It’s funny how life’s choices work out. After getting married in Las Vegas and shortly after bringing a beautiful baby girl into this world, life was getting real. I needed a job. I was having no luck finding employment in Hollywood after attending Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles with a college degree in Communication Arts.
With reality staring me in the face I asked my Dad, who was a successful salesman, if he would hire me. I thought I would work for my Dad, at least until I could find a job in my chosen field of study. “I’ll give you a chance under one condition,” he said. “You give me a year of work before you even consider moving on.” I agreed and he took a chance on his eldest son.
When I first started working for my Dad as a manufacturer’s representative in the flower and craft business, we would travel together so he could introduce me to his established customers. This is how I learned about his business. The many skills I acquired in college did not at first seem transferable to this new field of employment. Slowly, those skills did reveal themselves.
I had worked for and been fired by my Dad prior to this when I was in High School stocking shelves and taking inventories for his customers while he traveled. This is how I earned gas money for my car. While my Dad traveled his territory, I would go into his wholesale customers and stock their shelves with his products so they wouldn’t miss a sale.
My Dad had grown up in the grocery business and his father, my Grandfather owned and worked in markets for years. My Dad understood the power of having inventory on the floor for customers to buy and shelves that were well stocked with merchandise. My Dad passed that on to me. Yet, I had also learned in film school to come prepared with everything you need for a shoot. Something would always break or be forgotten, and you need to fix a problem on set. The adage, time is money applied.
I did enjoy stocking shelves and making sure they were well merchandised. Again, I had learned the esthetic of merchandising from my visual experience in film school, making the merchandise appeal to the customer. My Dad would say, “For each item you put on the shelf it’s like a penny in your pocket.” Once the shelves were full, I would inventory a product line and then leave it with the buyer to review and reorder. Another transferable skill I learned in film school by volunteering in the film equipment room in college. Making sure everything was replaced and in good working order for the next time someone checked out the equipment was important.
Often, I would work off the customer’s inventory index cards, way before computers were common, and leave them at the buyer’s desk. By the time I finished all the lines we represented, I would often leave with several orders. Back when I started working, fax machines were expensive or not available, only a few companies had an 800 number you could call to place an order. I would write orders on forms that had several pieces of carbon paper between them. Once the order was written after pressing hard on the paper, I would tear off a copy for the customer, make sure I kept one for our files and then mail one via the United States Post Office with a stamped envelope to the company for processing.
While waiting for a buyer to place an order, my Dad taught me to look for something else to bring value to the customer. One thing I could do while waiting was to help clean up the customer’s warehouse. My Dad once said to me, “Bradley your hands always fit a broom. If you have nothing else to do sweep the floor.”
Wholesale Florist floors can often be a mess with fresh flowers being cut, paper and packaging thrown on the floor, and the general mess that happens in warehouses. I always enjoyed sweeping up for several reasons. One, I could help with a manual job that allowed others to do their job. Second, it would be noticed and even though it was not my job to do sweeping, it showed I was willing to invest in the customers success. Yet, the most important aspect of doing this was that I got to interact with all the employees who worked there, and they respected that sweeping the floor was not below me even while dressed in a coat and tie.
The lesson here is that there is dignity in all work, even sweeping the floor; that skills in one job or profession are often transferable to another even when they seem like they are not. With all the help wanted signs up and jobs available in this county, there is absolutely no reason for any person to be unemployed unless they are mentally or physically unable to work. For those of you who are sitting at home collecting a government check or waiting for the perfect job to come along, I have news for you. You create the perfect job. An employer does not pay you for your time. They pay you to think. Even in the most menial of jobs, a thinking person will advance while the person doing their time will complain about their minimal wage.
Forty years later I am still in the flower business selling florist supplies. The industry has been good to my family and me. While it has changed, the so-called soft skills remain the same and are often not being passed along.
I am fortunate to be asked to mentor younger people in business, and it is a privilege to do so. Once at a college event I was seated at a table of three professionals, a banker, a lawyer, and an entrepreneur, along with four students. The professionals all were tasked to impart some wisdom or advice about their professional business careers to these students. I was the last to speak after great pearls of wisdom poured from my peers. The only thing I could think about was what my Dad had told me many years ago, “Your hands always fit a broom.”
It’s time for all Americans to pick up a broom and sweep.