Upon their return from South America, Jay and Rich didn’t waste any time jumping into business together. They formed the Ja-Ri (pronounced “jay-ree”) Corporation, an umbrella corporation for their various enterprises. They began importing carved mahogany goods they had seen in Haiti. Competition in the retail market was stiff, however, and the two partners didn’t know much about selling to department stores and gift shops. The venture didn’t last. They also pursued other avenues that looked like a good way to make money. They ran an ice cream cart business, which failed. With another mutual friend, they started the Grand Rapids Toy Company, which sold wooden rocking horses on which they held patents. The toy venture was a “disaster,” Jay said in retrospect, because consumers at that time didn’t want high-end, expensive toys.16 It was a costly business mistake, but they bought back the stock of shareholders at the same price they paid for it so no one lost money—except them.
Jay and Rich had failed as sailors and they had a string of failures as entrepreneurs. They refused to believe failure was final, however. Years later, Rich had this to say about failure:
You learn much more from failure than from instant success. So when you fail, you should learn everything you can from your failure. If you learn a billion-dollar lesson from a million-dollar flop, then it was well worth it—a cheap education.17
The partners kept trying to find something that would make money. ...