I was fifteen. It was my first job. The hot Vallejo, California summer sun beat down on me, but I didn’t notice. I was gung ho! Eager to get going!
I’d joined a crew of about a dozen kids to sell newspaper subscriptions to the San Francisco Examiner. Our job? To set-up routes for paperboys. How? By going door-to-door through neighborhoods offering residents a special introductory deal that included, in addition to a three month Examiner subscription, a beautiful, pure wool stadium blanket!
“That’s a darn good offer!” I thought. “Who wouldn’t want that?”
My first day began with an inspirational sales meeting led by our sales manager, who, it must be said, did a sad job of trying to inspire a group of incurious teens who could hardly withhold their giggles when he invoked something he labeled the Examiner spirit.
While his entire spiel didn’t go so well, he at least ended his pep talk with something useful … a detailed explanation of the special subscription offer and an order pad.
On reflection, maybe he does deserve some credit after all. Perhaps he subliminally did manage to instill some of that Examiner Spirit in us, for following his pitch we ran to our assigned neighborhoods, fanned out two to a block, and went door to door down its streets, covering a fair sized chunk of territory in the process.
I felt pretty good about the way things were going. I sold a special offer subscription to about every other house I visited (it was the age of housewives, a decade before the movement to liberate women began … and the tail-end of the golden era of door-to-door salesmen).
My superb sales-closed success seemed perfectly logical to me. In fact it puzzled me why half of the prospects didn’t buy. “Who wouldn’t want a blanket and three month Examiner subscription for practically free?”
Why anyone would say no just honestly stumped me.
By the time I approached an older place, its front yard overgrown with plants and bushes of every description fighting an epic battle with each other for territory (Vallejo was originally named Eden for good reason), I was brimming with confidence, like a seasoned pro … but I wasn’t ready for what followed.
I navigated the narrowing entry passageway, silvery spiderwebs overhead and knocked enthusiastically rung the doorbell. I was possessed! I wanted to keep getting on down the block to let everybody in on the great deal I could give them!
A middle-aged man with a kindly face answered the door. I immediately launched into my sales pitch. About half way through, he interrupted, “Hey. It’s pretty hot out there. How’d you like a soda?”
“Yeah! I’d love one!” I replied, “that sounds great!”
He ushered me into his kitchen. Still filled to the brim with the Examiner Spirit I continued to tell him about my excellent deal for a blanket and a subscription! … but when we sat down at his table, I felt things weren’t quite right. “Something’ s wrong here,” I thought, “Something’s fishy.”
When he talked to me he didn’t look in my eyes. He looked close, at an ear or my chin or my forehead, but not in my eyes. I hadn’t been around anything like this before, but I could tell … he must be blind!
This thought occurred to me at about the same time he was saying, “Wow. That sounds like an excellent deal. Yes, I’d like to give it a try.”
I collected myself from my shock, which, after waving my hand back and forth in front of his face confirmed.
“Hey, that’s great,” I said, “but really, you don’t have to do that. It’s okay. I understand, and I really appreciate the soda.”
“No, no,” he answered, “you don’t understand. If I have a newspaper lying around, my visitors will read it to me … and they’ll stay longer.”
“Wow,” I thought, “I never could have dreamed this up!” as I helped him navigate the pen to my order book’s signature line.
When I left this man’s house, order in hand, I felt pretty good about myself. I fancied I was some kind of samaritan, or something like that. I could almost hear his visitors reading the Examiner’s news, sports and columns to him in a kind of Norman Rockwell setting. It all seemed so, well, sweet … and then, of course, it was a darned good deal!
At the end of the day we returned to the sales manager’s garage, orders in hand, which he reviewed first thing. When he came to mine, his hands went up as he exclaimed, “Illing, you sold more than everyone else here combined! Come on up!”
I didn’t appreciate the attention … not one bit. As I stood next to him, with him beaming like a new father, he asked me, in a loud, enthusiastic voice, “Tell us how you did it!”
“Well,” I replied. “I simply said what you told us to say.”
Of course that was music to his ears. He now beamed so bright he could have lit-up the half of Vallejo.
“Tell us about your sales son” he said, becoming insufferably familiar all of a sudden. “Did you have any unusual ones?”
“Nope” I answered.
“Well, were there any you’d call out of the ordinary or different?” he persisted.
“Well I guess there was one you could call different,” I said, after giving the question a bit more consideration.
“Yeah? Tell us about it” my beaming boss responded.
“Well, there was this blind guy …”
My boss was stunned. He couldn’t say anything for a considerable time and then blurted out, “What? You sold a newspaper subscription to a blind man?”
Interested in stories about selling? You’ll find more in the series “The Burnaby Mirror” … give it a click!
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