Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dumb Job #4 - Hi Fi Salesman (Part 2) Birth of a Salesman

It was the Year 2000. Every movie that had ever portrayed a future of hovercars had seemingly lied to us, Y2K failed to eventuate and Millenial angst was beginning to look like only ever have been gas, probably from that Mexican you had. You know, the one that didn't look right.

But I held a piece of the future in my hand and it was so beautiful, shiny and smooth that I wanted everyone to have it. I faced a pimply teen, looking up at me with what could only be described as admiration. To him, in my starched white shirt and piano keyboard tie I must have looked like one of those Wall Street rogue traders he'd probably heard about. He was hanging on every word I said.

"Small and lightweight, its musical fidelity is second to none. Change tracks with the click of a button. Adjust volume here. These modern miracles are going to change the way you listen to music. One day, sir, everyone is going to have one of these devices in their pocket. Have you heard of MiniDisc?"

Yes, in 2000 I found myself working for the Hi Fi store that bet AGAINST mp3. In a different era, they probably would has steered you clear of VHS. Beta = Better. They probably had stocks in Digital Video Express. I'm sure they would have pushed HD-DVD, had the store still been in business during the legendary HD Format Wars.

Battle-scarred from my time served under General El Sayed (See Dumb Jobs #3), I was posted in the Hi Fi cease-fire zone that was Miranda. Here people weren't as stingy, were more trustful of saleman and were generally more attractive (apologies to my Liverpudlian readership).

My new manager was Martin and I really liked him. He was a giant of a man who proudly boasted of having never been in a fight. He told me people always try to fight the biggest guy in a group first (a notion I find bizzare) but that he had manged to talk his way out of physical conflict every time. I believed it. He certainly had the gift of the gab. And was funny. He would have me in stitches from opening time to close of business. He was one of those rare people that I find so totally hilarious that I never make any jokes while they're around, because I know they're just going to obliterate anything I say with their own line.

Marty's verbal dexterity and sheer personality translated to some big sales. When I got to the store he'd just returned from his own tour of duty, selling cars for a Holden dealership who had poached him from another Hi Fi store. But Marty told me that he hated the competitive nature of selling cars, that hi fi was "cruisier", so that's why he'd come here and had worked his way from salesman to Manager in pretty quick time.

I started at the Miranda store as delivery driver and "Warehouse Manager" (a fancy title which meant when someone sold something I had to take the RIDICULOUSLY HEAVY box to the customer's car). But when I wasn't needed for either of these tasks, I sold hi fi gear. At first I just sold blank tapes and CDs, while for bigger purchases I'd direct the customer to a salesman who actually cared. And believe me, these guys cared a lot. There was real sense of competition amongst the salesmen and everyone waited around the first of the month to get last month's sales figures. There wasn't even a commission for these guys: it was just a point of pride. I would direct customers to the salesman I liked best on that day and it was usually Marty.

But a funny thing happened. I started selling things. Just a VCR or a 34 centimetre TV at first. Then a set of mid-range speakers. Then a rear-projection TV. Suddenly I went from box boy to a salesman with figures nearly as high as some of the full-time salesmen, the guys who actually cared. I started getting left in the store for longer and longer. Soon, the salemen were being told they had to lug their own boxes to customer's cars - I was needed on the floor. I was starting to get resented by the other guys, but I didn't care. I was a selling machine. Seriously. When plasmas came onto the market and suddenly rear-projection televisions were not selling well, it was realised we needed to get rid of these two 70 inch JUGGERNAUTS we had (both in the store because the wouldn't fit through the door of any storeroom). Marty jokingly told me to sell them. I sold one as part of a $14,000 package that day. I sold the other one later that week.

Now they hired a full-time delivery driver because they didn't want me off the floor. They realised they had unleashed a monster with only one purpose: to sell hi fi gear at reasonable prices. When that month's sales figures came out, I was the #1 salesman with $62,000. I had even beaten Marty.

Now I was obsessed. I wanted to crack $90,000 in one month. When I showed up at work on my day off to try to boost my sales, Marty was impressed. I said he didn't have to pay me the overtime, but he said he wanted to: I reminded him of a younger version of himself. He was a little less enthusiastic when I showed up on my other day off. When I worked my next day off, he said he couldn't keep paying me the overtime. I didn't care. I was there for the glory.

I became pushy. I kept trying to upsell customers. They'd come in for a DiscMan, I'd try to get them to take home a gold-plated amplifier. They'd leave with nothing, probably terrified of this wild-eyed salesman who had worked the last 21 days straight. The other salesman REALLY began to resent me. They all had wives and kids, how could they compete with the kid who lived at home with his mother, no girlfriend, no pets, just a white-hot ambition to sell.

One day I showed up on a Saturday and was called into the back room to speak to Marty and a suit from Head Office. They'd spoken with the HR person, who insisted I wasn't allowed to work on my days off anymore - insurance didn't cover staff on their days off. I smelled bullshit. Someone was trying to push me out. I'd put some noses out of joint. I was furious.

I was pushing for sales harder than ever. You know those pushy salemen we all hate? That was me. I must have stank of desperation, because my figures started dropping. My next month I was ranked #4. Below Basil, the 48 year old who built custom speakers in his garage, but usually couldn't sell dry land to a drowning man (if that's not an expression, it should be). I was told I needed to pull my weight in the storeroom. I was back to being Warehouse Manager.

This story is pretty much a tragedy, as I never reached #1 on the sales chart again and I quit about a month after being reinstated as WM. It sounds pathetic I know, but for a few months I loved being a salesman. I always wanted to be a professional sportsman, where you had that number that ranked you as #1 in the world, #64 in the world, wherever. But you knew your place, you had a figure representing your worth, and there was something comforting about that.

1 comment:

  1. It was a tragedy that you didnt return to #1, yes. But Im glad youre no longer trying to sell Hi-Fi. A man can only sustain that level of enthusiasm in something for so long.