Tuesday, April 7, 2009

An essay... for a change.

In case you hadn't noticed, this blog is not so much a blog as a sketch pad for me to practice writing in. So you get a lot of fictional stuff, all of it rough and unedited. Today, I thought I would write an essay of sorts, just to break up the rhythm. Don't worry, I will get back to the "Random Plot" story soon enough. Meanwhile, enjoy a lesson I learned a long time ago.

The Art of Salesmanship

I am not much of a salesman, although I was once offered a position as one of those people that drives around with a trunk full of stereo equipment and tries to get people to buy it. I am not so sure that my sales acumen was as impressive to them as the fact that I showed up to their so-called interview and spent the entire day trudging through slush and snow and interrupting people at work without quitting. (Apparently 9 out of 10 people do just that before lunchtime...) Despite my lack of skill at selling things to people, I learned at a pretty young age one of the secrets to being able to sell things.

When I was in elementary school, we took a trip to the State Fair. It was a pretty highly anticipated trip, and I spent as much time as possible harassing my Dad for spending money. Looking back, I am truly sorry that I gave him so much grief. With seven kids to feed and some pretty bad luck job-wise, to say we lived paycheck to paycheck would be slightly over-stating the case. However, when the day of the trip came, somehow he produced about five bucks for me to take. Happy to have something, I went off on my trip.

When we arrived at the fair, we immediately began running around finding the absolute stupidest things to throw our money at. The kids with plenty of money but whose parents did not come were in heaven, and were quickly carrying around arms full of cheap toys and snarfing down extremely unhealthy food. The kids whose parents came also had it pretty good, since parents came with wallets. Their giddiness was tempered however by needing approval to buy stuff, and depending on the thriftiness of the parents, they also collected a good armful of junk.

Then there were the kids like me, with a small wad of crumpled bills and that hungry, tortured look borne of the knowledge that we had to find just the PERFECT piece of junk to throw our money away on. (Not included in this discussion were the smart kids who saved their money for another day. I mean, how interesting are they anyway?) I wandered around, examining the selections of toys wistfully, feeling a pang of disappointment over and over again as I examined the price tags. Five bucks just doesn't buy much fair junk these days. As I went around I began to notice that much of the junk in the stalls was very much the same. In fact, it was exactly the same, but each salesperson would try to arrange their fair junk in a slightly different configuration to stand out from the stalls to the left and right. I finally resigned myself to the fact that none of the toys I wanted were within my price range, and so I began just visiting the different stalls and trying the stuff out.

Now we get down to the secret I promised. Pay attention, it shouldn't be hard to see.

I walked up to one stall with a friend of mine, and we began admiring some plastic swords. And by admiring, I mean we picked them up and started swinging them at imaginary bad guys. The guy at this stall barked out at us to put them down and I, willing to pretend that I was genuinely interested in his merchandise, asked: "How much are these?" With nothing more than another growl, he snapped some sarcastic comment and snatched the swords out of our hands. My friend and I quickly wandered away, and found another stall. This one was crawling with kids, and the salesman was out front actually sword fighting with kids. My friend and I went there and joined in the fun for a while, and it was there that I actually spent my precious money. (On a trick pack of gum that would snap your fingers when you took the fake stick of gum out of the fake pack... Yep, I know. I certainly go MY money's worth!)

After a long and very fun day at the fair, we began wandering back towards the school buses. As we walked, I remember passing the grouchy guy's stand. It was still stuffed to the gills with fake swords, stuffed animals, and other assorted junk. He sat on a stool glowering at the passing people. Then we passed the cheerful guy's stand. It was empty. Completely sold out except for a few broken toys stacked on the counter. The guy was out front sweeping up and waving and joking with people as they passed.

Did you get the secret? I guess it is not really a secret, but of all my childhood memories, this one stands out. I imagine that the second guy probably lost some money on the toys that got broken by kids playing with them. I am sure that a few toys walked off without being paid for while he was having fun with his customers. But how much do you want to bet that those minor costs were more than covered by the profits he made by selling out his entire inventory? How much profit do you think the grouchy guy made from his carefully protected and unmolested inventory still on the shelves at the end of the day?

Attitude is everything, especially when convincing people to part with their hard-earned money is involved. If people feel welcome to come on in, touch the merchandise, and get the feeling that the salesperson enjoys their job, they are more likely to spend money, and come back to spend more later. I could come up with several more examples in my life, including a used-car salesman that actually trust. But I think you get the point.

I did, that day long ago when I spent my few dollars on a cheap toy, just because someone took the time to play swords with me.

© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

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