Sep 29, 2008

Guerilla Marketing

Working in an office in a small town leaves me wide open for strange things.

My office is located in a small, old, poor town. And where there's small, old, poor towns that have been passed by when the new interstate came in you'll find...greasy spoons. Specifically lots of home-cooking places where someone is cooking from their kitchen and serving on the front porch. You also see a lot of people who have nothing to do but walk around and try to sell each other things that nobody can afford even if they wanted it.

So, we being on the outskirts of this little town, we often get people who come in to bring us kitchen lunch menu flyers or homemade candy or kitchen-born popcorn balls, the sort of thing that can bring a little extra money that might make the difference between eating and not eating this week.

A few days ago a little old black woman pulled up in the parking lot with a wicker basket on her arm, and a collective shiver of terror ran through the office. Now, before I go on I'd be a pretty poor writer if I didn't show her to you. She's a little slip of a thing, probably in her mid 60's or a little older, and of that certain skin tone that could honestly be called black; her skin is the colour of very fine old walnut furniture, and I think she's had a lot of teeth pulled because her speech, already slurred by her accent is further slurred by a mouth all drawn in like a little prune. She always wears bright colours--yellows and oranges and such, so she's a study in lights and darks all by herself. She's got a little mop of silvery curls that always stick out from under a little cloth sunhat, and she always matches, all from head to toe. She's also more than a little deaf but either doesn't know it or has learned to read lips really well because she doesn't use any aide but as a result she's VERY loud. All the time, and naturally exuberant on top of the loud.

That basket contains peanut brittle and pecan brittle and candy of that type, made with peanut butter or corn syrup or white chocolate or milk chocolate, whatever she can get cheap, melt in copious amounts, mix pecans or peanuts in with and lay out to dry in roughly round shapes. These are then wrapped in Saran Wrap and put in her basket and off she goes, stopping...I guess at any and every business that won't kick her out.

When we first opened the office three years ago we were always bombarded by salesmen and saleswomen. Mostly medical supply people since we're a home health but not limited to medical folks. We'd get every sort and kind, from people selling religious items to schoolkids selling advertisements in their ballparks. VW and I got tired of that so we made a "No Soliciting' sign and when they walked in I'd just point to the sign and direct them back out again. Easy.

Well, I'd turned Lois (the heroine of this sordid tale) away once a year ago; I saw her get out carrying candy, and when she set foot in the door I simply and gently shooed her out. She tried again six months or so after that day, when VW left to work for the State and my new office manager was in. Lois came in and made a face at me, one of mild disgust and dawning realisation that she wasn't going to make a sale. She said something like "Oh, I remember you, you wouldn't let me in," but Laura happened to be coming out of her office at the time and Lois saw her opportunity.

My office manager never knew what hit her.

I can say this--I'm glad Lois doesn't teach classes to salesmen, because buying a car would become a study in bloodlust and unceasing terror. This little woman simply doesn't stop until she has her sale. Like The Terminator, she absolutely will not stop, ever, until you've bought some brittle. She's certain that you have money and you will spend it on her candy, period. She's as implacable as a round fired from a rifle and as determined as a pit bull with it's jaws locked, utterly incapable of letting up. Wheedling, cajoling, demanding...high pressure sales hasn't seen Lois yet, but Lois could kick it's tail off then turn around and sell the amputated bit back to it's beaten owner. What's worse is that she never stops talking. Even if she's already sold you something and is trying to target lock her next mark there's a steady stream of prattle flowing, nearly incomprehensibly from her mouth.

Old girl is tough, and a little bit crazy, which makes it worse.

She learned a long time ago that if she doesn't ask every single person in the building not once but three or four times then she's missing a sale, and she can flat filter some money out of a body. Well, my manager bought a piece of peanut brittle from her that day, and it was done, we were on her list as Prospective Buyers.

Now, once every two or three months she comes back, driving her little white minivan (no doubt paid for by peanut brittle,) carrying her wicker basket full of sugary candy and talking a mile a minute. She came in a few days ago, and my office manager went running to hide and so did our Clinical Manager, who has fallen under her claws before. One of the newer girls who didn't know Lois happened to come up front and was sold some peanut brittle. I knew that would not slake her thirst for cash, and a little miffed (laughingly) at being put on the spot by my cowardly coworkers I pointed them out to her. If I'd showed a Terrier a rat there would have been less enthusiasm shown than what Lois showed. She leaped to the attack, breezed by the "Authorized Personnel Only Beyond This Point" signs like they weren't there and hit every single nurse who had the bad luck to be in the building. She even got the marketers, professional saleswomen each one, and at two bucks a pop she probably came out of there with $50 in cash.

The funniest part had to be when Lois crossed paths with our newest Account Exec. Let's call her 'Jaws,' since she's our uber-shark saleswoman. She got hold of Lois and it was like watching one of those shows where two prehistoric creatures face off in a battle to the death. Jaws offered to buy something like ten or so candies to use as marketing tools and it became a comedy of opposites--a cash-only businesswoman trying to sell something to a professional saleswomen who requires receipts in triplicate for her expense reports. When Jaws told Lois she wanted to buy most of her basket of stock Lois' voice went up about three octaves and twenty decibels. Jaws was either utterly unaware of Lois' mastery of the high volume homeless-person babble or she was being very subtly cruel and started saying in an innocent little girl voice, "Why are you shouting at me? Please don't shout." I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so I just broke off bits of my peanut brittle and watched.

By this time there were four or five of us hapless victims up front, and Lois is all but jittering like a coke fiend missing her hit and Jaws in her 4" pink lizard-skin high-heels and Dior business suit is trying to get Lois to accept a personal check for $30 for these homemade candies. The prattle is running fast and furious, mixing with Jaws' own salesgab, the five of us are blinking and gawping in wild wonder at this 5' tall slip of a matron with her Goodwill day-glow yellow blouse and slacks confronting this 98 pound whip of a salesshark, all the time wondering what exactly is being said by either of them. The bizarre face-off was broken when our third marketer had the misfortune to come in, so Jaws ended the game by handing over some bills and our third saleswoman got accosted for a few awestruck minutes.

I tell you, this little old lady could make you buy your own eyeteeth and thank her for the privilege.

The whole escapade probably took fifteen minutes but it seemed like forever. Every time I thought she was done she'd come circling back around the racetrack hallway of the office trying to sell us the last two pieces of peanut brittle she had, these lovely orange-gold disks with their little peanut lumps, cunningly wrapped in clear plastic. She didn't take no for an answer from me but I learned three attacks prior that the best thing to do is not refuse her to but to redirect her, so I kept passing her back to my gutless clinical manager. "Oh no, HE'S got the money, he bought mine" I kept saying, because I know that repetition makes it sink in with Lois and that my CM folds like a house of cards in a high wind at the slightest provocation. If anyone would buy her last two items and therefore end her reign of terror it would be him.

It was.

Realising she was empty she babbled her way back to her van and I was left with a half-piece of leftover brittle that someone gave me and sides aching from laughing so very hard, laughing in a way that I've not laughed in a very long time.


Joan of Argghh! said...

OMG, I lovveddd this! I know so many similar stories of little old tigers just like Lois. I think I would love her immediately, and sic her on the rest of the office as did you.

Your description of her appearance was just a marvel.

I do love it when you write. Wish I could write like that. Sweet!

Nancy Dancehall said...

What Joan said. This was fun to read. You have such a way with description.

Gordo said...

Wow. I feel like I was there watching it happen. She sounds like a force of nature.:-)

meno said...

"I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so I just broke off bits of my peanut brittle and watched."

The only smart choice available to you.

This is wonderful.

Irrelephant said...

She's a pistol all right, Joan, and yes, I think you'd like her too. She pretty much requires that you like her. And buy some sweets. *lol*

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Nancy. She's such a character it's hard not to picture her in words.

Oh don't think for a moment that she isn't, Gordo! *lol* Little old ladies like that helped the Catholic Church become what is now. You think priests run churches? No sir, it's always those little old altar ladies.

meno, I'm glad you agree! It's like sitting in the midst of a hurricane--you do what you can, then the rest is just a matter of waiting it out.

Vulgar Wizard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vulgar Wizard said...

That was TERRIBLY funny and entertaining. I'm still giggling.

Uhm . . . I bought her peanut brittle before . . . when the No Soliciting sign was up . . . and I told her I didn't have any cash . . . *sigh*

Chris should hire her to market for the company.