The Home Show

“Do you want to do it, it will be fun,” Tom said. Without thinking I said, “Sure.” It was 5 AM on a Saturday morning, and I was sitting on the long bench that served as a chair for Tom’s massive office desk. It is not unusual for me to hang out with my friend Tom early in the morning. However, what I had agreed to was both unusual and unorthodox.

Without thinking, I had committed to helping man a booth at two home shows with my general contractor friend. Clearly, a new experience for a physician of 30 years. I thought my new role would be interesting, but my main reasons for doing the shows was to hang out with and be supportive of Tom.

As the shows approached there was planning to be done. Tom did most of it, but I contributed my ideas as well. A slide show had to be prepared, a banner made, and display ideas had to be pondered. Before we knew it the shows were upon us.

Tom had done most of the booth’s set up on the prior Fridays, but there was still some work to be completed. I spend a lot of time with Tom, and so I have gained a limited working knowledge of home products and remodeling procedures. Not enough to actually do anything, but at least enough to capture a potential customer, and then hand that customer off to Tom. “What will you say if one of your patients sees you here,” Tom asked pensively. The implication was that I was working below my station. “I’ll tell them I’m helping a friend,” I said, unconcerned.

Dear readers, by now you know that I’m an introvert. Where others gain energy from crowds and random social interactions, I become quiet and exhausted. However, successful introverts have a powerful secret weapon, we can temporarily don the persona of an extrovert when needed. The price we pay is post-event exhaustion, but after many years of execution, I’m pretty good at putting on the cloak of sociability.

I’m one of those people who enjoys learning for the sake of learning and experiencing new things for the sake of experiencing them. I learned a lot from my four days manning a home remodeling booth.

There were so many presenters. In some ways, we were in competition with each other. In some ways, we were allies with each other. We were we all in it together, but we all wanted the same business.

The lady across the way was running a booth for a different home remodeling company. She was having a great deal of difficulty getting a slideshow up and running. I offered my services, which were met with a little surprise. Ten minutes later her company’s remodels were flashing on her booths TV screen. “I owe you,” she said. “No, you don’t,” I replied.

There was the guy who drove up from St. Louis to sell his “miracle” pain relieving pads. He engaged Tom and me in an effortless pleasant conversation for about 5 minutes before he asked if he could use our AC connection to charge some of his devices. His conversational motives now clear, we let him use our AC anyway.

Next to us was a pleasant Hispanic family of three who were hawking timeshares. Home shows are their livelihood. They work 3 days a week procuring leads that can later be converted to sales by another team. They live in a neighborhood in Chicago with a high crime rate. “It is OK,” the daughter said. “I don’t leave the house much, and if we hear anything we turn on our police scanner.” A silent shudder ran through me.

There was the guy selling prefab bath enclosures. He had brought along “booth bait” in the form of three pretty girls dressed in plastic hardhats and open flannel shirts.

Down the way was the gutter leaf protection guy. He was decked out with a flag pin, a Christian cross, and a US Marine ball cap. If you were patriotic, a vet, or a Christian, he had an instant “in” with you.

Asking any of them about their products instantly turned them into sales mode, and a well-rehearsed pitch would effortlessly gush forth.

You may think that these folks were despicable, carnival style hawkers, but you would be wrong. They were mostly nice people, trying to make a living as best as they could. They were hard working and tried to do their job to the best of their ability. “We get $2 a lead, you can make good money,” one person told me. In my mind, I calculated how much I got paid for a single psychiatric evaluation and felt guilty.

Some of the exhibitors knew each other from previous shows. They would chat and mingle with each other in a way akin to family members reconnecting at a wedding or funeral.

I felt comfortable with them. They seemed to believe in their products. They seemed to feel that they were doing a service, which in turn gave their jobs meaning.

Then there were the attendees, and a wide and varied group were they. Old, young, lonely, angry, friendly. Straight couples, gay couples, families, random wandering kids.

It seemed like some of the people who attended were there for no apparent reason. They didn’t want to interact or look, they just wandered around. Others seemed lonely and grateful to hear any pitch just for the sake of having a conversation with another human being.

I work with patients every day, and in many ways, I also sell. However, I sell a method to think differently, or perhaps a medication treatment. People come to me, and they pay a hefty price at that. Most patients are at least a little receptive to my ideas, otherwise they wouldn’t be sitting across from me.

The attendees at the show were different. Some were suspicious, some condescending, others more willing to listen. Initially, it felt very awkward to even consider approaching a person with a pitch, but after a couple of hours of booth time, I became more comfortable with the idea.

I was helping my friend, who I believe in. Tom did several remodeling jobs for me before we became friends, and I genuinely believe in his character, quality of workmanship, and high standards. Now, as very close friends, my high opinion of him has only grown.

Once I adopted the above mindset I moved from awkward salesman to someone who had something to offer. Just as I believe in the work that I do in my professional job, I believe in the quality of the work done by Tom and his company.

There was a price to pay for being “on” for two weekends in a row; I was pretty useless for any other activity during my off hours during those four days.

What was the outcome of our efforts? Pretty good for two “show newbies.” Tom and I work well together, and it was no different at the home shows. As I write this he already has gone on a number of show acquired business calls, and many of them look promising.

I am proud that I could help my friend, and I’m happy that I exposed myself to an experience that I would never have imagined having a few years ago. You can be a doctor and still push your comfort level envelope every now and then.

Today my goal is to embrace new experiences with the wonderment of a child, and the maturity of an old salty psychiatrist.