I had gone out with Ken to cold canvass. Our first objective was to try to get a retailer to agree to a demonstration. Ken pointed at a wool shop and bet me ten-bob I could not get a demo. He was on to a fair bet because wool shops were usually run by gentle ladies who would not see a cash register as compatible with their trade. I gamely tried to get this one to agree to a dem. When all else failed I asked her if she would like to earn five shillings. All she had to do was let me bring in a register and show it to her – she agreed!
Humping in cash registers to a demonstration was not without its problems. I recall bending over and splitting my trousers and having to do a demo in an overcoat on a very hot day.
But perhaps the worst moment in my early career lost me a potentially large deal. In Bath a dancehall had been taken over by a large London-based operator. Its national manager had found a Sweda there and challenged me to convince him to keep it as by instinct they were Automaticket users. Familiar in cinemas, this machine ejected a small ticket from a large roll. If I could convince him then there were tens of such businesses that might go Sweda.
I was shown through the empty cavern of a club to a scruffy back room where the Sweda was located. Someone there had already ‘salvaged’ the electric plug from it. You have to appreciate that in those days we had something like five different wall socket systems – 5-amp, 15-amp, 13-amp, each with different pin shapes and configurations. I therefore bared the wires on the Sweda cable and used another plug to force the wires into the socket.
The room we were in had institutional metal windows revealing the back wall of the next property. As the demo went on I assumed there had to be a dry cleaners in the adjacent properties as there was a strong smell. Eventually we both realised that the plug I had used was connected to a two-bar electric fire and the customer had put his state-of-the-art moulded briefcase in front of it. The plastic had melted and run all over his papers inside. I lost the deal and could not even offer to buy him a new one as I could not have afforded it.
I subsequently acquired what we called a ‘suicide block’ with crocodile clips to secure bare wires and a plug that had two thin prongs that were sprung so the gap could be adjusted to fit any socket – three-pin sockets still required the ‘shutter’ to be freed with a screwdriver.
Tony Pascoe, a fellow new salesman on an adjacent territory, had a worse experience. He had been invited to do his demo in a shop owner’s apartment above the premises. He said it was very smart with deep pile carpets, heavily-flocked wallpaper and a dramatic fabric-print three-piece. Tony set up the register on the coffee table while the owner made them both a cuppa. Tony put down his cup and saucer and started the dem. One of the things we were all taught to do was to comment on the sound of the register because this revealed its quality Swedish engineering. He pressed the motor bar and the empty cash drawer was flung outward. The opening mechanism had to be capable of pushing out a cash tray full of heavy coins; thus when empty it emerged at some pace. It hit the cup and propelled its contents all across the three-piece, carpet and walls.
I went on to evolve my own prospecting approach. I recruited a coterie of other salesman, one who sold Berkel scales, another who sold fridges and a third who sold shopfronts and shopfittings. We all worked roughly the same patch and were not competitors, so we could freely exchange information. We would meet in a café every month and for my part I would have visited local planning offices beforehand, and provided a list of those shops that had applied for extensions, refits, new signs… In between café meetings we referred hot leads directly to each other (remember no mobiles back then!). I did well enough after three months to become a full salesman earning full commission on my own sales.