I hate to be the one to tell you, Madison Avenue, but you've got it wrong. I recently read in the paper that Maytag has selected a new actor for their "loneliest guy in town" ads. I've no idea why they went to Hollywood to find the "loneliest guy" — they could have picked any of us!
First off, I want to make it clear that I am referring to loneliest specifically in terms of being alone. Think about the fact that we are on our own all day while conducting business. We go from stop to stop and speak to hundreds of people during the week. But are we really "with" them? I say no, when you compare our work with most customers' work. They go to a job and have coworkers to share their life and work experiences with on a daily basis.
Coworkers are a bonus, like when that car that the other shops couldn't fix ends up in a tech's bay. He can confer with coworkers on theories, and an extra set of hands is right there if needed. Most importantly coworkers are people who can share in the joy of success, as well as offer support from the disappointment, failure and embarrassment when that nightmare vehicle has stumped them, too.
Our business in tool distribution is rife with the spectrum of emotions, from joy to sorrow, failure to triumph, loyalty to betrayal and elation to disappointment. When we encounter most feelings, we are invariably by ourselves. The good times provide a lift for us, and we can later share the word with family or other distributors — a chance to crow. That we have to wait before sharing the news may even enhance our enjoyment. We have all that time to savor the accomplishment and think about how we will bask in the glow.
The dark side is when we're down and isolated. The gnawing in the gut and the self-recriminations seem to take a life of their own. We run the situation over and over in our minds and usually become even more disheartened. If only there was someone to turn to and disclose the tumult inside.
A "regular" work situation provides a vehicle for just that. Commiserating with a coworker about how things ran afoul and sharing the story starts the healing process. We have all heard our customers grouse about a repair that went wrong, the bad parts that cost them lost time and the ever-popular writer or shop foreman that assigns them the crummiest jobs. If our visit happens to coincide with a low point in the tech's day, it may be our turn to provide a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to lean on. This is especially true with the shop outcast who knows we will be a sympathetic listener, they owe us money — we have to listen!
We become acutely aware just how alone we are at these times. There isn't anybody in the next bay to turn to for support. And certainly considering how our business is conducted there isn't anyone nearby that can offer comfort. Unless we reach out for help, it's up to us to deal.
Our ability to deal can range all over the board, depending on circumstances. Here is one we are all guilty of doing. Something went wrong and by the time we get home we are in a funk. The family notices (I hope), and inquires. OK, now we let them have it with both barrels! Did that really help? I suggest snapping out of it, before snapping out! (It's easier said than done.)
Let's talk about how to handle these days with better poise and consideration. I have said it before — call a tool confederate for empathy. They know what it is really like, and just hearing someone echo our sentiments can be a safety valve. They usually have a similar story to tell and it eases the feelings of being alone. Funny that their status in the rankings has nothing to do with their ability to help; everyone has valuable and unique ideas they would like to share. It also validates what happened to them (and if they never shared it, our call can provide the missing piece of the learning puzzle). The call becomes a bonus for the confidant.
Alone is not a bad thing, to the contrary, it is an asset to this business (a topic for future columns). Try to be aware of the isolation on the route and do better to access the help available. Don't try to go it totally alone; ask for help.
At your next sales meeting, be the one who throws a situational question out for discussion. You might find that you handled everything right and you have lots of company. Break out of your comfort (discomfort?) zone. This is a very self-centered business. Recognize you are operating by yourself, but remember: you don't have to go it alone.
Nik Satenstein is a mobile distributor based in West Chester, Pa., for Matco Tools. You can contact Nik by email at email@example.com.