“Nothing Happens Until Something is Sold”
I first developed an appreciation for sales during family meal times when I was growing up. Trading my brothers the delicious bacon fat for the bacon meat, negotiating for the last piece of chicken, or vying for the last bowl of Lucky Charms were all daily affairs. These were serious and often times heated negotiations, usually requiring compromises involving chores or dessert. Hunger was the driving force. Four hungry jocks would negotiate for the last piece of corn at the dinner table. My mom always said that if the food was gone at the end of a meal, then she made the perfect amount. I, of course, disagreed. While I was in college, there was one point when my older brother Corey was 6’10”, 240 pounds; my dad was 6’6”, 260 pounds; I was 6’10”, 245 pounds; and my brother Kyle was 6’0”, 215 pounds. Needless to say, we ate a lot of food, and negotiating for our own fair share was a daily challenge!
My dad is an Alpha male. With his stature, he commands attention, anywhere, anytime, and he doesn’t even need to speak. His size alone turns heads wherever we go. He has massive amounts of confidence. Deservedly so, as he was forced to become a man and help provide for his own family at the very young age of seven. His paper route in the suburbs of Chicago literally helped put food on his family’s table. He lived in tough neighborhoods. At a very early age, he decided he was going to work and sell his way out of that world of poverty and uncertainty. That is exactly what he did. After a few years in the U.S. Army, where he learned to appreciate reading (among a host of other things), he moved out west looking for a better life. My dad worked both a day job and a night job. He unloaded boxcars for General Motor’s Van Nuys plant, while putting himself through college, still finding the time to help Mom raise three young boys.
When I was very young, my dad started selling car stereos and hi-fi audio systems as a manufacturers’ sales rep. He realized then that his income potential was a lot higher in the sales field. The more he sold, the more money he made. He built up large national accounts and started making some real money until one day it all came crashing down. His two largest manufacturers (Pioneer and Altec Lansing) decided to drop him and service his accounts direct. He acquired the accounts to begin with, and he built up the relationships with these national chains. The manufacturers realized that they could easily step into where he had already laid a strong foundation, saving money by doing it in-house. So they let my dad’s contributions and talents go.
The very next day my dad founded the C.R. McMullen Company and became a distributor of hi-fi audio equipment to the military bases in Southern California. Once he became his own boss, he never worked another day for anyone else the rest of his life. A few years later, a friend of my dad’s, who happened to be a Property Master for movies and television shows in Hollywood, called and asked for his opinion on a potential new marketing concept called product placement. My dad immediately saw the opportunity and founded Unique Product Placement (UPP), going on to become the largest product placement agency in the world. Famous for Tom Cruise’s Ray Ban placements in Risky Business and Top-Gun, he had over 100 clients including General Motors, Levis Strauss, Coors Beer, Evian Water, Bausch & Lomb, General Mills, Gatorade, Microsoft, IBM, Motorola, and McDonald’s.
I owe my entrepreneurial spirit to my dad. He always told me I would not like working for another person. We used to have huge garage sales with some of my dad’s old inventory; and my parents told me that if I handled the garage sale from start-to-finish, I would get half the money we made. As a broke teenager, I was highly motivated. I put up colorful signs all over the neighborhood and was so excited to earn a little extra money. And just like that, I was able to get all the neighbors on our driveway. I gave them all great deals, while enjoying the process of selling. It was at those garage sales that I realized that the earning potential in the field of sales was limitless. I could earn as much as I could sell. In other words: The harder I worked and the more I sold, the more money I made. I started asking my dad a lot of questions at an early age about his opinion on sales as a career. He always told me that if I worked a normal 9-5 salary job, I would possibly get a small raise every year. My earning potential was severely limited to too many factors that would be out of my control (i.e., a jealous boss, back-stabbing co-workers, in-justice, etc.). Then he told me about the highly risky and not-so-easy lifestyle of the salesman. He did tell me that with great risk comes great reward; and as a McMullen I should go for it. I should pursue a life of sales, and let my own limitations control my earning potential. The concept sounded simple enough. If I sold 100 gadgets, I would get $100; if I sold 1000 gadgets, I would get $1000; and if I sold 10,000 gadgets, I would get $10,000. I had the power to control my earnings. I knew at a young age that this was going to be the life for me.
My dad was a salesman first and a business owner second. He always taught me that sales must be my priority because nothing happens until something is sold. A business is not a business unless it has customers. Acquiring those customers usually requires some level of sales.
Selling a product or service to a customer is the most basic principle of business. When you make a sale, things begin to happen. Action is required. Before you even begin your business, you may require funding. You have to sell the concept first. Once the concept is sold, things start to happen. Once a customer is acquired, the manufacturing, hiring, building, serving, representing, and consulting begins. A purchase order and invoice are created. Money exchanges hands. Cash flow is set in motion. All this happens because something was sold. Businesses succeed and grow because something is sold.
Sell yourself first.
Selling products or services is always best when you first sell yourself. People need to believe in you, in what you are saying. If they perceive that you are trustworthy, they will listen to you. If you are passionate and knowledgeable about your product, you will shine. If you come across as just looking for a quick buck, customers will feel that too, which will make them less inclined to buy from you. Regardless of what you are selling, you must sell YOURSELF first!
My dad always told me that there is nothing harder to overcome than a first impression. He told me this on many occasions – when I was trying out for a sports team, starting a new school year, going on a first date, going in for a job interview. He used to say that people begin to form an opinion about you even before you open your mouth to say hello. You may only have five seconds to get someone’s attention. Whether you are on the phone, in person or writing via electronic communication, your first impression is the hardest to overcome. If you are dressed sloppily, you will be perceived as sloppy in everything you do. If you are well-groomed, well-dressed, and knowledgeable about your product, then you are halfway there. Be friendly, be yourself, and be persistent.
Never give up. The door is never really closed, even if it appears to be closed. And sometimes when it gets slammed in your face, there may still be a small crack, and you must keep trying to get in. It may take weeks, months and even years to close some deals that initially seemed impossible. The word NO really means NO RIGHT NOW. The timing of your sales call may be bad, but in three months, everything could change. You must never get discouraged when you hear the word NO. In fact, this is the word most successful salespeople hear more than any other word. Sales is a numbers game, and for every 1 - 1000 NOs, you will eventually get a YES…and then another…and then another.
I have a perfect example of the power of persistence. It took over two years of meeting, calling, faxing, and emailing multiple people at the local store and regional office level of Costco to finally get them to take notice of us. And when they did, all the effort was well worth it. Newhall Coffee got a shot at the big time. We were allowed to do a road show at our local Santa Clarita Costco. This was our first try-out.
5AM Monday December 4th, 2000 – Costco Wholesale Day 1
We got there early and set up an amazing coffee stand on an end-cap adjacent to the coffee aisle. We had never actually done this before. We knew we wanted to make a great first impression, so we made a great road show.
Costco allowed us to have a full end-cap quad (the four pallet spaces on the end of the aisle). This is roughly 8 feet wide by 6 feet deep. We placed our product against the rafters behind us, and stacked it real high. Our saying was “high and tight,” as Costco likes its end-caps built up high and looking sharp at all times. There was roughly a foot between us and the table, so things were a little tight. We stored all our cups, cream, and sugar under the table. We placed our brewed coffee on the table along with all the condiments and signs. We even had a small TV, which displayed a five-minute looped video tape showing our roaster in action. We hung a banner above us with the catchy question: What is Micro-Roasted coffee?
We sold 158 2-pound bags of coffee our first day, which was a Monday. And we just kept building from there through the rest of the week. By Sunday, we had sold 238 units for the day, bringing us to a total of 1,234 units in our first week! That’s over $11,000 in one week – in one store! We had no idea it would be so successful. Patricia Curtis at Costco’s regional HQ in Los Angeles believed in us. She’s an angel. She gave us the opportunity of a lifetime. Costco Wholesale, one of the world’s biggest and best retailers (mass merchandisers, warehouse clubs, etc.), was now an intermediary where thousands and thousands of individual consumers could buy our coffee.
A Night under the Stars
In the year 2000, a good friend from high school, Ann Glaze Schwartz, called me and invited me to be a part of a fundraising campaign in support of her son, Colton, for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. I was asked to be on the planning committee for a dinner gala. Ann put together an amazing committee with experienced volunteers. It was my first taste of fundraising. I learned a lot and offered to help where I could. The committee suggested we do a percent-of-sales program using our coffee. Not having very much distribution at the time, we created floor displays with bags of coffee and went around town to various popular businesses, asking them to put it out on consignment. Hair salons, car washes, and our coffeehouse displayed the coffee. As enthusiastic as I was, people at hair salons just were not in the mood to buy a bag of coffee, and folks waiting for their cars to get washed were not interested in bags of coffee either. Needless to say, sales were poor, but I learned a lot about helping those in need.
Meanwhile, during this same time, I had been trying to get into Kroger’s Ralphs grocery store division in Southern California. A friend of mine whom I played basketball with in a local men’s league worked at Ralph’s corporate offices and introduced me to the coffee buyer. Since I wanted my coffee in the six local grocery stores, I went to each of the local store managers and talked to them about our coffee, asking if they felt it would do well in their store. Secondly, I told them we were involved with a local fundraiser intended to help the Muscular Dystrophy Association. I then took their comments and reported back to the corporate coffee buyer, Larry Boyd, who approved my products in the six local grocery stores. We were told that we had to both cut the items into the shelves and maintain the inventory ourselves. By the time we finally cut the items into the shelves, the event we were originally fundraising for was over by about a month. For two years we stocked the shelves weekly until the coffee buyer announced to me that we earned a spot in all his stores. Our sales were so strong in the six locations that he gave us a few hundred more stores.