The Winn Dixie Story

By Lee Collins •  Updated: 08/28/16 •  4 min read
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

I was 18 years old when I got my first job. It was at a McDonalds. This lasted about a month. But in a moment I will share with you how that one single month set the stage for the rest of my entire life’s work.

After I left McDonalds, I progressed slight upward in my career path and in 1988 I began working at the Winn-Dixie Deli in Camden, South Carolina.

I was still in high school and it was unusual for a high school student to be given a slot working in the deli. We were usually used to fill bag boy or stocking spots. Because of this I felt it was a great privilege to have that job, I was determined to make the most of it, and to date it has probably been one of the most fun jobs in my whole life.

I had been working at the deli for about 6 months, training on properly handling and cutting meat, baking and decorating cakes, repackaging cheese, making doughnuts, and occasionally helping with inventory when one afternoon (in a weird break room conversation) I identified and brought to my manager’s attention 7 things we could do to make the deli work better.

He laughed, shooed me away to the front counter to help a customer, and nothing happened.

I felt completed rejected. But, what seasoned manager would listen to an 18-year old punk kid with grand ideas about how to make HIS deli work better?


About a month later another unusual event happened – I was scheduled to work the deli alone all day on a Sunday. Sunday was a slow day and through a weird combination of vacation there was simply nobody else available, so for the first time ever, the entire deli was left in the responsible hands of an 18-year old high school kid.

Call it the reckless abandon of youth or maybe passion and motivation… whatever the words Iwe use to describe it,  saw opportunity to test my ideas and I was both excited and nervous. I have always thought “differently” and if my ideas worked, I would show my boss and prove to him they were valid. If they didn’t work, as long as I didn’t burn the place down I figured I could just quietly remove everything and nobody would be the wiser.

Sunday was only 4 days away and I had much to do.

When Sunday arrived I was visited first thing by the store manager who had no idea I was working alone and was not happy about this. He called my boss who explained there was nobody else and that I was very capable and everything would be OK, but if anything happened I was to call him immediately.

The good news is: nothing bad happened. I spent the day implementing, testing and tweaking my processes all the while happily taking care of customers with their deli meat and cake decorating needs.

But what happened next was one of the scariest moments of my life (at least for a lanky 18-year old).


You can find out what happens next in the full version of this story featured in “So, What Do You Do?” a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” type book I recently co-authored with Joel Comm and some other amazing authors. Just click the cover below to download your free PDF version and if you want to be super cool ==> please go leave an awesome review at Amazon.


I only shared this story for the first time recently. Mainly because I’m old and my memory sucks. Kidding.

Really, I just didn’t realize it was relevant to tell a story from 25 years ago. (Sheesh, I am old. Right?) But at a marketing event I heard a keynote speaker talk about “do what comes naturally to you and every day feels like a vacation”. Or something like that.

The point is, the moment he said that this story flashed in my mind and I realized that no matter if I’m writing training plans for the United States Air Force, working as Vice President of Bank of America’s Technology Group, or as Director of Operations & Marketing for Social Media Marketing University — the core essence, the FOUNDATION of it all is “solving business and marketing challenges” for myself or others.

And it IS relevant. And it does matter.

After I left my very lucrative (and well-paying) corporate job in 2007, I embraced my core skill set, and (since the first day I hung up my tie) I have been using my gifts to help myself and others achieve greater success.

And I think that’s pretty darn cool.

Lee Collins

Lee Collins is a former Air Force Network Systems Engineer and Fortune 500 Corporate VP - who is best known as an early pioneer of Direct Response Marketing on the Internet. He has over 24+ years experience running operations for multiple multi-million dollar marketing, software, SEO, financial, and business coaching companies. When Lee isn't helping his private clients solve big (and small) marketing and operations problems, Lee is most likely heading up into the mountains in his fully-equipped Jeep Gladiator. Or just gone fishing.