Where do you get your ideas?
One of the first things people ask when I tell them I’m a writer is, “Where do you get your ideas?” I find this kinda funny, because to me, ideas are like spores; they are everywhere, but seem invisible until they suddenly pop up into your mind like tiny mushrooms. For instance, I recently wrote Is Transatlantic Cruising Right for You? for The Traveler’s Way. Where did I get that idea? From a conversation I had with a vacuum cleaner salesman.
It was the night before our most recent transatlantic cruise. When the doorbell rang, my husband was busy explaining all the quirky ins and outs of our dwelling to the house-sitter, so I answered the door. I expected to find either a neighbor or a religious zealot on our stoop, but instead it was a young guy in nice slacks, shiny shoes, a button down shirt (no tie) and a leather jacket. Something about his business casual attire and over-eager smile screamed salesman so before he could get a word out, I jumped in with, “What are you selling tonight?”
I think this caught him off guard, because instead launching into a smooth sales pitch, he stammered, “Good evening, ma’am. Uh, my name is Blake and it’s a, well, we’re selling, what, uh, we’re presenting to you tonight is a premium vacuum cleaner. No, uh, obligations, but I’d like to offer you a, um, demonstration of all its capabilities.”
His vacuum cleaner cost more than our entire vacation
As someone who has done a lot of selling in her life (from Girl Scout cookies to newspaper advertising) I know how tough a cold call can be. I glanced down the driveway and noticed a car with a passenger waiting inside. “Is that your boss?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m in training, and this is my first, uh, time doing the demonstration by myself, well, I hope it will be,” he added with a laugh. “No one’s actually let me in their house yet.”
Call me a sucker, but I took pity on the guy. “I don’t want to get your hopes up, because I really don’t want a new vacuum cleaner, but why don’t you come in and give me the demo for practice.”
He thanked me profusely before stepping inside and opening his demo box.
“How much do you sell this vacuum for, anyway?”
“$3000? I’m leaving for a transatlantic cruise tomorrow morning, and I’ve gotta tell you, Blake, our whole trip is not gonna cost that much.”
It was his turn to be surprised. “Really? I thought cruises were super expensive.”
“Anything can be super expensive,” I replied. “There are vacuum cleaners out there that cost three grand.”
“Yes, there are, ma’am. But wait until you see all this one can do.” As Blake continued to wrestle much with all the hoses, cords and other attachments in his huge box, I could see that it was going to be a while. I tried to be patient, but I still had some packing to do.
“Why don’t you just tell me what’s so great about this vacuum?”
“Yes, ma’am. For starters, it cleans every kind of surface, from wood to thick rugs. Plus, it even gives you a head and foot massage. Just imagine how – ”
Things got even more absurd
“A massage? Are you kidding?”
“No, ma’am,” he said, digging through the packing material in the vacuum box. “If I can just find the right attachment, I’ll show you.”
With the absurdity factor increasing by the moment, I couldn’t help but laugh. “I’m sorry, Blake, but am I the first person to crack up when you told them you were selling a vacuum that gives massages?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, before admitting, “But it’s only my second day on the job.”
“I’m no Howard Hughes, but doesn’t it sound a little gross to massage yourself with something that has been sucking dirt off the floor?”
This time, Blake laughed. “Actually, my mom said the same thing.” He was still struggling to assemble the vacuum cleaner, but my patience had run out.
“I really don’t have time for your full demo tonight, Blake, but I want you to look good with your boss. How can I do make it seem like you tried hard enough in here?”
Blake grinned. “My pitch is supposed to take 25 minutes, at the least.”
“How are we doing?”
He checked his watch. “We’ve got 15 minutes left.”
“It’s gonna take you that long just get all that stuff back in the box,” I said. “Let’s just chat a little.”
So I told him about transatlantic sunsets
“I want to know more about your cruise,” Blake said. “Does it get scary or boring in the middle of the ocean? Is food included? Do people get seasick? What is there to do on the boat all day long?”
So I spent the next 15 minutes answering his questions about traveling, in general, and cruising, in particular, while Blake-the-salesman crammed stuff back into his demonstration case.
I sometimes wonder if Blake ever managed to sell any of those $3000 vacuum cleaners. As for us, about a month after returning from our fabulous trip, we bought a Roomba. It doesn’t massage our feet, but is cost a fraction of what that fancy vacuum did, and it keeps the floors nice and clean.