The Hot Shots

Many years ago, in the distant past of the mythical city of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Well, maybe mythical is a stretch. I was young, and my future stretched out before me. Just out of college and looking to my future. I was seduced by Kirby Vacuum Cleaners. With a bit of money saved from my first job out of college, I was looking for a job that paid well, with opportunities. As I perused the Tulsa tribune’s want ads, One popped out. It offered a fantastic amount of money, and all I had to do was sell a couple of vacuum cleaners. If my memory serves me, I could make $600 or more a week. So off to Tulsa, I went. Soon I was pitching the powerful Kirby Vacuum door to door.

You could make up to $300 for each sale if you got full price for the machine. The Kirby of that day looked and felt substantial. One of my first sales was to the Hess family, neighbors across the street from my parents. Mrs. Hess was impressed with the power of the vacuum. As I demonstrated it, I pulled the filter cloth out of the demo fixture mounted on it. She was amazed! On the cloth, I held in my hand was sawdust. Several years before, they had remodeled the living room and then laid a new carpet. She had swept that floor for over three years, and here was sawdust pulled up through the carpet! She had to have one. I offered them the family discount. No, they insisted. They would pay me the total price. My new career got a big boost that day.

The rest of the months I sold Kirbys did not go so well. You seldom sold a machine for full price. And going door to door could be depressing. I didn’t get into as many doors as some of the other fellows. I don’t know how many doors a day I got into, but I remember figuring I averaged about one sale for every three doors I entered. And each sale netted me $100. That was the lowest I would go down. A boy had to eat.

Near the end of my Kirby sales career, two hotshot salesmen from Texas came to Tulsa to help with sales. They must not have been as good as the local Kirby dealership expected. The owner touted those guys as the best in our region. So, for the next two weeks, they helped us increase our sales.

The Kirby sales pyramid worked like this, for each Kirby sold, the salesman made between $25 to $300. The supervisor made $25. His manager, in this case, the owner of the local store, made $25. I don’t know how much the local store made on each sale. The store we sold from looked good, and they had two full-time secretaries. The owner looked like he was doing well. Well enough that he could divert some funds to paying the two master salesmen, I would guess between $25 to $50 per sale. I suppose sales went up for the company. I don’t remember.

I do remember one particular night. I hadn’t made a single sale that day. But I did have a prospect that I was confident would give me $100 for the day. But I had to return to the house to demonstrate the machine to the husband. After all, the $600 investment was substantial.

Our sales coaches insisted I keep knocking on doors. As I knocked, I watched the clock, knowing I had a sale waiting. I got into another door just before my appointment. What to do? Gary, (The name has been changed because I can’t remember it) told me. “Don’t worry. We’ll get that sale for you. Go ahead. This could be another sale for you today.” So, in I went.

The nice couple let me spend a half-hour demonstrating the Kirby. I was sure I had a sale here. I laid various filter cloths out on their coffee table, one from the living room and one from the bed. The long handle on that model Kirby could be removed, and the machine was then a handheld vacuum. I was making my close. I could feel that $100 in my pocket.

Gary, the lead “hot shot,” knocked on the door. He came to help. Once introduced, I started my close again. “Did this come from your bed?” he asked. “Yes,” they told him. “Disgusting,” he said. My heart sank. I could feel the mood shift. It sank lower and lower as he went on and on with his spiel. Didn’t he see the smile on the man’s face disappear or the wife paling beside him? He finished. “Go ahead and finish, Dale. I have another salesman to help next door. I saw my $100 disappear as I turned to the couple. Once the door closed behind my trainer, the husband leaned over. “I had planned to buy that machine. I won’t now. How can I after that guy insulted my wife like that?” he almost whispered. “I like you, but there is no sale.” I thanked them for their time and bid them goodbye.

“Don’t worry about that,” Gary told me. “I closed the other sale for you. You made $25.” $25! I lost almost $200 because of that specialist. I smoldered inside. Soon the hotshots left to sabotage someone else’s sales. And not long after, I made a career move.

Never trust hotshots. They care only about their $25 .

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