Friday, 17 May 2013

17/05/13 - Windows, etc

For a very brief period when I was a student, I worked as a door-to-door double-glazing salesman. And when I say ‘brief period’, it was a matter of hours. I had to walk out, they really are the worst people in the world. (Note: if you’re married to/affiliated with such a person, let’s just say that double-glazing salesmen in Portsmouth a decade or so ago were the worst people in the world. Fair?)
My friend and I were approached in the street by somebody with a clipboard, asking if we wanted to make some easy money. Well, of course we did – who doesn’t? And you can trust somebody with a clipboard, right? So we were given an address and told to go along at 6pm that day. We didn’t ask any questions, because we were young and stupid and desperate for cash.
Now, I saw this mysterious meeting as some kind of job interview, so I wore a suit. My friend went casual, on the grounds that we hadn’t been given any kind of steer. Turned out that he was right. When we arrived at the mystery location, everyone else was wearing jeans and jumpers. Ah, well.

So, what would we be doing? It turned out that we were in the employ of a double-glazing company, who I won’t name as it might be unfair to incriminate them with such decade-old tattling. Actually, sod it, it was Zenith Windows. I have no idea what sort of a company they are now – they may well be entirely respectable – but back then, they were the zenith of nothing. Bunch of absolute chancers.
So, casting my mind back to 2002 (or was it 2001?) and that one depressing evening, here are some lessons learned and insight gleaned from a brief dalliance with the grimy world of door-to-door double-glazing sales:

You don’t need to know anything at all about windows
…well, you might, but no-one will bloody tell you. We sat in that damp, musty room for about fifteen minutes while the team leader (or whatever Apprentice-esque nonsense title he was using) explained to us that we’d be split into groups, driven to various areas of Portsmouth, and expected to knock on doors and sell things. At no point were we given any sort of information on what Zenith Windows actually does, what they sell, how much things cost, how long the work takes, or anything else at all. The full extent of the training was: ‘Knock on the door, ask them if they want to buy some windows. If they already have new windows, tell them they’re crap and need replacing. Meet me at the pub when you’re done.’

No-one understands the terminology
I don’t know what a soffit does. I don’t know what a fascia is for. Apparently that’s not important, because nobody who works at the company is able to tell you with any certainty. They’re very happy for you to urge people to buy them though.

You’d better not be a girl
There were nine or ten guys in that group, and only one female applicant. She had an awful time. Her role in the farce was basically just to be a target for lechery, it was genuinely creepy. I didn’t think people like that existed in the twenty-first century, but Zenith Windows at that time seemed to be wholly staffed by the worst kind of pestering misogynists imaginable. She can only have been about sixteen. Disgraceful.

You can impart a sense of superiority even if you’re clearly an abject failure
Our team leader was very keen to keep reminding us of what a phenomenal success he was. He’d sold windows on every street in Hampshire, he’d glazed Gary Lineker’s house, he’d flogged a soffit to Michael Barrymore… his implausible showing off might have started to become amusing if it wasn’t so bloody relentless.
What wasn’t clear was the matter of why he was driving a bunch of strangers around in a rusty Sierra Sapphire on a Tuesday evening, and smelling like he hadn’t washed in three days. Are these signs of success?
Dunno. I didn’t get a chance to get a word in, he was too busy telling us how he could afford to spend thousands of pounds on cocaine every month because he was REALLY GOOD AT SELLING WINDOWS.

You don’t have to pay tax
You do, obviously. Everyone does, that’s how the economy works. That’s how we pay for hospitals and schools and policemen and stuff. But our all-powerful team leader was keen to point out that commission on sales would be ‘cash in hand, son, right into your pocket. Untraceable.’ He said this with a wink.

The public are idiots
…at least, they might as well be. What they think they know about their own windows is entirely immaterial – they will always be wrong.
Don’t think of them as people. Think of them as obstacles, which need to be battered down in order to reach the reserves of lucre that lie tantalisingly behind them. That’s pretty much the message we were given.

It staggers me that any company would send a group of strangers out to represent them like this. I haven’t exaggerated any of the timescales here, or the method by which we were sent out to work; it really was as simple as that. We were approached on the street, invited to a dingy office, bundled into cars, pointed toward a row of houses, and expected to sell products we knew nothing about for a company we also knew nothing about. It’s an odd business model. I wonder how many sales they actually achieve through this method, and how that compares to the massive reputational damage of sending ill-informed amateurs to people’s homes in the company’s name?

I spent a couple of hours knocking on doors, annoying people, interrupting their dinner, and generally being the kind of person I hate. I was asked questions I had no answers for. I was treated like the piece of filth that, at that point, I very much was. After tramping around in the rain for the grimmest, most miserable, longest evening of my life, I gave up and went to the pub. And not the griefhole the team leader was in (luxuriating in his wealth and bathing in caviar, presumably), but a happy little pub elsewhere. I drank enough beer to ensure that the local economy enjoyed a warming cash injection rather than seeing me leech from it in a spree of tax avoidance and conmannery, and then I went home.

I didn’t make any money from selling windows. In fact, because I had to a) get my suit dry-cleaned and b) get royally smashed, it actually cost me a fair bit. But at least I had the experience. In the various jobs I’ve had over the years, no matter how stressful or annoying or disheartening a day may turn out to be, I can think back to that evening and cast a little perspective on the situation. ‘It could be worse,’ I say to myself. ‘I could be a door-to-door double-glazing salesman.’

No comments:

Post a Comment