In 1997, I started working as a manufacturers’ representative in the gift and apparel industry in Northern California. My customers were mostly buyers and owners of small, independent gift shops. I began my career by visiting the shops on a regular basis, working at trade shows and building relationships. My alliance with an agency that had a show room in a gift center in San Francisco gave me an opportunity to learn the business from my colleagues and represent companies that had a variety of products. As an independent contractor, this was my first experience as a business owner.
It took a lot of cold calling and store visits to develop trusted relationships with my clients. I spent long hours on the road and many more in the evenings fulfilling orders, and preparing for upcoming appointments. This was before the Internet changed the world, and if I was going to succeed, I had to be a diligent road warrior. After a few years, I developed a large territory that included many successful stores and hospital gift shops in some of the most popular destinations in the country (San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel, Big Sur and everything in between).
In addition to trading stories with my clients, I helped many of them with merchandising their products. It was something I enjoyed, and it gave me a more interesting way to engage with them. The most prosperous stores typically had creative, compelling displays, and I learned from the best. I also created flyers that showcased the latest products and events to leave behind. Because there were so many reps calling on them, I consistently looked for ways to differentiate my offerings. I learned so much about the importance of developing trusted partnerships from The Strategy of Lasting Memories.
After several years in the business, I needed to come up with a way to stay motivated and relevant. I began observing people as they came into the stores – how they shopped, what they chose and how they engaged with the employees. I took notes and started interviewing many of my clients. Ultimately, this practice took The Art of Storytelling to another level.
During the year that I began this project, my sales tripled! I’d also been doing this for several years, and I represented products that were in high demand. However, there was always plenty of competition and keeping the lines of communication open was critical to my success. The exchange of stories combined with growing those relationships taught me how much power there was in storytelling.
My compilation of notes led to developing chapters and ultimately to the publication of a book called Pizzazz Works. It was a process that took over two years. The experience of writing a book changed the way I viewed life and gave me a huge appreciation for what it takes to be an author. I sold some copies online, but becoming a best-selling, well-known author was never my goal. The goal was to challenge myself to write and publish a book!
The book became a marketing tool that has served me in ways I never expected. I believe that accomplishment helped me get hired for two jobs and led to developing systematic processes that have made it easier to grow my current company for over 14 years.
“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”
– Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal
Photo by Caren Libby – Carmel, California