inflatable arm bands
We sold Book Club membership door-to-door in the 1980s, way before the Internet. We were like a mobile Amazon, showing the company brochure to prospective members.
Big Sam was our legendary team manager, both famous and infamous throughout the company. We were isolated in Aberdeen so we evolved as a hardy, independent team under Big Sam’s tutelage. Perhaps we didn’t evolve as much as mutate. Being under Big Sam’s command was like being under Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. We were loyal to Sam more than the company. Hell, we won the UK national prizes regularly, best team, best team leader, best salesperson. Big Sam just kept leading us to glory and we worshipped him. He made every day feel like a mission. And missions had to be accomplished.
We got notice of the big annual prize, a week in sunny Florida. Each week we’d receive, through the post, the league tables. All four of us lived in the same house and so Big Sam would push anyone seeking to open the mail out the way and, usually, smack them with the envelop while pointing to the team leader badge he seemed to even wear on his pyjamas, saying: “You got one of these? No? Well, that’s my mail!”
We’d sit at breakfast, waiting impatiently to see where we all were in the Florida league table, while Sam seemed to take an age to read the results. Sometimes he’d say: “Looks like we’re working this weekend, boys. Those f*****g second prizers are catching up on us.”
Winning this meant everything to Sam. He’d annoyed enough bosses to know that the only thing keeping him in a job was high level performance. Then we were a man down after one of the team left. Sam told regional office we’d manage with four in the team because we were better than the rest of the region put together. But the regional manager insisted on sending up a raw 16-year-old recruit, who would take an age to train and divert us from winning the Florida League. Of course, the regional manager knew this and was insecure enough to enjoy seeing Sam fall from grace and, thereby, become a little less obvious a replacement for said regional manager, which had been mooted by HQ.
Sam’s dark side was exposed to us all when he briefed us on our new mission. “The Kid has to go. We can’t get rid of him, so we have to make him feel out of his depth. Then he’ll chuck it and we can get back on mission.”
None of us were comfortable with this. But Sam was like our head office. Sam continued: “Our average sales per day is four. We’ll tell him it’s eight. So, when I pick you up after you’ve been selling, if you don’t have eight sales, lie!”
The Kid was given the most basic briefing, part of the plan to ensure he failed. He was nervous as hell. He’d been kicked out his home by alcoholic parents. The last thing he needed was this. I was his designated trainer. The Kid would accompany me around the doors. Luckily, I actually got eight that first day with him.
Next day, Sam parked the car on our sales territory and said: “Right, young Tom. You’ve seen it done. Now you are on your own. Don’t come back if you don’t get four in the morning and then four in the afternoon. See you at lunchtime.”
Once The Kid was out the car, we made our feelings known. But Sam’s answer made us think. “Bob, when was the last time you got eight in a day, apart from yesterday?” It was true. We were all thinking in eights, not fours.
When we picked up The Kid, to our amazement he had eight sales! Us old hands had done even better than usual too but The Kid was Champ for the Day. Not that we told him. We were under Sam’s orders not to. The next day the kid got nine. He smiled all the way home. Big Sam was smiling too. The Kid had to go find a phone box to call some relative. Big Sam waited until he’d gone and then went through us like a dose of salts.
“Years of my expert training and leadership and all you learned was that a kid with nothing can out-perform your complacent arses! All I’ve learned is that me and The Kid are Florida bound. Tomorrow, he’s in the front seat!” We gasped! The front seat was reserved for what Sam called Heir Apparent.
By the end of the week, our average was seven-point-six per man per day, not quite eight, but it proved to be enough when we became the first team to qualify en masse for Florida.
There were no congratulations from the regional manager. But Sam didn’t need them. Nor did we. When you dig deep down inside yourself, you tend to need others a little less. We learned that from The Kid. To show our appreciation we bought him inflatable arm bands for Florida.