Years ago, while under the tutelage of my friend and role model - Leisure Suit Larry - I got a call from one of my customers for some 'special' hydraulic hose. Syncrude had been infested and finally converged by Safety Nazis who got their noses into everything: "Your safety glasses! Are they foam lined? Put this man down for an infraction! Gottinhimmell!!!! Are those Proban coveralls?!?!? Another safety infraction! Der Furher has mandated Nomex for one and all! Is that hard hat of recent manufacture...? Are you grumbling, or preaching sedition, peasant...?"
You get the idea.
One day Syncrude's Safety Battalion discovered hydraulic hoses. In a flash they found all kinds of safety concerns. Pumpjack hose - that plain jane black stuff you see everywhere - suddenly wasn't good enough even though it has been an accepted industry standard for decades. "It only has a 2:1 burst pressure! We want 4:1!!! And we want that printed CLEARLY on the hose! And a plastic, non-removable marker ring with the burst pressure clearly marked on that too! Vendors trying to sell us anything else will be banned from our site and shot!!!"
The problem with all this was that nobody made a product exactly like that. Up here the hydraulics industry is pretty much whored right out: there is no vendor loyalty, there is no real merit in spending much time with it because the market pretty much consists of price and delivery and that's it. If you don't like buying hydraulic hose from Filthie - you can buy the exact same stuff from Uncle Bob across the street. If BW is selling it for 3 cents a foot cheaper around the corner you buy from him. Hose in particular is just a commodity hydraulic product.
As such, the market suppliers all looked at Syncrude's specs and shrugged and said "Can't help ya, Syncrude!" and left it at that. In desperation, they came to us. When their RFQ came off the fax I took it to Lesiure Suit Larry and told him "Jeez...wish we can supply this stuff, Larry - it would be a great lead in for our hydraulic tool lines.."
"How do you know we can't supply it Glen...?" he said in a dangerous tone of voice. Ignoring my inner warning bells I lipped off: "Did you read the spec, you big, fat, hare lipped retard? They want a plastic ring on the hose that - " and I was rudely cut off as Larry started kicking, slapping and punching me out. When he was finished, he got our hydraulic tool supplier on the horn. "Watch, and learn, Filthie," he ordered.
"Hey Vinnie! Larry here - hey, did you see that spec I faxed over? Yeah? Good! Well, your standard 4:1 hose meets all the specs except one: we need a plastic, non-removeable ring on the hose that clearly shows the 4:1 pressure rating and the 40,000 PSI burst pressure on it. What? Yeah, I know the regular hose supply houses can handle this, but the customer came to us, and if we sell them your hose, we can probably sell them your tools too. What? Just do it, okay? Vinnie look - I'll owe ya one, alright? What would you charge me for a hose with those specs...?"
He hung up the phone, grabbed a pencil and a scrap of paper and started scribbling and mumbling. "Hmmmm. Convert Yank dollars, to Canukistannie, mark it up 40% for all the hard work we had to do, (NYUK NYUK NYUK!) - and there's your price, Glen! See? Easy! Now quote your customer and then go do something useful! Jumping off a bridge springs to mind, NYUK NYUK NYUK!"
So it was. I typed it up, printed it out, and faxed it off to the Gestapo at Syncrude and forgot about it.
The next day I walked into the office and was greeted by pandemonium. The Crack was almost gibbering with excitement. "Nice order from Syncrude, Filthie! Holy shit - you made the last of your yearly target with one sale!!!" It was incredible. Syncrude placed an order for about $175,000 US - for hydraulic hose! Then the phone rang - it was the CEO.
"Glen - what in hell are you doing down there? Customers buy this shit from Red L, or Greenline or Acklands... I don't have enough hose in Canada or the US to fill this order... Vinnie at the factory is hopping up and down in a rage demanding to know if this is a joke or not - he can't fill it either...!!!"
In those days I still got intimidated and tongue tied by brass hats and managers, and as usual, Larry came to my rescue. "Jim, we got this order because the $5.00/hour winners at Red L were too damned stupid and lazy to call their suppliers and ask them if they could meet the spec. This is why you pay Filthie $6.00/hour! He picked up the phone, called Vinnie and asked him if he could add a plastic ID ring to their otherwise standard tool hose - and he got the order. We just didn't expect the order to be this big, though...NYUK NYUK NYUK!!!"
In the corner of the office The Crack went off again! "Holy shit! Here's another one! It's even bigger than the first order...!!!" The CEO was now on speaker-phone - and he groaned in consternation. "What's the big deal?" Larry asked. "Jim - get the order rolling, tell the factory to STFU and add another shift if they have to! "
"Nice work, Glen! But... Larry... do you have any idea how much money I gotta put up to secure the stock and get that rolling? I'm gonna get ulcers! The CFO is gonna have a fuggin bird...!"
"Not my problem, Jim, NYUK, NYUK, NYUK!!! And don't forget - you owe your junior salesman a pat on the back too! You can also thank your lucky stars that he's being trained by the best in the industry, if I do say so myself - " But poor Jim Sr. had hung up the phone and Larry was gloating on a dead line. I could picture Jim Sr. slamming a bottle of Peptobismal at the amount of work that had just landed in his lap.
Larry was still consumed with himself. "And that, Junior, is how technical sales is done. It's so simple, even an idiot like YOU can do it! NYUK! NYUK! NYUK!"
He's absolutely right, of course. Any of the other suppliers could have furnished that hose, probably at a far more competitive price than we did. But it was easier for them to tell customer that they couldn't help him out, rather than picking up a phone and making sure. After that, Syncrude put a hard spec on their hose which basically meant they could only buy from us. If others wanted to supply the hose or use hydraulics on their site - they had to buy from us too because the Safety Nazis had accepted our hose, and our hose only. If you tried to slip in your own product and they found out about it - off to the firing squad with you! We got about six more big orders out of Syncrude. Midway through all that, the light bulb went on in my head - and I told my other customers with the big oil companies in Ft. Mac about Syncrude's new standard in hydraulic hose - and they started placing big orders too. The factory in the US added an afternoon shift, then a night shift, and then moved to a bigger factory largely because of us. And - because they were buying their hose from us, it was only a small step to getting them to purchase their hydraulic tools from us too. It snowballed. My commission checks were massive - I had never seen money like this in my life before. And my friend and mentor, God bless him, was tickled pink. He never asked for anything in return, he gave me credit for everything and taught me the ropes in a rewarding way. How many people can do that, in this day and age?
We're starting another salesman this week and when I get back, I'll be expected to train him. I can still hear Larry's idiotic cackle and delight even though I haven't seen him in years. I still miss him sometimes.
I have mighty big shoes to fill.