Monday, April 7, 2008

Lunch Time

Through the years and various jobs, I’ve had the privilege, or maybe I should say was required, to travel throughout a large portion of this beautiful country. In those travels there has often been the opportunity to strike up a conversation with perfect strangers. In sales, you never know who might provide the next good lead.

It is amazing to me how many times during such conversations, the subject turns quickly to what each of you does for a living. I look at it as an opportunity. It may be a sales opportunity or it may just be a chance to learn more about the local community. It is almost always interesting. It sometimes leaves me a bit chagrined.

A good example of this occurred a few weeks ago in a restaurant in a town which shall remain nameless. I had stopped for a bite to eat.

Most people when traveling tend to stop at places that look familiar. They will stop at chain restaurants or fast food signs where they have a good idea how the food will look and taste. I have traveled enough that my tendency is to stop at the unfamiliar. My favorite restaurants are better described as the local café – often downtown on Main Street America. They provide the best opportunity for sampling the local fare and getting a taste of the local atmosphere.

I will frequently pass up a number of good eateries to find that special hole-in-the-wall where the parking lot is filled with pickups sporting brush guards and cow dogs and dragging stock trailers with saddled horses. It is a sure bet that the food will be good and the conversation at surrounding tables will be interesting.

Often the tables will be set up in a manner that encourages group seating. Why not? Everyone knows nearly everyone else in the place. They frequently come into town in ones and twos and appreciate the company. They may not have had a conversation with anyone but their cow dog all morning. It was in such a place that I met Fred. (Now, Fred isn’t his real name but it will suffice for purposes of my illustration.)

I had been driving for a while since visiting with my last prospective customer and needed sustenance. On the outskirts of town was a run-down looking white board building that had been blessed with numerous additions through the years. The parking lot was full and it appeared a likely place for good food. I walked in and saw only one seat available in the place – at a long table down the middle of the room – across from Fred. So, I asked if he minded if I sit down. The “help yourself” response led me to sit and order a glass of tea and the special – enchiladas.

Fred wore a dirty felt hat that looked like it had seen a lot of use. He had a handle-bar mustache and suspenders that held up faded jeans beneath a belly that was evidence of too much time sitting and not enough time exercising. I’ve lived long enough to learn not to judge a book too hastily by its cover. Often the most successful individuals don’t look the part. In fact, it’s the ones who flaunt their appearance of whom I’ve learned to be somewhat leery. So I thought perhaps Fred might be a local rancher.

Fred didn’t say much for awhile but eventually asked the inevitable, “you just passing through?” My reply of course was yes, which led to further questions of what do you do, etc. Upon learning that I was involved in a livestock related business he began to ask questions more specific to my business. I thought to myself that maybe he might even be a potential customer. I began to ask questions of him.

As the conversation progressed, I noticed an occasional glance from one of the gentlemen sitting just down the table from us. This gentleman was obviously interested in our conversation so I thought to myself, “this is great. I may find lots of business leads.”

My questions began in a very general tone but soon became more specific – such as, “what kind of processing regimen are you using on your calves?” His response left no doubt that he was clueless about processing regimens. I eventually got him to admit that he was a truck driver for an oilfield service company.
When he got up and left I looked down the table at the gentleman who had appeared to express interest in our conversation and just shook my head. He grinned real big and said, “I wondered how long it would take you to find out he didn’t know what he was talking about!” With that I knew it was time to hit the road again.


Anonymous said...

In 1986, when I had just moved to the county I live in, I was sitting in a cafe in town. It was crowded and there weren't many places open. An old fellow came in and asked if he could share the table, and I said sure. He was interesting, had lived in the county all his life, and a good talker. He was wearing those old khaki pants and shirts people used to wear as work clothes. I figured he was a mechanic or a janitor. It was only afterwards that I learned he was the biggest property owner in town, owned the bank, the tractor store , the car dealership, and on and on. That's what I liked about the mountains then. Nobody looked down on anybody else or put on airs. It isn't like that today.

Sandy Kessler said...