Sunday, July 17, 2011

No Experience Unnecessary: Door to Door Meat Sales

Perhaps you hadn't heard, but the economy sucks right now. Has sucked for a few years and possibly will suck for the rest of our lives. I'm not an economist. I'm a poet, if even that. Which means, when I go on Craigslist Portland Job, I can't apply to any economist jobs. Well, sure I can apply, but there's only so much bullshit I can stomach spewing. Which makes my 1st job during my 2nd stint in Portland that much more incongruous.

I arrived here in May assuming I'd be handed job offers once I crossed the city limits. For some reason, I'm always very cocky about getting a job even if my track record proves I get rejected far more often than I get an offer. Selective memory, I guess. My first time in Portland, it only took me a few weeks to get my first job, that was as a package handler for FedEx. It's also worth remembering the timing: I had gotten the job in November and FedEx needs a lot more help right before Christmas.

This time around, with a shiny new master degree in my pocket, I aimed higher than FedEx. Started by looking at community colleges for adjunct positions. Didn't think it was that high a hurdle past package handler, but I guess it was. One school told me enrollment was down and they probably wouldn't need me. Another just said I wasn't qualified.

With my first option out, I started shotgunning the resume to any job for which I felt remotely qualified (ie, bachelor degree, clean driving record, no drug convictions). No call backs. Hours spent in a Panera Cafe drinking bottomless coffee, tweaking resumes, stretching any experience I've ever had to make me sound qualified for a job (Horse whisperer? Shit, I've eaten horse. I've got this).

Yet, after sending dozens of resumes and cover letters, the only job that allowed me to talk to a human being was one which did not require anything but for its applicants to call. I quote:

Food Route / Route establishment CASH PAID DAILY!!!!

Sounded like something within my qualifications.

So continuing my series No Experience Unnecessary:

The phone interview for the Food Route posting wasn't particular strenuous. Two questions: 1) Do you have a driver's license? 2) Do you want full time work?

I guess I answered correctly for both because I was told to come in the next day at 8:45am. The guy on the phone did not offer a Q & A portion for this phone conversation and didn't seem to think it was necessary to mention what the job entailed or what the company did (or what it's name was, for that matter).

Next day, everything was revealed. I was delving into the world of door to door meat sales. No salary. No guaranteed hourly wage. No benefits or vacation or sick days. The skinny: I would drive around in a refrigerated meat truck with cases of steaks, chicken, pork, and seafood and try to sell as many of them as I could to anyone I could find. For the driver, the cases of meat cost $126 each. Any amount we sell it for over that cost is money in our pocket at the end of the day. Of course, the customer has no idea that it costs $126 for us. We carry brochures that say these cases cost $389 for steak, $270 for chicken, and $370 for seafood. A trick is to show the customer how much these cases cost retail, but say something like: "If you buy the steak case for $389, I'll throw in the chicken case for free. That's a $270 value." But again, each of these cases all cost the same: $126. So if a customer falls for that pitch, then the driver makes $389 for $252 worth of food. He takes home $137 for that sale alone. Allegedly, drivers averaged $100-300 a day doing this work.

The interviewer, Josh, also said there was no upfront cost (only after i asked, of course), but that's bullshit (imagine! a salesman lying? what has this world come to?). There wasn't any cost for me while I was training, but a regular driver had to pay a daily truck fee, something around $27 that covered insurance. Plus drivers had to pay for their own gas. So you definitely could owe money at the end of a day if you don't make a sale.

Since there was no risk while I was training, besides the waste of a day, I agreed to go on a ride with an experienced driver. They paired me with JJ, a 27 year old ex-con, recovering meth addict who'd been selling meat for 2 months. A big tattooed dude who wore a wife beater to work. Granted it was one of those nice wife beaters with the hemmed edges, but a wife beater none the less.

But he was a perfectly nice guy and bought me a soda and taught me the tricks of the trade. That is, after I helped him move out of a hotel room where he had been living and where he'd set up a makeshift tattoo parlor in the evenings. It was a pretty flexible job in that regard... meat selling that is, not tattooing without a license. Yes, you were expected to get there at 9AM and were expected to stay out and sell until 8PM with only Sundays off, but no one cared if you were knocking door to door or moving out of a hotel room without any home to move to next (I guess his brother was taking his belongings to a guy named Keith's house who really wanted JJ to live with him, but unfortunately, Keith would be kicked out of his own house in a month, so stability was not a strength of this new arrangement).

But once we did get on the road for meat sales, JJ broke down the job for me.

"Keep it simple," he said. "Knock on the door, introduce yourself and say, 'Hey, you like good steak, dontcha? Well, let me show you what I got.' Turn and burn. Don't let them ask questions, don't give them time to say no. Once they say they like steak, then turn and burn back to the truck and grab the steaks to show them."

JJ dropped many pearls of wisdom on me as we drove. Didn't see him sell much, but I was entertained and tried to remember everything he said. Much of the sales pitch was about how to lie best and make sure the customer thought this was a special one time deal just for him or her. Say something like you're doing deliveries and one of your deliveries canceled so you need to unload your truck and will sell the meat at cost. Tell them it's cheaper than shopping at CostCo (i don't think it actually is). If a customer says, "I don't have room in my freezer for all that meat," tell them you'll rearrange their freezer for them and if you can't fit the meat in, it's free.

According to JJ: "You gotta tell them anything that will get them to buy. One day, I told old ladies my wife was in labor but I couldn't see her until I emptied my truck. Ha! I'm not even married. I have a girlfriend, but she's in jail." Then he proceeded to show me her mugshot and since i was surprised to see her mugshot, I didn't know what I was supposed to say.

"Aww, she looks sad." No shit armin, she's in jail. Perhaps he wanted me to comment about how pretty she was (I'm a salesmen, I can lie), but then why would he show me her mugshot? Is that the only picture he has of her?

So from 11-6pm we spent the major bulk of the day looking for lower middle class neighborhoods to peddle our wares. We completely ignored "No Solicitation" signs and were run out of a mobile home park for that reason. But I could handle getting the door slammed in my face and the disgust and vitriol from the people I was harassing. What really bothered me was the 2nd to last house I visited. A ten year old girl answered the door.

"Hello, is a parent home?"
"Yeah, she's inside. Come in."

It freaked me out to be walking in someone's house, especially when it was the kid inviting me in, not the adult. I realize for a salesman, this is paydirt, being invited inside, because it's harder for a customer to say no to you once you're a guest (i was told I needed to position the customer between myself and the door, so it would be harder for them to push me out). I assumed the mom would be furious with this little girl, especially because the house looked ramshackle and disheveled. But the mom, Mary, was perfectly friendly as she was putting away laundry.

"Mary, you like good steaks, dontcha?" I asked.
"Sure, but ain't got no money."
"Well let me show you what I've got."

Turn and burn. JJ took over from that point, showing off the cuts. I was actually sort of giddy, thinking I'd actually hooked a sale. Mary, the ten year old girl and her four year old brother all gathered around the kitchen table as JJ pulled out Delmonico and sirloin and chopped beef. The little boy was extremely excited and kept asking us to bring out more cases.

But as much as Mary wanted to buy from us, she just didn't have any money. JJ realized it was a lost cause and I started packing away the food. But the little boy was so disappointed.

"Why are you putting the food away?"
"Well it's all frozen, so i need to put it back in the freezer so it doesn't melt."
"We have a freezer. You can put it in there."
"The truth is kid, your family is poor and can't afford our exorbitant prices. You're too poor for us to even gouge." I didn't actually say that, but that house made me feel so sleazy for trying to rip them off. It's all a frame of reference. This was easily the most dishonest and awful job I ever tried to do, but for a recovering meth addict and former drug dealer, this is an honest day's pay. If you get paid that is.

We eventually did sell one small box of steaks for $40, which meant we earned $9 on that sale. Since I had initiated that sale, I got to take home $4.50 for 9 hours of work. We had to call it an early day, ending at 6pm instead of 8pm because JJ had to visit his girlfriend in the slammer.

Though I didn't think I could last much longer in the job, I went back Monday morning because there was a sales meeting with all the drivers and, according to the white board on the office, Monday morning meetings involved something called the "Meat Wheel." I saw this Meat Wheel, which looked like any carnival spinning wheel, but with pie slices that said "Free Case of Meat," "$5," and "Whammy!" How could I not stick around for a meat wheel? But for some reason, they didn't spin the meat wheel, just spent the whole morning talking about sales pitches and how we had to beat the Eugene and Tacoma teams. Then I was introduced as a new driver in training and the manager Keith said, "Armin's done even harder work than sales. He went door to door for the Census." Like that gave me some sort of street cred with these recovering meth addicts.

Couldn't stay for a route that day, but told them I'd be back on Wednesday. However, I ended up getting another job before then, so never got to fulfill my full potential as a door to door meat salesmen.

Can I even include this as a job if I only did it for a day and a half? Well, I did earn $4.50 that first day of work, so it was a paying job. And I also got a free Monster Energy Drink from JJ, plus a bar of soap from the hotel where he was staying, so the job even had benefits. And I got to eat at a Jack in the Box, which I'd never done before, so it was certainly a job that offered new opportunities and personal growth.

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