Two Stories

Fulton’s Folly

I had a long career in the appliance industry. For 10 years I was sales manager for one of Arizona’s largest builder distributors. At one point, we had made arrangements to sell a professional range that was in our showroom to Ira Fulton, the owner of Fulton Homes. He was building a summer home in the White Mountains, and he wanted a restaurant style range. He also wanted a heavy discount for his personal use since he was buying appliances for all the homes he was building. We were always rotating items off our showroom, and we were able to accommodate him with a very discounted price for this large professional range.

Fulton’s summer home was in a mountain resort location, and there was no gas utility. That meant his gas source was LP, i.e. propane gas. In most cases that would be no big deal. Residential gas ranges have orifices that can be adjusted from natural gas to liquid propane. However, true professional restaurant ranges do not have adjustable orifices. “No problem”, I simply ordered some LP gas orifices, and shipped them to a service company in the area so that they could be installed. Perfect! 

Not so quick. It turns out that this range had a special infrared broiler that was a mesh surface that literally had dozens of tiny flames. There was no “adjustment” from natural gas to LP, and replacing the entire broiler assembly was just not feasible. Unfortunately, the service agent didn’t find this out until he had the stove almost entirely disassembled. The next thing I knew, we had returned to us the entire range in pieces.

Part 2 – Better than Nothing

This was a costly lesson, but it was indeed a lesson. As my career advanced, and I moved into the corporate world at Maytag and Jenn-Air, and later as part of Whirlpool, I did a lot of training. As a trainer, I would weave stories like the one above into my training. One day, I was at the Whirlpool training center in Atlanta leading a training session of sales associates from the West. I had just finished the Fulton’s Folly story above, when one of the attendees commented, “This is the third story you’ve told about something that went wrong. You really weren’t very good, were you?”

Well, I was caught off guard, but I replied. “I do in fact talk a lot more about my mistakes than my successes. I believe you all know a lot about the things you need to do to be successful, but not as much about the things you need not to do to avoid failure. But I will answer you question about my sales ability.”

“When I went to work for Maytag as a District Manager, I was in my forties, and already had a long career in appliance sales, and a recent MBA. We had regional meetings each quarter when all the District Managers like myself would gather together for a review. The meeting would start with a scorecard revealing the standing of each of the 9 District Managers in the West. The top achiever was always the Southern California District Manager and that was no surprise. Then they would go down the rest of the list in sales by territory, Northern California, Pacific Norhwest, etc. until they got down to the 7th and 8th Districts which were Utah and Colorado. They were “open” territories. There was NO district manager in Utah or Colorado. My District, Arizona, was 9th. Not only was I at the bottom of the list, in the case of two districts before me, I was not even as good as nobody.

But I got to work, and by the next quarterly meeting I was 6th, meaning that I was better than nobody. By the end of the year, I was 2nd behind Southern California. Nobody was going to beat him. At that point, I was offered a National Account position calling on the headquarters for the Top Builders in the West. Eventually, I wound up heading up National Accounts for the U.S. before returning to handling marketing for the Western U.S. So, I was pleased with my career progress, and especially proud of achieving the honor of being better than nothing.

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