The owners of this establishment were a slightly eccentric English couple. Stuart and Erica were extroverts and therefore always in a cheerful mood, welcoming reps like myself as a social call. They were gregarious and generously offered coffee, biscuits a comfortable seat in the back of their store, behind a tall curtain display stand. There, they told me the latest gossip from the floor covering industry and even acted out funny encounters they had with customers!
Meeting with them helped ease the pressure I was under in keeping up my rate of calls and I always looked forward to seeing them again. Grabbing my clipboard and some new vinyl swatches I leapt out of my car and entered their shop with expectations of being entertained.
‘Hello, Peter!’ Erica greeted me cheerfully. ‘Stuart will be back any moment – he is just out measuring a house for carpets. The job is right around the corner and I expect him back any moment. He’ll be glad to see you again!’ This was said with a radiating smile that made me feel great. If their customers can sense the same bonhomie it was no wonder they were so successful in their business!
‘Would you like a cup of coffee …..oh, here he is!’ Erica pointed to the entrance.
‘Pete, good to see you!’ came Stuarts cheerful voice. ‘I am so glad you came. Have you got any news for me? Trade gossip and such, you know, ha, ha’
‘Well, not exactly gossip, Stuart, but product information and new flooring samples!’ pointing at the swatches I had placed on the counter.
‘Come out the back, Pete, where we can talk! Erica, will you be all right minding the shop for the moment?’
‘Of course I will. I’ll make you both a cup of coffee first and then you may natter to your heart’s content!
Arriving at the back of the shop, Stuart continued: ‘We will re-furnish this part of the shop. I want to build a little bar called ‘Stuart’s Arms’ where we will entertain our reps and valuable customers. What do you think of that?’ His cheerfulness was truly infectious and I envied him for his enthusiasm. His business was just as tough as anybody else’s and there were plenty of competitors in the area, but he either didn’t seem to notice this or he was a ‘born winner’, I thought.
‘I believe that, whatever you do, you must differentiate your shop from others, Stuart.’
‘Yes, I think so too’ His sparkling eyes darted around and he could already picture his finished re-decoration, namely the bar, the high bar stools, the row of bottles and an espresso machine.
The coffee arrived and we sat down. Showing him my new samples answering his questions was quickly done as he was an expert and knew his trade. Stuart took a first sip from his coffee. I knew that this was the moment when he always filled me in with funny stories.
‘How is my competition doing? I helped him make a start.
‘Oh, just plodding along, I guess. Sometimes, somebody comes into the shop with new samples, but they are not as thorough and knowledgeable as you are Pete!’
‘Oh, Sandhurst Flooring Distributors called yesterday, you know, the ones with the mean boss! What’s his name… the state manager…….Clayton that’s right, Clayton.’ He nodded to himself in affirmation and took another sip, but did so quickly as he had something to tell me. ‘Clayton never let his reps get away with anything and questions all their claimed expenses. I wouldn’t like to be repping for him! And when he is at home, on a weekend for example, and he feels like having a drink, he drives all the way to his office, where there is a bar with beer for his customers, takes a bottle and drives back home. And then he enjoys his drink. Ha ha ha! Can you imagine that? I bet he has a burglar alarm on his dustbin, ha ha ha.’
We both laughed and I relaxed completely. Stuart was in that state already!
Suddenly, Stuart got up and came back carrying a cardboard box with doormats he had removed from the shop front.
‘Here is something new, Pete, have a look at them!’ With theatrical importance he placed them in front of me.
All I could see was a stack of doormats made of synthetic material, tufted and in various colours, ranging from red to dark brown.
‘They look very attractive, Stuart, but they are still only doormats!’
‘No, they are not.’ He stated with exaggerated seriousness. ’They are ‘Schmutzgreifer’ because it says so here’ pointing at the lid with a large print on it.
‘But all that means is ‘dirt grabber’…..’ My knowledge of German came in handy.
His voice became somewhat haughty but his eyes twinkled with joy: ‘That may be, but every time I sell a house full of carpets, vinyl, curtains or whatever, I make a point of selling this doormat! ‘You know, Mrs. Speckerbelly,’ I would say, ‘you now have a wonderfully furnished house and it is really a pleasure to live in your beautifully decorated interior, but what you really need to complete everything is something I have for you.’ Stuart’s face became lively as he related to me a typical conversation with his customer.
‘The customer’s eyes invariably snap wide open, their necks stretch out longer and they become very inquisitive.
‘What is that?’ They would say.
‘You need a Schmutzgreifer!’ I say firmly.
‘What’s a er…..what you just said?’
‘Just wait a moment and I get it out of my car!’ I am, of course, back in no time and place this beautiful piece in front of her.
‘This is it, Madam! It is virtually indestructible, takes all the grit and dirt off your shoe soles and by the time you reach your new, beautiful flooring, they are clean. You can wash it or hose it and it will be as new again’
Stuart looked at me with triumph ‘And then I sell it to her!’
The latter was stated with unusual pride, sounding like a major achievement.
‘But Stuart, you sell somebody a house full of carpet or curtains, which may cost thousands of dollars and then go to all that trouble to get rid of a little doormat that costs a few dollars…..?’ I stated my amazement.
‘Yep,’ came his arrogant reply, ’that’s my style. That’s what I do!’ He nodded with visible pride.
‘But could you not call it a doormat, because that’s what it really is?’
His face took on a scandalised expression. ’That would not be right. Because it is more that that. It is a Schmutzgreifer!’
Remembering that he was a bit eccentric, I could not help asking ‘where did you learn how to pronounce it?’
‘Oh, I learned it from the German rep. who came round and sold it to me. Admittedly, it took me a while but now I am a real expert in this.’ The latter was said with triumph.
Erica heard his last statement: ‘You and your shmoo……whatever! Ha, ha, ha.’ Stuart and I joined in and we all had a long relieving laugh.
‘Excuse me, what is that?’ came an enquiring voice from somewhere in the room. It was a housewife who had entered the shop, had had a look around and was now staring at the stack of doormats.
‘They are Schmutzgreifer, Madam. Exactly what every household needs!’
‘Whaaat?’ Came her incredulous voice.
Stuart jumped up, grabbed a mat and offered it to her for inspection. He was now in full sales-mode.
Not wanting to disturb him with his new hobby, I quickly stepped back and left the shop, nodding to Erica gratefully for the coffee and hospitality. She smiled back and showed me her raised thumb with eagerness. Her husband had another victim!