Dearth of The Salesmen

My father was from the old school of salesmen. He had the gift of gab and believed in his product while it seems today as if everyone pushing something is out just to make a buck.

I recently went to a men’s clothier to buy a new suit which had been long overdue. Six months earlier the store used to be across the street from my condo building. They moved away to a more obscure but not too far distant location. At the old place, the entrance was as if going into a speakeasy. One had to drive to the back parking lot that was much in need of repair and enter through a very nondescript and almost unmarked door. Once inside, there were a handful of salesmen eager to grab the next sucker, I mean, prospect entering through the ugly portal.

The new place seems to be a much bigger building but there are hardly any salesmen ready to fawn on the fresh meat. The one who finally did mosey on over was someone I recognized from the old site. Once he recognized me and remembered that I lived across from the previous location, he expressed his deep gratitude that I came by. Apparently, they were worried that they had lost the natural traffic that the old location brought in. It was on a high profile street less than two blocks east of a major expressway.

Generally, I don’t like a salesperson fawning over me as I look through merchandise but when it comes to buying a suit, I appreciate it. I need an objective voice to tell me that the clothes fit properly and if it is the right color and style.

I feel the same way when I am looking to purchase a major electrical appliance. I want someone there to guide me to the properly featured and priced item for my budget. I also like the idea that at some these type of stores you can haggle over the price.

I recently went to a very well-known electronics chain store looking to purchase an inexpensive portable phone. At the door, I asked the combination greeter and bag checker where the area for the portable phones was located. He pointed to the specific area and I waded my way there. Once there, a young fellow with a microphone headset over his ears and a walkies-talkie in his hand approached. He asked what I was looking for and pointed out the specific options on the shelves. He continued to stand in my vicinity with his body facing mine but now he was looking out in other directions for other fish to catch. I had a couple of more questions to ask before I felt comfortable making selection, but he seemed disinterested in getting involved. Only when I said, “excuse me, but could you answer this for me?” did he relent to look me in the face. As soon as I got answers that made me comfortable with a purchase decision, he ran off. I guess buying something for less than thirty-five dollars was not worth his time even though he was not paid a commission.

My father put on his stationery a picture of his smiling face while holding a cup of coffee along with a tag line that read, “C’mon over and visit. The coffee is always warm.” With a product such as life and health insurance, he was required to not only sell but service his clients. He was just as thoughtful and eager to help a client process a claim form as he used it for an opportunity to sell additional policies to the claimant’s friends and relatives.

Of course, this was during the days before the Internet where so much is now a matter of direct sale and servicing of claims. It was towards the end of his career that computers started to take a toehold in his industry. He bragged about the first time he typed a policy form proposal for approval from the home office into what looked like a typewriter hooked up to a telephone acoustic coupler. He told Ma and me that he programmed a computer. I had to explain to him that he input data into a modem gateway.
It didn’t matter to him. All it meant was that he could now expect to get a faster turn-around on policy approvals which meant getting his commissions even sooner.

The life insurance products that he sold guaranteed him commissions for as long as the policyholder
continued to pay into it, albeit at a gradually reduced portion. Several of his clients had no idea that he was in a nursing home for almost the last seven years of his life. Sometimes they would call at the house and my mother would have to explain that he was “retired” and should talk to the home office for another person to help them. He kept getting those commission checks automatically posted into his bank account. Only when he passed away did the money cease. However, what my mother did not know, nor for that matter did my father, was that the company had kept a special life insurance policy on him due to his more than thirty-five years association with the firm. Despite losing a portion of social security benefits as well as his pension, Ma thankfully received a handsome payout on that special policy.

I guess the moral of the story is that one good deed- dedication to the craft of selling and keeping customers happy for so many years- turns another. And that’s a good policy.

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