Monday, March 29, 2010

Poking Dragons

Because we developed the image of the company and what it was about over a long period of time, the later negative attention was perhaps an even bigger shock to us. I think none of us were sure what sort of ‘animal’ we actually were—porcupine (family business) or dragon (multinational operator)? Some of dad’s desire to thumb his nose at authority no doubt goes back to his upbringing; a rebellion against the religiosity of a family who was part of a highly restrictive cult. Maybe at heart dad has always had a desire to be ‘wicked’ in the sense that he reacts very strongly against ‘spin’ and hypocrisy he sees in any organisation (especially the government!) When the cult leader who has your family in thrall to their ideas isn’t smoking what he’s selling himself, children quickly pick up on that. Dad’s later acumen as a businessperson may have been honed in these years as well because of a persistent sense that he needed to be the provider and if necessary work till he dropped to achieve this. Mum’s seen this workaholism become a major issue later in their marriage but that’s a whole other story I really can’t presume to tell for them. Another way of ‘poking the dragon’ of authority before Wicked started was music—because dad had been forced to play Christian songs on the piano accordion on street corners as a boy till all hours of the night, as an adult, his musical ‘stuff you’ to the world became obsessive constant playing on the trumpet of the ‘naughty’ song “Stripper”. He even played it to the ladies in the drive through at our local McDonalds. No wonder risqué slogans and cheeky pictures on vans later became a trademark of his business! Mum also came from a dysfunctional family—she remembers waking up in different places because her father would spend time in pubs drinking and sometimes come home in a state that her mother didn’t want her children to see. While dad picks up on spin as I’ve mentioned (he didn’t believe that anybody’s super was going to be enough to retire on and refused to credit that the Y2K threat was real) he and mum make a good team since she is much better at sensing whether people can be trusted. I am speaking from experience when I say mum is very hard to lie to! She thinks this might be a common character trait that adult children of alcoholics share.
Despite his difficult beginnings dad powered ahead when he discovered a taste for motivational reading—starting with “The E-Myth”. This book was the key to helping him realise if he wanted to grow his business he had to learn to delegate the technical tasks to others and give himself permission to focus on creative ideas for the business if these came to him. Unfortunately for my brothers (as far as they were concerned anyway) he insisted on playing his taped books over and over in the car during the years he was driving them to school. When mum was driver, they preferred listening to Clive Robertson on ABC radio. We were very proud when my youngest brother successfully sent in a ‘word of the day’ query to the program at the age of 13—maybe what dad used to refer to jokingly as ‘brainwashing’ had had some positive effect after all!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Riot of the Daisies

People always tell me “begin at the beginning”. The more I started thinking about Wicked, though, the more I realised how difficult it is to pin down what ‘the beginning’ actually is. I mean I can talk about dad bringing home a valiant made in the 1970’s, a lovely car that was slightly dinted. At the time mum was doing china painting, and dad suggested she paint daisies on the car like she did on her plates. Mum wasn’t having a bar of it at first but dad managed to sweet talk her into it and then the two of them researched what type of paint to use. This research culminated in an evening painting session splashing daisies and vines all over the car, with the aid of a couple of bottles of bubbly and dad holding a gaslight so she could see what she was painting. Perhaps due to the bubbly, the daisies and vines grew bigger and bigger and took over the whole car. The first person to hire this car, which we dubbed “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” asked for it again. When my parents wanted to know why he wanted the painted car, he told them he liked the attention it got him, especially from the girls! This first car led to a second—“Gloria” with purple morning glories all over it. Two vans followed, one with flowers, peace symbols, butterflies and bees. Appropriately, the slogan on the back came from the song lyrics “Let me tell you bout the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees” well you know the rest. The other, later photographed at Ayers Rock, was a van painted red and yellow with enormous poppies on it—because one poppy was extra tall mum dubbed it “The Tall Poppy”.
This was long before Wicked had become a popular brand in its own right, and its possible it goes even further back. I can remember an embarrassing Bongo van with graffiti all over it, which dad used to insist on picking me up in from primary school. Had it been a Wicked van that would have been a different story—I might have had some coolness cred with the other kids then!
I’ve already described how my parents came up with the concept of the painted vans with slogans. Dad’s vision was that they be set up so that people could cook and sleep in them on the road. Dad knew young people hitch hiked around Australia, or bought beaten up old station wagons, which they resold to the next lot of travellers or just abandoned. He was excited about offering a cheap travel option that was safer--no one else was doing this at that time. Now all that remained to slot into place was the name. A young girl named Jill phoned up about hiring one of the vans. When dad described the features of the vans to her, she said “wicked!” meaning cool, great, neat. It was like a light bulb going off in his head—dad’s instincts told him that this was the name to use for the type of company he was interested in creating and promoting. In fact, dad called the van she ended up hiring “Wicked Jill” The thing I find most fascinating about this is how little of it was pre planned as a ‘package’. The realisation that our company could be successful and popular came much later, because the elements of it all came together in dribs and drabs.