“Things may not be the way you want it all the time. If the path of a bank worker or doctor doesn’t choose you, no other work can be called a disgrace, as long as its an honest day’s work for a fair day’s pay” – Frank Belfon
It’s no secret I love hats and on one blindingly beautiful day I found the hat of my tropical dreams at Grand Anse Craft Market. The day I purchased that hat, I also learnt invaluable lessons from a businessman. Not the type with tasteful accents like a good watch and leather wallet that hints to their success. This businessman wore practical attire, his office was his booth, his hammock was his desk, and his bank account was his backpack.
Meet Frank Belfon, Born in Paradise, St. Andrew and bred in St. George’s. He is the owner of The Culture Man booth at Grand Anse Craft Market. On a weekly basis, he ensures the smooth operation of his booth, maintaining his production schedule, ensuring he has a sufficient supply of raw materials, manpower and production equipment to create his products. During opening hours he is focused on driving traffic to his booth, increasing sales and exceeding customer expectations. He is always devising training opportunities for the next generation and building partnerships throughout the region to maximise distribution to increase his profits.
Let me share my talk with Frank…
“I was 13 years old when my mother died. Before she died if you had asked me what I wanted to be, I would have told you a Manager in one of those fancy hotels. But, I had little brothers and sisters to look after. That was my reality, and I needed to focus on selling until they could fend for themselves.
My mother used to make baskets out of wild pine and sell them on the beach. I watched her do it all the time without realising I picked up the skill. When I picked up the pine it was like second nature. I’ve been selling since she died up to this day, but I am now a father of my own and a grandfather to their children.
When I got my booth at Grand Anse Craft Market, I called it The Culture Man, because this is a part of we culture. With my bare hands, I make baskets, birds, hats and handbags from coconut branches. And bracelets and earrings from coral. When they were growing up, my kids were not interested in learning the craft as I did. I feel bad about it cause we’re losing the resourcefulness in our culture. Sometimes I sit in my hammock and think, if I get some extra time I will spend it going to schools and teaching our children how to create with their hands. Why? Let me tell you a little story…
A few years ago I travelled to Trinidad and lost a month’s worth of spending money in a day. I was depressed, I could have returned home, but instead, I used my hands to make hats and baskets and gave them to a friend of mine to sell in the Savannah. You wouldn’t believe, those hats and baskets sold so fast, she told me the tourist were making requests for more! Now every time I go to Trinidad, I go to areas with lots of coconut branches, make my hats and baskets and make back my plane ticket money.
It won’t always go so smooth, sometimes you have to show people the vision. I went across to Tobago one year and saw a rastaman making hats differently, I sat down by him, and he turned his back. He wasn’t interested in teaching me because he felt I would take money from his mouth. So I turned my back too but started making a bird from some coconut branch strips beside him. He never see that yet! He wanted ten birds that day! Ten birds turned into a couple of hundred and a good partnership in Tobago. You see we didn’t have to compete, cause coconut trees aren’t running out soon in the whole of the Caribbean. We could take our skill anywhere and use it to help each other.
Maybe this wasn’t the plan that I had for myself, but I always say, you’ve got to be positive about whatever you’re doing. And do it to the best of your ability! Don’t take shortcuts, do things that will last and keep your customers happy. I’ll never forget the day a tourist came back to Grenada and shouted my name across the beach, he said, “Frank! You made me a hat 20 years ago, and I still got it! But the bird flew away. I need a bird! He came for his bird, and he bought his wife, daughter and her husband, and they all bought something.
My customers now say if you don’t get Frank don’t go to anyone else. I’ve invested in gaining that loyalty. It made me realise, things may not be the way you want it all the time. If the path of a bank worker or doctor doesn’t choose you, no other work can be called a disgrace, as long as its an honest day’s work for a fair day’s pay.
Don’t give up when life takes you somewhere different. I don’t regret any of the choices I made. I just kept on working and earning a living until I was able to get the things I wanted. I take pride in what I do, and I enjoy it every day!”