all the way to the bank
The many lives and
careers of Ross Shafer
By T. Foster Jones
Entrepreneurs are typically defined by
their ability to visualize new possibilities
and roll with the punches when those
possibilities don’t work out—their ability to reinvent themselves.
For instance, the first thing Costco member Ross Shafer did after graduating from
college was slide into women’s lingerie.
Well, not literally into women’s lingerie.
More like into selling it.
But his job choice sent a clear
signal: This future six-time Emmy
Award winner, stand-up comedian, game- and talk-show host,
motivational speaker and former
owner of the world’s only stereo
and pet shop would not be following a traditional career path.
Shafer, whose credits include
authoring Nobody Moved Your
Cheese! How to Ignore the
“Experts” and Trust Your Gut
(Trafford Publishing, 2003) and
mounting a campaign to change
Washington state’s official song
to “Louie, Louie,” says it was
partly the feeling that he was a bit
of an outsider that drove him.
“I think it was because I didn’t fit in,”
says Shafer, 50, who grew up in Washington
and currently resides in Southern California
with his wife and two sons. “I had trouble
finding anything that I was passionate about
or that made me happy.”
To be sure, there were indications that
beneath the calm exterior lurked an entrepre-
neur and entertainer yearning to break
free. As a child, his ability to force milk out of
his nose or fit an entire deck of cards in
his mouth earned Shafer points with his school-
mates. A brief stint as a mall public announcer
instilled dreams of Johnny Carson–like fame.
And Shafer’s entrepreneurial zeal was
clearly made manifest with his postgradua-
tion creation of the “combination pet and
stereo store” business niche.
“My business partner and I
realized that a conventional stereo
store didn’t get year-round traf-
fic,” says Shafer, “so we began
selling pets and pet supplies.”
A huge novelty that garnered
much publicity and brought in
lots of traffic but little money, the
venture soon folded, but the dots
were beginning to connect be-
tween Shafer’s talents for public-
An “anti-self-help” ity, marketing and comedy, and
book, Nobody Moved his ability to repeatedly reincar-
Your Cheese! skewers nate his career.
today’s self-help gurus. Goaded by a friend, he tried
out for a stand-up comedy com-
petition. “I was marginally witty,” he says.
Witty enough to win the 1983 Showtime
Comedy Laugh-Off, which led to four years as
host, actor and writer of Almost Live, Seattle’s
seminal late-night comedy show, which led to
six Emmys and his own radio program.
Shafer’s exposure on TV developed into,
as he writes on his Web site ( www.ross
Name: Ross Shafer
Member at: Irvine, California
Address: 5927 Balfour Court, Ste. 103
Carlsbad, CA 92008
Contact at: 1-760-603-8110;
Comment about Costco: “I love Costco!
Costco is my one-stop Christmas, birthday, anniversary, wedding and
Valentine’s Day shopping hub. I just
wish you guys sold tombstones!”
Five shortcuts to customer loyalty
1. Don’t hire unlikable people. Nobody will give money to people they don’t like.
2. Outsmart your customers. Make sure your staff has more answers than your customers
have questions. People are loyal to expertise.
3. Pay attention to what your customers really want. Mike Diamond Plumbing advertises, “Our
plumbers will not only fix the problem but will be there on time and smell good.”
4. Dump your strict return policies. Don’t make customers think that buying from you is a risk. If
the customer isn’t satisfied, give his or her money back and try spinning it into a bigger sale.
5. Blow your customers away! “Good” customer service just isn’t good enough anymore. Start
amazing people with how far you are willing to go to keep their business. Good word of mouth
will clog your door with customers.—Ross Shafer
shafer.com), “a disturbing and almost profitable pattern” of stints as host for game
shows such as Match Game and Love Me,
Love Me Not.
During this time Shafer the entrepreneur
discovered another way for Shafer the comedian to fulfill his passion for writing, comedy
and a regular paycheck.
“My line of work means I’m on the road
a lot and in constant contact with people in
the service industry,” he says. “And I was
amazed at how bad service was.”
From this, Many Happy Returns: A
Program on Customer Service, an employee
training video, was born. The success of the
video prompted the production of several
training films filled with basic service messages laced with gentle humor, and attracted
the attention of corporations.
Which is how Ross Shafer, marketing
graduate cum failed stereo/pet store owner
cum stand-up comic cum sometimes game-show host has become Ross Shafer, stand-up
comedic motivational business speaker.
“As it turns out, it’s not just one thing that
makes me happy,” says Shafer. “It’s performing, writing, producing little films. Because
I’m able to wear a lot of hats, I can maintain
my interest and my passion.”
And there’s always that lingerie job to
fall back on. C
The Costco Connection • AUGUST 2006