A car in high school meant a part-time job … that was a certainty. Likewise a steady girlfriend represented another expensive indulgence … so I figured if I eliminated those two entrees from my gotta-have menu, I’d eliminate the need for employment. Simple!
And after all, my parents had a car they didn’t use much … not to mention, the vast majority of Vallejo Senior High’s female population weren’t going steady and were eager to date!
“Now that’s a great plan!” I thought, indulging in self-congratulatory fantasies … but, as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men and high school sophomores often go astray. In this matter my dad was the agent of me going astray, for just when I thought my summer plans were settled, he came home with, of all things, a summer job!
I could hardly believe my ears!
The job was with Ayer’s Paint & Supply Company which, along with paint, window coverings, wallpapers and other decorator items, sold screen doors. They had a predictable increase in those sales during hot Vallejo summers and needed a contractor to install them … which turned out to be yours truly!
And so, equipped with a Craftsman electric drill, a level and a couple of screw drivers I began my career as a screen door subcontractor.
I made about as much with each installation as it cost for a drive-in date (in mom’s car, of course). Not exactly a shabby deal, and it wasn’t a full time job, but all things considered, I would’ve rather spent those mornings and afternoons doing things other than ripping out old, worn-out wood screen doors and trying to fit-in aluminum replacements in door frames that were so far out of square they looked like props for a Snow White and the Seven Dwarves production!
On the other hand, though, it did feel good to step back and admire a modern screen door welcoming friends, visitors and cool breezes into a home while at the same time presenting an impenetrable barrier to swarms of various winged intruders!
A few weeks into my contracting career my dad announced that he’d arranged a commission for me if I were to sell any screen doors. The extra money would more than double the amount I made on each installation, certainly an attractive proposition!
However, it did present a riddle … “How in the world can I sell screen doors dad?” I asked him, after giving the proposition some thought.
“Well, I don’t rightly know,” he responded, “I guess you go door to door asking people if they’d like to buy one” … and with that we hopped in his panel truck, drove to a prosperous neighborhood and hopped out.
Dad awkwardly carried a screen door with him as we walked up and down the streets, going from house to house asking startled home owners if they’d like one.
Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the homes already had screen doors, or maybe two guys walking up and down a street carrying a full-sized screen door somehow lacked credibility, but our foray into door-to-door screen door sales didn’t go so well … in fact we sold none.
I was at an age when I found the whole episode embarrassing. Although my dad was my hero in so many ways, and although he tried hard to succeed at business, he was to find success in areas other than selling … especially the door-to-door kind of selling!
After our walk with the screen door I almost gave up on the idea, but still the late nights, golf, beatnikdom, dating and other forms of mischief that the money could buy sounded too good to pass up … which was exactly what I was thinking as I finished an installation in blistering hot Napa.
As I started driving bad to Vallejo I noticed a modest, new subdivision of homes close to the Napa River … “Hmmm, wonder if they have screen doors?” I mused.
I drove past the almost completed houses, “Wow,” I thought, “Look at all those doors! And none of ’em have screens! Man, with those new, perfectly square frames I could install two an hour!”
Just then I happened to see a older fellow walking around kind of inspecting things. I pulled up beside him … “Hey, how ya doin’?” I called out.
“How ya doin’ yourself?” he replied in a neighborly way.
I got out and walked over to him, thinking about how easy it’d be to install screen doors in those nice, square frames! “Hey, do you know who owns this place?” I asked.
“Well, that’d be me son. What can I do you for?” he responded in that bemused way that adults do when a kid with a big smile confronts them in a nonhierarchical way.
Out of nowhere a sales pitch started spewing from my mouth, “Well, I just wanted to say that I think you’ve got a great place here. The sidewalks and streets are wide, the yards are spacious and the houses are like what you see in Sunset Magazine! … it’s nice, really nice!”
By this time the gentleman couldn’t help but enjoy the encounter, and wonder where exactly it was all leading … he was intrigued to say the least.
“Yep! These will all probably sell real quick!” I went on.
“Well, I sure hope so,” he said, almost frowning, as if a small cloud in a clear blue sky had cast a shadow on him.
“I’m sure of it! In fact, as far as I can see there’s only one thing missing!” I asserted.
“Yeah? What’s that?” he asked, as if he’d overlooked something important, like street lights or driveways or …
“Screen doors!” I pronounced without hesitation, “screen doors! You know it gets pretty hot here and people like to leave their doors open when they’re home, but not with all the bugs and stuff here! Nope, screen doors is the only one thing lacking! Screen doors!”
The fellow looked around, they looked back at me with a grin that tried to work its way from one ear all the way around his face to the other.
I’m not sure he ordered the doors because he felt they were that important, or if he just couldn’t resist a punk kid pitching him like that. In any event, he bought and I installed.
It was easy work and the money was great! What more could I want?
Well, I wanted TIME! After all I had plenty of summer left and more than enough money now to enjoy it. So, much to Mr. Ayers’ chagrin (he’d been dreaming about more subdivision gigs) I quit my job.
I had a great rest-of-the-summer that year. And I learned a valuable lesson about business and sales … always talk to the owner, make a sound economic case for your product and you can score an entire subdivision easier than selling a single door.
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