Diana Amann Cruze’s memoir, A Day in the Life of a Lady Salesman, is an amusing look at this Knoxville native’s 32 years spent blazing a trail through the Appalachian mountains as one of the region’s first female sales representatives.
Ms. Cruze will be giving a presentation about her sales experiences at the Blount Country Library, Sharon Lawson Room, on Monday, January 27, at 7:00 pm.
I slipped through the back door of the school kitchen. Two cooks yelled, “Gladys, the lady salesman is here!” I heard that call often during years of selling to school lunchrooms and other accounts.
Mechanics, secretaries, and purchasing agents alike invariably called me the “Lady Salesman.” Perhaps they assigned this label because my outside sales career took place during a time when women were uncommon in sales, other than retail.
Perhaps because I spent my early working life in secretarial positions, I longed for the freedom of any type of sales that would allow me to travel. My first taste of this life was a position with a cookie company. I stacked snacks onto a hand truck at the loading dock and wheeled them into the store to price and shelve.
The cookie experience led to a job with a novelty company, delivering and stacking racks with hair products, batteries, and toys. My customers included drugstores, grocery stores, and small hospital gift shops. I traveled to small Appalachian towns in Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina
After a few months with the novelty company, a local business that sold tobacco, candy, and novelties hired me for a route position. The tobacco company assigned me an area in East Tennessee only, and I missed the rest of southern Appalachia, where I had traveled with two previous jobs. Two years of selling tobacco led to an offer from a business that sold groceries to restaurants, schools, and any industry that served food. Knoxville and surrounding counties now comprised my sales territory.
The routine of food sales soon offered mostly tedium. Managers of my company split my territory, costing me much of my commission. I left the company to accept a position in chemical sales so that traveling in southern Appalachia would be possible again. In 1994, I started my own company, Amann Industries. Most sales to customers involved loading my vehicle with products and a hand truck for deliveries to businesses in Tennessee and Kentucky.
I retired in 2006, but later accepted a position with a local chemical company. I retired with finality in 2009. I then began to write about my travels, using notes jotted and saved during thirty-one years in sales.
COOKIES, AND SNACKS,
AND RACKS, OH MY!
My job included unexpected advantages (I foolishly thought.) Spending a few nights away from home and my kids and sleeping in a pleasant hotel with room service would be idyllic. My daydream proved delusional. Hotels proved to be cheap motels. Room service was nonexistent. My first overnight stay found me at the only lodging in town—“Bates Motel,” next to a raucous ABC Package Store. Survive the night I did, staying awake with a chair propped against my door and one light bulb stalking me from a drooping ceiling. The Keebler Company promised only temporary employment, so I continued sending applications elsewhere.
A promising phone call came from a novelty company that asked me to fly to Roanoke, Virginia, for an interview. Sure, wow! Yes, here came my dream job. MidEastern Distributors sent me a plane ticket. I flew to Roanoke, and they offered me a once-in-a lifetime position as sales representative for an area that had not been worked in months. After a week of training in Virginia, the company sent me home with a company car.
Well, not exactly a company car, but an elongated cargo van, loaded (by me) with cases of batteries, light bulbs, toys, and the always popular Goody Hair Care products. The sales manager packed maps, order books, and customer lists into my van. I had no confidence in handling this large vehicle that lacked a rearview mirror. Goodbye and good luck; you are on your own.
My new route took me to Ducktown, Dogtown, Turtletown, Deer Lodge, Byrdstown, Bulls Gap, Pigeon Forge, Raccoon Valley, Elk Valley, Banner Elk, and all through the animal kingdom. Finding my way soon became easier, and I delighted in exploring varieties of Appalachian counties.
CUSTOMERS: THE GOOD,
THE BAD, AND THE FRUGAL
Taking care of the school bid became a full-time job, though I managed to visit my other customers. Crises from school kitchens arose nonstop, and repairs or adjustments were a daily chore.
I bought a drill, battery tester, and toolbox. Plumbing tape filled my pockets. Local hardware stores supplied me with plastic tubing for drain dispensers and 6-volt batteries that I had to rewire because those without a spring-top to fit the equipment were difficult to locate.
Frequently, I climbed under sinks to repair drain tubing dispensers—they dripped an enzyme to prevent kitchen grease from solidifying, thus resulting in a floor drain overflow—or on top of an industrial dish machine to reset its timer.
Stooping under a pot-and-pan sink in a high-school kitchen, I moved old utensils and metal shelves out of the way so I could refill a pail of drain enzyme. Alice, a seventy-year-old cook, whispered, “They’s a jar of home brew hid back of them metal shelves. It’s mine, so please don’t go tellin’ the manager.” I kept her secret.
© Diana Amann Cruze, 2012.