Volume 43, Issue 6 - June 2008

the Farnady Files

The Art of the Peddler 
And the Long Road to Successful Selling
by Dez Farnady

I started my selling career as a young kid and the first call I made (and still remember to this day) was trying to sell subscriptions for the afternoon paper I was delivering. I knocked on a door and an old lady answered. I asked her politely if she wanted to subscribe to the Examiner—and she promptly unloaded on me. What the heck did I know about William Randolph Hearst, the publisher of the paper I was trying to sell? I was 12 years old trying to sell a subscription and she held me responsible for the paper’s trash journalism made famous, now nearly 100 years ago. Welcome to “cold call” selling. 

It didn’t get easier when someone sucked me into trying to sell the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Great Books of the Western World door-to-door. The lower middle class neighborhoods of West Los Angeles did not provide a large market for the products. I did get conned into buying a set of the Great Books from my boss, which proves that he was clearly a better peddler than I was. It took me decades to finally rid myself of those unreadable, tiny-print volumes, printed on the thinnest paper I’ve ever seen. I finally dumped them on an unsuspecting high school librarian; she probably forgot about the other six sets she had back in the archives.

Learning a Trick or Two 
The introduction to selling in the architectural market was another piece of my education. Draw against commission is the way to make an outside salesman work. You are free to play golf every day of the week, but if you don’t sell anything you really don’t get paid. And, if there are no commissions to pay back the draw, you soon return to the fast-food joint, behind the counter.

The art of the peddler starts the same place where everything else begins: you get your butt out of bed every morning and go to work. If it was fun they wouldn’t call it work, right? Putting the time in is a requirement closely followed by persistence. 

The next requirement is a thick skin. I got mine when I first started dating—you need to have confidence to sell yourself, but still be prepared to take rejection. Had I not been been able to take rejection every time a good-looking girl turned me down, I would not have had the nerve to ask my wife out the first time. By then I knew I could sell because if she bought my story I could sell snowballs to Eskimos. 

If you can sell yourself to the opposite sex, even selling a bridge to architects is easy. But, the failure to deal with rejection can be very costly. I knew a “salesman” who told me that once after losing a big sale he was so upset that he lost his lunch. Then while he spent the rest of the day in a bar feeling sorry for himself, he lost three other sales.

Culture Shock
I thought I was pretty well prepared but I was still not quite ready for the culture shock that was the glass industry. I had learned enough to know that your lifeline to your business was product knowledge. When I started in this business I didn’t have any. I didn’t know obscure glass from a cocktail glass and thought that float was what was in the glass and not how you made the glass. Tempering was a magical process whereby some big pieces of glass went in one end of the building and little pieces came out the other. 

My job was to tell our irate customers why their order didn’t get to them and when, if ever, it would get there. I was the front man hired to take the heat. I guess that’s selling too, but I didn’t figure that out until much later. When I started working for a tempering plant, the guys I was working with knew little more than I did. In retrospect, it was pretty scary considering how many mouths I had to feed. I was the newest guy, the sales manager, and I thought it was great that I could at least get out of the building. But unfortunately for a long time it was just to be out there to face the music. 

That was not only my introduction to the business but a real test of my sales talents. I needed them: hard work, long hours, thick skin, persistence and the ability to deal with rejection. Eventually, with the accumulation of product knowledge and tenacity, my customers would learn that they could rely on me. They could trust the promises I made to protect their prices and keep my plant responsible for meeting the schedules to which I had committed. You have reached the summit of the peddlers’ art when people know you as a man who always keeps his word. That was always my goal and has enabled me to live to tell this tale. 

Dez Farnady serves as the general manager of Royalite Manufacturing Inc., a skylight manufacturer in San Carlos, Calif. His column appears monthly. Mr. Farnady’s opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.

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No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.