Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River. It was a rural sort of place that did not particularly appreciate education, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.
Dad was a born salesman. He could sell anything to anyone just about. It took him some time to find that calling. Before sales he pumped gasoline, worked odd jobs, trained as a jewellery designer and maker, and even tried farming. He hated farming.
But it was sales that Dad was the very best. Different people have different talents for different things. I did some direct sales at summer jobs at a paint store and at a small engine repair shop and lawnmower store, but in those jobs the customers came to you. Dad went to the customers.
I shall save one of the early stories for last because it has the broadest appeal. When I was born, Dad worked for McQuay-Norris, one of the largest OEM (original equipment manufactures) and aftermarket automotive hard parts companies at the time. They were headquartered in Saint Louis, MO and Dad often had to travel there for meetings.
We were living in Hackett when McQuay-Norris transferred him to the Little Rock metropolitan area. Since he and my mum were vitriolic racists, they did not like living there at all and planned even before we moved to find a way back to the Hackett area. This is not an indictment of them, but rather just the facts. Most people from Hackett were racist. To this day I consider myself a recovering racist because of my early life experiences.
Dad started putting out feelers for a sales job that would allow him to move back to Hackett. He had many years of experience in automotive parts sales, and before too long the Perfect Circle piston ring company expressed interest in him. After a couple of interviews they were ready to hire him and at the final interview they asked about his salary requirements. Dad was ready.
He pulled out his last three IRS Forms W-2 and said, "Just match this or do better, and I am with you after my notice to McQuay". They sort of blanched, but agreed. His income was significantly higher than most factory representatives, but they wanted him so they agreed on a salary for him, along with benefits and insurance.
What Dad did not tell the Perfect Circle folks that his sales commissions were also included in the figures. Apparently in those days only base salary was included on most Forms W-2, but McQuay withheld income tax on commissions and bonuses as well. That is universal now, but according to Dad, not then.
That is one of the first rules of successful sales: NEVER tell your customer everything, just what you want them to assume. Dad was extremely astute in this area, and it served him well. He played his new employer with just enough information to make them seal the deal, to his advantage.
He went to work for Perfect Circle just a short time before a much larger company, Dana Corporation, acquired it. At the time Dana was really big league and had revenue out the wazoo! We did well.
We moved back to Hackett in the spring of 1964, when I was in first grade. This later proved to be problematic because Hackett schools at the time were just horrible. That is a topic for other pieces, like this one from last week.
Dad was good at what he did! I am not going to claim that he was always completely honest, as the example just given shows that he was not. However, I never knew him to be overtly dishonest with his clients. If he had been, he would have not lasted because clients really dislike deals being changed after the agreement.
Many of you are familiar with O'Reilly Auto Parts, a major automotive parts chain headquartered in Joplin, MO. When I was a big kid, early teens, Dad talked O'Reilly into going with Dana, and we had a big changeover.
For of you not hip to how things work, a changeover is where a store decides to change brands of automotive parts. I assume that it happens in other areas as well. When we did a changeover, the owner of the store came in after hours and we put the McQuay-Norris parts into new Dana boxes with new part numbers. Overnight, the store was converted. I worked several of them with Dad. Opening hundreds of boxes can really hurt your cuticles!
Dad retired from Dana, and in those days it was doing well. With the downturn in the auto industry and rising expenses, Dana filed for chapter 11 late in 2006, after Dad had died so his pension and medical benefits were not affected. It emerged later and in 2011 and had over $7.5 billion in sales.
Now you can see that Dad was really good at what he did. Now comes the part of his history with many can relate, if only superficially.
Early in his sales career, Dad worked for Beach-Nut, then a chewing gum company. He would pitch the gum hither and thither, and now and then would get a new store to allow him to set up a display.
He was working a new territory in northwest Arkansas and called on a local five and dime store. The owner was nice enough, but his store was sort of crowded and had not much place for a chewing gum display case.
Dad saw that the area just in front of the cash register was clear and asked if he could put the case there. The owner thought for a minute, and said, "OK, but you are responsible for keeping it filled. I do not have enough time to do it myself. If you will stock it, AND if it sells, you can keep it there. You have two weeks to show me."
To this day, gum is near the checkout at Wal-Mart. The five and dime that Dad called on those many years ago was Sam Walton's Bentonville, AR store when both of them were just getting started. The Walton family did better than mine did financially, but Dad always took a bit of pride in setting up the very first store. Dad did well for the family, but Sam did better for his.
Well, that is about it for me tonight. I hope that no one takes any offense about the racist attitudes that my parents held, because that was part of the culture at the time. They just did not know any better.
If you have any stories about your ancestors or about growing up in a small or large town, please feel free to add them to the comments. I get a kick out of reading them, and other readers reinforce the idea. Please add whatever you please.
On a personal note, my wrist continues to improve. I have hit a bit of a plateau in that I wish that the improvement were faster, but I am now typing with all ten fingers. I still wear the splint to type because the muscles are only now getting some strength and two hours of typing strain them. Otherwise it continues to improve every day.
Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith
The Stars Hollow Gazette,