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His business career began with a chance encounter with a sight-impaired salesman who taught him to believe–in his products and his customers.
Once school was out for summer, you could always find my friends and me hanging around the middle of town. Hardware store, dairy store, gas station and the bus stop–we watched the world go by from our perch on that bus-stop bench.
One day we saw a man get off the bus. He was blind, and he had a large bag full of brooms, mops and brushes. Salesman, of course. The kind that went door to door. But I had never seen a blind salesman before. “Can any of you boys help me with some directions?” he asked.
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I guess he must have heard us talking, but we were all too surprised to answer. He took a black book out of his pocket.
“I need some help going over my route. This will tell me how to get to my first house of the day.” Someone had to show some courage. “Sure, mister,” I said. “I can take you.” He handed me the black book with its long list of addresses.
M y friends looked on in amazement as I took the man’s wrist and guided him across the street. As we approached the house he said, “How would you like a job?”
“A job?” At 10 years old I had little experience with work. Sometimes I mowed Doc Jones’s lawn next door. Or washed Mrs. Parson’s Ford–that was extra fun because she let me pull it into our driveway to wash it. But I didn’t have any interest in brooms and mops.
“I’ll give you five cents on every sale if you escort me for the whole day,” the salesman offered.
“A whole day?” I glanced back at my friends on the corner, thinking I might miss a lot of fun.
But if even half the people on his sales list bought something, I’d make enough money for a model airplane or a tank. Maybe even enough to buy that chrome-plated six-shooter cowboy pistol with pearl-white handles I’d seen at the toy shop. The fancy one with the chamber that opened to hold cap-loaded bullets.
“I’ll do it!” I said. Taking his wrist again, I led him to our first house. “Good morning, ma’am,” he said to the lady who answered. “I wonder if you have a minute to see some fine brushes.”
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I stood aside as the salesman showed off his wares. He knew all about them: what made them better than other brushes and mops, how they would help her keep her house clean. By the time he was finished with his pitch I wondered if my own mom might need some new brushes. They sounded that good!
The lady agreed and we made our first sale. And that meant five cents for me.
“We’re off to a good start,” he said. “Want to try another?”
“I sure do!”
We went house to house. At nearly every one we sold something, and it wasn’t because everyone really needed a new mop. “It’s because you’re such a good salesman,” I said. I was really impressed.
“It’s important to believe in the product,” my new friend explained as we walked down the sidewalk. “See this broom? Feel how strong the bristles are. That makes it last longer than other brooms.”
I felt good thinking about the people who had bought our quality products, like we’d made their lives better in some small way. My friends probably would have laughed at the idea, but it didn’t seem silly to me. Actually I figured they might be jealous of the money I earned.
“I think you might have a knack for this job,” the salesman said. “Say, how about you take the next one?”
“Sure. See what kind of a salesman you’d make.”
Before I had time to think he’d rung the doorbell. “Yes?” the lady of the house said. I didn’t feel like much of a salesman, but this was my chance to give it a try. “Good afternoon, ma’am,” I said. “I wonder if you have a minute to see some fine brushes?”