Thursday, August 11, 2011

I'll See Your Sham-Wow and Raise You an Ionic Foot Bath

The Ex is on in Saskatoon this week.  We only call it the Ex because we don't actually know how to spell "exhibition" anymore.  I digress, and I haven't even started yet.

As you go to the Ex this week, you will inevitably walk through the halls of various folks selling everything from full on spa's, motorhomes to tasty treats.  Until last year, I primarily viewed the voyage from entrance to rides that passes through this area as nothing more than a nuisance.  Don't veer to the left or the right, head straight to the rides.  Not so this year.

This past January, I lost my comfortable salary when I was laid off from a management role with a national company.  For me, going on EI was not an option, as living off 55% of my salary would not pay any bills, so I took a job as a "pitchman."  In truth, it wasn't completely foreign to me.  One of my first jobs was selling 2 for 1 coupons door to door for Moon Lake Golf Course.  That job eventually led to me selling coupons door-to-door for Firestone in Miami, Florida.  So, in some ways this was a return to my roots.

What I didn't know was the tour world of the pitchmen.  Pitchmen are paid to sell whatever product is the "hot commodity" at the time.  Correction.  Pitchmen are paid "if" they sell whatever product is hot at the time. Every pitchman/woman works for 100% commission.  Most of the time they are making between 20-30% of whatever it is that they are selling.  This is either highly lucrative or incredibly frustrating.

Imagine you are the fellow selling the Ionic Foot Bath for $1600.  Sure, you only need to sell a couple a day...but there's a few things against you from the start.  The questionable science behind the product or the fact that, in this case, apparently if you look hard enough you can apparently buy the product direct from the US for a fraction of the cost of buying it at a Home Show (that's what Frank told me a few folks had informed him at the Home Show in Edmonton).

As a pitchman though, you don't have a say as to what product you are selling.  You get put on a product and you sell it until the company decides to put you on another product...or you quit and move to another company.  Last I saw Frank, he wasn't selling the Ionic Foot Bath anymore, he was selling kids toys and lighters at the St. Albert Rainmaker Rodeo.  Next stop for Frank--Okanagan Fresh Fruit sales.

Some pitchmen though, do very well for themselves.  The Sham-wow guy went from the "circuit" to infomercial (the Promised Land of the pitchman).  A friend of mine from my coupon selling days, now has his own it can be done.  Although, not every super successful pitchman needs an infomercial.

But, the reality is that for every one success story there are literally hundreds, if not thousands that leave penniless.  It's not an easy living.  From Ex to Ex in the summer...Home Show to Home Show in the winter.  Weeks on the road at a time living in cheap hotels working 10-12 hour days...when the money is good, it's really good...and when it's bad...well, hope you saved.

So, this week, as you walk through Hall E on your way to the rides; look around, if you find something you like...spend some extra money and help keep someone's dream alive.

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