can write freely about Rachel, my fourteen-year-old niece, because I know that she will never see this column. She doesn’t know that I write a magazine column, and even if she did know, she wouldn’t care. If you know any fourteeners, you know what I mean.
THE ROAD NOT TAKEN
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by Dave Garretson
Rachel, my job is really hard… Believe me!
“Uncle Dave has the easiest job in the world,” Rachel observed recently.
“What do you mean?” I asked, trying not to let my defensiveness show.
“All you do is sit around and goof off,” Rachel answered. “You just talk on the phone and mess around with your computer. It’s so easy.”
Ouch! Busted by a kid!
Okay, hold on, now. There are some difficult aspects to my work. Rachel, (and any of my bosses who are reading this), you gotta believe me... Being a rep really isn’t that easy.
If I could bring her along with me on the road, she’d see me struggling to do my real job. For instance…
Rachel is smart, so she’d probably notice immediately that I seem to be lost whenever I’m driving.
“You know,” I’d explain to her in an uncle-ish fashion, “No matter how many times I visit a place, I never seem to get the hang of it. I’m hopelessly lost wherever I go. It’s amazing that I ever manage to arrive anyplace on time.”
Of course, if I have a sales manager or company president in the car, forget about it. I get really lost with a boss in the car. After I finally drop them off at the airport (once I manage to find it), I know they’ll be thinking it’s time to hire another rep, maybe somebody who knows his way around in the territory.
That would be the beginning of my imaginary trip with Rachel. When we arrive at the first appointment of the week, Rachel will observe my calm composure when I discover that the person I am there to see is not, uh, there to see. But I drove all this distance, I might say, and I’m only in this area infrequently, I might add, and besides, the buyer asked me to come here today, it wasn’t even my idea! Of course, I won’t matter what I say, the person I’m there to see will still be unavailable.
“Retailing is like that,” I’ll explain to Rachel. “When I was in retail, my day would take unexpected turns all the time, I never knew what to expect. I’m sure there were plenty of times that I stood up futon sales reps for appointments myself.” Did I? I don’t remember.
At the next stop, Rachel will see me doing the jigsaw puzzle presentation. That’s where I provide one tiny piece of information at a time, wait while the buyer is interrupted, provide another piece, wait through another interruption, and at the end I hope that the other person can somehow put the pieces together and see the whole picture. It usually ends with the buyer saying, “I can’t really make a decision about this today. Let’s get together at the next market.”
Ah, the market. Let’s take Rachel to High Point!
Of course, the real preparation for market begins two weeks beforehand. That’s when I call buyers for appointments. Somewhere in the rulebook for sales reps, it says that I must call buyers for appointments at the market. In the rulebook for buyers, it says they should answer that they don’t make appointments, but they’ll try to stop by. I tell them where the showroom is; they say that they’re writing it down. If I listen closely, I think I can hear the pen moving. My next conversation with the buyer will be two weeks after the market is over, when I call to ask why they never showed up. It’s a little ritual we have.
At the market, Rachel and I will be in the showroom bright and early, “This is my real job,” I’ll explain to her, “Now you’ll really see me in action.” We’ll have a cup of coffee with the other reps while we’re waiting for things to pick up. I’ll explain the whole buyers-don’t-make-appointments-at-market thing, and one of the other reps will point out that he already had two appointments this morning, and both of them bought multiple container loads of product from him.
Rachel and I will move to another corner of the futon showroom, to chat with reps who are more respectful of Uncle Dave’s fragile feelings. The conversation won’t last long, because each of them will have to break away to work with customers. Well, at least I still have Rachel and I won’t have to stand here all by myself…. but then she becomes bored and goes downstairs for a snack.
Rachel misses my Golden Moment. At the other end of the showroom, I see one of my buyers walking in! It’s somebody I’ve been talking to for months, and now he’s finally here! I hear him tell the boss how much he LOVES this product line. As I’m making my way over to join them, the boss says, “Oh good, Dave is here to work with you.” The buyer turns to me and says, “Nice to meet you. Why doesn’t your company have a rep in my area?”
Rachel will come back in time to see my other signature move, The Switcheroo.
“Hey!” I’ll exclaim as I see a buyer coming down the hallway, “Here comes Bob from Pittsburgh!”
“Hi Dave,” the futon buyer will answer, “I’m Paul from Buffalo.”
Now that I think of it, I’m going to leave Rachel right where she is, at home. I don’t want to overwhelm her with my high-powered salesmanship.