What We Can Learn from Mr. Vanilla Man

It has been said that space has the power to transform business—unlocking the potential of people and organizations.

Every year we go to Puerto Vallarta we see the “Vanilla Man”. He sells real vanilla. It seems as though almost every store in Mexico sells vanilla. Most of it is not ‘real” vanilla. Mr. Real Vanilla Man sells the real thing from a tiny space as you walk your way from the Romantic Zone to the center of town.

The space is tiny. It reminds me of a visit to WeWorks while we were in Israel. WeWorks allow a very small business or parts of a very large business, like Microsoft, to have their own yet shared office space. One’s space could be as small as a telephone booth or the entire floor of a building.

Mr. Vanilla Man’s space reminded me of the phone booth size office space. There he was conducting business, differenciating his vanilla from other less expensive vanilla, in a space not a lot bigger than a phone booth. Which begs the question, how much space do you need?

WeWorks builds community as every office tenant uses the same common space and kitchen. Mr. Vanilla Man doesn’t exactly build community. But his presence, in the same place every year, his welcoming spirit, his overfilled space, all do in some way build a part of the bigger community of Puerto Vallarta.

There are literally thousands of tiny boutiques that fill the streets of PV. In fact there are only four stores that by our standards are a store as we think of retail. Every other store is a tiny area the size of a closet on any of the HOUSEWIVES shows. Each year my first job is to find my favorites and see if they are still there. There is a familiarity and comfort in seeing the same store in the same place.

Sometimes we do like new. Sometimes we find comfort in the expected. I like seeing Mr. Vanilla Man being entrepreneurial, conducting business, in the same place and in the same way.



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