ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


WHAT'S IN A NAME?


It had been a long, brutal day on the sales floor for young Brent. He'd had his share of "ups" -- that's what retail sales people call it when it's their turn with the next customer -- and more than his share of downs. And now he was in danger of being shut out for the day.

And he hadn't been shut out in a long time. Even in his early days with the company, he could always sell something to someone. That's why they made him assistant manager so quickly. He was good. A natural. And he had a knack for turning new customers into repeat customers.

But on this day, there were no customers. At least, none who wanted to buy. There were plenty who wanted to look, and he spent a lot of time with each one of those. But he could never close the deal. This, of course, exposed him to some good-natured ridicule from his associates, who took not-so-secret delight in seeing the sales prodigy get his come-upence.

There was more at stake here than just professional pride and reputation, however. Brent is a new father. He and his wife, Kay, decided that she would be a full-time Mom, which meant he would support the family. When he does well on the sales floor, that isn't a problem. But when he struggles, the whole family struggles.

And on this day, at least, he was struggling.

Toward the end of the day, a man came in to buy a suit. It had the potential to be a good sale, the kind that can turn a bad day into a good one -- just like that. Brent worked hard to make it happen. They tried on several suits. Brent carefully explained the materials, the craftsmanship and why these suits, while expensive, were such a good buy.

The man hesitated. Brent knew all too well the look he saw in his eyes -- the look of a potential customer about to walk out the door empty-handed -- and he was tempted to use some of the tricks he had learned to pressure people into making a purchase. But he had long since decided that that wasn't the way he wanted to do business. So when it became clear that the man was going to leave to do a little comparison shopping, Brent handed him his business card and invited him to return after he'd had a chance to look around.

The man looked at Brent's card, and then took a long look at Brent. "So you're Brent's boy," the man said, alluding to the fact that the card identified him as Brent Jr.

"Do you know my Dad?" Brent asked.

"Sure do," the man said. They chatted for a moment, establishing the link between father and son. Then the man said: "Your dad's a good man. If you're anything like him . . . well, tell me again about that suit."

Brent made the sale. But that wasn't why he called his father that night to recount the story. "I just wanted to thank you," he said, "for giving me a name I can be proud of."

There were tears in Brent Sr.'s eyes as he hung up the phone, and gratitude in his heart that for all of the dumb things he had done in his life -- and we all do them, don't we? -- he hadn't done anything dumb enough to dishonor the name he shared with his son.

Or to make a long, brutal day on the sales floor even longer. Or more brutal.

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--- © Joseph Walker

http://www.sfpnn.com/joseph_walker1.htm

 

Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.