He was close to being an unruly look-alike for Alfalfa, and he was looking uncomfortably at his shoes when I opened the door.
I had to ask him when the conversation got stuck there: “What’s up?”
“Ummm…you probably don’t want to buy magazines, do you?”
It was the worst sales pitch ever.
“Well, Bobby, I don’t really know…”
“You see, I try to sell magazines and I make money if I sell them. I want to earn enough money to buy a new bike. I already know which one I want… it has a headlight and all.
The pathetic sales pitch and lofty goal reminded me of my own failed attempt to sell “Grit” subscriptions after reading an ad on the back of a comic book when I was 10; even my mom — who bought cookies, popcorn, greeting cards, and whatever prompted a knock on the door — said “no” to Grit. After receiving polite rejections at the two dozen homes I had visited, I had given up on my dream of owning a Yogi Berra catcher’s glove.
“Have you sold many? »
Bobby looked down at his shoes.
“No,” he said quietly. Then he managed to muster up some enthusiasm: “But I haven’t asked many people so far. My mom said she would get a magazine with recipes and stuff, and my dad could get a magazine about building stuff even though my mom says he already has too many tools in the garage that he doesn’t. never use.
“Looks like he needs a magazine about building stuff.” I said, and it made him smile.
But while I admired his entrepreneurial spirit, his delivery needed work. A lot of work.
“You know, Bobby, you must look really confident. You don’t want to ask something like “You probably don’t want to buy magazines, do you?” It’s too easy for people to say ‘no’. You have to say something like “It’s your lucky day!” or “Do I have a deal for you?” or ‘You don’t want to miss this!’”
Admittedly, most of what I knew about the art of salesmanship I learned from watching Mr. Haney on “Green Acres,” and that probably didn’t set the bar very high.
“Yeah. Make people feel like you’re doing them a favor.
Bobby’s eyes suddenly sparkled, and I knew he saw himself rolling down the sidewalk on a new bike with a headlight. Just as I saw myself banging my fist in the pocket of a new catcher’s glove.
“Hey,” I say. “Let’s try.”
“Of course. Kind of like practice.
He looked around as if embarrassed and hoped no one was looking at him.
“I walk into the house, and you knock on the door and make your presentation.”
I went inside and for a moment I thought he might have gone home. Then there was a knock on the door… a little less timidly than the first knock.
“Hi, Dan. You don’t want to miss this.
” No I do not know. Let me see what you got.
We sat on the porch and I read a brochure of the magazines he sold. I ended up subscribing to fishing and golf magazines, even though I wasn’t fishing or golfing.
And deep down I wondered if Bobby was crazy as a fox.
“Thank you very much, Dan.” he said. And with a confidence I’ve never seen before: “When I get my new bike, I’ll ride it here to show you.”
“You do this, Bobby. Good luck.”
He jumped off the landing and ran across the yard to the neighbor’s house.
I went inside and, through the screen door, I heard him ask his next client, “You probably don’t want to buy magazines, do you?”
Maybe Mr. Haney could learn something from Bobby. I know I did.
It was perhaps the best sales pitch ever.
Dan Conradt, a permanent resident of Mower County, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson.