Friday, 26 September 2014

Lawnmower Man

The rusty old wheels of capitalism still keep rolling round and round, despite all the best efforts of earnest socialists to flatten the tyres, grind the gears or otherwise throw spanners in the works. Seeing the increasing desperation with which the former workers’ party tries to discredit the system, which ultimately makes everything they cherish come to fruition, I am reminded of the difficulties which beset the capitalists in training up their front line troops:

In a department store in the yet-to-be politically correct nineteen-nineties a young, callow youth is being groomed to become the next under-deputy-assistant-sales-executive and he is spending a week in each of the many departments, learning his craft, plying his trade. Unlike an artisan, our man has only his wits to wield in order to turn desires into sales and thus provide the profits which keep those rusty wheels a-turning.

Here we see him at the front of house, attending the newspaper and magazine counter. A queue of punters extend back into the store between the racks of Daily Mails and Cosmopolitans, Telegraphs and Marie Claires and he deals with them swiftly, efficiently, his fingers jigging about the till like little pink maggots with St Vitus’ Dance. At the end of the day he is taken to one side by the floor manager who berates him at length for his blithe efficiency. “There’s little or no profit in papers, son,” he tells the youngster, “you have to get them to trade up. We make but five percent per paper, but we make fifty percent on the ‘cut-price’ chocolate at the counter. Think on.”

Duly admonished, the lad determines to try harder next week, when he is assigned to the gardening department. A man comes in and spends a considerable time poring over the instructions on the backs of lawn seed packets. Eventually he selects a particular brand and goes to the counter to pay. Our hero is ready and - remembering the lost opportunity of last week - decides to make amends. “A wise choice, sir, if I may say so. That is one of our best-selling varieties of lawn seed and I’m sure you will be very satisfied with the lush, green sward it will produce.” The sales manager, listening, was impressed, then dismayed when he heard the youngster say: “May I suggest you also purchase a bar of our bargain chocolate to boost your energy for all that sowing?”

“No, no, no!” says the sales manager, “you missed a golden opportunity there. Sell up, every time.” The trainee looked confused until the veteran explained. “He’s bought some grass seed. No matter what the quality you congratulate him on his wise choice, then plant your own seed of aspiration.” Colin – for that is the young man’s name – looks perplexed, so the manager explains. “He’s going to have a thick, green luxurious lawn to deal with in a few weeks’ time… Sod the chocolate; you could have sold him a lawnmower!”

A penny drops and Colin sees the light. Yes, of course, cause and effect, create an expectation and sell up. Got it. Determined to impress, he steels himself for the next week, which he is due to spend in the pharmacy.

After a few days of mundane sales of Lemsips and emery boards and toothbrushes and mundane-as-you-like, everyday, low grade, self-maintenance products he begins to despair. How can you upgrade a purchase of paracetemol? And then, opportunity knocks. A man in his mid-thirties is spending an unusual amount of time scanning the shelves. Eventually he sidles up to the counter, timing this move so that he gets to speak to Colin, the only male assistant on the counter.

“May I help you?” asks Colin. The man looks nervously around before asking “Do you have… er… you know, ‘woman’s things’ for…” he coughs, “… that time of the month?” Colin coolly dispenses the necessary items, much to the man’s relief then, in a moment of inspiration asks, “Would you like to buy a lawnmower?”

Lawnmower Man
You wanna buy a lawnmower?

There is a pregnant pause. The sales manager, lurking nearby, is alarmed. The other counter staff stare in Colin’s direction. The customer looks at Colin, unsure where this bizarre suggestion is leading. Colin, undeterred, casts a glance and a cheeky wink in the sales manager’s direction and says, “Well, let’s face it, your weekend’s pretty screwed… you may as well mow the lawn!”

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