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Door-to-Door Sales for Caskets and Lingerie?

Nov 2nd, 2012 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

We are trying out a new program here locally — a mobile parts sales division. We purchased a cargo van, and we have a driver out visiting tow companies and vehicle auctions, with the van loaded with consumables. If it works we might expand to the Seattle area and duplicate the program. In our area, a long-time Miller distributor went out of business in 2011, and it left a hole in the retail parts sales market. Now there is no retail parts outlet in Portland for tow truck companies to visit and purchase parts. Our warehouse is 30 miles south of Portland, and that’s a long drive for some straps and ratchets. We’ve decided to take the business to the customer. One of our colleagues in the industry built a successful business by stationing a parts van at vehicle auctions, so we plan to incorporate that into our program.

The model for the program is, of course, the Snap-On Tool program. I told our driver, “Stay and talk to people as long as they’ll let you.” That’s the big problem with the Snap-On truck, right? He stops by once every two weeks, and you can’t find your mechanics for the next two hours. If you put a big screen and a couch in the Snap-On van, you might never see them again. We’re hoping for the same kind of distraction — er, interest — from our customers.

I don’t have delusions of grandeur with this program. If we break even I’ll be happy. Fuel is expensive, of course, plus wages for an employee dedicated to selling discounted items that are relatively low-end — not a highly profitable combination. I guess that’s why you don’t see more programs like this. I don’t know if you have this where you live, but around here we have the guy with the truck full of frozen beef and pork. He drives around neighborhoods and does door-to-door meat sales. Not sure how that works out. I’ve never bought anything from him. I think there’s a catch — you have to sign up for automatic deliveries to get a decent price.

Door to door sales has a long history, of course. I imagine there was a guy on a camel 3,000 years ago hocking gourds and spices. Maybe back then, products were produced locally or transported seasonally in bulk to keep costs down. Most of the cost associated with a retail product is in distribution. Move stuff around enough and the distribution cost is sometimes ten or a hundred times the manufacturing cost. Move it through multiple sets of hands, and that makes it worse. Still, it’s nice to have the retailer come to you with a selection of items you typically need but don’t have time to find or order. It makes me think, however, what products would not translate well to this business model?

Caskets — although it’s a good idea to plan ahead, people generally don’t want to think about where their body will reside after they’ve passed on. Urns might be easier — they’re smaller and could be stored with less inconvenience.

Beer and cigarettes — actually, I don’t know why these wouldn’t sell well. There’s probably something illegal about door-to-door sales of alcohol and tobacco.

“No Soliciting” signs — you would have to appreciate the irony, wouldn’t you?

Viagra — could be an uncomfortable moment right after the sales pitch. Unless it’s the wife who answers the door.

Cosmetic surgery — how do you drive home the sale to the most viable prospects when doing so puts you at risk of physical harm?

Weight-loss programs — ditto.

Psychoanalysis — you really want to go out looking for the crazies?

Pet euthanasia — again, sensitive issue. Now, if you’re talking about someone else’s pet, you might have a target customer base there.

Mercenary services — remember, if you’re going to take on contracts to rub out two enemies at the request of each other, make sure you get paid up front — by both.

Cell Phone Stun Guns — don’t get the product mixed up with your real cell phone and answer the wrong one. Actually, this is just a shameless plug — we have the Cell Phone Stun Gun for sale on our website.

Lingerie — verrry risky. Several different combinations of salesperson/customer that could spell trouble.

I hope our new program isn’t quite as interesting as these ideas, and we can just help some tow truck drivers get what they need to do what they do best.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper