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More Stories - The Way We Were
I always read the morning newspaper over breakfast. We all did when the children were small. Everyone had a favorite section. We'd divide up the paper, read and munch, frequently interrupting each other's reading and eating to discuss some item in the news. I think it made it easier for us all to sit down and eat breakfast, rather than grab a little something while "champing at the bit" to get on with the day. Our kids grew up better informed, too-- about the world and about our values and opinions.
I'll never forget the biggest shock I ever received at breakfast. Over three decades ago we signed up to sell Fuller Brush products, partly to get our own things at wholesale when we wanted them. It was growing into a small but profitable business a couple of years later when our manager suddenly asked us to substitute for him for a month and a half. His wife needed urgent medical attention and he wanted to take her to Switzerland to receive it there; his home office was opposed to that length of absence. After quite a few hours of coaching, he left us with an ad placed in the paper, dealer kits and supplies, and warnings to recruit regularly or he'd lose his job. Back then Fuller Brush covered almost every neighborhood in the USA on foot, door to door, and also was signing people on to sell to friends, co-workers and relatives. Part of our job would be to come up with recruits from the ads and referrals, which we could then keep in our own group, and give them some basic training. We approached this with apprehension, being completely without experience and both of us feeling inadequate for the job.
I screened the calls and made the first appointment. My late husband Floyd interviewed the fellow, a laid-off construction worker in his late twenties. He had sold Fuller, he said, when in school, and done very well. He had a seventeen-year old girlfriend he wanted to marry, but the father had forbidden her to see him at all. She had just graduated from high school and was about to turn eighteen, at which time they planned to marry with or without the father's consent. Our new salesman considered the misfortune of losing his job, instead of a drawback, as a way to prove to the father that no matter what, he was capable of supporting the girl.
"I'll call you tomorrow about dinner time," he told Floyd, "to let you know how much I've sold. Then I'll take the sales tickets over and show my girlfriend's father. I'm going to let her know this evening what I'm planning to do."
Needless to say, we were overjoyed; this was easy as falling off a log! We could do this job! All was right with the world.
The next morning, bright and early, we sat down to breakfast and passed out the newspaper. I always got the front page; I opened it up. There, in a big photo spread, lay our first recruit, shot dead on his fiancé's front lawn! He had gone over to let her know he was working for Fuller Brush. The girl's father had come out in a rage with a shotgun.
To say we were shocked would be an understatement. It was almost enough to make us quit right then; we probably would have, except for the promise we had made to our supervisor who was already in Europe, plus we already had another appointment scheduled for two days later.
That second prospect also signed up to sell Fuller products. Over twenty-five years later Gladys was still selling, and we were still earning on her sales.
I'd like to say we signed bunches of people and got wealthy immediately, but it doesn't work like that. We had a lot of duds, quitters, deep thinkers and those who simply changed their minds along the way. It's been a lot of work to build a group of salespersons and big list of customers. But many of our reps and clients have now been with me for years and years-- decades, in fact.
I guess I got some fantastically bad luck and phenomenally good luck out of the way during that first week.