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The Toilet Salesman
The oh ... so Necessary Guy
By Mike Gilmore
AuthorHouse LLCCopyright © 2014 Mike Gilmore
All rights reserved.
Rocks in My Faucets
Selling plumbing fixtures requires training. Sales associates need to do more than point their finger at what the customer wants and simply nod in agreement. Just like many consumer products, plumbing fixtures reach the packing department after assembly with a large number of components carefully designed and honed to work as a system. Yes, as a system.
Take your Lexus LS460, with the shocking sticker price of over $72,000. The car is a system of many components that need to work in perfect harmony for the car to run efficiently and get you where you want to go. Should any of these components fail, you may reach your final destination by way of a friendly tow truck. Just how embarrassing is it to be standing at the side of the highway next to your very expensive broken-down car? The raised front hood is a dead giveaway to every passing motorist. Some of them will be looking smug as they speed by.
All plumbing fixtures—including faucets, toilets, and water heaters—are part of a system and need to work together. For the consumer to receive what he or she wants for a fair price, plumbing sales associates need to know about the products they sell and the proper application.
Earlier in my career, before I flipped over to the manufacturing side of my industry, I managed a number of distribution warehouses. One time, years ago, a woman purchased a fifty-gallon electric water heater from one of my counter sales associates. Now, fifty-gallon electric or forty-gallon natural-gas heaters are an everyday item in our industry, so the sales associate had no reason to doubt what the customer needed.
About three weeks after the sale, I received a hot call from the consumer. She complained very loudly in my ear that the water heater was always running out of hot water. It was defective.
Let me tell you one thing. Water heaters are what I call a dumb animal. Either they work or they do not. They will continue to heat water until the cows come home as long as they are working properly. No if, ands, or buts.
She insisted that someone from my company come to her home to inspect the heater. She had already paid the plumber to install the heater and had no wish to incur an extra expense from the plumber. For the record, if you purchase the fixtures yourself, plumbers will normally only guarantee their work, not the fixture.
I made an appointment for the next day and arrived at the home. The homeowner had cooled down by now and led me to the garage where the offending beast was located. I forced the heater to kick on and checked the electrical amperage, and the heater was drawing the proper amount of current. I forced both the top and then the bottom 4,500watt elements to work separately. Normally only one element works at a time. The bottom element maintains the water temperature and the top element pops on when the heater receives heavy demand for hot water.
Everything seemed to be working properly. Now I needed to check on the potential demand for hot water. Water heaters put out a determined amount of hot water based on their electrical configuration, wattage of the elements, and size of the holding tank, and then selected for their application. In other words, to supply the entire home or a point of use water heater and supply water to a single lavatory or kitchen sink. This particular home had only two bathrooms and one kitchen. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until I checked the master bath.
It was full of beautifully designed plumbing fixtures. Boy, I wished my branch had made the sale, but the owner had selected everything from a big-box store. The highlight was the shower system, a custom-made enclosure of tile and stone with a fixed showerhead and personal hand shower with diverters and five body sprays. A thermostatic mixing valve designed to provide plenty of hot water at a very precise temperature controlled the entire system.
I closely examined the transfer valves. The owner could operate the fixed head or hand shower. One or the other, but not both at the same time. No problem with that. The five body sprays all came on together. Each one discharged 2.5 gallons of water per minute. Now combine the body sprays with the fixed head or hand held shower, and the user was drawing fifteen gallons of hot water every minute (five body sprays and one fixed head) against a fifty-gallon water heater.
The heater could produce sixty-seven gallons of perfect hot water the first hour and was capable of a twenty-one-gallon-per-hour recovery based on increasing the incoming water by 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Well, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out the problem here. If the bather was using six outlets at once, he or she would use up the hot water in less than five minutes. Even increasing the outlet temperature from the heater to a dangerous level, the bather would still run out of water in under nine minutes.
The water heater was undersized for the application. Even with an eighty-gallon water heater, there would not be enough hot water. The homeowner needed the newer instantaneous gas heaters that can provide unlimited hot water. This new type of heater was just coming into the American market at the time.
The point of this story is, if the consumer had mentioned the numerous body sprays in her master bath, my counter sales associate would have probed deeper into her application.
I have been involved in all levels of training about plumbing fixtures. In a one-year period, I must have made over one hundred presentations just to architects, mostly in lunch-and-learn settings. Somewhere in between, I also made presentations to mechanical engineers, plumbers, and sales associates for distributors along with local, state, and federal government organizations. The National Institutes of Health at Bethesda, Maryland, was one of the more unusual events. During my hour-long presentation on water conservation, they provided two specialists in sign language to interpret the presentation and broadcast the event over the building's CCTV system. I was too busy to watch the interpreters, but the movement for the word toilet must have nearly caused a shoulder separation.
After my presentation to architects at the Washington, DC, central office of the US General Services Administration, I happened to use the men's facilities only to discover an old urinal built for women. It must have been there for over fifty years! The GSA may be blowing your tax dollars on training events and parties but certainly not on new plumbing fixtures.
It is interesting the level of knowledge I find in the most experienced organizations. Once in Memphis, Tennessee, I ran into a sales associate who used to be the owner of a small distributorship in South Carolina. He told me before we started the training that his wife did not like the Palmetto State and wanted to move back to Tennessee. Not a problem. There are days my wife wants to move back to the Florida Keys.
I started the first session with toilets. That product line is the plumbing fixture my company built its reputation on, even though the company holds well over a thousand patents for many different products. From toilets, I moved to faucets—kitchen, lavatory, bath/shower, and so on. We like to highlight the many features of our faucets, including the ceramic-disc cartridge that the company invented many years ago.
Now, I am naturally prejudiced toward my company's products, but other manufacturers sell many faucets, and I was working in a competitor's stronghold. I was meeting some resistance from my audience as I discussed the benefits of the ceramic disc. That the ceramic disc is the best basic material for constructing a valve cartridge is in little doubt. Since the introduction of our disc cartridge, many other manufacturers have changed their own products to offer what they feel is something equal in quality. I personally beg to differ.
The ceramic disc is resistant to extreme changes in temperature and highly resistant to normal every day, wear and tear. The natural hardness of the ceramic disc easily resists the damage from any sand or solder that might enter the faucet during installation. We like to demonstrate how we can slip a normal-size paper clip in between two of our ceramic discs and quickly snap them together, separating the end of the paper clip from the main body. It is a pretty darn impressive demonstration if I say so myself.
I had just completed this eye-opening part of my presentation when my old customer from South Carolina raised his hand to get my attention.
"These little bits of sand are not my problem here in Memphis. We get rocks inside the faucet that cause your product to break. How do you handle that?"
Rocks in the faucets? Now, I grew up on a farm in Ohio. We had a stream called the Little Mill Creek that divided our home up on a hill from the highway below, and there was a flat wooden bridge crossing the stream for our cars, trucks, farm equipment, and myself when I walked to meet the school bus. In working the fields, I walked or jumped across that stream more times than I can remember, mostly receiving for my efforts one or both of my shoes getting soaked. I am also ashamed to say that, before I knew better, my older brother and I trapped the stream for muskrats, raccoons, and possums until they were extinct. Suffice it to say, I knew that stream almost like the back of my hand.
I have always looked at rocks as a sizable mass of a hard mineral. I mean, you have sand or grit followed by what we always called pea gravel, since it was generally the size of a baby sweet pea. Rocks were most definitely larger than sand or pea gravel.
I did not want to insult my customer, but I also needed to avoid improper blame placed on my famous ceramic disc. Maybe his definition of rocks was different from mine.
I carefully probed for more information about his definition of rocks. I questioned if he meant slightly larger particles of sand, but he was adamant that he was referring to rocks. He even went so far as to use the end of his rather large forefinger to help me visualize the size of his rocks.
I was at a loss to explain his problems, but I am a professional sales representative, and I was not at a loss for words. There are times when you just do not have an answer. If I did, I would be the richest man on earth.
I told my customer that my faucets could not handle rocks inside the cartridge, but perhaps he really had a more serious problem with his water supply that needed addressed before he installed any more faucets.
Training is not just for the trainees but also for the trainers. Years ago, I was working at a little electrical, plumbing, HVAC (heating, venting, air-conditioning, and cooling), and industrial distributor in Ohio called Wagner's Supply. Gordon and Robert Wagner, two brothers with a twenty-year difference in their age, owned the business. This was back when the term generation gap was popular, and it certainly fit the relationship between Robert and his older brother. Nevertheless, they were great guys, and I was saddened to hear of Gordon passing away a short time ago.
Hired to be the operation manager, I possessed little knowledge about plumbing or electrical products at the time beyond what my father had taught me on the farm—certainly not enough to handle simple whole-house electrical equipment or more heavy-duty stuff like 480-volt three-phase electric used in heavy industry.
I had before this managed another wholesale distribution company with the same computer system. That was my experience and the reason why Gordon wanted to hire me. I told him that I did not know anything about electricity beyond the very basic components, but he only asked me one question.
"You can learn, right?"
"Yes, sir. I can learn."
Learn I did. While the office girls sitting in the employee break room read the latest scandal magazines, I read product brochures. When I could not find the answer in the books, I cornered the factory reps when they made their monthly sales call. Thankfully, they were willing to put up with my endless questions.
However, one cannot learn from books alone. I needed to jump into the fray headfirst. I started to help on the service counter by waiting on customers. Thank goodness for Paul Miller.
Paul was a veteran of thirty-plus years at Wagner's Supply, and I was his shadow for about two weeks. What is this? Where do you find that? He probably went home every night wanting to know when the pain would end. Nevertheless, he never lost his patience with the rookie, and I learned all about electrical and plumbing equipment.
I endured the good-natured fun made of me by the journeymen electricians who stopped in each morning for their daily supplies. They would use slang terms for wiring devices or material to hang conduit, like corn clamps. What was a corn clamp?
One highly trained electrician was George Hartsock, a union journeyman. George would use every slang word he could think of and quietly laugh behind my back as I struggled to fill his order. Many times I would write down exactly what he said and then go find Paul to get the answers. Please do not let it be lunchtime and Paul is out of the building.
Two things happened in my six years with Wagner's Supply that bear telling and both occurred with George Hartsock. The first one is what I am most proud of from my time with this company. I made it my mission to learn about electrical products. After a while, when George came to the counter and had a difficult or unusual application, he would ask for me instead of the other countermen with a lot more years under their belts. I still get a warm feeling of pride about George coming into our store and waiting until I could fill his order.
The second thing was what I learned from George. Working the counter and pulling product from shelves is not the same thing as working in the field. One day, I received a call from George from a new restaurant where he had installed the electrical equipment. It was all 240-volt single-phase equipment, but he was having a problem with the main circuit breaker in the panel board. Would I come to the restaurant to see if I could provide an idea as to why the breaker kept opening?
Wow. A chance to get out into the field! I jumped at the opportunity.
Thirty minutes later, I was inside the kitchen area of the restaurant looking at the offending main circuit breaker inside the main panel. George was standing next to me and reviewing the problem, sharing his ideas as to the possible reasons for the failure. I listened carefully throughout the review of the situation, and finally, he waited for my response.
The answer had to be a defective main breaker. George was a journeyman electrician and never took shortcuts. It was a brand manufactured by General Electric; they made a good-quality product with few defects, but a defect was not impossible.
Until that time, almost all of my experience was with handling the products at the counter inside Wagner's Supply. I started to reach for the breaker, but the experienced electrician next to me saved my butt. George grabbed my wrist and jerked my hand back before I touched the live breaker.
"Mike, that's hot."
I never knew if George told anyone about my stupid mistake, but if he did, he was still a great electrician, and I never heard anybody talk about how I might have been seriously hurt.
Training provides you the product knowledge to prevent your customers from making terrible mistakes. While at Wagner's, I sold lots of electrical equipment and wire to people for DIY (do-it-yourself) projects. One such customer was a young man who was building his own home. What a wonderful experience that you can take great pride in—if you know what you are doing.
This customer had already built his home during the previous summer, and I had sold him a lot of the equipment and fixtures. Crane toilets, Delta faucets, and Progress light fixtures were our stocking products at the time. I even sold him a Nutone whole-house vacuum-cleaning system that was a nice profitable sale.
One Saturday, he came in with a new list of electrical equipment, starting with a 100-amp panel board and a number of ten- and twenty-amp single- and two-pole circuit breakers. It was the normal assortment for a 100-amp panel-board installation.
Excerpted from The Toilet Salesman by Mike Gilmore. Copyright © 2014 Mike Gilmore. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 Rocks in My Faucets, 1,
2 Building Your New Home, 11,
3 The Three-and-a-Half-Day Home Show, 17,
4 The Length of Three Arms, 31,
5 Warranty—How Long Is Enough?, 36,
6 Bearded Ladies, 40,
7 Sizes, Shapes, and Flushing Types, Oh My!, 46,
8 Do You Squat?, 54,
9 The Six-Thousand-Dollar Toilet, 58,
10 I Want the Whole Pie!, 66,
Read About Other Books by Mike Gilmore, 71,