At school pickup time yesterday, my son Andrew bounded toward me excitedly waving a document that parents dread more than expulsion or head lice. Its brightly colored photos displayed prizes that every kid dreams of: a flat screen TV, a remote control racecar, an iPod Touch, spy goggles, a lifetime supply of Silly Bands, and a few smaller rewards that normally break during their first use.
Ahh, fundraising time again at Northwest Laurens Elementary.
“If I sell a thousand buckets of cookie dough, I can get a flat screen TV for my room!" exclaimed Andrew. "The fundraising man said we should set our goals high in life, that we all know lots of people. And who doesn’t love cookies? I really want that TV, so I’m going for the thousand. Think we can do it, Mom?”
“We!? Honey, I see your name on the form, not mine,” I pointed out to my son who’s more than willing to include me in any activity that involves soliciting donations from neighbors who I’ve offended in the past.
As an elementary school parent I’ve taken on the jobs of bus driver, referee, counselor, library volunteer, homework Nazi, classroom story reader, paper grader and fall festival face painter. I’m not a sales person. I’m just not. I’ve tried it many times. And failed many times.
Early on, I decided against a sales career after spending three weeks working at a lighting store called Lamps Plus. Each day, we’d pass the first half hour listening to Annie, a drill sergeant turned sales manager, give us a shouting “pep talk” about how worthless we were and if she weren’t so compassionate she’d fire us all on the spot. I always entered the merchandise floor feeling shell shocked, yet grateful to Annie for not shooting me.
Nancy, a Chinese import who spoke broken English and wore the same magenta suit seven days a week, created a system of greeting every customer at the door, thus claiming them for herself. She routinely hissed at sales people who accidentally came within 10 feet of her customers. I never once met my quota, but still have some really nice, over priced lamps from my time there. My tour of duty ended one afternoon when I accidentally caused a Swarovski crystal chandelier to come crashing to the floor. Before anyone could react, I was driving out of the parking lot never to clock in again.
Since then, I’ve spent most of my working years in marketing, thus making it easier for sales people to do their jobs. I guess you could call me an enabler.
Back to the present…
“Well, Mom, if you won’t help me sell a thousand, will you at least buy 12 buckets so I can go to the Mega Party? We get to ride in a Limo and they’ll have pizza and blow up slides and a bunch of other cool stuff. And we get to skip school for three whole hours,” said Andrew.
“Let me see that sheet!” I countered. “That’s a 1979 Country Squire station wagon. It says ‘Limo-like transportation.’”
“C’mon, Mom. Can’t we just walk around the neighborhood? It won’t take that long to sell 12.”
“Okay,” I caved. “But we have to do it NOW, before the other neighborhood kids get home.”
Each year, when fundraising time comes around, I buy just enough of whatever the school’s peddling for my son to earn the lowest prize on the chart...probably a glow-in-the-dark highlighter. And each year the angel on my shoulder chides me for robbing him of the chance to experience entrepreneurship and free enterprise. “Andrew’ll never gain the valuable skills necessary to find a lucrative job in the U.S.’s evolving customer-centered workforce if you don’t get out there and knock on doors with him,” says my angel (a capitalist Republican) , as the devil on my left shoulder picks out her 12 favorite cookie dough flavors.
Armed with the order form, a pen, a ziplock bag to collect money and our obnoxious pit-bull, Hope on a leash, we set out. My strategy was to tell people we were selling dogs and Hope was the only one left. After seeing her, they’d be more than willing to buy anything else we had.
Our first stop was the Slater family. They’re on my short list of favorite neighbors. “Would you like to buy some cookie dough,” asked Andrew in his most Dale Carnegie approved voice.
“Yeah sure,” said 12-year-old Kelsey.
“Would you like to buy some magazines, Mrs. Weight?” she countered.
“Uhm, I guess so,” I replied reluctantly…trapped.
After a short round of negotiations, we walked away having sold two buckets of dough and purchased two magazines that I’m sure I’d have subscribed to anyway… at half the price.
A couple of houses down, we met Lisa Scott, who bought a bucket of oatmeal-raisin and in turn sold us a Boston butt roast for twice the price of the dough. It was to help her son’s preschool raise money for new playground equipment.
We don’t eat Boston butt, but I’m sure it’ll make a great gift….to someone, although the only upcoming gifting occasion is Little Kate Bell’s fifth birthday party. She probably won’t be receiving any other 10 pound cuts of meat.
One street over, Mrs. Zinker bought a bucket of chocolate chunk and talked me into hosting a Tupperware party.
And so our sales calls went…
Two hours later, after knocking on 28 doors, buying three magazines, five raffle tickets, a ham, a case of Cokes, a roll of Santa Claus wrapping paper, a bag of fertilizer and a Mary Kay skin renewal kit, we finally hit number 12. Andrew shouted ‘victory’ and I promptly fired my shoulder angel.