Every day of my 23 years in the business has been a learning experience, but some days stand out more than others because of their absurdity. In the spirit of celebrating Electrical Wholesaling's 85th anniversary, I am going to share some amusing experiences I have had in this industry that taught me some valuable lessons.
Always prepare for any eventuality when managing an event
I used to select and mark the course for the annual EW Fun Run, which was held for many years at the NAED Annual. The 1989 event was to be held in Chicago. I knew of a great course for the race along Lake Michigan, but I didn't bother to check with the Chicago Parks Department to see if the course would be in use. When I got down to the racecourse at 6 a.m., some folks were filling up several tables with dozens of water cups. Apparently, an enormous charity walk was going to be held that morning, and 30 minutes after our race was scheduled to start, the first of the expected 10,000 walkers would be strolling along the Chicago lakefront on the EW Fun Run course. Our merry band of runners and walkers had to weave through a few herds of people, but we got through the throngs without incident.
Respect someone's request for anonymity
I once visited a New York distributor to interview the management team for an article on the unique promotions they were doing to market their company's services. They were a very engaging group of fellows, and we had some laughs while getting together the right people for the photos that would be published in the magazine. Several weeks after my visit, I got a call from one of the company's owners, who asked me to change the name of one of the people in a photograph. Apparently, on the advice of his lawyer, that person didn't want to be properly identified, and preferred that a phoney name be used in the article. A link to organized crime? Witness protection program? I didn't dare ask, and I will never know. Something smelled fishy about the company, and we never ran the article.
Never underestimate the powers of observation
One of my favorite distributors is Goody Gilman. I visited with him to do an article on his company, Gilman Electrical Supply, several years before he sold the company to Consolidated Electrical Distributors. After the interview, he drove me around Newport, Maine, a picture-book beautiful New England town and his boyhood home, to show me some of the local attractions.
During this ride, something caught my eye about his necktie. It had an unusual repeating pattern of Ω-inch square boxes. Upon further observation, I realized that inside each box were some words, and that the two-word phrase was a very popular off-color remark. Just a shy cub reporter at the time, I mustered up the courage to ask, “Mr. Gilman, that tie of yours. Does it say, ‘blankety-blank’?” With a loud laugh he said, “Lucy, it certainly does. You're much brighter than you look.”
Double-check what you pack before a business trip
This didn't actually happen to me, but the lesson learned is too priceless not to pass along. Along with a never-to-be-duplicated career that included stints with EW, the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED), and publisher of his own lighting magazine, Tom Preston worked for the National Electrical Manufacturers Representatives Association (NEMRA) for many years. A big part of his role in NEMRA's formative years was helping build up the association city-by-city. He would invite reps to come to a presentation on NEMRA, and at that meeting he would attempt to sell them the benefits of joining the association.
Those were the days of slide show presentations, and while racing out to the airport to catch a flight for one of these meetings, he grabbed the wrong slide carousel. Tom didn't realize his mistake until setting up for that meeting, but he persevered. Instead of hearing the NEMRA pitch, prospective members were treated to a slide show on his niece's wedding. Tom always swore that the wedding slides always pulled in more members than the official NEMRA recruitment presentation would have.
If you have learned from some outrageous experiences during your career and would like to share them publicly with the industry, send them to me at email@example.com, and we will consider them for publication.