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Selling (Copiers) in the Seventies with Fred Habbal

One of the main reasons for this compilation of Blogs for Selling in the Seventies was to lend some insight as to what it was like to sell copiers in the seventies.  As far as I know there is little to nothing on the web about our industry in the seventies.  I wanted to make sure that we'll have this compilation of blogs to look back on in the future.
We'll be posting one of these up for the next two months, so stay tuned for excellent content from these pro's!
Here we go!  I'd like to introduce Fred Habbal who is the Owner of Vision Office Systems in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Art: What year did you start in the industry and what was your first position?
Fred:   I started in 1979 as a sales rep.
Art:   What company aka manufacturer or dealer did you work for during the seventies and what brand of copiers did you sell?
Fred:  I worked for White Business Machines and the products I sold were Minolta and Sharp copiers.
Art:  What was the percentage of copier sales people that made it past two years?
Fred:   It was about 10% that made it past 2 years.
Art:   What did you like the most about your job?
Fred:   What I liked the most about my job was that the industry was evolving, maturing and growing. The manufacturers constantly developed new features, new technologies and it created a lot of excitement starting with the liquid toner and the paper on the roll. Then the dry toner with paper on the roll, and then the plain paper. After that, the reduction and the enlargement features and the exciting auto paper selection that dazzled the customers. After that, came the thermal paper fax machine and of course, after that, the plain paper fax. So, as you see, the industry was always moving forward and since the customers always wanted cutting edge technology, it gave us the opportunities to upgrade the customers.  That created a wonderful environment and a great income for us. So, in short, we sold the machine and a couple years later we would sell an upgrade as customers could not resist the newer technology.
Art:  What did you dislike the most about your job in the seventies?
Fred:  What I really disliked about my job was that we had to deliver our own equipment to demo and install.
Art: What was the compensation plan like, was there a salary, what is just commissions or was there a mix of salary and commissions?
Fred: The compensation plan was as follows:  $250 salary per month and the commission was 50% of the gross profit.
Art:  How did you go about finding new business, and what was your favorite of those methods and why?
Fred:  The way I found new business, was cold calling, networking and constantly driving in my territory from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day and that gave me a feel for the business activities in my territory.  I knew who was moving in, who was moving out, who was renovating and who was building a new office complex. My favorite method was cold calling because every office I went in, I made friends, so after a while just about every customer in my territory was also a friend. And since people buy from people, I was very successful and I used those customers as a reference to sell to other customers.
Minolta 450Z CopierArt:   What was your favorite copier brand and model to sell?
Fred: My favorite brand and model to sell was the Minolta EP450Z. It was the first machine that had the auto paper selection and the zoom lens that was in 1/10 of 1% increments. Everybody loved that machine and I sold tons of them and made tons of money.
2017-04-24_21-22-58Art: What type of car did you use for your demonstrations and how many demonstrations would you perform in a week?
Fred: When I was hired, I was told that I had to buy either a van or a station wagon. I chose a Chevrolet Impala station wagon cause I could not see myself driving a van.
Art:  Can you tell us one funny story about selling copiers in the seventies?
Fred: The funniest thing that ever happened to me, when the president of the company passed me and asked, "What are you doing today?".  And I answered, "Among other things, I am taking a customer out to lunch and I'm going to close the deal then". So, he said to me, "I will go with you and I'll help you". So, reluctantly I said okay. At the office we all had an understanding that when your boss is with you in a meeting or lunch with a customer, that you kept your mouth shut and your boss did the talking and if you dared speak, he would kick you so hard under the table to remind you to shut up!  So, when I spoke at the table, I see the fire coming out of his eyes and he kicked HARD!  But, unfortunately that day, it didn't go his way and he missed me and kicked the customer. The customer jumped and of course he apologized profusely. I wanted to laugh so hard but I knew if I did, he would have my funeral!  Anyway, it did work out and I got the order. That was an office story for years.
Art: What is the biggest problem you seeing facing the industry today?
Fred: The biggest problems today are the manufacturers think that they can go it alone and bypass dealers. Also the short-sightedness of the manufacturers and their thinking that they can conduct business in this country like they do in Japan. No more loyalties to the dealers and it seems to me that they are working hard to destroy the dealers that made them a lot of money and continue to do so. I think the most destructive thing the manufacturers did is opening direct operations. They must have forgotten that they had all those branches in the 80's and had to close them all because they did not succeed. Maybe now they realize their mistake and are beginning to close the direct operations again.
It was a pleasure answering your questions because you reminded me of the early days and how fun it was and now at the age of 63, with 2 adult children and 3 grandchildren, that industry has been good to me and with my kids being involved in my company I hope they experience the pleasures and success that I have. This is my legacy.
Art: Fred, thanks so much for this, the kicking of the client is a classic!
-=Good Selling=-


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  • Minolta 450Z Copier
  • 2017-04-24_21-22-58

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