Stan was 20 years old - living on his own, having left his mother and step-father years ago, and had been in and out of various jobs during the four years since he left school. But this time, maybe his luck had turned for the better. He had answered an advert - only last week it was - and been interviewed for a job selling household equipment door to door.
The lady who interviewed him didn't even seem to check about why he had left all the other jobs he'd had in the last four years. The interview, which took place in the library at Hyde, where he lived, had only taken twenty minutes or so. This lady, who introduced herself, but he never remembered people's names - had said the job involved taking a bag of items - such as ironing board covers, tea towels, window cleaning pads, clothes pegs - around to houses in a particular area. She chose the area and the job was to sell as much as you could in your territory each day. Her van driver would pick up the salesmen from outside the library each morning at 9 - deliver them to the town they were covering that day - and then pick them up from the drop off point - usually the library in the town - and bring them back to Hyde from there each evening. When he asked about the pay she said it depended on how much he sold. All the goods had quite a hefty mark-up - and that was how both he and she would make their money - but convincing people that their products were worth paying the extra money for. "So for instance," she had said, "a pack of two tea towels costs £5. I get them for less than half that amount. But if you sell it, you will get 40% of the amount you collect. Each evening when the van driver comes to take you back to Hyde, you need to give him the cash you have collected - along with a note of what you've sold. He then gives you back your 40% cut. So say you sold £100 worth of stuff, you would get £40. Not bad for a day's work." Stan agreed that it sounded like a good deal. She told me that each seller had a identity badge they wore around their neck - and had to explain to the householders that they didn't want charity. They wanted to earn their money by doing honest work. And she gave him a list of the items they sold and told him to memorise how much everything cost. "I hope you can give change," she added. "How are you on simple maths?" "Okay," he said without hesitation, although he wouldn't have liked her to have quizzed her on that. "Well, I'll give you a go, so be here outside the library at 9 on Monday, and Walter will pick you up." Where will we be going to sell stuff?" "We're doing Marple at the moment," she said. "I should think there are few more weeks before we have covered it."
So now a week had gone by. Each day he got collected, along with 4 or 5 other men of various ages. They didn't talk much while they rode the 20 minutes to Marple. Each was handed out a list, with a map of Marple, when they picked up their bags. Walter didn't talk much either.
Stan found it hard to knock on strangers doors. Most of the women who answered were aggressive and not at all interested in what he had to sell - no doubt having been approached many times in the past by other similar sales people. But he'd managed to sell something each day - usually between £40 and £50 worth - so his cut was at least £20 a day - enough to get a decent meal and save a bit towards his rent. He had a single room in a house in a fairly rough area of Hyde, but he didn't need much - just a place to kip and keep the few clothes he owned.
But now today, when he got back to the library in Marple, Walter wasn't there, but another white van was - and he recognised the lady standing by it as the one who had interviewed him. "Get in," she said, and so he did, and she drove off - with only him in the back of the car.
Stan was starting to get worried. Why was he in the back of this white van on his own, and where was this woman taking him. It didn't make sense. Suddenly the van pulled off the road, and stopped and when he was let out he could see they had pulled in at the Dog and Castle, high on Werneth Low.
"How about I shout you a beer and some food," said the woman.
"I thought you were just taking me back to the pick up point in Hyde. Why are we here?"
"Relax, kid. Nothing bad is going to happen to you. I just like to get to know my employees better, so I had Walter pick up all the other guys, so that I could get a chance to talk to you a bit - find out what you're all about - things like that. You can call me Sadie, by the way," she said putting out her hand to shake.
"Bu I know that you're the one in charge, so you should know all about me from my application form before I got this job."
"But that's just words on paper. You can't get to know somebody from reading words about them on paper. Relax. This isn't going to hurt. I take it you do like beer?"
"Yah, sure I do."
"Well, lets go in then. The fish and chips here are really good. Can I shout you an order?"
"Well, why not, as long as we're here. I take it when we've eaten, you'll be taking me back to Hyde."
"Oh yeah. This is maybe an hour or so of your time - and since I'm giving you a meal and a drink or two, it's almost like you're being paid for it."
So Stan and Sadie went into the pub, found an empty table, and Sadie who obviously was well known to the bar staff, gave them a wave.
"Hi Mac, how're you doing? A couple of pints here please and two orders of fish and chips for me and my friend."
The beer came over in a few minutes and Stan had to admit that he was ready for it. It had been a hard first week at the job, and he didn't mind admitting he was more than a bit nervous about the whole thing.
"So, how many sales did you make today, kid?"
Stan cringed at that. He was hardly a kid.
"Six or so, I think. I must have gone to 100 houses, but mostly the people weren't in, or they wouldn't even talk to me. Some shut the door in my face and shouted. It isn't an easy job, you know."
"It'll get easier as you go along. You get to know which houses look like nobody is in, so there's no need to even bother knocking. You have to be really observant in this job. Tell me a bit about those sales you made today. Who did you last sell to?"
"Well she was an old lady. She was kind of friendly and I don't think she really understood what it was all about. I told her what we were doing, and how it was better to sell stuff than to live off the social."
"What was the address?"
"I can't remember."
"Did she invite you in?"
"Could you tell anything about her at all? Do you think she was living on her own?"
"I don't know."
"You say she was old. Just how old do you think she was?"
"Seventy maybe. I'm not good with age. Could be older I suppose."
"So describe her to me."
"She had mostly white hair and was a little pudgy."
"Did she walk with a limp - or have a cane?"
"No. She walked normal."
"Do you think she lived alone?"
"I got the impression she did, but I don't know. Her house was big enough for more than one, that is for sure. She never mentioned anyone else."
"Was her furniture and stuff nice? Did you notice?"
"When she went off to get her purse, I stepped inside, thinking if I could see a downstairs toilet I would ask her if I could take a leak, and had a quick look around, but it looked pretty ordinary to me - nothing fancy."
"Was there a downstairs toilet?"
"Not that I could see."
"Did you ask her if you could use her toilet?"
"No, I could see she was eager to get rid of me, so I thought I could wait a bit more. But while we are on the subject, I will just go and make use of the facilities."
Stan got up and went to the men's room, while Sadie sat and looked around the room. She got some papers out of her bag and put them down beside her on the pub table. Finally Stan came back.
"Did you notice if she had any ornaments in the window ledge or on tables, stuff like that?"
"I didn't notice, but I expect she did. Old people like stuff like that."
"So, when you popped inside did you see a computer or a TV?"
"I think there was a TV - a modern big one, but I couldn't see much. Just some big white couches. the room was pretty full of furniture - not much space between stuff."
Now the fish and chips had arrived and they got to work. Stan was really hungry, and it sure smelled good. He splashed vinegar and sauce all over it.
"You seem to be a really observant young man," said Sadie.
"Oh, I don't know."
"I think you are. You remember lots about that lady, and if you had been trying to see things and remember you would have done even better. I wonder if you would be interested in doing a sort of second job for us - you'd get paid extra of course."
"Well let's see - you say you sold six things today - how much did you take in total?"
"£50, one lady bought a few things and that added up. Mostly it was stuff for £5-6."
"So out of that £50 worth, your cut is £20, so you need to give me the rest of your cash."
"Do you want it right now?"
"You can wait until we get to the library, after the meal. But what I am getting at is that £20 a day - 5 days a week doesn't mean a whole lot of money, does it?"
"I'll probably get more next week."
"You might, or you might get less. A lot depends on the weather. People don't want their doors opened when it's raining outside - although some of them might invite you in to get out of the rain - and then once you're inside their houses, they tend to spend more. But you have to make sure they're not nervous of you. You said that last lady today was nervous. Do you know why?"
"I guess it was just because she didn't know what to expect. Mostly people have had somebody like me at the door before, and I don't have to go through the whole speil."
"Did she offer you cash?"
"She did after she looked at the stuff in my bag, and didn't really want any of it. But I told her, like I'm supposed to, that we aren't charity cases - we don't want handouts. We want to put in an honest day's work for an honest day's wage."
"Anyway, let me explain a bit about this extra part of the job. Say that you went into 10 houses in an ordinary day. Maybe more maybe less, but that's a nice round number to work on. Say you take £100 from the sales - again - I'm just talking round numbers here."
"Okay. I get it."
"Well, because we in our job go into a lot of houses where people probably normally are not much in contact with agencies, there are groups who'd like to know more about them, for statistical purposes. It used to be that they sent questionnaires by post, but most of those didn't get returned. Then they used to phone people up, but so many people now a days put a stop on phone calls from anyone they don't know or suspect to be selling things. This isn't to sell - this is to just find out information - and still they are very nervous about it - and don't want to answer anybody's questions. So these companies - who want this information - thought that it would be a good thing if our sales people, who after all are going to and into these same people's houses who won't tell them the information they need - might be able to get it for them."
"I don't see what I'm supposed to do. Am I supposed to ask them to fill out a questionnaire?"
"No, nothing like that. That would make them suspicious. You just pick the houses that you think would be of interest to our other employers, and after you've been in, you do a sort of check list." Sadie showed Stan the form she had got out earlier. " For every one of those you do, if it is absolutely complete, I give you a fiver. Here, have a look at this - nothing bad about it - just general questions about their style of living."
On the form it said:
Address of Property
Car/s in the driveway - what make and year.
Size of house - large/medium/small
TV - size
Ornaments of value
General rating of quality of furnishings - great, good, fair, poor
What else did you notice
Clothes hung out on line
Well tended garden?
Stan looked at the form and said, "That looks easy enough. But sometimes I won't know the answers. Her washing might be hung out at the back and I wouldn't see it. What's to stop me making it all up?"
"We keep these forms, so other guys will have been to this house before and filled out a form on it, so if yours looks very different from theirs - it will be easy to spot. Once you get good at it, it will hardly take you any time, as you'll know what you're looking for in advance."
"I can't just fill in out in front of her. She'd get suss."
"The idea of asking to use the toilet is a good one. Most people won't say no if somebody asks if they can use their toilet. So while you're in there, just jot down the basic details - even if you don't have to use it. Make sure to flush at the end, though."
"A fiver is a lot for this sort of information. When they used to phone at our house, my ma would talk to them, and she never got a penny for it."
"Well, things have changed since then. Some information is worth paying for. It all comes down to how much the lady (or gent but usually it is ladies we are dealing with here) trusts you and how you can get her chatting and put things casually into the conversation. For instance, if she said she had been watching something on TV, you could ask her if she has Sky - or say something about how you like watching the football but can't afford a set - something to get her to feel sorry for you."
"She isn't going to ask me in to watch the football, is she?"
"No, but it's all a way of getting her to feel comfortable so she tells you stuff about her house and life without you having to ask it. If it was raining - you could ask her if she got her wash in before the clouds came up. Nobody is going to resent a question like that."
They had both finished their meal and Sadie walked to the bar to pay the tab.
They went back out to the van together. "So what to you think, kid. Are you in?"
"Sure, I'll give it a try."
"Good lad. I'll give Walter a pad of these forms to take with you tomorrow, and get them from him tomorrow night when you finish up."
"And you or he'll pay me for that then."
"No payment on those till we have time to process them and see how much useful information they contain - but that extra payment will come as a bonus at the end of the month - and you can really look forward to that big extra if you play your cards right."
Back in the car, this time Sadie had him sit up front with her, and they were soon back to Hyde Library.
"See you kid," said Sadie. "Now give me the thirty quid from what you sold today. Are you sure you only sold the £50. That doesn't really sound like you tried very hard."
"Yeah. I'm not holding back. You can check my bag for what's missing if you don't believe me."
"Okay. I'll trust you. See you kid, and remember, in this job, you have to keep you wits about you and your eyes open all the time. Look at every house as a virtual gold mine of information."
"Okay. Sure. See you."
Last edited by jean.day
on Wed Sep 05, 2012 7:30 am, edited 2 times in total.