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Published: Sunday, 7/4/2004

Can t knock a personal sale at door

BY HOMER BRICKEY
BLADE SENIOR BUSINESS WRITER
Robert Hastings, a salesman for Fuller Brush Co. for the last 40 years, makes a sales call at Louise Henderson's home in South Toledo. Robert Hastings, a salesman for Fuller Brush Co. for the last 40 years, makes a sales call at Louise Henderson's home in South Toledo.
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Every weekday, David Lemon rises at 6, and an hour or so later he has breakfast with several college students from around the country before beginning his drive to Wauseon.

Shortly after 8 a.m., he is ready to start knocking on doors and introducing himself to strangers.

On an average day, he ll meet 30 families, show his array of educational books to two-thirds of them, and a third to half of those will buy something, ranging from $30 to $500. Sometime after 9:30 in the evening, he ll return to the bed and breakfast in Oregon to rest up for another 13 or 14-hour day.

It s a lot of fun, said Mr. Lemon, 25, who lives most of the year in Charlottesville, Va. I enjoy working. But then, he added, it s not really work. I spend most of the day sitting and talking to people.

Such is the appeal of door-to-door selling, a dwindling category of an otherwise booming industry called direct selling. Mr. Lemon and other honest-to-goodness door-to-door sales people are in the distinct minority among 13.4 million direct sellers in the United States and an estimated 47 million worldwide, according to the Direct Selling Association, a trade group based in Washington, D.C.

Amy Robinson, a spokesman for the association, said the number of direct sellers has risen each of 19 straight years, and so has total sales: nearly $30 billion domestically in 2003, and more than $85 billion globally.

However, social changes have resulted in fewer and fewer firms doing traditional door-to-door sales, she said. People are not willing to open doors to strangers anymore.

Many companies have replaced door-to-door selling with telemarketing, Internet marketing, and home-parties used by many cosmetics, nutritional-supplement, and home-decor firms.

Richard Eppstein, president of the Better Business Bureau in the Toledo area, said he expects a resurgence in door-to-door selling as the national Do Not Call registry gathers momentum. The list now has 60 million phone numbers.

But, he noted, with many two-income families, often no one is home to answer the door for a sales person. Plus, state and national laws including the federal three-day cooling off rule that applies to sales of $25 or more and hundreds of local ordinances nationwide have put a crimp on door-to-door marketing, he added. (Toledo requires only a $25 annual vendor s permit.)

Still, there are many sales people in the area who make occasional house calls and engage in person-to-person selling even though they may do most of their sales in other ways.

For example, there s Robert Hastings, one of the last of the Fuller Brush Co. salesmen in northwest Ohio, out of what was once a force of 150 or so. In the 1960s, the company operated a large warehouse in Toledo.

Times have changed, said Mr. Hastings, a Fuller sales manager in Monclova Township who, at 75, has been selling Fuller products for 40 years. He and three other dealers in the area mostly sell to established customers, including about 100 he calls on, he said. I usually just call on the phone, or people call me, he said. I don t go around knocking on doors much anymore.

Mr. Hastings recalled that he got the sales bug in 1964 when he was laid off from the former Libbey-Owens-Ford Co. I always thought I d like to try being a salesman, he said. So I went out and watched a [Fuller] fellow sell for about half an hour. I thought, heck, I could do that.

He said he was called back to L-O-F, but was making $6,000 a year selling part-time, so he also stuck with the sales job, becoming full-time when he retired from L-O-F in 1983. It s been very good to me, he said of his sales job. You can write your own paycheck. You can work as many hours as you want.

But he pointed out that such sellers must be self-motivated and try not to get discouraged. You have to put the time in to let the law of averages work for you, he said. You could work two hours and not make a sale and work five minutes more and make up for the whole time.

Flashing a large smile, he gave his advice for novice sales people: Always look like a salesman, and act like a salesman.

Becky Irvine, a sales director with Mary Kay, has won four pink Cadillacs for her production. Becky Irvine, a sales director with Mary Kay, has won four pink Cadillacs for her production.
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And there s Becky Irvine, who was a nurse for 18 years before becoming a full-time Mary Kay cosmetics sales person 11 years ago. What motivated me was two boys, 6 and 3 [at the time], she recalled. I wanted a home-based business, to be with them.

Now a sales director, Ms. Irvine has won four pink Cadillacs the firm s top sales award in her career. I love it, she said. I think my secret is being very consistent, even in tough times. Persevere, and be enthusiastic about it.

A former Toledo secretary, Kathy Helou rose through the Mary Kay sales ranks to become national sales director. Ms. Helou, who lives in Cornelius, N.C., said she is driving her 15th pink Cadillac and has made more than $5 million in commissions in her 22-year career.

She urges sales people to call on two strangers every day, but she doesn t term them cold calls, labeling them warm smiling encounters instead. I think women are the greatest sales people on earth, she said. They sell their husbands on a house. They sell their kids on eating peas. Women are born sales people.

Mr. Lemon, the educational-books seller, is one of a crew of 13 working northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan this summer for Southwestern Co. of Nashville.

This is his sixth summer of selling books. He has a communications degree from the University of North Carolina, but he s put a communications career on hold because he loves selling part of the year and recruiting and training students the rest of the year.

Trey Campbell, a spokesman for the Nashville firm, said about 3,200 students train each year, and about 70 percent finish the program, earning an average of $8,200 in the summer. Some, he said, gross over $30,000 a year.

Mr. Lemon said he doesn t mind the 80-hour weeks and believes the discipline of selling has been good for him.

If you can knock on doors [to sell], you can do pretty well at anything, he maintained. It s definitely the most challenging thing I ve done, including sports and becoming an Eagle Scout.

Some of the sales people say selling becomes second nature after a while. But it s a tough job, said Wendy Fisher, of Gibsonburg, who sells World Book encyclopedias to 1,200 schools, libraries, and youth clubs in 34 counties.

For every one that says yes, 10 say no. You definitely have to be motivated. You always have to be in a good mood and happy about your product, even if you don t sell anything.

Contact Homer Brickey at: homerbrickey@theblade.com or (419) 724-6129.



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