Dealing with on-site traveling
salesmen has always been a sort of love-hate (or maybe a necessary evil, to put
it less extremely) relationship - for both the salesman and the engineer/technician.
Not having been in the engineering design environment for nearly two decades, I
don't know how much face-to-face contact is made anymore. Up through the early 2000s,
I was still occasionally meeting with components salesmen. In this June 1952 issue
of Radio & Television News magazine's Mac's Radio Service Shop technodrama,
proprietor Mac McGregor takes the occasion of an afternoon rain torrent to discuss
the situation with two of his regular sales representatives. The open trading of
pet peeves and appreciated behavior on both sides is common sense stuff, but are
courtesies often forgotten while in the throes of the daily work grind. Mac references
a book entitled "Recording and Reproduction of
Sound," authored by this magazine's editor, Oliver Read, and published in 1949
by Howard Sams (the PhotoFact company).
Mac's Radio Service Shop: Salesmen and Service Technicians
By John T. Frye
"SNAP ... b-o-o-o-o-m!" went the nearby stroke of lightning, and this
was all the cue Mac and his assistant, Barney, needed to send them scrambling around
pulling switches and grounding antennas in the service shop.
"These late-spring thunder storms can certainly sneak up fast," Mac
commented as he double-checked to make sure none of the test instruments nor any
of the radio or TV sets in the shop was connected to the line. This done, he washed
and dried his hands and then squatted tailor-fashion on one end of the bench with
a heavy, black-and-yellow jacketed book in his lap.
"Finally get around to reading Gone With the Wind?" Barney asked curiously.
"Nope, you might say that I'm doing my homework. Last night I was caught
with my audio down. A fellow came to the house and told me he had been appointed
chairman of a committee to buy some recording equipment for his church, and he had
a list of questions as long as your arm that he expected me to answer right off
the reel. When he started asking which was better: wire or tape? why was it better?
how much better? which recorders had remote control features? etc., I was jarred
by the realization that we have been so busy trying to hang on to the flying coattails
of television that we've let recent developments in audio slip away from us.
"I candidly told the fellow I was not prepared to advise him until I had
done a little research on the latest recorders but, if he would give me a couple
of days to study up on the newest wrinkles in that field, I'd try to give him all
the dope he wanted. I began trying to dig the information out of my files of back
issues of magazines, but I soon found that sifting what I wanted out of that wealth
of material was going to be a long, tedious "process. Fortunately, there are
some good books on the subject. I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of the latest
edition of the standard reference book, The Recording and Reproduction of Sound,
released by Howard Sams. Wire and tape recorders are compared from every possible
angle and, in each case, it is explained why one is superior to the other."
"What else does the book cover that would make it worthwhile spending my
valuable time, not to mention my dazzling brain power, to read it?" Barney
asked, as he bent over Mac's shoulder and peaked at the diagrams.
"The chapters on p.a. equipment, installation, and service are right up
our alley," Mac replied. "So is the material on custom sound installations
and the detailed description and illustration of how to use the scope in audio servicing.
I just now noticed, too, that complete constructional information is given on building
several different types of speaker enclosures. I'll pass that along to Paul Cockley,
who has been hounding me ever since Christmas for some down-to-earth information
along that line. In fact, I believe that just about any question that comes up in
connection with sound equipment here in the shop will find an up-to-date answer
in this book; and here and now I am assigning it to you as required reading just
as soon as I am finished with it."
Before Barney could answer, the front door banged open beneath the onslaught
of two men hurrying to get in out of the downpour.
"Well, well," Mac observed; "I've read that when the weather is
bad enough, rabbits and rattlesnakes will den up together, but I didn't think a
spring shower would drive a couple of rival parts salesmen to doing the same thing.
Hello, Art. How are you, Dick?"
"I'm okay," Dick replied; "but aren't you afraid you'll hurt Art's
feelings calling him a rattlesnake?"
"It's just that those jackass ears of yours fool him into thinking you're
the Easter Bunny," Art retorted; "but just to show you what a great and
generous soul I am, you may have Mac first. Take him into the back room, get out
your rubber hose, and try to beat an order out of him while I stay up here and make
mad love to Matilda; then I'll take him."
"That won't be necessary," Mac answered as he took a couple of sheets
of paper from a desk drawer and handed one to each. "There are your orders,
all fixed out. And now if Matilda will order some sandwiches and Cokes, I'll stand
treat all around."
In a few minutes all of them were comfortably seated in the service shop munching
sandwiches the boy had brought from the restaurant next door. Matilda occupied the
high stool in the middle of the floor, and the men were lined up on the service
bench in front of her.
"Suspense is keeping me from enjoying this to the full, "Dick said"
slowly. "I keep wondering what it's going to cost me. When a flinty old Scotchman
like Mac breaks down and starts shelling out his rusty nickels in this unseemly
fashion, there's something behind it."
Mac's eyes squinted in a grin as he tilted his Coke bottle toward the ceiling. "Always
looking a gift horse in the molars," he murmured. "It does so happen,
though, that I've been wanting to talk to you two leeches. I'm slated to give a
little talk at our next technicians' organization meeting on how parts salesmen
and technicians can help each other, and I thought you two might have some suggestions.
"Do we!" Art and Dick answered in chorus.
"For one thing," Art led off, "not one technician in ten has his
order ready for us as you just did, even though he knows that we call on him at
the same time each week. If he would just do that one thing, it would save a lot
of time for him and us, too."
"And a lot of them never order by manufacturer or part number," Dick
added. "They just point at a chassis and say, 'I need a new contrast control
for that one.' If they would just use the replacement catalogues we leave with them,
or the parts numbers given in the service manuals, it would not only save time for
everyone concerned, but it would also avoid mistakes in filling orders."
"The technician who gets me," Art chimed in, "is the one who deliberately
- or so it seems - keeps me standing around for an hour or so while he putters around
doing a lot of things that could just as well be done later. If he would just take
five minutes to give me his order, I could be out of his way and on the road; but
instead of doing that, he makes phone calls, works on sets, and so on while I stand
around chewing my pencil."
"How about the guy who returns about five times as many 'faulty' parts as
anyone else?" Dick wanted to know. "Some of these birds even insist on
returning tubes with 'burned out filaments. Art and I both want to have parts returned
when there is really something wrong with them; but it begins to look like a racket
when one or two technicians seem to get about eighty per-cent of these bad parts."
"Yeah, and he's got a twin who orders the wrong parts and then tries to
blame this mistake on the salesman," Art said. "Another cute little trick
of his is to order new equipment, which he does not have the remotest idea of buying,
just to see what it looks like; then he refuses to take it. The same lazy bird will
not make the simplest of repairs on an item, say a booster, that is still in guarantee,
but insists on returning it to the manufacturer. We'd be more than willing to furnish
any parts needed rather than go to the trouble and expense of having to box up the
booster and return it, and I should think the technician would rather perform the
simple operation of replacing a rectifier or adjusting a thermal switch rather than
deprive his customer or himself of the use of the booster for a month to six weeks."
"The Chiseler is another salesman's curse," Dick interrupted. "He
is the sort who is always saying, 'I'd really like to buy from you, but I can get
things so much cheaper from Blank Company that I just can't afford to.' He's always
trying to beat down your prices by saying that he can buy it at such-and-such a
price from your competitor, but he never comes up with any price sheets or receipted
bills to prove what he says."
"Hold it!" Mac broke in. "Your Cokes are getting warm while you
talk, and so are you. While you two catch up with the rest of us, I'll point out
a few things technicians wish salesmen wouldn't do:
"Number One is to carry tales from one shop to another. I like to hear how
service business in general is going over the area, but I certainly do not want
a salesman coming in here and telling me how many sets one of my competitors is
getting back, what a sloppy workman he is, how slow he is about paying his bills,
and so on, for this merely convinces me that the salesman will be tattling my affairs
at the next shop on his list. By the same token, I don't want to hear him knocking
other salesmen, or the companies they represent. You'd think by now everyone had
learned the wisdom of that hoary old adage about not knocking your competition,
but some parts salesmen still refuse to practice it.
"Another fellow I can't stand is the one who butts into conversations between
me and my customers. Almost as bad is the salesman who hangs around and wants to
chat when I'm covered up with work. I'm glad to chew the fat with you fellows when
I have the time, for you give me a lot of information about new products that are
just out, what items are becoming hard to get, what TV antennas are moving fastest
in this area, and so on; but both of you have the good sense to get your order and
be on your way when you see I'm really busy,
"Still another salesman who rubs me the wrong way is the one who tries to
high-pressure me into stocking up heavily on items I do not want and do not need
in large quantities - and no amount of hinting about what large quantities of this
item a competitor has ordered will make me change my mind! The same salesman who
is so eager to load me up with the stuff he has in over-supply is the one who shows
no interest whatsoever in helping me get hold of a badly-needed part that he does
not happen to have in stock.
"Finally, it gripes me to have a salesman arrive just as I am going out
for lunch or am locking up for the day."
"Well," Dick commented as Mac paused, "all three of us seem to have pretty well
got our pet peeves off our respective chests, Now I'm wondering, Mac, if you have
any concrete suggestions about what Art and I can do to make things better."
"Suppose first you tell me how life can be beautiful for salesmen,"
"That's easy: try to have your orders made up pretty well in advance of our arrival.
Order parts by manufacturer and part number, if at all possible; and if you can't
do this, give all possible information on model and serial numbers, etc. When we
come in, treat us like you would want to be treated, Try to look ahead and give
us a little time to supply hard-to-get items instead of waiting until you have to
have this article at once."
"And if you are running a small shop, try to place the majority of your
orders with two or three concerns instead of half a dozen or so," Art added. "That
way your business will be worthwhile to the two or three salesmen who call on you,
and they will feel like doing their best to keep that business, When your buying
is divided into too many parts, none of these parts is worth much effort to the
salesmen and, on top of that, you will have that many more salesmen taking up your
"And don't make a collector out of the salesman by paying your bill to him,"
Dick said. "Send your check in to the company the first of the month. When a salesman
has to do the collecting, it upsets the kind of relationship that ought to exist
between the salesman and the shop-owner - especially when the shop-owner gets a
little behind on his bills!"
"Don't expect the parts salesman to be a consulting engineer on your tough
sets. Most of us do not have much of a technical background, and even if we did
we could not roll up our sleeves and wade into the service bench at every shop where
we stopped," Art cautioned.
"Fine!" Mac said. "That is exactly the kind of material I wanted.
And now both of you can jot down these points in your memory book: I want you to
bring me all of the promotional material you receive on new electronic equipment
as soon as you receive it. If you want me to fix up my orders correctly, make it
easy for me to do this, Those special carbon-backed order blanks Dick leaves with
me, and the copy of the latest edition of 'Radio's Master' that Art's company gave
me are examples of what I mean:
"I'll appreciate your tipping me off when you see that a popular item is
becoming scarce so that I can order that article somewhat in advance of my immediate
needs. I also expect you fellows to help me get hold of an occasional special item
that I may need even though you do not stock it at the time. If I take your advice
and give all my business to you two fellows, I expect, in return, that you will
take care of me when parts are scarce."
"Well," Dick commented as he looked out at the sun that suddenly broke
through the clouds and was glistening on the wet streets, "it looks as though
the atmosphere has been greatly cleared - both inside and out!"
"And remembering what the good man said about wasting his time," Art
added as he slid from the bench, "we'd better be making tracks before he throws
Posted October 21, 2021
Mac's Radio Service Shop Episodes on RF Cafe
This series of instructive stories was the brainchild of none other than John T.
Frye, creator of the Carl and Jerry series that ran in
Popular Electronics for many years. "Mac's Radio Service Shop" began life
in April 1948 in Radio News
magazine (which later became Radio & Television News, then
World), and changed its name to simply "Mac's Service Shop" until the final
episode was published in a 1977
Popular Electronics magazine. "Mac" is electronics repair shop owner Mac
McGregor, and Barney Jameson his his eager, if not somewhat naive, technician assistant.
"Lessons" are taught in story format with dialogs between Mac and Barney.