“A customer is always right” is a saying that explains that you should do everything to satisfy customer’s needs. The problem arises when a customer asks for something you know nothing about. Satisfying a customer is a must even if you have to go back to basics and learn about something from scratch.
Fawcett’s story – “How ants saved my family”
“We’re thinking of making an ant farm. Some of our customers have been asking about it. We know nothing about it, but we need a supplier who can supply ants for us.” The request came from one of Fawcett’s customers in New York, a wholesaler to Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward.
At the time Fawcett was selling rocks to collectors all over the United States, but things were slow and his family was ready to starve. The ants took on a sudden appeal.
“Well, there are plenty of ants around. I don’t know what you’re looking for,” Fawcett said.
“The best workers, that you’ll put them in sand and they’ll dig,” came the reply.
Fawcett set out to gather his first batch of ants. “I went around the whole county, gathered up ants in different colonies and sent them to Utah State University and they identified them for me. Then I experimented with them,” said Fawcett.
Fawcett found that the type of ant that built the best tunnels was also the most common ant in southern Utah. It was also the ant people hated the most and wanted to get rid of.
Fawcett called his buyer and announced that he’d found the ants for their ant farms. The buyer was excited by the news but wary. Were there really enough ants in southern Utah to fill the potential orders? A representative from Sears in Chicago quickly came to investigate.
“I took him out in the fields. I had to prove to him that there were enough ants – that we wouldn’t run out” said Fawcett.
One look around was all the man needed. “Let’s go for it,” he said.
The expansion of business
A few months later the ant farms were in production. Stores would sell the farms with a certificate for ants included. The new farm owner would fill out the certificate and send it back in. Those requests were forwarded to Fawcett. Every couple of days, Fawcett received thousands of requests. Armed with this glass pint jar and a funnel, Fawcett would funnel 40 or 50 ants into a small plastic vial and ship the order out. Ants from Hurricane were soon considered pets of people all across the United States.
After four or five years Fawcett received another request. The largest manufactures of ant farms in the country had lost his supplier and wanted Fawcett to take over. After working out the terms, Fawcett began shipping from 100,000 to 200,000 ants per week to this new contact. The wholesaler supplied all the materials needed, from the plastic vials to shipping envelopes, and Fawcett recruited his wife and children to help keep up with the demand.
Able to live only a week confined in a bottle, the ants had to be gathered, sorted and shipped quickly. “They will dehydrate from lack of moisture faster than they will eating,” said Fawcett. “These things hibernate all winter long and eat very little of anything.”
Fawcett has grown older and now only ships the ants to large suppliers who then ship the ants to schools. His son, Kent has taken over the largest portion of the ant business.
A man of many hobbies
Fawcett is not just enamored with ants, he’s also an avid rock collector, flower collector and fossil hunter.
For years Fawcett has gotten up early in the morning and made the trek into the hills to gather wildflowers that he can press and sell to wholesalers across the country. His pressed flowers have been made into framed art, pendants, bracelets and rings. He’s sold everything from wheat grass along the highway to the shooting star, a flower that only blooms once every ten to 15 years and is only found at 10,000 ft. elevation in the swamps.
During his rock explorations, Fawcett found a very rare collection of flower agate from the dessert floor, which is now under Sand Hollow Reservoir. The white bursts inside the rock resemble delicate white flowers trapped in glass. It is one of Fawcett’s most prized finds.
Of all the nature projects Fawcett has been involved in over the years, he admits that his favorite has not been his ant collecting. It’s been gathering wildflowers. Fawcett has a permit from the forest service to cut wildflowers on public land, and he also has his own private wildflower garden in his backyard.
Fawcett has grown older and turned various portions of his business over to his sons, but at 79 years old, he still has the energy to spend eight to 12 hours every day hard at work, and he’s still making new discoveries.
What is Fawcett working on at the moment?
His latest venture is a “living fossil.” At first believed to be the ancient trilobite, this tiny tadpole shrimp lays its eggs in the sand beside pools of water. Despite temperature changes and long periods of time without water, these miniscule eggs come right back to life after they’re exposed to water.
Fawcett knows just where the eggs are most likely to be found, and he gathers them, packages them with a combination of different dirt and sells them to wholesalers. In 24-36 hours of saturation, the tadpole shrimp hatches and quickly matures.
Fawcett may be slowly backing away from his ant days, but the story will never rest. Fawcett has been featured in the National Enquirer, the Salt Lake Tribune, Career World and People Magazine, among many others. He’s also been asked to appear on the Johnny Carson Show, Jay Leno and David Letterman, though he refused them all.