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CHAPTER ONE
Welcome to the Game

I'M often asked the question, "How did you get from there to here?" Let me tell you.

I was graduated from high school on June 7th, 1972, in Sumner, Washington. I moved later that day to Albany, Oregon. I found myself away from my mom and dad for the first time in my life. Young and inexperienced, I didn't have a clue about the real world or about people. Frankly, I was scared to death of people.

The next morning I began my first real job, selling Suzuki motorcycles at my oldest brother Ed's dealership. Ed is nearly nine years older than I am -- he has always been more like a father to me than a brother. He reminds me of Elvis in appearance, or at least he did when he still had his hair.

When he gave me that job, Ed was giving his little brother a leg up. It was generous of him, because, to tell you the truth, I was the world's worst salesman. I was thankful for the job, but I was pretty apprehensive. When it came to sales, I didn't want to be pushy or have to lie and chat to talk someone into buying something they didn't want. I figured it was their life, their money. Who was I to tell them what do do with their hard-earned cash? That was how I looked at it.

I greeted new customers with, "Hi, can I help you?"

"No thanks," they usually answered, "just looking."

I respectfully retreated and gave them all the time they needed, making it clear that if they had a question all they had to do was ask.

This seemed to me the way to conduct business. It's the way I always wanted to be treated when I considered buying something. Every few minutes I checked back with the customer. With no customer.

But then -- wouldn't you now it? -- they came up with a question just when another salesman angled his way over to say hello. Fifteen minutes later they were sitting in his office signing a sales contract!

It became obvious, even to an 18-year-old just out of high school, that my approach wasn't working.

My second plan was to wait for the other salesmen to let their "just looking" customers to wander out of arm's reach, then I'd say hello and ask, in my most winning manner, if they had any questions. This approach produced even worse results in addition to upsetting the other salesmen.

I figured, "Man are these guys good!" It seemed to me that my brother Ed had the three best salesmen in the world on his staff. I mean, they were kicking my butt! They were just kids, too, only two or three years older than I at the time. I envied the way they joked with one another, the easy manner they had with customers. I felt I would never measure up -- and I wanted to very much.I didn't want to let my brother Ed down.

Ed awarded the TOP SALESMAN OF THE MONTH plaque to the salesman who sold the most units each month, and prominently displayed the plaques along his Wall of Fame. A small bonus went with the award, but it was the honor of seeing your name on the Wall of Fame that struck a chord in the salesmen. Everyone wanted to see their own plaque on the wall.

I wanted to be on the wall. Within one week of the start of each month, however, I was always so far behind I had no way of winning. They nicknamed me 'Last-Place Lemco.' Before too many months, I realized with absolute certainty that the only way I would ever get on that wall was if the other three salesmen rode to work together on the first day of the month and got hopelessly lost until he last day. Then, with no competition, I'd make Number One -- maybe.

The lowest point of my sale's career came during one of my brother's sales meetings. At these meetings he always told a story about the best or most interesting deal of the previous week. This time he complemented Jack, saying Jack's customer wanted to leave, but Jack said this and Jack did that. There were smiles all around as the salesmen relived the story. Jack basked in the attention. Then Jack interrupted and said, "Really, Ed, it wasn't' as hard as you're making it sound. As a matter of fact, it was so easy even Steve could have handled it."

Raucous laughter.

Not everyone, however, was laughing. Ed shot me a look that was easy enough for a brother to read. How could he put together this business from scratch, he was thinking, then bring in his younger brother and have him be the butt of disparaging jokes. As he glared I could tell he wished I'd change my last name.

I was discouraged. I felt as down as only a young man who knows he's a failure can.

I was ready to quit altogether, when another Jack changed my life. His name was Jack Poindesker. Mr. Poindesker, a florid-faced, jovial man, came into the store early in the spring of 1978.

Without optimism -- how many times had I been down this road? -- I asked if I could help him.

With a huge grin on his face, he said, "You bet. I'm going to buy a Honda 750 today. I'm so excited I can hardly stand it!"

That made two of us. The Honda CB750 was the biggest, most-desirable motorcycle on the market at that time. It was also the most expensive, which meant it carried the biggest commission. Mr. Poindesker told me he had already arranged a loan from his credit union -- all he had to do was get a serial number, select some options, and pick out a helmet. He would take the total price to the credit union and be back next week with a check.

Along the way he told me repeatedly how happy he was that finally he would get his dream bike, that he and his wife planned to take the coast route to California with four of their friends on their next vacation. As Mr. Poindesker fondly admired a showroom Honda 750 at close range, my happy customer told me how his wife and he lay in bed at night and shared that dream. Now it was coming true. He was so excited, he could hardly stand it.

So what? I thought. Like I said, I was just out of high school, 19 years old this time, and knew nothing about life. All Mr. Poindesker's ramblings meant little to me. I was thinking about that fat commission. It was right at $100. In 1978 that was a lot of money, more than I had ever made all at once before. Heck, my rent was only $47.50 a month! Consider what two months' rent is and you'll see why I was thinking of the money and what's in it for me, instead of listening to Mr. Poindesker and sharing his dreams with him.

He asked for my card and assured me, "I'll be back."

When I left him a copy of the prices and my business card, I head Ed's voice page me to the sales office. The standing rule was that customers came first, so I popped my head in his office and said, "Ed, I'm with someone. I'm almost done. I'll be right back."

He grimaced, then waved me into his office anyway and said, "No, that's okay. Come on in. I know you're with somebody. His name is Jack something." Ed told me he had been listening to some of our conversation and was aware the customer said he was returning with a check.

"Right," I said, "let me go finish with him and I'll be right back."

Once again Ed said, "No." He was going to walk me through this deal. He told me to go out to Mr. Poindesker, say this, say that, then walk back to my office. The customer would follow me. When he sat down, I was to say, "Oh, I have to check on something," then come back to his office and he would tell me what to do next.

I knew what Ed was up to. I'd seen it often enough before. He was going to try and sell my customer his Honda that day. Ed didn't believe in the "be-backers." Any time you wanted to be him $10 on a be-backer he'd jump at it. After losing several bets, I quit. Standing there in my brother's office while Mr. Poindesker stroked the leather seat of the 750, I knew he had a point. So I told him I would try.

"TRY?!" Ed hissed through his teeth. He shot out from behind his desk. He grabbed my shirt. He left me off the floor and shoved me into the wall. First thing I thought was, I'm telling mom.

"Why did you do that?" I said after he let me go, more than a little hurt.

"Because if he doesn't sit down in your office, I don't want there to be any doubt in your mind that I'm going to take you out behind the building and beat the crap out of you!"

That really hurt me feelings. I didn't care about the deal any more. In fact, for an instant, I wanted to blow it. Instead, I walked out to the customer and said this and said that, turned around, and walked into my office.

What do you know? Mr. Jack Poindesker followed me in and sat down. I told him I had to check on something. It would only take a minute.

In Ed's office, I said peevishly, "Wonderful. He's sitting down. What does that accomplish?"

As if lecturing a child, Ed said, "It is wonderful. Now go out and say this and say that then pull out your pen and start writing."

"Start writing?" I asked. "How can I start writing when he isn't here to buy today?"

Ed gritted his teeth, then repeated himself with his fist pounding the desk on each word.

"Okay, I'll try." OOPS Back to the wall!!

An hour later I was in Mr. Poindesker's truck following him home. He was on his new CB750 Honda, grinning so broadly bugs were dying on his teeth.

On the drive back to the dealership, Mr. Poindesker must have thanked me a hundred times for not only making the bike so easy to buy,but for getting it to his house so soon. I was thinking of all that the money. He kept telling me how long he had been dreaming of doing this and he couldn't believe it had finally come true. I was still thinking about all that money. He told me he stopped in last year at one of our competitors and did the same thing as he did with us, but the day before he was to pick up his check from the credit union he talked himself out of it. He told me he had regretted that decision all year. I was still thinking about that money. When Jack dropped me off, even though I was concentrating on being $100 richer, I couldn't help noticing he was one happy camper.

Ed paged me into the office. I couldn't believe what happened next. Not only did he pay me in cash on the spot, he told me to take the rest of the day off and think about what just took place. He also wanted me to come in an hour early the next morning to talk about it.

On the drive home I could believe how my luck was running. I felt great. Things had been pretty depressing for quite a while. Just feeling good was almost the bet part. I was 19 years old, it wasn't even noon yet, and I had a $100 in my pocket. I was amazed at how a few good circumstances could really change your attitude.

I couldn't help put laugh out loud when I thought of Ed's request for me to think about work. No way, I had every intention of partying, celebrating my great salesmanship and good fortune.

Then, WHAM! Just like in a Kung Fu scene, thoughts started flashing through my mind. They kept coming, one after another. My experiences of the last months, the stories my brother had told, what I had seen for myself -- all these and more came flooding into my mind. A switch had turned on and I saw the light.

I couldn't stand it. I made a quick U-turn and rove back to talk with Ed. I spent the rest of the day with him. After the dealership closed for the day, he ordered pizza and we stayed until midnight, just talking. Door after door was opening to me and I was experiencing a world that I had never before imagined. The most incredible part of the experience was that the more I understood, the simpler it all became. Everything about what I had been trying to do up until then had been so difficult. Now it was laid out before me as easy as one, two three.

From the Jack Poindesker sale onward, I could have taken the last ten days of every month off and the other guys still wouldn't have caught me. I was smoking the salesmen who used to smoke me. I thought they were the three greatest salesmen in the world. Now I was Number One -- what an indescribable feeling of ecstasy. It's a rare emotion.

 
 
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2004 Steve Lemco. All rights reserved.