MACLEAN'S REPORTS

Yes—you, too, can be a real wheeler-dealer

CATHERINE BRESLIN March 1 1968
MACLEAN'S REPORTS

Yes—you, too, can be a real wheeler-dealer

CATHERINE BRESLIN March 1 1968

Yes—you, too, can be a real wheeler-dealer

NOW THERE’S AN ASSOCIATION FOR WHEELER-DEALERS!

shouted the heading on the press release. I’d always thought wheeling and dealing called for the most solitary kind of rugged individualism but, strange to say, wheeler-dealers were uniting, and (I learned as I read on) even I could become one of them.

“If you agree that it’s perfectly legitimate to take legal advantage of little-known opportunities and foxysmart angles to wind up with a fortune, perhaps you should join the Wheeler-Dealer Association.” Perhaps indeed! If there was a fortune to wind up with, there was no perhaps about it.

“You don’t have to go to Washington to be a wheeler-dealer,” the release assured me. “Nor must you be dishonest in any way. The important thing is to think and act like one. The Association helps its members do just that.” How? Through “a bimonthly digest of smart-money methods and unusual ground-floor, profitmaking opportunities” and an “annual Wheeler-Dealer Directory” devised to “increase members’ contacts and enhance their availability.” Charter members of the New York-based organization would receive “a bonus gift” as well — “a handsome leather Wheeler-Dealer Organizer valued at $7.95 (which) holds 24 credit cards . . . All that, plus big discounts on records, books and gifts ^— for an annual fee of $25. A pittance compared to what I’d make in a year of wheeling and dealing — even an offyear.

Since I live in New York, I realized it would be foxy-smart to whip right around to the Wheeler-Dealer office and get in on the ground floor. Hurrying down to an address on West 38th Street, in Manhattan’s garment district, I found the world headquarters of the Wheeler-Dealer Association to be a twelfth-floor, two-room office presided over by a genial, cigarsmoking, 43 - year - old ex - magician named George Feldman. At the moment, Feldman, clad in a red-andwhite checked sports shirt, was surrounded by a clutter of file boxes and attended by a staff of two or three envelope-stuffers. “But we’ll be adding more,” he assured me as he waved me into a chair. “I think WheelerDealer’s going to be big.”

He referred to it that way, I soon realized, because Wheeler-Dealer, far from being Feldman’s first enterprise, is merely his latest. He’s been dabbling for 20 years in advertising, promoting, franchising and sometimes ghost-writing for big-name promotional firms who, when the work piles up, farm out some of their chores (“unbeknownst to the client,” Feldman said, conspiratorially). Feldman’s most successful scheme so far is (or perhaps was) “a world-wide

association” called Finderhood, Inc. It has 2,000 dues-paying members (“active and inactive”) who enrolled in hopes of picking up “finders’ fees” for finding things ordinary mortals can’t easily find. Like finding a buyer for a load of aircraft, Feldman suggested as an example, or finding somebody to take over a cable-TV franchise, or finding somebody to run a 70-acre village in Michigan, whenever there happens to be a 70-acre village in Michigan that needs somebody to run it. Finders belonging to Finderhood, Inc. are also braced to start finding hard-to-find inventions like a bristleless toothbrush or a gadget for parking your car sideways. It sounded exciting — and inspiring, too, considering the Finderhood, Inc. motto: “He who finds for others, finds himself.”

“It’s a crazy idea,” Feldman told me affably, in what seemed like a fair summation of that scheme. WheelerDealer, of course, was going to be different. And bigger.

Just who is a wheeler-dealer? I wanted to know. Fortunately, Feldman himself turned out to be a living example: “In the finer sense of the term,” he said expansively, “a wheeler-dealer is someone who maximizes his opportunities, and this is what ƒ do.”

Newcomers, of course, couldn’t be total maximizers, but it would be enough, at the start, to have the desire to maximize. “Some people get a vicarious thrill out of reading a book on business, but there’s a time when you have to stop reading and start acting. These are people who don’t know anything, who would never take a chance but need to advance themselves, actually fulfill themselves and become a better person. We’ll help.”

How? “We’ll try to show him how to promote something on somebody

else’s money, how to build up his personality, how to protect himself, how to get a piece of the action, like cribbing a patent or a copyright. Anything that’s legal.”

It was all beginning to sound just a trifle — well, grubby, and I was relieved when Feldman moved along to a few of the more uplifting implications. “Actually, Wheeler-Dealer is a research service, weeding out worthwhile opportunities. It’s educational and spiritual, too — and if you don’t think spiritual things are important, look at the Maharishi, that little guru who’s going to talk in Madison Square Garden at ten bucks a head. I’ll bet he sells the place out.”

Will the W-DA similarly attract a big following? “It’s pointed to a membership of 10,000,” Feldman said, though, as he also conceded, it has so far managed to point directly at only about 100. “But we haven’t even advertised it yet.”

Certainly Wheeler-Dealer stood at least as good a chance as some of Feldman’s earlier ventures. Like the fountain pen that wrote with water (“Never buy ink again!”) which cost him $1,000. Or the Retirement Club which “looked great in research” but gobbled up a $2,000 investment in five months. Or that merchandising deal

nine years ago in which Feldman got stuck with umpteen $7.95 pocket secretaries that are now useful after all — as “handsome leather WheelerDealer Organizers.”

“I’m a practical dreamer now,” Feldman said, by way of underlining the big factor that's bound to make Wheeler-Dealer a winner. “I’m no longer pie - in - the - sky, it’s - going -to - make - 40 - million - dollars. But sometimes the little things you don’t expect to be great turn out to be.”

Could he name an instance when that’s happened with one of his schemes?

The world’s No. 1 Wheeler-Dealer pondered a minute, then smiled gracefully. “Really,” he said, “I can’t think of any.”

CATHERINE BRESLIN