Reprinted from June 1993
One particular hectic Monday, after closing the store, RB dropped by the friendly neighborhood tavern to “unwind.”
Perched comfortably on a stool, RB was sipping a cold beer when a dejected looking fellow slid in next to him. He looked so lost in thought. After a few minutes had passed the fellow looked mournfully at RB and moaned, “Hi.”
RB introduced himself and learned that his sad bar mate was named Sam Sneer, and that he represented a large eastern jewelry firm called Seedy Manufacturing Company.
“I have to travel this godforsaken part of West Texas calling on jewelers,” Sam complained. “Boy, what a bunch of jerks!”
Sam swallowed his beer and RB said, “Have another on me, pal. What was it you were saying about us, I mean about the jeweler jerks.”
Sam sipped on his new beer and went on, “Oh, I had it in mind to call on a prospect named R.B. Williams, but when I got to his place it was locked up and he was gone. Boy, talk about banker’s hours! I always try to time my calls when the jeweler is right in the middle of opening up, you know, before he has had his coffee, or else right at closing time when he is dashing about doing things. I guess I timed this Williams guy too close, because I sure missed him.”
RB wanted to cheer him up, so he said, “Oh well, that’s his loss, not yours. Things going pretty good for you lately?”
Sam put on a smile you could see right through. “Well,” he said, “I’m pretty good in my line of work, but I sure have some tough moments. These jewelers are a bunch of kooks, I tell you. Just yesterday I called on a fellow over in Creaky Springs, with the idea of getting an order out of him. I sat my presentation case (with built-in hobnail feet) down on one of his glass counters, and it scratched it a little bit. Not much, just a little bit. You shoulda heard that old boy blow his stack! He wouldn’t even look at my line. And when I was leaving he yelled at me saying he’d never forget my visit.”
RB chuckled and nudged him in the ribs with his elbow. “Well, if the old boy don’t forget you, maybe he will order the next time you call.”
Sam nodded, “That’s how I got it figured,” he said seriously.
Encouraged by RB’s conversation, Sam lit up another cigarette and said, “This reminds me of another problem I had with a buyer – a woman.
“You see, I called on this jeweler and he sent me to woman buyer and she was busy in the next room gabbing with another skirt about something or another. So I sat down and lit up. After a while, I looked around for an ashtray, and you know what? They weren’t any. Not a one. So I flipped the match onto the floor and moved over next to a potted plant and used it for the ashtray.
“Had to wait about 20 minutes, so I smoked three or four cigarettes and put the butts in the base of the pot that held the plant. When that woman buyer came out and saw the butts she sure was sassy. I’ll never know why they make buyers out of women. Don’t they know that a man has to smoke?”
RB tried to change the subject. “Where do you live, Sam?”
“Jersey,” Sam confessed.
“Don’t spend much time there, though, with the family. Company makes a lot of demands on me, and I’m on the road all of the time.”
“What kind of demands, Sam?”
“Well, there’s always a lot of sales bulletins and technical literature they want me to read and memorize. I don’t have time for that kind of stuff.”
“Don’t you suppose,” RB asked, “that those bulletins contain a lot of information you should pass onto your customers?”
Sam look puzzled. “Who needs it? I bluff my way through. People like my wit and charm, and that’s what gets me by. Jewelers could care less about a product. It’s in a package, so they just put it on a shelf and wait until it sells itself.”
“Well,” suggested RB, “suppose you offered some helpful hints to your accounts that would enable them to increase their sales. Don’t you think….”
“No, no, no,” Sam butted in.
“These merchants get downright nasty with me if I push off merchandise that does not move. They act as though it was my fault they don’t sell more, so I don’t give any free advice. Let the public relations and advertising boys take care of that. My job is selling, and if it wasn’t for me, we wouldn’t have a company.”
“Have you always sold jewelry?” asked RB.
“No,” answered Sam. “I’ve sold other things. Learned my trade from Bugle Bill, an old time sales manager who taught me everything he knew before the company went broke.”
Sam’s eyes dimmed with nostalgia. “There’s one important formula I learned from Bill that helps me make sure a customer will never forget me or my company.”
“What’s that Sam?”
“First off,” Sam explained, “I never, never, send an advance card to a prospect to tip him off that I might be coming. I simply walk into his store, smile and say, “Hello, Mr. Jeweler. Bet you didn’t expect to see me back so soon!
“That’s all. Offer no card or anything. I just stand there and smile.”
Sam snickered, remembering his trick. “You see, it’s the shock that get’s ‘em,” he laughed. “The jeweler can’t place me, even though I look familiar. He figures I’m a customer, but he’s not quite sure, so he just stammers around trying to think.
“Finally, I break down laughing and tell him who I am. The jeweler is usually too polite to bawl me out. He usually laughs, although I can tell he’s sizzling inside over the joke I played on him. But the important thing is that it makes a strong impression for me and my company.”
RB smiled. “What else did ol’ Bugle Bill teach you, Sam?”
Sam was on his third beer now.
“Well, he told me to be careful to quote my wholesale prices in clear, audible tones for everybody in the store to hear. He also said to pass on any information about the competition down the street. The jewelers will love you for that.
“Yeah, old Bugle Bill, he was some guy all right, and a mighty good teacher. ‘If a man’s a Democrat, be a Republican. If he’s a family man, talk up the bachelor life. If he likes golf, talk about baseball. If he’s an independent, brag on the chains.’ Boy, I really did admire old Bugle Bill.”
After about three beers, Sam was about to cry.
“Whatever happened to Bugle Bill, Sam?” asked RB.
Sam sniffed. “I dunno. Last time I heard he was selling Edsels.”
“Well, I’ll bet you’re a whale of a good salesman yourself, Sam,” RB said, trying to cheer the fellow up.
It seemed to help. Sam managed to control himself and his voice sounded determined again. “I’m working on a presentation to make to Slit Throat Discount Company. If they take on my line, my commissions will improve.”
RB stood up and slapped Sam on the shoulder. “Well, I’ve got to go now. Maybe we will meet again.”
“I doubt it,” Sam said. “My orders in this part of the country have dropped off, and I might not travel here anymore.”
RB thought it was worth just one more suggestion. “Well, Sam, with all you know and as fine a salesman as you say you are, you shouldn’t worry. You are bound to make a big impression wherever you go. And Sam, I hope you go far!”