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Hard times for a ‘soft’ salesman.

Posted by Big John on January 27, 2007

During the early 1960s I was working as a sales clerk in the UK headquarters of the American company, Art Metal Inc., which was at that time the largest manufacturer of office furniture in the world. Remember … “He took my soul and had it stenciled on a card, and filed… in an Art Metal cabinet.” … from the movie ‘The Petrified Forest’ starring Humphrey Bogart ?  Of course you don’t … Blimey! It was even before my time.  😉

I wasn’t making very much money working in the office, only about £12 ($20) a week and I needed every penny as I was saving up to get married: so I pestered my boss, the sales manager, to let me go ‘on the road’ as a salesman, as I figured that I could make a lot more money on the small basic salary paid to salesmen when commission was added. I might even make as much as twenty quid a week.  

Now I should say that my chances of getting such a ‘promotion’ were pretty slim at that time, as the sales force consisted of mainly posh ex-officer types with ‘double-barrelled’ names, bowler hats and rolled umbrellas. Not exactly ‘me’ with my ‘Sarf Lundun’ accent, ‘Italian’ suit, ‘slim jim’ tie and ‘Perry Como’ haircut.

Anyway, as luck would have it (well not for him perhaps) some old major ‘popped his clogs’ at just the right moment creating a gap in the ranks of the sales representatives, and after some territorial adjustments, during which the ‘old hands’ grabbed the best bits, I was given what was left, an area laughingly known as ‘the salesmen’s graveyard’.

Now you must remember that this was long before the days of company cars and generous expense accounts, so my first day started with a trip on the ‘tube’ to a grimy industrial estate on the outskirts of West London.

The rain was pissing down as I left the train, so I hauled my heavy case across the street and entered the first building that I came to. I introduced myself to a lady who was sitting in a small office. She asked me to wait and went off with one of my catalogues. A few minutes later she returned and handed an order to me for a four drawer filing cabinet and enough file folders to fill each drawer. … I couldn’t believe my luck, for I had just made ten bob (50p or about $1) on my very first call. … “Could it really be this easy ?” … I asked myself, as I had visions of long commission statements to come.

Well … actually the answer was …  NO ! … for a month would pass …

       before I saw another bloody order  😦


4 Responses to “Hard times for a ‘soft’ salesman.”

  1. Ginnie said

    Who is Humphrey Bogart? Must be before my time…Ha,ha,ha. I’ll bet you would have received many orders back then if they’d only known they’d be blogged about in the future.

  2. gawilli said

    For a time, in my early 20’s, I sold high end sewing machines. For this I received a pittance to live on and when sales came in there was a commission. It sure was not easy particularly in a recessive economy. How long did you stay in sales?

  3. Terri said

    Great story….lol Well, at least it IS all these years later.
    I’ve always maintained that “selling” just isn’t for me. It’s such an “ify” job and so uncertain and I think one of the hardest jobs around.
    Heck, I never even did well selling my Girl Scout cookies.

  4. Big John said

    Ginnie – Yes, I did get many orders after that, In a few years I went from selling one filing cabinet to furnishing complete office buildings, but that’s another story. 😉

    Gawilli – For most of my working life I was in some aspect of sales and marketing , but never the ‘door to door’ kind. I even made it ‘up the ladder’ to director (vice president) and ran my own company for a couple of years. Mostly I ‘sold’ to architects, designers and large corporations. Strange, for I would never consider myself a ‘born salesman’.

    Terri – Your right ‘selling’ can be a very ‘ify’ job, but, on the whole, it was pretty good to me over the years.

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