Friday, April 24, 2009

The frustration of a salesman in a local train

So many people have suggested that I shift closer to office. That I must stay in Mumbai, and not some remote corner of the far flung suburbs.

Time and again, I've thought about it, but disposed the thought, thanks to experiences like these.

My daily commute in the local train stretches to beyond 4 hours, and in this period I get to see things that corner office dwellers can't even think about.

Like the Ultimate Sales Pitch.

Picture this.

Packed local train, inhuman traveling conditions, the smell of sweat and body odor in the air and an atmosphere where tempers and blood, both are boiling with equal gusto. And in pops a salesman.

"Train mein baithe sabhi yaatri zara meri awaaj ki taraf dhyaan dijiyega..."

This is his playground. And he has to sell a certain number of his wares - whatever he's selling - to make a little profit at the end of the day. Note: Salesmen in trains have to sell at price-points of either Rs 5, Rs 10, Rs 15 or Rs 20. These are basically utility items, and often they're in pretty decent shape and long-lasting. Anything above Rs 20 sells in low volumes, since the average Deshpande, More, Patil has only few notes of Rs 10 in his upper pocket. The money's not stored in a wallet, its neatly folded in the plastic folder of the railway pass, or it is lost somewhere amongst the bundle of bills, scribbled notes and folded sheets of paper.

Buying happens largely on impulse, and a good salesman can have a field day selling volumes, if he's loud, convincing and he's selling a utility product.

So its about 8:35pm, the compartment is relatively crowded.

Our salesman makes a strong sales pitch, making many heads turn, attracting the attention of several drowsy buggers and rousing their curiosity. He's selling stick-ons - "you need not drill a nail into your wall to hang your calender or your jhola, a stick-on is all you gotta use".

He gives a neat demo of the product - pulls down a few glass windows in the compartment to prove - much to our expectations - that it sticks on glass as well.

As a seller, the fellow is impressive - he's allowing the passengers to touch, feel and check out the product for themselves. He's also helping them try out the stick-on on the walls of the railway compartment. He's dodging legs, jumping over the scramble of legs, making sure he doesn't fall on anyone, minding his bagful of supplies and ensuring that nobody's 'shoplifting'.

His price points are respectable - Rs 5 for one stick-on and Rs 10 for 2.

And for Rs 50, one can buy a pack of 12.

The day's nearing its end and much to his discomfort it seems, he hasn't sold many all day - so he's pushing the Rs 50 pack aggressively.

Bad move. People just wouldn't buy.

He gets desperate and for the next few minutes, he tries repeatedly in convincing people how its important for them to save their walls, and stick-ons are so important. But to no avail.

Some folks ask him to give some discount, but he rubbishes it politely, saying, "Saab, kam margin waala dhanda hai." The passenger doesn't negotiate further.

After much trying and pleading, our salesman gives up. And in his desperation, he blurts out a few lines, which are priceless and paint the true frustration of a poor salesman trying to sell a faceless product.

"Aap soch rahe hain, naya company hai, maal shayad nahin chale. Lekin meri baat yaad rakhna (raises his index finger here), kuch saalon mein jab yeh company badi ho jayegi, tab iss cheez ka daam badh jayega.

"Tab aap sochoge, ki uss raat train mein mujhe kharedi kar leni chahiye thi. Aap sabne agar iss cheez ko TV pe ad mein dekha hota, ya Amitabh Bacchan, Shah Rukh Khan ko isska ad karte hue dekha hota, toh phir aap jaroor khareedte."

I smile, as I hear this.

And as I look around, I find a lot of other people in the compartment doing the same thing - as if silently acknowledging the salesman's words.