SHORT STORIES

Doug Alt

CHRISTMAS CARDSSwim_for_Singing.html
 

1950

By the time I was in the Third Grade, I was reading quite a bit, and I enjoyed several of the magazines that my parents and grandparents had coming into the house regularly on subscription. One of the magazines had a lot of small ads in the back (it might have been “Good Housekeeping”). I noticed an advertisement about making money by selling Christmas cards. Although I had, off and on, received small allowances from my parents for sundry purchases, I was interested in the idea of earning some money of my own.

Business Loan

I showed the ad to my parents, and they agreed to front me the money to send away for the sales kit.

When it arrived, it was a beautiful kit. Most of the sample cards and the holders for the cards were made of fancy stock, with embossing and fuzzy texture on some of them. We didn’t have much in the way of expensive items around our house in those days; these cards impressed me as being very classy stuff!

There were also some less extravagant cards in the kit, so I had a wide range of prices to offer to potential customers.

I went right to work approaching neighbors up and down the road from us with my highly sophisticated sales pitch: “Would you like to buy any Christmas cards?” was the greeting people would receive from me once they responded to my knock on their door.

People bought some cards. I was encouraged.

Hitting The Road

After working our immediate neighborhood by foot I was wondering how I could use my little 20” bike to travel a little farther.

Dad came up with a basket to mount on the handle bars so my sales kit had a proper resting place, and I was off to conquer the world!

I knocked on Morganville doors on Highway 79, Brown Road, Harbor Road and Conover Road, all within about a mile or two radius of our house.

Then, I headed for Matawan, three miles away, and sold some cards there. I was developing a sales strategy that was requiring a lot of traveling distance but which was producing a low volume of sales: as I would approach a house, I would look it over and start to make some judgements about it before I got up to the front door. I had recieved a number of “NO’s” in between my successful sales, and I thought I was becoming able to discern a pattern developing as to what type of house was going to produce a negative result when I knocked on the door. So, I starting passing up houses that somehow “looked” like they contained some sort of cheapskate ogres who would bite my head off. I selectively approached only those houses that “looked” like they contained nice friendly people who were just waiting for a little boy to arrive on their doorstep with some Christmas card samples to sell.

Well, with this technique, I worked Matawan over pretty quickly (probably actually approached only a dozen or so houses) and moved right on to Keyport, which was about 6 miles from our home in Morganville. 

I was getting an awfully lot of exercise with this method, but by going out on the road a number of times I was eventually making some sales.

The sales process itself was a great experience. Once I got in the door, then I would open up my display kit. Some cards were mounted on boards that opened up and some cards were in little stacks so the people could shuffle through them for inspection. There were order forms on which the customer could make their selections.

When I got home with the orders, Dad would help me get the paperwork all in order to send in to the company. I guess Dad must have written checks for that.

A few weeks later, the boxes of cards would arrive from the company and I would deliver them to the customers. I recall that once or twice the orders were too large for me to carry on my bike and Mom had to drive me in her car to make the deliveries.

Taking It Up A Notch

At some point, Dad came up with the idea of putting some money into buying a supply of cards in advance so I could sell some right on the spot, thus eliminating the several-week ordering cycle for the customer. He made a business loan to me for this purpose, and once the cards arrived he kept a strict accounting of sales income and repayments to him until the cost of the cards was paid off. Once my “stock loan” was paid off, the cash from the rest of the sales was all profit for me.

In order to carry my stock of merchandise around with me I needed a much larger basket on my bike. Dad found a huge one that would have been large even on an adult bike let alone on my little twenty-incher.

This all paid off though. Sales picked up dramatically now that “impulse buying” was available to the customer. This development was actually a little disappointing to me in one way: the stock I had available for impulse buying consisted of the plainer, cheaper cards. I really enjoyed it more when customers would take the time to place orders for the fancier cards, many of which involved custom printing of the customer’s name on the cards and envelopes. It was more of a real sales process to walk a customer through the customizing options and to make suggestions as to what custom messages they might want to have on the cards.

Delayed Gratification

I don’t remember what percentage of my profits I was allowed to spend during that year’s sales campaign, but I have clear memories of having enough of my own money in my pocket to occasionally stop in a diner in Matawan for lima bean soup while “out on the road” on a cold Fall or Early Winter day. Most of the money was managed by Dad and held for me until the end of the sales season.

My profits enabled me to buy my own cream-brown-and-orange “Columbia” brand 28-inch balloon-tired bike (slightly used) from the sporting goods store in Matawan for $35.

In retrospect, I can see that it was with no small amount of pride that Mom and Dad pointed out very clearly to the proprietor of the store that the 8-year old boy who was picking out the bike was the one who had earned every penny of that $35.

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