In this first chapter, our hero sets out to save the world from mediocre furniture salespeople.
Hoaty suddenly decided to put his library and his few household items into storage, to check out of his apartment, and to take to the highways and the byways in his worn-out metallic pink 1964 two-door safety-belt-less Pontiac Tempest – the one he had named Rosy in order to champion the cause of furniture retail selling.
Editor’s note: The fertile imagination of Peter Marino brings FURNITURE WORLD readers the fanciful tale of Don Key Hoaty, failed furniture salesperson. It is very loosely based Peter’s own life and on Cervantes’ beloved character. The full text of this book will be posted to the “Selling Skills Index” on www.furninfo.com. While writing this book, Peter, like Key Hoaty, lived in Mound, MN, studying “sacred texts” on selling. To my knowledge, he does not own a worn-out metallic pink 1964 two-door safety-belt-less Pontiac Tempest... but he doesn’t tell me everything.
His lanky six-foot-four body curled on and along his opened extra-long twin size adjustable bed, Don Key Hoaty, better known as Hoaty to those who knew him well, was engrossed in his favorite pastime. This was the devout reading of page after page from the numerous books on selling, of older and newer vintage, that filled the ten bookcases placed along the walls of his small one bedroom apartment. Books by such authors as Charles Roth, Elmer Wheeler, Frank Bettger, Earl Prevette, Bert Schlain Zig Ziglar, Tom Hopkins, Brian Tracy, Gerald L. Manning, Barry L. Reece and others too to mention, except to add that each page was as pleasing to Hoaty as the finest, most precious wines are to a connoisseur. Hoaty was presently reading from the legendary Elmer Wheeler’s four points on selling. From time to time he would jot down notes, for he was a firm believer in the adage that notes from a short pencil will outlast the longest memory. He kept reams of such notes, preferring never to write in his books. Unlike a noted author who insisted "that marking up a book is not an act of mutilation but of love," Hoaty looked upon that as an act of violence, though he did agree with that noted author that "reading a book should be: a conversation between you and the author." He strongly disagreed with a retail sales consultant who urged his readers to highlight virtually every line in his book with as many as five different colors. Hoaty smiled at such tomfoolery for he reasoned that the purpose of highlighting was to draw the reader’s attention to a given section of a page. "If you highlight that many lines" he reasoned, "which one of those lines will the reader’s attention be drawn to?" Hoaty was convinced that highlighting that many lines was paramount to putting an exclamation mark at the end of almost every sentence!
Hoaty had spent every possible wakeful hour of his last ten years reading from his "sacred books," ever since his ineptitude had forced him to retire from active selling at the age of thirty. During those years he had literally memorized every one of his sacred books, and he could cite each chapter and verse from each of them as well as any evangelical preacher could from the Good Book. Of all those books none addled his brains as much as that by one author who based selling entirely on being able to determine each type of customer: the relater, the socializer, the thinker, and the director. He went on to read other such authors who added to such prattle with the mumbo jumbo of phrases like "dominance continuum" and "sociability continuum," dividing all customers into four types: "high and low sociability" and "high and low dominance." Hoaty was mesmerized by their catch phrases like "the emotive, the director, the reflective, and the supportive styles" and spent countless hours trying to figure out just what type he was. He ended up actually believing that the cause of his demise as a salesperson was owing to the fact that he had never succeeded in ascertaining the exact type of each of his customers.
By memorizing so much of this nonsense and understanding so little of whatever else he read, Hoaty gradually lost whatever touch he might have had with the real world of selling. That inability to function as a salesperson in retail furniture stores had cost him job after job until his reputation as a hopeless eccentric so persistently preceded him that no furniture store dared hire him.
It was then that he began to devote himself entirely to the reading of his sacred books, which he devoutly transported from the successive apartments he rented, until he rented his current little white house in Mound, one of two identical small dwellings situated just behind the landlady’s huge old but well-maintained white house on Lake Minnetonka’s Cooks Bay. Hoaty liked to refer to these sacred books as his sacred penates, the Latin words for household gods, one of the few terms he remembered from his third year of Latin regarding how Anchises, father of the legendary Aeneas, founder of Rome, had rescued the sacred penates out of the burning city of Troy. From there after the Trojans’ ten years of wandering, the sacred penates arrived in what would eventually be called Rome. In his cell-like apartment into which he consistently withdrew like some Tibetan monk, and out of which he exited only to purchase life’s necessities, Hoaty devoted himself during the next ten years to the ascetical reading of his sacred books.
On his fortieth birthday, in the middle of what we might call the road of his life, Hoaty suddenly decided to put his library and his few household items into storage, to check out of his apartment, and to take to the highways and the byways in his worn-out, metallic pink 1964 two-door, safety-belt-less, Pontiac Tempest – the one he had named Rosy - in order to champion the cause of furniture retail selling throughout the continental United States. He could easily afford to do so. Much earlier he had inherited a sizable sum of money from his deceased mother. Hoaty, who had never married, managed to remain single, for he wanted none of those connubial entanglements, as he put it, opting to live by the philosophy of the Spanish dictum, "Mejor soltero que mal acompanado," accurately rendered in English by, "Better single than poorly companioned." On one occasion when someone scolded him for having remained single by quoting from the Book of Genesis that "It is not good for a man to be alone," Hoaty recounted how a little known but thoroughly expert biblical scholar had once informed him that those words from Genesis had formerly been followed by an additional sentence now lost, so that the original passage had read, "It is not good for a man to be alone; it is fantastic."
The early spring day on which he chose to set out on his crusade was penetratingly cold, damp, windy and quite overcast. Nevertheless, Hoaty was dressed as he always dressed in spring, summer, autumn, and winter. To anyone who commented on his perennial sameness of dress he would respond: "I am like the pines that wear the same green needles all year long. Like them I choose to lead a non-deciduous life." All analogies, of course, limp, as the ancient Greek rhetoricians had pointed out, but Hoaty’s limped much more noticeably since pine trees are countless, while Don Key Hoaty was a nonpareil.
Hoaty’s entire wardrobe consisted of two identical sets of clothing: two washable single-breasted, charcoal gray suits, two long-sleeved white shirts, two red ties, two pairs of white socks, two pairs of black oxford shoes, two pairs of white shorts and two pairs of white t-shirts. No matter what the season or the weather he never covered his head with any kind of protective gear. Each evening he washed one set of washables. In this way Hoaty always managed to look cleanly dressed, however bizarrely, his two suits being at least two sizes too small in girth and in length.
Thus attired, Hoaty struck a curious figure with his long black hair that fell over his ears and below the nape of his neck. He wore a black goatee and a black pencil thin moustache that curled like two scrolls above each side of his upper lip. With his small deeply set black eyes, high cheekbones, and aquiline nose he gave the austere appearance of a late nineteenth century country parson, except for his red tie. Hoaty took his seat in his vintage car, which he had recently dubbed Rosy after he had had the vehicle painted a metallic pink. He then turned to give a final look at his modest apartment situated on Commerce Street across from Our Lady of the Lake church. He knew he would miss this town which girded Lake Minnetonka, for although he had never been drawn to fish its waters teeming with bass and sunnies and spring-time crappies, he did enjoy the lake itself, long ago titled by its white settlers as Queen of the Lakes.
Meanwhile Rosy stood out in stark contrast to the dull gray sky and the bleak leafless deciduous trees amid the abundant evergreens. Last month’s snows still lay upon the stretches of shaded ground. As Hoaty drove along highway 110 toward St. Bonifacius he occasionally took quick glances at the bare farmland which would soon be readied for planting. Nature, Hoaty reflected, would soon breathe new life into the landscape and he, Don Key Hoaty, would soon begin to do the same for the retail furniture world that lay asleep in the apathetic arms of mediocre furniture salespeople.
The reader should know that before turning the ignition key that morning, Hoaty had addressed Rosy to confirm within himself the seriousness of his mission, for he had read somewhere that medieval knights often addressed their horses before starting out on their holy crusades, some of them even addressing their weaponry on such occasions. Hoaty seemed totally unaware that Rosy was ill suited to set out on a trip of even the shortest length, unless it might be on a trip to the nearest junkyard. In truth, Rosy wore the appropriate blush, for she had committed every transgression known to car. If she could speak French, she would be confessing her pitiful state with the words, "Je suis en panne." First created in Detroit, she had since then been recreated in scores of shops, mostly with used and rebuilt parts, for Hoaty was thrifty to a fault. Nevertheless, were it not for Hoaty’s faithful attachment to Rosy, she would long ago have suffered a fate similar to that of worn out mattresses that end up being carried away to be disposed of without the slightest touch of sadness on the part of its owners, with one notable difference: throughout the nation there are thousands of junkyards for old cars, but not one antique store for old mattresses.
Exactly what ideals moved Hoaty to start out on his mission was not clear, except that he felt persuaded by some caring force to believe that he must rescue the retail furniture industry from its plethora of mediocre salespeople. His assiduous reading had revealed to him that the average retail salesperson was in sore need of being rescued. Several of his sacred authors had pointed out that the average retail salesperson closed sales at an anemic sixteen percent. "Clerks," Hoaty would often mutter to himself, "They’re nothing but clerks." The fact that he himself had closed sales at an even lower percentage during his unproductive years as a salesperson apparently did not help to soften the harsh way he felt toward those "clerks." Evidently the beam in his eye did not prevent him from seeing the speck in his fellow salespeople’s eyes.
When Hoaty turned on the ignition, Rosy immediately belched forth a thick blue smoke from her exhaust system and shook with convulsion as if she were about to spew her mechanical guts all over the driveway. Hoaty dismounted, opened the hood, and poured out three quarts of extra thick grade oil into Rosy’s innards. The infusion of that oil, which Hoaty regularly purchased by the case, worked like a tranquilizer. Rosy immediately quit her spasms and began to run, if not smoothly, at least noticeably less roughly.
Hoaty remounted. He and Rosy were now ready to do battle with every necessity in place except for a squire to assist him in this holy war. "I’ll know him when I see him," Hoaty assured himself.
And so, armed with the barest necessities he had hurriedly thrown into Rosy’s trunk and back seat, Don Key Hoaty, the Mad Knight of Mound, had started out with no direction in mind since he had not the faintest idea of where he was going. "I’ll know it when I see it," he kept thinking aloud, as he drove past St. Bonifacius Church only a short distance from Highway Seven. There he turned right, drove a mile or two, then managed to turn Rosy in the opposite direction, though he still hadn’t made up his mind where he was going. As we shall see in the ensuing adventures, our sorry knight would encounter salesperson after salesperson hampered by the same selling strategy.
Alice: "Would you please tell me, please, which way I ought to walk from here?"
Cheshire Cat: "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."
Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at email@example.com.