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Selling Copiers in the Seventies with Rod Nafziger


A few weeks ago Jack Carol send me a message on facebook and stated that I should get in contact with Rod "RJ" Nafziger.  Jack made mention that Rod made his mark in the industry with selling Apeco copiers.  Rod and I have been connected on Linkedin for years, but for some reason I never knew his back ground was copiers.  For all these years I knew him as the Artisan Gelato Maestroof Venice!

How did you find your way to the copier industry?

I began my career in Cable Television out of college.   Building a 1,200 mile cable system as on of the lead engineers. Over 4 years then engineering the Cable System in Bay City Michigan. By 1973 the FCC put the clamps on development.  I transferred back to Ohio with Anaconda six months later they issued Pink slips.

With three kids and house payment. Work was essential so I responded to an ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer (newspaper) for Apeco, wasn't sure what they did but they promised money. Less than an hour of the interview I had a job to start Monday AM in the Akron, Ohio office.

Oh, by the way you'll need a station wagon after your two weeks training. That’s no problem, right? They ask. The Cleveland Regional Manger was Morry Burns and his brother Rich Burns is who I would report to. His brother Chuck Burns younger than me would train me.  So, I show for training with 11 others and we were told that by the end of training there may be 5 people left. Well I was 1 of 7 in that class.

So now I sell copiers, draining fluid (dispersant) from the units before moving them for a demo. The purpose of the dispersant fluid was to transfer the Ink to create why an image on special Zinc Oxide coated paper. The units would be either sheet fed or on a roll. A dry process was eventually developed.

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

I started with Apeco in 1973 as a Sales Rep. Our office was in the basement of an old church which we had a ramp to winch up the copiers to ground level on the gurney and into that station wagon. I became an instant rock star. Met quota the first 6 months every month. Then came the bond units (plain paper copiers).

Toshiba Plain Paper and the Royal 100 production unit. All under the Apeco Label. We set Akron on Fire! Cold calling 50 everyday with a biz card to prove it. Monday calls took 100 dials to book a minimum of 12 demos appointments/demos (no showing brochures). Handling objections, never take no as an answer and don’t come back without and order. Shouts from the managers office everyday. It was sink or swim.

Then along comes a California Apeco VP Rich Nelson into Cleveland. Picked up the exclusive Sharp franchise Ohio Business Machines hires Morry Burns and Morry immediately calls me to join the team. 4 years more of the same style. Myself and the Accountant Dennis Bednar join together to start Meritech and pick up the Minolta franchise.

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

At Meritech we carried the Minolta portfolio of products. We were very successful.  Expanding into fax with Fujitsu, Panasonic,  electronic typewriter’s (word processors) as soon as they came on the scene, and Xerox Word Processors eventually into computers.

All the while we were acquiring there branch operations. By 1987 Meritech was doing 12 million in sales and one of the most customer centric dealers in Ohio.  We had services in the cost per copy arena for the County, City, Hospital and Universities. Computer department with Network services and Printer services. In those days we employed a team of 120 technical personnel. A sales team of 50.  In 1987 I left Meritech as VP and joined Minolta Corporation in Ramsey New Jersey. First as Regional Management then became Director of Marketing. 

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

Copier sales people was always that 3 out of 10 would last 2 years ratio. Seven would struggle and eventually change careers. Hiring and training was a daily task. It always came down to their personal attitude, direction and discipline. The successful ones made great money for their families. The others were always jealous and would blame everyone and everything for their failures. 

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

In the 70’s you knew what had to be done there was no dancing around the direction you were given. Discipline was demanded. Your attitude better be good walking in the door. We were there to write business, period. Friday nights we met at the local watering hole and swapped sales stories.

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

Actually for me nothing we had a lot of fun “no fear”

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

Simple you sell you get paid you don’t sell you’ll quite. A draw of $450.00 monthly. $100.00 for auto expenses. Commission: 10% of Base sale15% for stands, supplies, paper and toners. Meet quota $6,000.00 got a 5% bonus. Weekly at sales meetings there were cash spiffs and gifts for small successes. It was somewhat easy to make $4,000.00 monthly. Payment of commission was by weekly and only after delivery and full payment or leases were processed and paid.

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

 Cold Calls, survey calls and Mailers. 500 mailers weekly with follow up calls for appointments. My favorite was mailers. Learned a lesson early. I mailed my letters. Got a response made a sale on the demo. Several months later the same account address was on the mailing list different company name. I received another response, interesting. Make another demo. In walks the same guy that had purchased before. He says we’ll buy it prepare the paperwork. Signed sealed delivered. Following up on satisfaction, I asked him why? “Simple you did such a great job on the first purchase, my companies will be using your services for all of them. You must demo the staff and make my decision easy.” So I ask how many do you own he said eight. So over the next year I made eight sales. After that my inquiry of who I was talking with took a different strategy.

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

The Sales Training Manual for Apeco. Think and Grow Rich was my all time favorite. Still study it. I've got and bought a thousand sales and Management books and read them all. Harvey McKay’s series real made the point of doing the discovery and assessment before trying to sell. Zig Ziegler of course. I’ve taken all of the Dale Carnegie courses. Always took my teams to in town sales courses or encouraged them to attend.

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

First one I could afford was a 1970 Rambler Station Wagon. Then upgraded 5 years later to big V8 Pontiac Wagon loaded with auto everything.

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

The best one was a guy that wanted to argue for his Xerox. We almost came blows. So I sat quietly while he yapped. I’m filling out an order at list price. I turn it around and hold out the pen. After 5 minutes of silence he groans, grabbed the pen and signed. Later I learned he owned Xerox stock. But, didn’t like his rep.

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

Features Advantages and Benefits selling. Telling not selling. Reps are focused on the product and what they know. Struggling with asking business questions that are relevant to the customers reason for need.

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

Absolutely it was a rewarding career and worth every dollar earned. Change, I wouldn’t change a thing. I achieved over 49 trip experiences around the world. If their was a goal set it was meant to be achieved. Sometimes doubled so my partner and I could both go.

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

You must walk into that office door everyday with the right Attitude “if it’s going to happen I’m doing it.” Direction you must be able and willing to take direction and able to give direction. “Do not sit and wait for someone to tell you what needs done.” Dig in and learn. Discipline you must develop the discipline required to execute to the task. Timing, Written, Learning, Teaching and Winning. This is your job your boss will not school you on your disciplines. You will be graded on your lack there of.

Note from Art:  If you'd like top reach out to RJ you can find him here (linkedin) and living the good life in Venice, Florida. If I'm in the area I'm going to get me some of that gelato!

-=Good Selling=-


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