Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Roadman

I've been selling stuff all my life.

Newspaper route. Fuller Brush salesman. Magazine space sales rep. Mens retail clothing salesman.

In college, I had the good fortune to have an excellent job. Campus Marketing Rep for Gallo wine.

The University of Georgia held the esteemed position of highest beer consumption per capita in the nation. Gallo wine decided they wanted some of that money.

So I got hired to promote Carlo Rossi jug wine to the Dawg Nation.

After college, I have sold to the masses via advertising and global marketing programs.

But I've discovered that nothing I've done compares to The Roadman.

The person that loads up their car with samples, dreams and bills to pay and hits the road to call on accounts one-on-one. That is real selling.

Hours of windshield time. Hours of lonely driving thru the American countryside.

Keeping track of mileage for taxes. Weeks away from home. Cheap hotels. Fast food eaten in the car.

The Roadman doesn't mind being called a peddler. He knows what he does. He likes what he does. He's proud of his ability to turn no into yes.

I've had the privilege of working with a number of these engines of industry. Nothing happens in business until somebody sells something.

They are independent businessmen. And their bread and butter customer is an independent businessman.

Sadly, with the homogenizing of America by national retail chains, The Roadman is a dying breed.

Last week, I had the opportunity to make a sales call with a Roadman.

Ten hours of driving in one day for a one hour sales call.

It was worth it because the appointment was in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Bentonville is to The Roadman as Augusta is to golf.

This Roadman made his bones and millions selling womens and girls clothing.

Dresses, suits, and blouses by the truckload.

At one time, it was bras. He credits his success in this venture to his "tittie friendly hands".

His biggest hit was "jerk em up pants". A womens polyester pant with an elastic waistband.

He sold them till the world was flat with them. At about $3.50 wholesale. Bet your mom owned several pair.

As we departed that morning, he explained the rules to me.

One stop to tee-tee per five hours. No stopping for food.

We ate a one pound bag of pretzels on the way up. And another on the way back.

We laughed about our ankles swelling due to all the salt. Somewhere around Checotah, Oklahoma on the way back, our mouths were so puckered we had to stop for something to drink. Right next to the road sign that proudly proclaimed Checotah as the home of Carrie Underwood.

The Roadman learns to be efficient. The Roadman learns the best time of day for calling on customers.

Like late Friday afternoon. Most sales folks have called it a week. Many a fortune has been made by calling on that last customer at 5pm on Friday.

The Roadman knows where the best cheap Italian food is in Ooltewah, Tennessee.

The Roadman knows the high school mascot names in small towns. Like the Atoka (Oklahoma) Wampus Cats. And before political correctness came around, the Pekin (Illinois) Chinks.

Twitter, Facebook, Woot, Ebay and other internet tools are changing how we communicate and do business.

Sadly, so little of it is face to face. Person to person. Relationships. Trust.

Here's to The Roadman.

May your souls find rest. May your perseverance inspire us. May we never forget the art of selling.

May we long remember it was merchants like you who helped Sam Walton find the items that turned a one store operation into the world's largest corporation.

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