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Selling Copiers in the Eighties with Roland Tolan


Roland and I found each other about 6 weeks ago on Linkedin.  Seems Roland and I have a similar background with selling copiers.  We both started in the eighties. While I was on the East Coast and Roland was on the West Coast.  We've never met but hoping our paths will cross soon!

How did you find your way into the copier industry?

In 1985, I was 23 years old.  l was ready to join the sheriffs department in Los Angeles CA., my mom begged me not to do it.  A friend of mine was a salesman at small Toshiba dealership in Anaheim CA., and told me over a couple of beers that they are looking for sales people and there's a lot of money to be made in this business. The rest is history.

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

I started with Alltech Business machines in Anaheim right across the street from Minolta Business Systems (ended up recruiting me 4 years later).  My hiring managers name was Tony Napoli ex Pitney bowes rep.  Funny guy.

He told me that I will be a mercy hire since he didn't think I will make it in the business but he needs people in the field canvasing.  Great start with lots of confidence.  He also told me I need to buy a station wagon since I'll have to drive around with a copier gurney to do demos door to door. So I did it.

One Saturday I was driving by a small business park running errands and I noticed a lot of cars and open doors at this one place.  I said to my self maybe the business owners will be working alone without a gate keeper. So the following Saturday I loaded up a moving top 1OPPM Toshiba copier securing the top with a bungee cord. I went to the first open door and made my way to the back office since no one was at the reception desk.  I met the owner, introduced myself and asked him if he wants to see my copier.  He smiled and told me bring it in because he needs to make some copies. So I did and he loved the copier and then asked how much?

I said $1,500 knowing my cost was $850 and everything over I was getting 35% commissions. He said I want to buy this machine. I will write you check now. I said okay, I wrote up the paperwork,  got the check and left the copier.

Monday morning at the sales meeting it was my turn walked in my managers office and handed him the signed paperwork with the check. His eyes got big and said when did you sell this copier? I said to him Saturday on a demo. He repeated Saturday a few times in disbelief,  I said yes.  So he shared my story with the other guys.  Every Monday I was bringing in a couple of checks when no one else would.  A lot of sales reps would come to me and ask me for advise.  One year later the owner came to me and asked me if I want to be the sales manager since he wasn't too happy with my boss who hired me. I took the position.

If you worked for a dealer or manufacturer what brand(s) you sold and what was your favorite model top sell and why that was your favorite.

My top model and favorite unit to sell was the Toshiba BD 9110 copier console 55 pages per minute.

Great machine and you could tandem to units to have 11Oppm to be able to compete with the one ton Xerox 1090. Great times sold a lot of those and the Toshiba BD 7720 color machine with an editing board.

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

Twenty percent made it past two years and the rest were not able to keep up with cold calling and rejection or moved to other opportunities. The biggest thing I could not teach is work ethic. My late father whom I lost to cancer last February at age of 91 always told me when I was a kid that I could stay in bed dreaming or I should get my butt out of bed and pursue my dreams. I never forgot that ever.

What did you like the most about your job in the eighties?

It was lot of fun and everybody needed a copier,  intense times,  only a couple of big stores like Price Club were selling small desktop units like the Sharp Z70 (money guzzler). We made a killing with the Adler Royal fax machines that used thermal paper.  I remember I always carried a pair of scissors with me to cut the print when the page was printed.  When I got the sale I ended up throwing in the scissors with the machine. Fun times!

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

Nothing at all.  I loved my job and I loved training new people how to make money. It was challenging and fun.

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

As a rep I had a $1,500 salary a month for the first ninety days and then it turned in to a draw against commissions. The commissions were 35% of GP and after ninety days when the draw kicked in was 40%. Car allowance was $125 per month.

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

My favorite was cold calling door to door I wasn't a big phone guy.  I liked to meet people in person and inquire about their hobbies and businesses it was interesting plus I got to meet lots of friends like that.  Door to door was and still is today the most effective way since you get to see everything inside their business.  In addition with every cold call I wasn't asking if they are in the market.  I was asking a lot of questions and eventually got to know that the existing machine was not liked and service wasn't that good.  Just asking open ended questions and you got a lot of feedback that helped nailing down a deal.

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

I wasn't much in to sales books. I must have been a natural I did like Brian Tracy and paid $150 to go see one of his training sessions. Got a lot out of it.

What type of car did you use for your demonstrations and how many demonstrations would you perform in a week?

I had a Buick Century station wagon and I was averaging 2 demos a day and close at least 1 out of 2. On Saturdays I would do 2-4 and close almost every one. I made great money at a young age and bought my first house in Yorba Linda CA two years later. I was only 25.

Can you tell us a couple of funny story about selling copiers in the eighties?

One that stays with me was the one time I did a demo for a color machine in Beverly Hills at Buddy Holly's mansion.  He wasn't there but his manager and business operations person was there.  He told me to set up the machine outside.  It was by the pool side on the patio, secured the break on the gurney and did my demo. They loved it!

We went inside going through the paperwork when we all hear a splash. Sure enough the break came lose and the gurney and the copier ended up in the pool! We looked at each other and I had no words except waiting to get my ass chewed.

Buddy Holly's manager looked at me and said do you think it would power up and work?  I said jokingly if it does will you buy it?  He looked at me and said I'll buy it and I'll tell Buddy the story he will probably incorporate this event in one of his shows.  Of course we had to order one up since my demo was drowned!

I will never forget, this had to do with one of my fierce competitors and actually I am still laughing today. Like I mentioned in the very beginning across the street from us was one of the direct Minolta Business Systems branches.  There was a sales guy there by the name of Dan Bisaw very smart , aggressive and a hard worker, always gave me a great fight (professional).   One day I was cold calling and I encountered a very psychopath customer.  The second I walked in he came storming out and started yelling at me to get the hell out of his office,  because he was sick and tired of sales people soliciting.  I asked him for a business card and told him I will let everyone in my office know not to ever come here.  He gave me one and kicked me out. 

When I got in my car the light bulb came out and I said to myself laughing, I know exactly what I will do with this card. I drove over to the Minolta branch and told the secretary as I was handing over the psychopaths business card that Dan Bisaw was in his office some time ago and my boss wanted to buy a copier and its urgent.  She said thank you and that she will get a hold of Dan to go there. I told her to make sure he takes a small copier with him to demo. In the meantime I grabbed a sandwich and parked across from the psychopaths office. His door was opened.

I kept waiting as I was eating and about an hour and a half later a station wagon pulls in front of the door and Dan is unloading his gurney with a desk top machine on, then puts his briefcase on the gurney and starts rolling towards the door. As he got half way through I hear  screaming who the hell are you?  Get the f..... out of my office Dan  is shocked he tells the psychopath but your employee told me that you wanted to buy a copier.  "Get out liar loser I don't have any employee!"  I saw a pen a pen that flew by Dan's head on the way back to the car. I could not stopped laughing. Of course I called him a week later and told him about the incident and how he ended up there. We became good friends after.

What is the biggest problem you seeing facing the industry today?

There isn't much customer loyalty anymore.  Boxes are boxes and all for the most part do the same. So the game is a total different level today. Smart dealers that evolved from analog to digital,  offering MPS and IT services are thriving and growing and eventually are bought up by the Mega Dealers for market share consolidation and eventually them selling as well. The issue with some of those is that in the process they destroy the small dealer hands on culture of customer service and the things they've done to become successful.

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

Definitely I would do it all over again. However, I would do a total solution company with technology offerings and one stop shop for everything a business needs from copiers, printers, scanners, phone systems, mailing equipment, marketing services for small companies etc.

What's the one piece of knowledge that you'd like to share with new reps entering our industry?

First tip is to always work hard and never give up,  train yourself to learn IT language and be a chameleon when it comes to offerings.  Don't lead with the copiers lead with services and workflows, be analytical and always ask open ended questions. Most important is hit as many possible doors every day and keep your pipeline full at all times. You will thank me or your manager that you did. Buy yourself a comfortable and durable pair of shoes. Once in front of a decision maker close, close and close some more until the sign, because chances are if you leave without the paperwork signed you won't get the deal. Because the next salesperson will reap the benefits that you created.

If you'd like to reach out to Roland Tolan you can find him on Linkedin. Here's the link to his profile. I'd also like to thank Roland for his effort and time for doing this for us.  We never stop learning and I picked up some pretty cool stuff from Roland on this.

-=Good Selling=-


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