Selling Copiers in the Seventies with Chuck Parr

 

I had the opportunity to meet Chuck many years ago, thinking it was at one  of the first Ricoh dealer events I attended back in the nineties.  Chuck was one of the speakers and I was floored by his public speaking ability.  Somewhere during those few days I made it a point to introduce myself to Chuck and thanked him for the awesome performance.

How did you find your way into the copier industry?

When I graduated from college in 1972 I and a lifelong childhood friend and I started a small furniture design and  manufacturing  company…. custom furniture in a shop in Upstate NY.  We labored for 2 years making prototypes and selling a few commissioned pieces until the strain of “2 artists painting one painting” caused us to split up the same day Richard Nixon resigned-August 8 1974. . 

At the time my wife-to-be was living in NYC area and that was where I was headed and needed a job. I would drive to NYC from upstate and prospect for sales jobs since I had no technical professional degree-( Government BA).   My father worked in an IBM factory from the late 30s until he died in 1971.  I knew it was a great company so I found where IBM was in the NY area….HQ in Armonk NY.  That must be where the people who run the company are so I drove up there , walked in to the cavernous lobby of this huge block of a building .  As I walked across the lobby which seemed 100 yards long toward the receptionist who I swear sat up about 10 ft above me .  I felt 3 ft tall and said in may shakiest voice “ I’m here to see whoever hires sales people…..she did the worst thing she could, she giggled .   This was IBM World Headquarters.

She gave me the address of the nearby IBM Sales branch in White Plains.  I went there and dropped off  a resume.  Shortly after  I went to a homecoming football game at my college and bumped in to a classmate. We had the usual  “what are you doing?” type conversation that you have when you are in your early 20s.  My answer “ looking for work “ and he handed  me his card and said “we’re looking for people”   I was Hired after several interviews wearing my best non-matching gray polyester sport coat and best dark blue dress pants. They sold copiers .  If my college friend  had worked for Nabisco I could just as easily had a career in selling Oreo cookies  as one of my future neighbors did.

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

I started in the Xerox New York Downtown branch, 60 Broad St, November  1974 where my friend was on the Legal Team selling to the many downtown NY law firms.    

I started as a trainee with no territory and no machine base.  It was all about finding new business and this was in the smallest geographic branch Xerox had – the tip of Manhattan – 2 square miles. From Canal St and south to the Battery which included Governors Island which had the Coast Guard’s North American Iceberg Patrol HQ.   Those were the days of going to the top floor of a building and cold calling as you went down the 20 or 30 or 80 stories. Almost no restrictions except to try to get past the receptionist which most offices had.  But they were good in not giving you much ....the lesser savvy might give you a name to call. I worked the streets (and elevators) my first year sales before I got a Government Territory.  North Tower.  At the time saying “Xerox Rep” was almost like a password to go to wherever I might have a machine installed.

If you worked for a dealer please tell us what brands you sold and what was your favorite model top sell and why that was your favorite?

 I didn't work for a dealer in the 70s or 80s but sold Direct for 7 years.  I evolved into the Dealer World when I was one of the first Americans hired by Ricoh in May 1981 to help build a dealer driven Major Account Programs. But selling is selling .   My first Xerox territory with any MIF was handling named  Government accounts (must have been that Govt BA)  – some State /some Federal and many NYC Govt accounts- NYS Water ,  NYFD HQ. NYPD HQ. The FBI, NYC Planning , Highways , Prisons throughout Manhattan etc. 

I also handled the Mayors office and NYS Governors NY office etc. many of my State accounts were in World Trade Center 2.  My mode quickly became defensive in that during the 60s and 70s my predecessors had oversold many agencies who also seemed to have no restraint.  The mid 70s brought tough times to NY Government- near bankruptcy,  and I had many machines doing low volume costing high dollars. We were in a mode of defending and re-configuring the machine install base and fighting against Savin on the low end and Kodak and IBM on the high end.  Favorite machine to sell – the XEROX 9200- 120 ppm / auto doc feed and limitless sort and only $100K (equal to lot of money then and now) My most hated machines to sell against were the Kodak 150 on the high end with its super high copy quality and the Savin 770 on the low end with it super low pricing . The veterans reading this will remember them well.     

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

Xerox hired and trained people very well  in those days at their brand new Sales school in Leesburg VA..They invested in you for one solid year allowing you to learn about sales...learn about the product...learn about business...and learn about yourself as a salesperson. 

The turnover rate was not as high at XRX as what I have since observed at many dealers who I worked with closely while at Ricoh.  I would say about half of XRX new hires lasted the first 2 years in those days.  My class of 5 rookies had 2 of us left after 2 years .  Why ?  Grit ...hard work ….some luck in having a good territory opportunity.  Why did some fail ? Young and Dumb so to speak.  Not mature enough to handle the initial lack of success.  And some laziness and lack of work ethic. 

My first territory was probably one of the worst in the NY Downtown Branch since my government accounts were oversold and the financial conditions were  horrible.  That was one of the reasons my territory was available because the folks who sold much of that left for greener pastures .  Several who had been on the Downtown Government Team went on work for Savin.   I worked throughout the years of NYC s near bankruptcy working hard to consolidate many of the convenience machines throughout agencies and design High Volume Copy Centers using the XRX 92/94/9500 Systems from 1975-79.   

I did not make nearly as many $s as counterparts on the Legal or Financial teams in the Branch.    Xerox management, all the way up to David Kearns (CEO at the time ) understood the battle - we were defending a vulnerable base to aggressive competition (Kodak , Savin ,IBM especially) and they configured our comp and goals accordingly.  Xerox allowed me to learn and succeed from these  tough times.  It toughened me for sure.  Perhaps if I had experienced “Good / Better  Times” in those early days I may have been spoiled and left the industry later during  even tougher  times that would come later in my career at Ricoh.     

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

The time that I spent at XRX in the late 70s/early 80s gave me the base knowledge of the industry and sales strategy.  I was fortunate enough to be hired by Ricoh in early 1981 when they were first forming their US operation. 

Again, some luck and happen stance (just like bumping into someone at a Football game) gave me the opportunity to be among the first American employees at Ricoh.  My group was tasked to create the Major Account program – FROM SCRATCH – and with no dealer network yet established except a handful in the East.  And only 2 very basic machines to sell ….   What did I like most? - the continual  LEARNING LEARNING LEARNING.  Some of it structured at various schools and meetings ...some OJT...some Trial and Error (errors really are the best lessons).   Learning was my mode at XRX (74-81) and it accelerated when we began to build Ricoh of America as it was called then.  Learning about how to craft a Major Account Program that would give dealers enough incentive to sell in to larger accounts ,often at less margin.  We built the program from a blank page  from the ground up. 

From 1981 -1984 we built the program that was known as RMAP based on input from key dealers we had recruited all across the US.  These were exciting times for the industry   A lot of time and money and effort was spent building a dealer channel that could compete directly against large established Direct sales companies like Xerox.  Our program was a hybrid and bringing it to birth and helping to attract dealers with it was one of the most satisfying things at Ricoh in the 80s and watching Dealers use it to grow their business in the Major Account arena was rewarding.       

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

What I liked least was my “30 day” mindset...which may have been an asset as well.  What do I mean?  I have always said sales , especially copier sales in those days  “30 day business”.   Making quota each month...month after month in a game that hopefully had endless “months “ like a ballgame that had endless innings….or in the case of my  mindset, my career was only as long as the next 30 days.  Its the age old question that each month started with when you had to say to yourself, especially after a strong month, “THAT WAS LAST MONTH – WHAT HAVE YOU DONE LATELY?”  I always compared it to what many actors attribute to what keeps them sharp, keeps their edge to perform.   Its a  kind of a fear..nervousness....stage fright if you will.  In this business there were No guarantees. No contract.   I saw my career as a string of as many  “30 day innings”  that I could put together.  Mine ended  450th inning when I retired the end of June 2013 ….I feel like I won and I know I left it all on the field.    

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

 My starting comp at XRX was a small salary and commission opportunity, Initially about a 25/75 mix paid monthly.  We did not get paid for supply sales.   We were paid commission based on a “point based” quota system.   A “point value” was assigned to each transaction which at the time were only  rental...no outright sale...no leasing those came later.  It was like being paid piecework in a factory based on the point value XRX assigned to the “sale”.  There wasn’t  an  actual dollar value, revenue or profit,  that  your sale might yield.  In hindsight I did not like that since it didn’t seem like real business, but more like arcade rewards.  When you had a territory of named accounts and a machine base you were responsible for all  the rental machines you had in your base.  If a customer you were assigned canceled a unit outright the point value of that cancellation was subtracted from your “points” earned that month.    This was true whether that was a machine was sold by you or not.  Someone years before had earned the commission for it ...but if they canceled that rental , you paid for it.  That didn’t seem fair so I have to add that to my “dislike list”.

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

 As a new territory rep in the 70s and without base it was all about pounding the streets and making cold calls , up and down those mostly tall buildings south of Canal St.  Keep knocking on doors , collecting info...and if you got names and any machine info you'd keep record of it for future callback.  Early version of SalesForce.  But in those days it wasn't always looking for and finding competitors machines and proposing yours.  Many businesses still  did not have a copier .  Your job became like a traveling evangelist probing people to find their document  based needs and  find a need that would justify a copier.   I had a book I called my “FAB” book.  It was a binder that had some visual aids of how copier could be used to help a business be more productive ….samples of typical things businesses used to communicate and if a copier might be used to improve the process.  FAB   Feature Advantage Benefit…Fabulous !

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

I am not sure you’d  call it a Sales Book.   I was never really big on so called Sales  Books.    I would say my first book that helped me in sales  ( and life)  was/is  Norman Vincent Peale’s “ The Power of Positive Thinking”.   I’ve read it more than once.  Some parts were / are  especially helpful when ithings were tough. 

My greatest other  “sales book” and inspirations are the many biographies that I read even to this day.  One favorite is Rudy Giuliani’s “Leadership” since it chronicles how he turned around a New York City  that I was intimately familiar with.  I had a front seat that witnessed the ineptitude and waste of the NYC Government of the 1970s.   His book is  great template on how someone might take a terrible sales territory and “ rebuild it “ using some basic management techniques: identify the problem / measure it / fix it / and monitor the results.   Giuliani turned New York into a great city doing basic blocking and tackling and holding people accountable.  No magic.      

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

        My car was a “Subway Car” and this is what a graffiti defaced subway car looked like during my time riding them in NYC.  Pretty sad...I refer you back to Rudy and why they no longer look that way.  Xerox machines in the 70s did not lend themselves to be carted around the streets.  The logistics of NY downtown were difficult for sure.   My “demos” were both ones done in our office demo room , which I might do 1- 2 a week on good weeks and the most effective demos were on site pre-qualified 30 day trials.  At any given time I might have 3 or 4 on site demos.  My Close rate on those were usually 1 in 4.   I was just OK at best.

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

One of my first sales was at a small law firm at 120 Wall St. by the East River. The Managing Partner told me all about their copier, which they weren’t happy with,  in his heavy Brooklyn accent.  He said it was “Copy-uh Two”,   I’d been thru some good competitive product training ( there weren’t that many products  to know back in 1975)  I immediately knew it was the notorious roll-fed IBM Copier2.  I was well versed about its pricing – generous limitless  “Top Stop” Pricing where the customer did not pay a click charge for any volume over 40,000. 

I diligently got the key info I needed like volume - how many rolls of paper they used - key documents etc. I prepared a very nice side-by-side comparison of the IBM 2 versus the just released Xerox 3100.  Speeds and Feeds. Pricing and the  “FABs” for the law firm and the inevitable monthly savings that every proposal always seemed to project. When I met with the Partner and walked him thru my proposal, I had included a picture of an IBM II that I had cut / pasted from SpecCheck (do they still publish that ?).  The partner cut me off before I could go further and said  - “let me show you our machine ”.  He walked me back to the copy room and there stood his machine - an “Olivetti COPIA 200 “. I was flabbergasted and red faced.  I didn’t even know that Olivetti made copiers.  He actually laughed about it when I explained  the mix-up.  He allowed me to revise my proposal.  Ultimately they rented a Xerox 4000 for much more $ than their Italian job.  It was my biggest sale to date as a territory rep.          

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

I retired 6 years ago I still keep up with the industry via your web page (Print4Pay Hotel),  /Cannata Report/ Industry Analyst / LinkedIn/ plus former colleagues and dealer friends that I keep in touch with.    Its in my blood.  There seems to be a bit of a witching hour of things like declining click volume, aging of dealer owner founders and succession and decreasing size of the dealer channel via consolidation, declining revenue/profit and finding young sales reps who can / who want to do what may be one of the hardest jobs they might find.   The last elephant I see in the room is the question- what  will this industry once known as “The Copier Business” become over the next decade.  To that I have to admit I have no clue. Solutions...Production...Wide Format...Grand Format...MPS...Mega Dealers...Direct...     

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

I would ….I certainly can’t complain about the very good living I was able to make, the very good people I was able to meet and to work with, the many good customers and the many successful dealers that  I remain friends with. The bonuses were the travel to every state in the US as well as fabulous dealer award trips I was able to host around the world.  It was my honor to work at Ricoh as the company launched in the US and grew into an industry leader during my time there.  I was pleased to get my “life experience MBA “ working alongside many of the Ricoh Japanese who taught me more than I could have imagined.   I think I was able to add value to a few things and represent the US market and what made It unique vs other world markets.

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

There is so much to learn, to know; especially today vs. 40+ years ago when I was a scared rookie looking for my first sale and my “30 day Mindset”.   The sales game does have some “constants” regardless of the product or locale or company.  The one thing I picked up in working with much more talented sales people was : KEEP YOUR PRIMARY FOCUS ON THE CUSTOMER.  I termed   “GETTING IN TO THE CUSTOMERS 99%”.  All that simply means is that the job of the sales person is to know as much as she can about the customer’s business, the customer’s problem, the customer’s priorities.  If you can immerse yourself in the customer’s business quickly and deeply and sincerely, you will find some kind of a “hook”  for your product.  They will sell your product for you.  You become their guide.  

If you'd like to reach out to Chuck you can check out his Linkedin profile here and make sure you send him a message!

-=Good Selling=-          

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John Saramak posted:

Loved this post for lots of reasons.  The main reason is that it is spot on.  I started in 1982.  I was a displaced steelworker who was hired by Comdoc (with a group who all sold for Xerox in the 70's, who was expanding under the Ricoh Brand in upstate NY

So many Xerox traits described here were incorporated. Despite having no experience in sales and going head to head with the Xerox hot shots in major accounts, I gradually adopted the skills and started winning.  

The 30 day cycle is so true, like it or not it was healthy.  Sure we all took a nap after a big month, but the great management guided be to 20 plus years of hitting quota month after month, and big hits meaning big checks.

This article is relevant today to the moment.  "Focus on the customer"  not in words but in actions.  Learn, learn, learn.  And why not hit quota each month?  It is still performance based and do your part.

 

Great article, thumbs up.

 

Still holds true today, "focus on the customer". I also like taking those shorts naps after every quarter.  They are much needed therapy

Loved this post for lots of reasons.  The main reason is that it is spot on.  I started in 1982.  I was a displaced steelworker who was hired by Comdoc (with a group who all sold for Xerox in the 70's, who was expanding under the Ricoh Brand in upstate NY

So many Xerox traits described here were incorporated. Despite having no experience in sales and going head to head with the Xerox hot shots in major accounts, I gradually adopted the skills and started winning.  

The 30 day cycle is so true, like it or not it was healthy.  Sure we all took a nap after a big month, but the great management guided be to 20 plus years of hitting quota month after month, and big hits meaning big checks.

This article is relevant today to the moment.  "Focus on the customer"  not in words but in actions.  Learn, learn, learn.  And why not hit quota each month?  It is still performance based and do your part.

 

Great article, thumbs up.

 

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