SAN DIEGO — Saturday morning, 8:30. Another day, another injection of hope and hoopla coming up.
Bob Schropp, 57, is sitting in the meeting room along with Jerry Sturn, 67; Ed Franken, 76, and other, younger, members of the intrepid troop of men and women who take to the streets each day.
It's a bit like a schoolroom before the teacher comes in. Jerry's playing with his "I You" tie. It suddenly comes alive with an electronic rendition of "Love Me Tender." He's the joker of thebunch. Fate probably gave him the choice of salesmanship or music hall.
The incredible thing is, they all look unbelievably young for their age. Is it the door-to-door salesman's life? Or is it the type attracted to the life?
Sturn and Schropp both sport the Electrolux ring on their hands, a gold and diamond incentive prize with a big "E" in the middle.
"Rich Does It Again!" says a sign at the top of a list called the Vice President's Club: Rich Luisi of New Jersey has made an incredible 1,010 sales in a year, about half a million dollars' worth.
Sturn's talking about "Old Charlie," who used to work in Mission Hills. He got a phone call asking him to bring a vacuum cleaner to a wedding for someone to give as a present, and when he got to the reception, he counted 18 couples whose parents had bought vacuum cleaners from him to give as presents.
"But that's the way it was," Sturn said, "when you had salesmen selling everything from Watkins Liniment to encyclopedias to brooms and brushes. Regular beats."
A list on the wall tells you what incentives you'll get if you make 26 sales (a microwave oven, a mini-Wurlitzer), 50 sales (a stuffed mountain bobcat, a wingsailer), 100 sales (100 shares in Sara Lee, 500 ounces of silver) . . . .
Then Bob Burks, the branch manager, comes in. He switches on a video machine. Everybody stands up. The National Anthem? Onto the screen comes a jolly chorus line surrounded by Electrolux products. Suddenly, the music blasts. Everybody in the room is singing. It's the Electrolux song.
Open your door to the Electrolux show
We'd like to show you just a while
Electrolux Cleaner's the name that you know . . .
Schropp, Sturn and Franken all bellow it out. Just like the peppy companies of old, just like the Japanese companies of today. They believe. They have to, if they're going to persuade others.
With television providing top-notch salesmanship without even having to knock, with more houses empty during the day as both spouses work, with many people afraid to answer the door, what real reason is there for them to continue? As one sales guru, William H. Whyte, put it: "By every rule of scientific marketing, direct canvassing is so patently uneconomic that it has no place in the new era."
But companies like Amway, Culligan and Electrolux seem to take no notice, and do just fine anyway. In 1985, Electrolux in San Diego passed the magic $1-million annual sales barrier. Knocking on doors. The great American Way of bringing it to you is alive and well.
It's almost time to get back out there. Some leads are distributed, then Bob Burks sounds the clarion:
"OK, gang! Let's get out there and make a million!"
So what does it take to be a good salesman? It takes only a day on the road with one to discover that a pleasant personality and belief in your product are not enough:
"Uh, hi! My name's Bob. I've come to shampoo your carpet, as per our phone conversation with you . . . ?"
He is up some wooden steps of a steep block of apartments in South San Diego. First call of the day, 11 a.m. A guy in the 30-to-40 age range stands holding the door half-open, looking out at this middle-aged stranger in gray jacket, pink shirt, red tie, big grin, a boy's blue eyes and a Julius Caesar halo of gray hair. Schropp, an Electrolux door-to-door man for 20 years, is ready for action.
Except he doesn't notice a small sign on the door that reads: "As Salaam Alaikum. Please Remove Your Shoes Before Entering Our Humble Abode."
"Did you, ah, get the call from our sales personnel--shampoo?" Schropp asks.
"No, sir. The other way round. We wrote you a letter, complaining about the shampooer we use. One of yours. It shampoos the dirt in, man! You'd better come in."
Schropp looks thunderstruck. This isn't what he had on his pink slip. This is a complaint card, not a lead. But in he goes to the lion's den, armed only with his sweet tongue and his genuine faith that no product of his company would be capable of such a crime against carpets.
A copy of the Koran sits on the table. A thin yellow carpet spreads over the sitting room.
"You see, we're Muslims here," the man says. "We don't just use the carpet to walk on. We prostrate ourselves on it five times a day. It's got to be clean."