Shortly after Suzanne and I began to work for my father full time he said to me that he
A few weeks later I ran into the R.C. route salesman and one of the stores in town. Back then the salesman did everything. They drove a truck load of product around, checked the inventory for each store and then immediately delivered what they thought that store needed for the next week. It works differently now and not as well, I might add.
I told the route salesman that before he left town for the day we would like to talk to him at Western Auto about selling his product. He said he would stop by on his way out of town. He never stopped.
Several months later I encountered a different route salesman in town and told him the same thing. The man said he was new to the route and R.C. and had not set up new accounts yet but he would stop by the store and see what he could do.
Well, he did actually stop by the store and my father asked him about the price of soft drinks. At that time we sold Coke products out of a machine that never worked and that was it. The sales man told him what he could sell him a case or two for.
My father then asked the salesman what the least price we could sell two liter drinks for would be. The sales man told him that we would have to buy 300 cases of two liters, and that each week we would have to buy enough two liters to build back up to 300 cases and if we did we could sell them at 69¢ each. My father told him to set him up. Then my father asked him what was the least we could sell canned drinks for. The salesman told him we would have to buy 300 cases of those as well and buy back up to 300 cases each week and then we could sell a six pack for about $1. My father told him to go ahead.
The route salesman brought in those cases of soda and we built a display and put up signs and went to selling the soft drinks.
Meanwhile back at the R.C. warehouse the route salesman has been chewed out by his district manager because of how they were going to have to eventually buy back all those soft drinks from us. The district manager told his salesman that that was the stupidest mistake that he had ever had a new salesman make and that when they did have to buy them back that the total cost was going to come out of his commission.
My father loved to sell. He could sell ice to an Eskimo if he wanted to. He wanted to sell R.C. so everyone that came in the store was told about the R.C. price. We sold out of the R.C. drinks in less than two days.
That next week the route salesman with his district manager came to the store at the end of his day. They salesman had been listening all day to how the district manager was going to have to go in and explain to us about what a mistake was made and that the company would like to apologize to us for the hassle.
When the salesman came in the store he looked like he had lost his last friend. He was dragging lower than the ears on a Bassett Hound. The first words out of the district manager’s mouth were “Where are all my drinks?” I told him, “We sold them!” He said well what about the drinks in the back room, why aren’t they out here?” I told him that we did not put anything in the back room. I went on to tell him that Bruce was upset with R.C. because we ran out of drinks in less than two days and we did not know how to get in touch with them to get more drinks.
My father had a special way of dealing with “know it all district managers.” He hated them. He made it plain with this district manager that we would continue to sell the product as long as this salesman were on the route and that the district manager left the salesman alone. By the time Bruce was finished the district manager had a change of heart and apologized to the route salesman and then arranged for us to get a brand new R.C. drink machine and that they would pay to install an outdoor outlet for the machine so that it could be outside the store on the sidewalk.
Learn from this story what you will. I think the important points were:
1. The original route salesman, the one that did not come to the store, let a lot of business pass by that should have been easy to get.
2. The new salesman approached the new business in an honest straightforward way and got what became the best stop on all the routes in the district manager’s district.
3. District Mangers and other supervisors need to observe and actually see what the facts are before they try to correct the actions of their people.
4. Just because a mom and pop place is a mom and pop place does not mean that it can’t be very profitable for all concerned.
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