As bleak as the morning was, John Riccitiello (or Johnny C as his cool new friends had begun to address him affectionately) was in high spirits. Pulling on his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pyjamas, he bounded down the stairs, gleeful at the prospect of what his day might bring. He darted towards the refrigerator for a cold glass of milk, only to find a hand firmly denying his access to the cupboard of assorted chilled goods. It was his father.
Papa Riccitiello was a tall, stocky man with an overabundance of forehead, a forehead unsubtly covered by a wispy, black comb over. His piercing blue eyes, sheltered by thick furry eyebrows, conveyed a mixture of anger and disappointment.
“I just got a call from the Moores down the street, they said you’ve been hanging around with their son again Jonathan.”
Shit. He was busted for sure this time.
“Yeah Dad. I was just hangin’ out with Pete and Frank. It’s no biggie.”
It was a biggie. Johnny C, Franky “Gibbo” Gibeau, and Peter “Moar” Moore had been frequenting some of the less “family friendly” parts of town. There was a market for a particular “product” down in Oldtown, and “The Three Scrooges” knew exactly how to get it, and exactly how to sell it.
The truth was: John was living two lives. In one life he was Jonathan Riccitiello, the smart, hardworking son of a middle class American family. In the other life he was Johnny C, the tough talking, hard walking, drug dealing son-of-a-gun feared by so many of the town’s youths. The former life helped cover up his illegal activities, and allowed him to feign innocence if business went south, while the latter allowed him to make lucrative profits from young, impressionable kids.
“Gibeau?! I thought I told you not to hang around with that lout!”
“Jeez relax Dad! We were just playing some B-ball at the park. Cool it Papa.”
With his father suitably distracted by a newspaper story about knife crime, Johnny C scampered back up the stairs and prepared for school; a long, harsh day of calculus, chemistry and Chaucer. It was okay; he thought to himself, after I’m done with chemistry at 3 o’clock, the real chemistry can begin.
After any thoughts of test tubes or the periodic table had left his mind, Johnny C approached his friends as they loitered inconspicuously in a filthy back alley. He had some new business propositions to discuss.
“Hey Johnny”, Peter waved, fiddling with the buttons on his letterman jacket. “Does your dad know you’re here?”
“Yeah it’s cool; I told him I’d be staying after school to catch up with some revision.”
“You know Johnny”, Gibeau remarked, “When you say you’ll do one thing, then you do another, that’s a really good thing to do. It really makes people like you.”
Peter decided to steer the conversation towards its primary focus: “So guys, I get that business has been good recently; these kids are really digging the weed we’ve been selling. But I feel like we need to change the way we operate; really mix things up.”
“We need to stop doing what’s best for our buyers and start doing what’s best for us, the pushers,” added Frank.
The trio agreed in unison. A plan was about to be hatched; a plan so monumental it would make the Washington monument appear as minute and insignificant as a HB pencil.
“I was thinking,” Johnny began. “What if we take the product we’ve been selling normally at a fixed price, then take some of that product out of the bag and distribute it into smaller bags? We could charge a fixed price for less product than our customers were already buying, then charge extra for quick fixes further down the line. The customers would think they’re getting more for their money, but we’re actually robbing them blind!”
“You mean like micro transactions?”
“Yes Peter, micro transactions is exactly what I meant by that last sentence.”
“I like that idea,” said Gibeau, “Pissing off our consumers is definitely the best way to run a business.”
“We can do more though! I know how we used to be committed to providing people with the best product so they felt like their money was invested wisely, but what if we stopped that? What if we took our best weed, replaced it with inferior product, but kept the labels similar?” Johnny C was on fire, throwing out ideas as though they were old, stale biscuits. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a film sandwich bag, filled to the brim with a flaky green substance.
“Take this product for example: “Grass Effect”. This weed sells well, so why not just replace it with a more common, boring type of weed, but still sell it as Grass Effect? Head Spaced, Dragon Sage, Need for Weed; all of our products can be homogenized into dull, clones of each other, at no expense to anyone bar the consumer!”
“Jesus fucking Christ Johnny, with business acumen like that, I’m surprised you aren’t working for a large corporation like PepsiCo or Haagen-Dazs!” Moore and Gibeau were aghast, their simple minds blown by such an impressive plan.
Before the trio could celebrate their seemingly inevitable victory and subsequent financial gain, a problem reared its ugly head. That problem was Gabe Newell.
Gabe “New Kid” Newell was relatively new to the dealing business, but he’d made quite a name for himself as a pro-consumer drug dealer; a people’s-pusher. Despite his unassuming and non-threatening nature, as well as his unpopularity in school (Johnny and his friends had begun calling him “Gay Newell”, which was always met with raucous laughter), Gabe was beginning to control the Oldtown weed trade. Offering great weed at affordable prices, Newell was putting the consumer first, and profiting as a result. Some buyers even claimed they had “libraries full of Gabe’s weed that they were never even going to use”; they just bought it “because it was so cheap”.
A silent rage boiled within Johnny C; his friends had to physically hold him back as Gabe crossed the street just 30 short feet away.
“Easy Johnny, we can’t fight him with muscle; it’s too risky. We need to fight him with our superior business minds. With you on our side, there’s no way we can lose.”
Johnny smirked. He’d momentarily begun to doubt his prowess as a businessman and a dealer, but doubt was for losers. Winners dealt with problems by lunging at them head on, giving no pause for rational thought or constructive criticism. Johnny C was a winner.
With these new business plans in place, there was no way he could fail. He had the market in the palm of his hands, and to throw it away now would be a very, very stupid thing to do.