How To Lose Your Colon and Influence People

My colon was already gone before I started in sales, but it sounds so much better to blame the furniture business for my missing organ. My career started when I was fired from my job in New York, a few months after 9/11. It happened on the day—the exact DAY—that we closed on our house in Newburgh. Let me tell you, THAT was a fun train ride home. I had been the supervisor of an inside computer sales group at a Fortune 50 company, overseeing the purchase of hardware and software for our home office and all its branches. We took orders from inside the company and purchased what was needed from one of two vendors. There was no salesmanship involved. The highlight of my time there was when we were in a meeting with Microsoft, which was about to roll out Office to every one of the branch’s laptops. I raised my hand and asked why we had to buy separate licenses for the laptops when all the branches already had Office on their office computers. Nobody had asked that question before, apparently. I saved the company about 4 million dollars. My boss took all the credit.  Cliches become cliches because they freakin’ happen!

So there I was on the ferry going around south Manhattan (because my usual PATH train under World Trade had been blown up) wondering what I was going to do for a living. My friend David suggested a furniture sales position, where he worked and did very well. I figured it would be a stopgap until I found something more in keeping with what I had been doing. Two years later I was still there, trying to keep fellow salespeople from stealing customers out from under my nose.

How to adequately explain commission salespeople… Soulless is one word that springs to mind. Snake-like. Cut-throat. Borderline personalities. Conscience-less vipers. The type of people who would step over your dying body to pick up a nickel. Kind of like actors without the charm.

I’m a big fan of commission salespeople.

Actually they weren’t all like that. Just the very successful ones. David and I once took a dispassionate look at the top ten in our store and found that each had his or her own particular reason to be in either therapy or jail. One was an inveterate liar. I mean she couldn’t answer whether is was cloudy or clear outside without figuring out which angle benefited her most. Another spoke in a Cockney accent. We were convinced that she made up the accent, the background, the failed marriage, the children in Limbo between continents, the whole bit, as a really interesting story to tell customers to distract them while taking their money. One guy was straightforward about his criminal nature—he’d come by and ask me if my customer was on the second floor, because he was about to steal every customer on that floor. At least he clued me in. If you ever wonder why your salesperson is annoying you be being within ten feet at all times, it’s to keep the other 35 salespeople from descending on you like a jackal on carrion.

I was finally promoted to Store Manager at the Clearance Center, which we called the Isle of Misfit Furniture. Now I could finally run a store the way I wanted—less deception and more teamwork. Two salespeople quit immediately, convinced they would never earn a living without being able to steal from their fellow man. The rest got into line…sort of. Oh, they’d say what I wanted to hear when I was there, and most of them authentically wanted to create a nice, normal place to work. But there were always the holdouts who saw a sales floor as the OK Corral, and themselves as the gunslinger. It was exhausting for me and my Assistant Manager trying to stay on top of it all, sort of like how Second Grade must be to a first-time teacher.

The company expanded and I ended up training a new staff in Yonkers. There was a Store Manager and two Floor Managers, one of which was me. My boss was a hysterical, New Yawk Italian-American. I have never had so much fun working for anybody. He had great tastes in movies, he had a story for every occasion and he was loyal as the day is long. He was supposed to be a district manager and hired most of the staff for three stores before he was “demoted” to his current position. He was still making the same money, so he didn’t care, but I knew he was in a precarious position.

After six months of enjoying work for a change, we got word from above that the store was under-performing. Now this was a brand new store in Yonkers, where no one knew the company name and where there was heavy competition. Most of the salespeople were either brand new to sales, or at least brand new to the company’s computer system. I was one of three people in the building who had worked on the system before, and it was my job to teach everyone else. There was a learning curve. None of the managers were making their bonus during this time either, so we were all in the boat together, working to get it righted. They called my boss to a meeting out in Jersey and sacked him, saying they had grown tired of his “New York schtick”. They offered me the job, but I couldn’t jump into the guy’s grave like that. I requested a transfer back to the store I came from, even if I had to go back to the shark-infested sales floor.

The story they had spread was that my former boss had to resign due to family issues. The guy had two girls in college. I stood up at the last sales meeting with the crew I had trained from the beginning and I told them what had really happened. Needless to say, the transfer job I was promised never materialized and I found myself unemployed once again. I’ll never forget my middle brother’s reaction when I told him the story– “I would have fired you too” he said. I guess I was asking for it. The owner of the company called me at home about a week later and said he was sorry to lose such a valuable retail person. I said, then why did you let them fire me for no good reason? Good policy for the future, if someone is valuable enough to call after a week don’t let him go in the first place.

Anyway, none of this led directly to the loss of my colon, but it sure felt like it sometimes. If you’re leaning toward a career in retail sales, make sure you have all your organs. If you turn your head for a moment, someone might make off with one.

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  1. Nice blog. Keep writing 🙂

  2. Thanks rash, I will.

    • Joel Flowers
    • February 9th, 2011

    OMG! I’m still laughing! This brought back so many memories of stories David used to tell. I’ve got to make sure he reads this! You’re lucky not to have lost your ass as well!

  3. I kept it in my locker, along with my wallet, my keys and my pride.

    • Chuck Kelso
    • February 9th, 2011

    Commission sales are the same everywhere, I guess. And “they” say when god closes a door, he opens a window. It just sucks when your fingers keep getting caught.
    I have enjoyed discovering your writing. Even as kids, it was evident you had it in you.

  4. Charlie! I guess you got caught in the rat trap too. Hope you’re doing well.

    • Joel Flowers
    • February 11th, 2011

    Sometimes I really appreciate my cushy government job…

  5. There’s something to be said for dependability.

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