Wednesday, February 08, 2012

I did it Amway

In a recent post I mentioned that one of my former jobs was as an Amway salesman. An anonymous commenter posted this:

You, an Amway salesman? There's got be a good story. C'mon, give.

Okay, so here's the story. It's actually an excerpt from my book about growing up in the '60s... that will be released within the next few months!! (In the meantime, buy my other book. It's only $2.99... that's at least a laugh a dollar!!!)

It's 1964 in the San Fernando Valley, California:

I got my first job. This was difficult since California labor laws required you be at least sixteen and I was still two years shy. But that didn’t bother Amway.

Amway is a company that makes cleaning products sold door-to-door. It’s not like you applied for a job, went through a lengthy vetting process, and were hired. You just bought the sales kit for $20 and shazam! You were a proud member of the Amway family.

My friend Mark turned me on to this golden opportunity. Mark also turned me on to Playboy magazine and those magnificent “Girls from Latvia” so he certainly had street cred. We went to a sales pitch where this huckster demonstrated how everyone could make six-figure incomes. Just by selling cans of spray-on shoe polish! He even had a graph (which looked suspiciously like a pyramid now that I think about it) that proved it!

So every morning I trudged off to nearby neighborhoods with my little plastic case of samples and order forms. The sales pitch was this: After the customer allows you to enter their home, conduct a series of amazing demonstrations. Spray one of their shoes. Grind dirt into their carpet and show how Amway’s magic spot remover cleans it up in a jiffy. Foolproof! The truth is the products were actually excellent. They really did what they promised.

But it turns out people didn’t just let a 14 year-old stranger into their homes. Who knew? Out of a hundred houses, my success rate was probably one.

And it turns out those weren’t the best houses. Usually the fair maidens that invited me in were drunks in tattered nightgowns that would let Nazi Youth in if it would break up the day. Often these homes were rundown, had big gleaming motorboats in the driveway and no furniture, or a brand new color TV/Hi-fi console and orange crates.

I think for the entire summer I made $25.00. Then Amway billed me $20.00 for the plastic case and $1.75 for the handout brochures. After ignoring four of these rather rude invoices, I received a no-nonsense letter from an attorney threatening to sue me and seize all of my assets (which at the time meant baseball cards and a thousand bad Connie Francis 45’s). I dashed them off a reply reminding them I was 14. They were employing a minor. The threats ceased.

The plastic case broke in September.


GregN said...

Hee. Reminds me of my Fuller Brush days of door-to-door, also at 14!
I had no problem getting in and making sales, but my failure to actually deliver the products ended that career. Later sold photography door-to-door in Texan and Ohio (Glenn of Hollywood?)which worked out better: someone else did the deliveries.

Mike McCann said...

Thanks for awakening one of my own memories - the Tom-Wat kit we sold as Boy Scouts (I guess selling egg slicers and kitchen timers door-to-door was our counterpart to the Girl Scout Cookie racket).

Guess I was luckier; I went into a nice neighborhood of my home town. Sold a few items -- then I hit on the aunts, uncles and cousins. I did well the first time I tried. I think the results were less successful in year two.

Fortunately, we scouts were not required to duplicate the Abbott & Costello "dirt on the carpet" routine. I cringe at your being forced to do so.

Bob Summers said...

I remember the school fundraisers and having to sell stuff for Boy Scouts. They send you out with order forms and the assurance that you just hit up some friends and neighbors who would be more than thrilled to buy something of that quality. (Nobody ever seemed to ask if this stuff was so great, why wasn't it sold in stores?)

I think they counted on the parents buying a bunch of it so you won the free trip to camp.

Probably just like today, the purpose of Amway and others was to get you not to really sell, but recruit others to sell.

BigTed said...

I peddled those greeting cards from the "Make Money! Get Prizes!" ads in the back of Boys' Life, hoping for one of those snazzy bikes. I think I got one or two orders in weeks of trying, which was maybe enough to earn a Slinky.

Cap'n Bob said...

I sold Fuller Brush products. My career lasted eight days and my best day was when I went out half drunk. One guy chased me down the street to ask me to sell Amway instead. I refused. Door-to-door selling has to be the worst job extant.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

At the age of 12, went to Big Tujunga Canyon, cut down mistletoe, bagged it, then went door to door in Toulca Lake. It was my first lesson in pricing...

If the lady of the house beamed when I held up the holiday-ribboned bag of fungus, the price was a buck; if she grumped, the price was a quarter.

Sold out...and applied my lessons later in the 60's to selling other green products in baggies.

Far out.

YEKIMI said...

Sheesh, that brings back nightmares. At a radio station I worked at another one of the DJs was selling Amway & talked me into selling it so we both could supplement our 4 figure income (not a was 4 figures). He was convinced it was the sure way to becoming a millionaire. I think the only one I sold anything to was my mother and even she was hesitant to boy it cause it was so overpriced [but their stuff did work]. That's probably why I never went into sales at a station. Format change, we're all fired, I quit the Amway gig after I realized it was COSTING me money to sell their stuff.. Never heard from the other DJ again, I assume he's a seal fluffer somewhere in the wilds of Alaska nowadays. My best gig was in Boy Scouts, to earn money for scout camp we had to sell fertilizer door-to-door. If they didn't want to buy it, I just put on my best hurt-face-almost-ready-to-cry look, turned away with slumped shoulders and slowly walk down the sidewalk. More often than not, people would call me back and buy something. Sold more fertilizer than any other scout and got TWO free weeks at scout camp!

Rick Razzamatazz said...

Is there an actual release date for your book? Funny stuff. See you in Peoria next month!

Frank said...

In Brisbane years ago a few Kiwi mates came over and were really excited when they scored a job right away. We were surprised too until they proudly told us they were now door to door encyclopedia salesmen with the Collier Corporation and they even had a script they were supposed to memorize. The first thing I noticed on the script was "blah blah blah blah (small talk) blah blah etc" and from that day on we were always pestering them for some of their hip "small talk in brackets". Sad to report their small talk routines weren't great and no encylopedias got sold.

Anonymous said...

Amway. A double edged sword for me. I sold enough greeting cards as a kid to buy myself a telescope, why not push enough soap to pick up a Caddy, the Amway car of choice to show what a successful distributor you are?

On one hand Amway showed me the courage I had inside myself to meet strangers and pitch them "the business." "Cold calling" they called it. Learned a lot of positive stuff from their curriculum. The attitude my "upline" espoused helped me get my first job on a movie.

On the other hand, it got me into some hot water with a very famous actor. Before I got onto above-mentioned picture, I went to a sales rally where thousands of people were singing, yelling and really pumped about selling soap. The speaker said "[Famous actor] is in the business!" meaning the actor was a distributor. ("In the business" is a euphemism for Amway.)

Working at Warner Bros as a temporary assistant the next day, I sent an interoffice memo (letters that went between floors of a company before there was email) to the actor as he had an office in the building. The note said something along the lines of he and I being "in the business" together and closed with "Up your PV!" a catch phrase used to encourage people to up their "Point Value," essentially meaning more money for themselves. Well, the actor wasn't in "the business." "The industry," yeah, but not "the business."

Famous actor's right hand calls me asking what the heck I was talking about in my note (I never mentioned "Amway"), and wanted to know what "PV" was. Can you imagine receiving such as message if you don't know what any of it means?

A cease and desist letter soon arrived at Amway HQ from the actor's lawyers. I was told from the top to stop spreading this misinformation. Man, here I was trying to get onto a picture and this connection that I naively thought could help had now become a possible career ender. Fortunately, it wasn't. Although my PV in the industry at the time may have dipped a bit.

Unknown said...

Bad analogy Ken!

I bet there are more than one in a hundred people in LA who would let the Pope into their home...

Chris said...

Friday question: Why do they say Whitney is TAPED in front of a live studio audience? Do they still use tape in 2012?

JJadziaDax said...

My first job was trying to sell Cutco knives. Only one that bought any was me and that was because I had to buy the demo set. They lasted a long time though.

Kimberley Lee said...

Your story was very inspiring and authentic. I realize now how your product psychologically contributes to individuals living development not just materially but mentally. It makes me think now that Amway is a thing that everyone must have.

Unknown said...

It's like a domino effect. Amway is next company in line receiving significant contributions from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) - and when we say significant, we mean: $500,000!! Pass this long!