Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Art and Anxiety of Selling

If any of my children are genetically predisposed to careers in sales, I probably destroyed their chances early on in their lives.  When they brought home the fund raising packets from school for overpriced wrapping paper, waxy chocolates, and Reader's Digest subscriptions, I tossed them into the garbage with the lofty proclamation, "This family doesn't do fund raisers..." Being a teacher, I have sat through enough fund raising presentations to know of the plastic riches promised to children who will  wheedle and pester their relatives and neighbors to buy crap.  I allowed my children to believe that their mother existed on this higher moral plane where such activities were tantamount to child labor and commercial slavery.  

The truth is, it was my terror talking.  Dear Prairie Readers, let me take you back to 1963 and second grade.  While I wanted to join Brownies, there was no troop available, so my mother opted for the shoddy substitute, Camp Fire Girls.  We didn't have the flashy uniforms with the coveted beanies, our pledge was not something you would remember down through the ages and be able to recite on your deathbed, and there were no cookie sales.  Instead we sold "butterscotch discs"--nasty pseudo-butterscotch candy that came in a round tin.  I think these tins sat in warehouses for several years before being shipped out for sales, as the candy always stuck to the wrappers and had a faint rancid odor.

Even at age seven, I had this sense of foreboding as my camp leader stacked two dozen tins into my stick arms with the admonishment that all must be sold before the week's end.  As I staggered to my mother's car, I had hopes that she would see this as an opportunity to do some early Christmas shopping (the candy sale was in April), and she would whip out her checkbook and make a mass purchase of all twenty-four tins.  

Alas, the reputation of the quality of the product preceded it, and my mother bought one measly tin and then sent me out into the neighborhood to unload the 23 remaining. Remember, this was a time before the concerns of stranger-danger, and sending a 7 year-old off  alone to ring the doorbells of unknown homes  was considered perfectly reasonable.

It was at this point that I realized that I had major anxiety issues regarding selling.  I could not force myself to go up a driveway let alone ring a doorbell. As I sat in the neighborhood park pushing down my panic and weighing my options, I sampled a piece of my wares.  It was as bad as expected.  Sellers anxiety plus an inferior product led me to my only recourse--lying.  I headed home, told my mother that I couldn't find a single buyer in the neighborhood, and figured that this was the end of the entire enterprise.

Oh no, my mother saw this as a learning experience, and being concerned with my sales technique, she then sent my sister along with me.  That is when I resorted to tears.  I stood on the curb with my sister by my side and I howled.  I recall Sis took pity on me and bought a tin so that I only had 22 remaining.  After that, I don't have any recollection, but I do know that this was my last year as a Camp Fire Girl. 

There were other times during my childhood when I was forced to sell things, but let's just say that none of them turned out well and the anxiety was just reinforced.  Obviously, I stayed far away from the School of Business at UW-Eau Claire during my years as an undergrad, opting instead for the School of Education.  Safe choice.

Just to prove that change is possible even when one has reached the dark side of her 50's, let us fast forward to the summer of 2010.  As I mentioned in a previous post, divorce does a number on family budgets, and I was facing a bit of a monetary shortfall.  Good friends of mine, Paul Ehrhardt and Kay Jensen own an organic farm just north of Madison, JenErh Family Farm.  They asked me to manage their stand at the Dane Country Farmers' Market on the Capitol Square each Saturday morning. Alas, managing also means selling.

Terror doesn't quite describe what I was feeling, but several outstanding bills scared me more.  I decided it give it a try for several weeks, just until I could find something else.  My first morning I arrived at the square at 6 AM, learned the intricacies of setting up a farm stand (display is everything), strapped on a money belt, and began greeting customers.
My co-worker Sarah and our fabulous beets!
What I have found is, if I really believe in my product, I can sell it.  Noxious artificially-flavored candies? No.  Free-range chickens who actually had a happy life and veggies just hours from non-tainted fields? Yes!  And I love interacting with my customers--foodies like me who don't wince at paying a bit more for quality.  People who will share a recipe or a storage idea for root vegetables without knowing your name.  Gone is the anxiety.  Instead I wake up at 4:30 on Saturday mornings from mid April to late November pumped.  I glory in the fact when we have had a good sales day.  My only tears are when we do not.

This is me at market on a cold May day
extolling on the virtues of ruffled kale.
And this new feeling of retail empowerment has gone into my Prairie Grlz experience.  Never would I had thought that I would actually be thinking of opening an Etsy site to sell things that I have made.  Instead of terrifying, and I finding it exciting.  I love what Eydie and I are creating, and I want to share it with others.  I am looking forward to our launch in mid August.  

Lesson learned.  Take pride in what what you do, and do something that you believe in.   Don't sell crap.

Prairie Sherry

PS!!  PS!! 

Tomorrow WE HAVE A GUEST BLOGGER!!  Our first!!!  Please tune in and meet Prairie Grl Lena.  She has won a Prairie Grlz t-shirt for her efforts.  I'd show you one, but we haven't gotten them back from the printers yet.

Prairie Grlz will be taking a break from the blog on Thursday and Friday of this week.  I am sure that on the 4th I will be slopping Mod Podge on something. 


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