For as long as I can remember, my father has been in sales. He’s sold a few different products or services, but for the most part it was always the same business model. I have also been a salesman at different times in my life so I as well am more familiar with the process than I would like to be. For those of you who don’t know, or maybe haven’t considered what being a salesman actually is, here is what it means when broken down to its most basic level:
Someone who has more capital (aka cash, c.r.e.a.m, dollar bills) than you has purchased a large inventory of something. You, being employed by this capitalist, are expected to do all of the work necessary to convince consumers that they require this specific product more than any similar product. This process is a fairly simple one, you’re painting a picture where the product is a necessary part of the consumer’s life, and the consumer is happily buying your painting. Though sometimes the process becomes more complicated, usually with consumers who are more fiscally savvy or who possess a lower amount of capital than others. Here, the salesman is expected to become a psychologist. This consumer is already aware of the fact that they may not necessarily need this product and instead see the sales process as an obstacle course that they have to successfully navigate in order to get what they want. In this situation, the salesman must become the consumer’s capitalist spiritual guide, occasionally conducting pseudo-therapy sessions right there on the sales floor. When I worked in sales, I once found myself hugging a consumer as she cried into my chest about the fact that her husband had recently unexpectedly died, and she had a son who was a junior in high school, and she was just so nervous about keeping everything afloat, and she just really hoped I wasn’t putting her through the ringer–as she said–and that she really wanted to trust me because I seemed like an honest person and she was just so very very sad and…etc.
That really happened to me. Consider that for a moment.
Anyhow once you have led the consumer through this inception and brought them to the place where they are sure they either want or need your object, it is then your job to convince them to give you their capital in exchange for the product. This becomes difficult with the latter example I spoke of before. Usually this person really values their capital as the amount of time they have sacrificed in order to achieve it is astoundingly high, and with large purchases that sequestered capital disappears fast enough to make your head spin off your body and shoot all the way to Mercury.
Once you’ve completed this process and filled out the (typically excessively complicated) paperwork, you then deliver the product to the consumer and give the capital to your boss who then gives you a peanut’s share of it, even though you are the one who has done ALL of the legwork, and sends you on your way.
Often in commission based sales you get paid by what’s called a draw system. A draw system works like this: At the start of each pay period, an employee is advanced a specific amount of money, the “draw.” This draw is then deducted from your commission at the end of each pay period. After paying back the draw, the employee keeps the rest of the money. If you go a couple weeks without any significant sales and rely on the draw, you are then liable to repay that draw once you start to again make some sales.
Yes, what you’re thinking is correct, that is completely insane.
I can say from experience that it is wholly possible to go one or two weeks without making any significant sales. When this happens not only are you in a situation where your next paycheck may result in negative pay, you are also likely to be under harsh scrutiny from your bosses who will can you as soon as you start to look like a liability to them. For a practical example, imagine you go two weeks without a significant sale, and let’s imagine that the weekly draw is $300, leaving you with a balance of -$600. This means that on the third week when you make your first sale and you net a commission of $650, $600 of that commission is going right back to the employer. Now, if that ends up being your only sale in the week, then that means you have made $50 for what is most likely over 40 hours of work. Yes, it is possible to be selling for over 40 hours and not make a sale–that’s called catching a bad break. This is why many salesman, especially those who have caught a bad break, end up working insane hours and often times fall into drugs as a means of self medication and coping.
This also explains why we have such an aversion to the desperation that we often encounter with salesmen. Thinking of things this way, does it not make you feel pity instead of aversion at their behavior?
So when we break it down, being a salesman means doing a tremendous amount of frustrating work for no salary and watching all of your hard work translate into a lion’s share of the capital returning to the original investor, your boss or the owner of the company. It’s a tough gig.
I bring up my father and what he does for work for a specific reason; I bought a ribeye steak from a farm that I work at during the summer and I want to cook it for him. But, considering what he does, I cannot cook it for him now. I’ll explain, bear with me.
My mother has had a wider range of jobs than my father. She worked in the service industry, she worked in human services, she’s been an interior designer, and is currently working in furniture sales. Hmm, sales again, eh? Like my father, my mother is good at sales and she does well enough at it to survive. But, she has a very bad back. A back that is probably bad enough for her not to have to work anymore. But for some reason, whether it be willpower or fiscal anxiety/necessity, she continues to work everyday standing on hard linoleum floors and faking smiles to consumers as the bones in her spine aggressively grind one another to dust.
My parents are good, caring people. Combined they work an average of about 100 hours per week. Save for my mother’s back, my parents have had limited health problems and look remarkably good for their age, my father is in his early 60s and my mother her late 50s. I am (regrettably) their only child and they have always cared for me greatly. Sure we’ve had our problems and we’ve both been at fault at different times for those, but at their core they have always meant well and have had my best interest in mind. They’ve worked very hard to ensure that we never went without and that we always had enough stability to be okay. I appreciate that immensely and have learned from their work ethic in surprising ways that continue to reveal themselves to me. It is because of how they raised me and who they are, for better and for worse, that I have been able to become who/what I am and that I am able to lead a fairly comfortable life with no pressing wants or needs.
This is why I wanted to cook a steak for my parents. I learned to cook from watching them and in recent years have become pretty good at it (in an amateur way). I just wanted to give them a night off where I prepare a nice little feast for all of us, and they can sit back and enjoy it. In preparing for this, I defrosted the steaks a day in advance, and salted them for an overnight age in the refrigerator. Then, this morning, I find out that I am no longer able to cook the steak for my mother and father because my father has to stay at work late on a day he was supposed to be leaving in mid-afternoon. He does this because it is asked of him by his boss and if he doesn’t stay, his paycheck and job can be adversely affected.
This makes me sad. Not for me, I can cook for myself anytime, but for them. And yeah, I realize it’s just a small night that can be rescheduled but it sent me on a bad trip. It just reminded me that my father– a man who possesses genius level rational thinking and pragmatism–and my mother–a woman who possesses such an empathetic sensitivity that she can practically read people’s minds–are stuck working for giant, unsympathetic money machines who will replace them promptly as they get older and their meat-bag bodies start to fail, turning them from capital-generators into liabilities.
Anyone who has read my blog or is subject to my social media presence can gather that I ma not the biggest fan of capitalism. But today when I talk about it, I implore you to understand it on a human level rather than a socio-political one. I don’t want to hear retorts about economic machinations and how capitalist incentive is necessary to drive progress or yadda yadda whatever. I just want to relay the fact that it makes me sad that as a result of the coincidences of their lives, my parents–the good, working, tax-paying, voting, children of immigrant families that the news likes to talk about–are stuck in a system that does not appreciate them for who they are; that does not value them as intelligent and sensitive people with a lot to offer; that doesn’t see the sacrifices of time and health that they make by standing in their fluorescent-lit showrooms and inhaling clouds of printer ink and toxic cleaning products; and that will replace them as soon as it is deemed practical in the pursuit of more capital.
I crave a change in value systems. I don’t want capital to be the goal, I want peace to be the goal, or happiness, or the progress of the human race, or a peaceful coexistence with our environment. I’m not even sure exactly what I want, but on days like today it becomes incredibly clear what I don’t want.
I don’t want my children to be exposed to the same sadness, hatred, raping of natural resources, abuse of people, and the resulting global famine that is the fallout of the frantic pursuit of capital. I don’t want to see pathologically insecure people blaming other people for their fears and anxieties on a global level, treating their bullshit self image by plastering fake magazine covers of themselves all over the golf courses that they own. I don’t want to see people killing each other over money, or my economically disadvantaged students competing to see who has the most expensive shoes, or rich white men denying people the right to universal health care and preventing peaceful immigrants from coming into the US in an attempt to stay alive. I don’t want to see my city’s infrastructure falling apart due to shriveling tax bases and socioeconomic devastation. I don’t want to see gentrification destroy culture and chase people out of their neighborhoods to put up some other trendy fad business that caters to the rich. There’s so much, you know? It just feels so overwhelming…
Well, Nick, what are you doing to help? I’m trying, I swear. Often times I feel like I’m not trying enough, but I’m slowly doing what I can to help, teaching, buying local, working with local sustainable businesses, etc. Today, I just wanted to cook dinner for my parents to show them some appreciation and was reminded that there are victims in the pursuit of progress, that my vision of a re-alignment of values is made possible by the wage-slavery of people like my parents, and that the future is built on top of those who have sacrificed themselves to an immoral, socio-pathic system both willingly and otherwise.