I’d have felt like a lamb being led to slaughter. You could feel the tension of the potential of seeing someone about to die a miserable professional death.

He ambles up to the microphone and says, “A comedian has only about 15 seconds to win over an audience.” He reaches into his pocket, pulls out something and says, “Who wants gum?” And 11,000 people laughed, as they did for the rest of his act.

Why was that so memorable? Because first he encapsulated exactly what a comedian has to do—make the audience like and trust him on first blush—and then he accomplished that feat with just three words.

You might want to think about Davis and his “Who wants gum?” opening when preparing for your plant start-up. Because while it might be more obvious when it’s just a comic and an audience, your business’ success or failure might come down to your community’s first impression.

I carry samples in my car to introduce our products to dry cleaners in person. But despite my hope that every dry cleaner incorporates them into their packaging, I’ll admit to not stopping at every operation. When I see a generic DRY CLEANER mall sign, I figure the owners don’t understand how important branding is. Close to 90% of our customers personalize their bags.

We all make first-impression determinations about businesses all the time. You look at the face of a restaurant and make assumptions about its menu, pricing, service and even food quality. The entire premise of franchising and chain stores is built upon this theory—though it may be a new location, because it’s a name and company you already trust, you can also trust that this experience will be positive.

That’s why, from the start, you have to ascertain not just a name, logo and location, but work to present yourself on every level with an understanding of the market niche you’re trying to reach. However unconscious, we are all attracted to or repelled by certain colors, textures and light. We all make snap judgments as to whether something is discounted, popular priced or upscale. Chances are you are not opening in the middle of nowhere without competition, but immediately will have to prove your mettle as to service, price, timing and quality against the already established in your area. Do something to set yourself apart, something that fits in with your skill set.

There is no one right way to present your business for the first time, so you have lots of choices on how to proceed. Whether coupons, balloons, free gifts with your company’s name on it, you can’t just open your store doors and expect success.

I used to believe in the old expression, “Luck is the residue of design.” Now I believe that luck is inevitable if you work hard enough. Good luck to you, and I’d love to hear about your success.

About the author

Rick Siegel

The Green Garmento

Co-Creator of The Green Garmento

Rick Siegel and his wife, Jennie Nigrosh, are the creators and marketers of The Green Garmento reusable drycleaning bag. Before that, Siegel was one of Hollywood’s most influential personal managers, guiding the careers of Craig Ferguson, Ellen Degeneres, Seth Rogen and others. He is perhaps best known for producing the play My Big Fat Greek Wedding and developing its film version. He can be reached at 323-512-2600 or via e-mail at


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