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Treasure hunter’s tale provides valuable business lessons

Have a distinct business offering that’s valued by your target audience and not easily copied

Think back to your childhood and the delight of imagining buried treasure. Treasures have a story and a historical connection to the past – perhaps that’s why their promise holds such intrigue.

Now imagine having a business as a full-time treasure hunter. That’s what Chris Turner, the ring finder (, does. I met Turner at Grouse Mountain recently. I was downloading after doing the Grind, and he was returning from a successful mission to retrieve a visitor’s ring in the snow.

I was fascinated by his story for several reasons.

•He has a niche business offering: he is a metal detector detective. He reunites people with their lost items.

•There’s a well-defined target market: people with sentimental and valuable pieces of jewelry, lost keys and other items that were thought to have been gone forever.

•He has differentiated his business and strategy: he offers retrieval services in the Lower Mainland, will travel for a fee or will link you through his directory to associated providers worldwide.

•His business grew out of a childhood passion: at 12, he saw an ad for a metal detector in his dad’s magazine, saved up and bought one. He’s been hooked ever since.

•He loves what he does and ultimately makes people happy: he’s in the smile business.

•He works on a reward basis: customers pay what they think his service is worth and what they can afford. He’s worked for $1,000, and he’s worked for a loaf of banana bread.

•He donates 15% of his revenue to BC Children’s Hospital: giving back is priceless.

His business has grown substantially in recent years largely due to online search and networking. I asked him what the most common retrieval has been during his 18 years of business.

“Wedding rings. Taken off and thrown in the heat of an argument with immediate regret,” Turner said.

And the most memorable story?

“Well, that would have to be the couple from Australia. They were travelling through the Rockies by car. She had taken off five rings, gifts from her late husband, and rolled them in the fold of her shirt while putting on hand lotion. She completely forgot about them when they got out at the roadside to take a photo. It wasn’t until they were about to board their flight back to Australia that she realized what had happened. She was devastated. They boarded the plane, but the fellow returned several months later, rented a car and found the roadside spot based solely on the photo he had taken there. With a fork, foraging in the dirt on two separate days, he retrieved two rings. He returned to Australia, but a year later he came back, this time employing my services to find the other three rings. We drove the stretch from Calgary to a GPS setting he had taken. We passed miles and miles of roadside construction, and I could literally feel his heart sink. Remarkably, as we rounded the corner to the spot where they had been lost, the crew was still short of the site. With my metal detector, we were able to find the remaining three rings. It was a remarkable story.”

Of course, Turner is a boy with his toys. Packing a bag full of super sleuth stuff, he looked to be a cross between a pirate and James Bond. He’s now planning to launch a service to exclusive resorts for the über rich. He figures they lose things, too, and they’re likely to pay handsomely for retrieval. As well, the resorts accepting their $50,000 to $100,000-plus per night stay on exclusive islands would be equally motivated to satisfy their guests. And there just might be exotic travel involved.

What’s the marketing lesson in this story?

Have a distinct business offering that’s valued by your target audience and not easily copied. Know your target segment, and cater your product/service offering, pricing, promotion and distribution with that target in mind. And finally, do what you love. If you take care of everything else, profit will follow. •