"Are You Sure I Can't Twist Your Arm?" and other seemingly innocuous things to say when selling door-to-door

This week over at The Lounge (which is being hosted by the fabulous Kim from Falling Face First) the lizards are talking about work woes. Now despite the fact that my working life is over 10 years old I've only had 4 jobs in that time. All of them have been based around sales, 3 of them within the publishing/book industry. Because my roles have involved sales, dealing with customers has nearly always been part of my day to day. And hasn't it been interesting. If you're definition of interesting includes crazy, weird, rude, mean and downright scary! And no, in my experience the customer is most definitely not always right!

My career in the publishing/book industry started in the Bible Society Bookshop that used to be located on Bathurst Street in the city. I started as a junior sales assistant and left when I was the assistant manager. Working in the centre of the city bought with it some interesting characters, and being that we were the Bible Society we also attracted our fair share of fringe dwellers and nut jobs through the doors. And when I say nut jobs I mean it in the nicest possible way as they were some of the most interesting and entertaining people I met during my time there. But they were a couple snags short of a full barbie so to speak.

There was Ken the not-so-homeless man, who spent his days begging on the streets and would then train it back to his home on the central coast. He would come in with all of his coin and make us stand there and count it up for him and then make us put little bits on each of the fifty million laybys he had. Ken had a certain aroma about him and so we had a special little bottle of extra-strong air-freshener that was actually labelled "Ken's Perfume" that we would spary liberally after each of his visits. Most of the time he was pleasant enough but if you got him on a bad day you did not want to even look at him wrong! And don't forget to wash your hands after handling those coins!

Then there was Eve. Eve was this tiny little lady, she was such a sweetheart. Definitely one of those missing a few snags but she was just so nice. Most of the time. Unless you mentioned dogs. She was convinced that Dogs were the devil. She would bring me literature about the evils of dogs when she came to visit, and one day she even bought me the label from a can of dogfood and showed me te evil eyes of the dog pictured on the can. Despite this hatred of dogs she loved birds. I will never forget the day she came in crying because she had seen a bird get hit and squashed by a car down the street. She requested a scraping device so she could scrape his remains from the road and give him a proper burial up in Hyde Park. Despite the ickness it was still quite sweet. Needless to say, I told her to keep the ruler she used for scraping!

The scariest character we had though was actually the Kwick Kopy delivery guy. The Bible Society offices were located above the shop and so they were always getting lots of stuff printed and delivered. Anyway, the delivery guy took quite a liking to me and would lurk around the shop waiting to talk to me and then stand there for ages and ages talking shit. It got so bad that I started to hide when I would see him coming up the street. One day however he told me about a new business he was starting, taking pictures of strangers and selling them to newspapers saying they had been spotted with famous people. I asked him if he was telling people that he was taking their photos. He didn't seem to understand why he had to.

A few weeks later, he started waiting for me around the corner to leave the shop for whatever reason and would talk to me non-stop until I was able to get away from him. Then a couple of weeks after that I was walking back from the bank and realised that he was actually following me from half a block away and just watching me, attempting to hide each time I looked his way. That was the last straw, he was freaking me out, so I told my manager about it and he called the business and he ended up getting him fired. Turns out I wasn't the only one he was a little bit obsessed with!

After Bible Society I worked for Angus & Robertson, the now defunct bookshop chain, managing different stores around the place. It was pretty obvious, even back then, that the company was being run in to the ground and when I eventually left I was one of a huge exodus of managers that all left at the same time. The image of rats escaping a sinking ship springs to mind! People ask the weirdest questions in bookshops, and I swear, if you ask me for that book with the "red cover by that person from the TV" I will find it very hard to conceal my sigh and eye-roll.

The amount of people who would get annoyed at me when, after asking for a book recommendation I dared to ask what types of books or things they enjoyed. Apparently I should know what every person who walks through the door wants to read, just by looking at them. And the parents that would come in, desperate for a book on some obscure thing, for their kids project that inevitably is always due the very next day. When I tell them we have nothing and that it will take a week to get something in for them the looks could have buried me. They would wail in an accusatory tone "Well what am I supposed to do now?", as if leaving it to the last minute was my fault. Then they would slink off sheepishly when I suggested that perhaps they could try that thing called the Library. Wait, you mean they still exist? Yes. Yes they do. And they are free! Much like the internet, another great source for school project information, and that you can also use for free. At the library!

Which brings me to my current company, Capricorn Link. I've been here for almost 7 years and come full circle, starting off as a sales/office assistant (I was prepared to do anything to get out of A&R!) and then moving up to sales, then Special Sales and finally Marketing before going on Maternity Leave. I am now back to sales/office assistant but with a whole lot more responsibility than when I first started. I basically do the stuff that no-one else has time for as well as special projects, graphic design and website maintenance.

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But what was my first job I hear you ask? What has all of that got to do with the title of this post? Well, my first job was going door-to-door selling Optus telecommunications products. I was desperate to get a job, by mandate of my Mother seeing as I had decided not to go back to Uni and was pretty much willing to take whatever job I could get. I didn't actually work for Optus, I worked for a company contracted by Optus to handle that kind of selling. I did the job for approximately 3 months and never got paid a cent! It was by far the worst of the jobs I have had and I will never be rude to a door-to-door salesperson (unless they are rude first) because I know first-hand just how hard and demoralising it can be.

We would meet at the sales office in North Sydney and then split in to our teams and be driven to various suburbs around Sydney to start door-knocking. It was boring, it was tiring, and there were not many places to go to the bathroom, let me tell you! Most people were plain rude, and some were downright mean! As daylight savings came to end it was no fun thing to be walking the streets of some of the, shall we say 'lower socio-economic neighbourhoods' by myself. By the end of it, when I was looking for a new job, I got to a point where I was taking a book with me and would hide somewhere and read till 8pm and it was time to meet the team leader and get dropped at the nearest train station to make our own way home.I figured if they weren't going to pay me what I was owed then I wouldn't be wasting my time doing any actual work!

There were some lovely people I met while doing the job though, like one man, who signed up to a package and was nice and chatty, and who had no problems letting me back in to his house an hour after I'd left so that I could use his bathroom. Not many people would say yes. Or the little old lady who didn't end up buying a package but felt sorry for me and made me come inside and have a drink and some of  the leftovers from her roast dinner. That was awesome. And she was a very hip little old lady at that.

But there were some moments that were just beyond horrible. Like when I was paired up with another sales guy and we spent a while talking to this bloke who in the end said he didn't want a package. The guy I was working with, not wanting to lose the chance of a sale asked the guy if "there is something I can do to twist your arm", at which point the bloke got a bit aggro and turned to the side to show that he actually only had one arm and said that he'd already had it twisted by another salesperson and this is what had happened! Being dusk we hadn't actually seen that he only had one arm so that was a bit awkward and we made a hasty retreat.

Another time I knocked on a door in a suburb near Blacktown. A little kid answered and told me that no his parents weren't there and he was looking after his little brother and sister. He wasn't much older than 6. It was very hard to walk away from that house.

The worst though was when I knocked on the door of another house and a young girl answered. I asked if I could speak to her Mum and she said no. So I asked if I could speak to her Dad and she burst in to tears and ran away. Then an older lady came to the door and I tried again. I asked if I could speak with Mrs. So-and-So and she answered with a short "No". So I asked if Mr. So-and-So was in and could I speak with him. Well, little did I know, but Mr. So-And-So had died the day before and she started screaming at me things like how dare I come knocking on their door and harrassing this poor family in their time of grief and did I have no sense of shame or honour? How I was supposed to know that a total stranger had passed away the day before is beyond me, but I apologised profusely and made a quick getaway while this woman continued to scream at me from the door. I can't be angry at her because grief does funny things to people but man, that was certainly a shitty day in the office!

So there you have it, a not-so-brief history of the working life of Kylie Purtell. I haven't done a lot but what I have done has been interesting, and despite the crappy stuff its certainly supplied me with some good stories! Next time I'll tell you bout the one and only time I said the f-word to a customer when I was working at A&R!

Do you have any tales of work woe to share? Feel free to let me hear them in the comments, or write your own post and link it up with The Lounge Lizards over here.



Kylie Purtell said…
I did door to door for a while, it's soul destroying isn't it? The story of the dead bird reminded me of the time I came home to find my son and a friend in the garden with a bible saying a few words over a bird they had just buried - I said how nice I thought it was that they cared enough to bury it and my son said 'well. we couldn't just leave him there could we? Roadkill deserved a good send off' ...
Kylie Purtell said…
Oh MAN - I can't believe he asked an armless man if he could twist his arm! That's gold! I do often wonder where door-to-door salespeople pee. I'm guessing squatting behind a bush is probably slightly frowned upon in uniform.... ;) x Kim (Lounge Lizard Ii)
Kylie Purtell said…
I'm so glad I've never had to be a salesman. One time, on mat leave, and in a new city I talked and talked and talked with the Optus guy like he was the last man on Earth. I did sign up though, so I figure that was fair payment for keeping a crazy lady company a while
Kylie Purtell said…
I couldn't be a door to door sales person, mainly because I am not a people person and also because I just wouldn't be able to not tell the truth if I thought the product was a bit shit. I hate seeing people being ripped off. I could imagine your time in the Bible Society would have been interesting. I have spent a lot of time in mental health inpatient and the patients who had religious delusions were always the most interesting.
Kylie Purtell said…
Door to door sales is the hardest job ever! My father in law did it for years, back in the day and the stories he's told me are pretty bad. A very difficult job. Love the Bible Society stories, K. Ken's perfume is gold! There are so many interesting characters in the city.
Kylie Purtell said…
A few great laughs in there lady! You've definitely had plenty of opportunities to meet some very interesting people. :)
Kylie Purtell said…
I so could never do a sales door to door job - I wouldn't make it!! And I have only ever been rude to one door to door sales man who wouldn't leave me alone, and who was so rude when I said "No thankyou" to his offer.
I don't have any job funny stories to share!!! But I did work in a pet store many years ago, and that was not the best job to be when I didn't have a clue about how fish tanks work :)
Kylie Purtell said…
I'm with you - I'm always courteous to door to door peeps as I would HATE to do it! A great list Ky, and you have commitment. Some great stories to share also, what a great memory you have, my brain is so mush I can't remember all cool stories. Hope you're doing great xx Em
Kylie Purtell said…
Gosh you've had some terrific work experiences. Working in sales definitely teaches you to be polite to other sales people - everyone's just doing their job! I worked for Dymocks for awhile in an inner city and it was full of nutters too. I think some people just liked going into a book shop cos it was quiet and there were lots of places to hide. I picked up a book for a friend recently that is literally titled "Weird things customers say in bookshops". Have you seen it? It's hilarious!

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