New arrival, new employment

Pretty little four years old Karen Jane acquired an equally pretty baby sister on 17th July 1959. We were still living in our furnished flat in Bateman Street, Cambridge at the time, but I was undergoing product and sales training in Liverpool with my new employer, Lily Cups and Containers (England) Ltd. Having arrived home for the weekend after a long rail journey our friendly neighbour, who was looking after Karen, told me Joan was in the maternity hospital. I rushed over just in time to greet the new arrival, in almost if not quite in as dishevelled a state as as when I'd greeted our first born in Newmarket. Picking up my new daughter I recall the exquisite smell of her, saw with some pride the post natal strain and happiness on the face of my twenty four years old wife.We called our newborn Julie Elaine. She was perfect, not simply in looks but in personality. Always the trace of a smile, so often that happy-making baby gurgle. 

Living in a furnished rental and now with a wife and two offspring to support I really needed to get my newfound career into fast forward, so I did my best to learn fast. Having finished the head office / factory training the sales director sent me out on the road with a sequence of territory salesmen. I spent a week each with Ian Rowatt in Scotland, Harry Wilson in Lancashire, Brian Thomas in Yorkshire, George Mercer in London,  Jack Snelgrove in the West Country and Bill Davies in the Midland Counties. Fifty four years have gone by since then so I'm genuinely amazed to find I can remember all the names of these new colleagues - as well as much of what they taught me. We all became friends, a single team. The older and the younger, the experienced and the beginner, we were all in it together. New company, new products, new markets, new horizons. I felt like Christopher Columbus must have felt on first viewing the promised land.

One conversation I so well recall when during those training weeks: Harry Wilson on the Lancashire territory was a brilliant man and a great salesman. He had been a Royal Marine Commando in the war, landing at Anzio with the Americans - for whom he would never hear a bad word. One day we had been on quite a boozy pub lunch with his customer. Nothing unusual about that. Our conversation in his car afterwards went something like this ...

Harry: Bryan, you're not a drinker, are you?

Me: (head spinning but not wishing to deny it): Not really Harry
Harry: Well, you're just going to have to learn. You have to drink at the same pace as your customer, see? If you don't, you'll make him uncomfortable.
Me: Right, Harry.
Harry: But never drink at home.
Me: Why not?
Harry: Because if you lay off the booze those two weekend days  you'll never become an alcoholic like so many sales guys and soldiers I know, right?
Me: OK 

For years I followed this advice, aided and abetted by both my wives, neither of whom cared much for the demon drink.


I have heard it said that a top industrial salesman is born, not made, and during these territorial training weeks I saw both kinds - the born and the well made salesmen - in action. On the 'born' extreme was Ian Rowatt in Scotland, almost always the winner of our sales competitions as time went by, (myself very often well content to be best of the rest).

Like everybody, at the beginning I viewed the prospect of walking into a business with its strange faces (cold selling) with a certain amount of, I hope well concealed dread. It's not easy, especially for a wet behind the ears tyro. The main driver is always fear: fear of not even being able to get through reception to see the buyer or of being ignored, if you got there fear of being asked questions to which you had no answer,  fear of being given rude short shrift and, worst of all, the fear of failure. To succeed you had to gain the respect of your customer. I learned quickly that you could only gain the necessary respect - that is, respect for your company and your product, not just for yourself - if you truly know what you are doing and when you truly believe in the benefits of your product to the prospective buyer. But when you do manage to gain that respect, when you do learn to control or hide your fears and, much, much more importantly, when you receive an order - you don't just exit your new customer, you walk away as if on air. A fantastic feeling - almost if possibly not quite as good as the proverbially perfect sex.

And talking of respect, there was my area manager, Tom Salisbury, a man who, if he still lives would today be a hundred. Classic salesman, born and bred, always with the juste motte, the light gag, the air of bonhomie. After my tour of the UK I met up with Tom for a couple of days 'on the road' in my own future territory of  Eastern Counties plus. Those few days stay in my mind. We met on the Monday morning in Norwich . Time of year, just as the seaside resorts along the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts were gearing up for the visitor season ahead. We began our selling in Lowestoft. Of course it had to be raining. A grey and cheerless day for a well-suited, brand new, briefcase toting learner salesman. Tom did the pitching to the seafront whelk and seafood stalls, cafes, amusement arcades with coffee machines, etcetera, me listening and learning. To my surprise, although that first day we (he) only gained a couple of small orders for paper cups, the stallholders, cafe owners etc were welcoming and seemed quite happy to stop and chat. When we'd 'done' Lowestoft's sea front we drove along to Great Yarmouth for more of the same. After parking the car Tom Salisbury turned to me, pointing; 'Righto Bryan, you take all the prospects that way and I'll go this way'. I was once again to fly solo, but considerably more nervous than I was on that day in the Tiger Moth!

In those days every town had its Commercial Hotels for the travelling sales community. Many such places were really no more than sparsely furnished boarding houses.After Yarmouth (and no, I didn't secure any orders there but several prospects advised me to come back when the season starts) Tom drove us back to Norwich, where he had booked us rooms. Tom often told the boys how, when the front door opened to our knocking , the most amazingly proportioned young lady appeared - and how I had stood there transfixed, if not quite open-mouthed. This place was one of the last I would come to know where the single breakfast table was occupied in strict order of seniority, the most senior - that is the most experienced representative salesman taking precedence, and so on down the table to yours truly, who was not expected to speak much if at all. For a bunch of people earning a living through their silver tongues, meals were strangely silent.

Next time I'll tell you of my first day out on my own in a town called Bury St Edmunds, of my escalating sales success and of my first promotion. Birmingham, here we come ....

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