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Selling Copiers in the Eighties with Harold Spieckermann


Just like that I'm honored to present my interview with Harold Spieckermann.  Harold is a long time Print4Pay Hotel member and has helped many of us over the years on our Print4Pay Hotel forums.

Selling Copiers in the Eighties with Harold Spieckermann

Art: How did you find your way into the copier industry?

Harold: A friend interviewed for the position I was hired for and said he wasn't interested, but the gentleman doing the interview asked if he knew of anyone and mentioned my name. I was interviewed at my house and my wife made her famous Chocolate Chip Cookies and I was offered the position.

Art: What company or manufacturer did you start with, what was your title and what year did you start?

Harold: I went to work for Modern Business Systems from Jefferson City Missouri. I was a “sales rep”. I started June of 1981. I sold in North Central Missouri. I called on current accounts and new. My base was $1,000 recoverable draw.

My first day out was to call on 20 predetermined customers (my manager and I had picked them). My manager then called the customer and told them to call “collect” after I had left the call and ask for Joe, which there was no Joe and the call was not accepted. The manager, Jim Graf (who was my mentor) knew I had been there. One customer didn’t call and Manager Jim called then said yes I had been there. On the way home after those 20 calls, I saw a new business and stopped and asked if they needed a copier, I sold them a SCM roll fed copier. I called the boss and asked “what does it sell for and how do I write up an order”? He said take a piece of paper and write up the order, have the customer sign and get a check for ½ down and the rest when I delivered the unit. The check was for $1,200.00 for ½.

Art: If you worked for a dealer or manufacturer please tell us what brand(s) you sold and what was your favorite model to sell and why that was your favorite?

Harold: We sold Savin liquid toner devices and Royal copiers, then switched over to Ricoh and even a few Canon and Panasonic. My favorite copier to sell was the Savin 895 with 1- 99 images per original, equipped with a semi-automatic document feeder and did 11 x 17. It sold for $8,495.00 and the stand was $295.00. Lease was $127.43 per month for 60 months and at the end the customer owed 10% or $849.50. It was worth 18 units and each unit was $40.00, which equaled $720.00 in commission.

Art: What was the percentage of copier sales people that made it past two years and why made them last or not last so long?

Harold: I was in a sales class of 18, there was a class every month in Jeff City Missouri, after 8 months I was the only one left. We had offices in 7 states. Fortunately my boss showed me the power of upgrade! We also had a demo process of a 30 day trial and once 30 days passed they owned (leased) the unit.  I made the presidents club that year!

Art: What did you like the most about your job in the eighties? The freedom to call on any kind of business.

Harold: If I worked hard, I could make good money!

Art: What did you dislike the most about your job in the eighties?

Harold: Not much i disliked

Art: What was the compensation plan like, was there a salary, what is just commissions or was there a mix of salary and commissions?

Harold: Recoverable Draw of $1,000 after 6 months of 100% of plan it moved to like $1,600 recoverable draw.  I never had a salary until the early 2000’s. We made our money on commission and your “keep the job responsibility” was 15 demos per month (we hauled the copiers with us) .

Art: How did you go about finding new business, and what was your favorite of those methods and why?

Harold: Cold calling, referrals, Referrals was the best! Hallie Gibbs rode with me once and he asked every customer “do you know anyone else looking for copiers or services we offer?” out of 23 calls that day, we got 2 leads.

Art: What was the first sales book that you read that and what did you take away from it?

Harold: Ziz Zigler’s book “see you at the top ''. I took from it that one could make a living in sales, if they helped enough people get what they wanted, by asking questions and not telling!

Art: What type of car did you use for your demonstrations and how many demonstrations would you perform in a week demonstration (may you can find a pic an add it)

Harold:  We were required to do 15 demos a month. I had a 1981 ford F100 with a 4 speed and six cylinder with AC and a camper shell to haul my equipment on gurneys.

Art:  Can you tell us a couple of  funny stories about selling copiers in the eighties?

Harold: I was cold calling near Kirksville Mo., in the fall of 1981. I stopped at a John Deere dealer and asked if he wanted to look at copiers? He said no not at this time, but come back in in December and I might need one to take off my taxes as my bookkeeper is wanting a new one. I added these notes to my “hot box” of 3 x 5 cards to call on in December.

The first week of December I stopped and walked in with my overshoes and London Fog coat, in 8 inches of snow. The owner said “son what can we do for you?” Well he was sitting around a wood stove with a bunch of farmers. I said “well I stopped in September and you said you may need to buy a copier for taxes in December so here I am”. He slapped his knee and said “I surely did say that, and I need one. BUT I will buy whatever you have in the truck, if I could start the old John Deere A out back”. Well I verified the call and said “the unit I have is a Savin 895 and is $8,495 and the stand is $295” one of the old farmers said, “don't worry son, he's got a truck load of cash”! I said, “It does run right, the tractor?” He laughed and said yes it does, it's a hand crank. I said okay, I will be back in a minute. He said where are you going? I said, ``Well I am going to put my coveralls on cause when you spin that flywheel with the pitcoks open they spray some oil out as you spin it”. One old farmer said, “looks like you just bought a copier bud”! He did buy that copier!

Another story, my Mother in Law had a Savin at her work place and asked me, “What are you going to do when you sell everyone a copier?”  I said, "I have no idea, I haven't sold them all, yet”.

Art:  What is the biggest problem you see facing the industry today?

Harold: Relying on social media to create your business leads, people still buy from people. Taking too many shortcuts to try and get business. Not following up, not understanding the sales cycle’s length, not pre-planning the calls, winging it. Not taking the business seriously.

Art: If you had to would you do it all over again, if so what would you change?

Harold: I would have stayed in my territory and never moved, I didn't realize the potential of recurring business every few years.

Art: What’s the one piece of knowledge that you’d like to share with new reps entering our industry.

Harold: This is still an exciting industry, we have more products to help in the office than we ever have had before. It all boils down to what Zig Ziglar said “Selling ain't telling, asking questions is”.  And recalling the other quote and even saying it to customers, “I can get everything out of life I want, if I help enough other people get what they want, so tell me, what is it you want”. Corny maybe, but it is all about communications. Thinking they have a college degree and are pretty smart, not understanding this is work, no one owes you a damn thing. Under promise, and over deliver. If you do not know the answer to the question, tell the customer you will get back to them on that, AND DO JUST THAT!


Thank you Harold!  The farmer story is classic especially when he dared you to start the tractor.  Great stuff.  Stay safe and be well!

Please feel free to post a comment and you can reach Harold via his Linkedin page.

-=Good Selling=-


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Great stories - especially the mention of Hallie Gibbs - one of the true greats (and gentleman) of our industry.  Had the pleasure and challenge of having him as a customer when I was Ricoh Region VP throughout the 90s and early 2000s before he retired.    So true Harolds comment about the business being people to people and how it is becoming lost in this age of social media / internet digital outreach.    Hallie Gibbs would always preach in his time on any podium the “This business is a PEOPLE BUSINESS”.   And frankly , I truly believe that applies to all business ...if not LIFE ITSELF.   P. S.  - I ve had 2 John Deere’s over the last 36 years and still love the one I have as much as I lived the John Deere close at the Board meeting    Keep the hits coming Art !!!  In order to understand the future it is the knowledge of history that will allow us to avoid pitfalls so this exercise is more than just a bunch of codgers lamenting days gone by.  

I find it somewhat amusing that copier sales jobs are so unloved that it takes a blog series that goes back 35+ years to remember a time that it was great.

I guess you could call it the nature of the beast.  It was no cake walk in the eighties. We were kicked out of offices, owners of companies would call in 5 or more reps to learn about products and services. In many cases our appointments with a DM was back to back.  Thus as I was entering another rep was leaving or when I was leaving another rep was coming in.  Thus in the eighties there was a high emphasis placed on closing the deal when were there.

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