Elise’s young dad, Tom Cunningham, before his sales days wore him down.

Elise’s young dad, Tom Cunningham, before his sales days wore him down.

by Elise Seyfried

A few months ago I got a phone call. It was a neighbor’s son contacting me about a “project” he was working on. Could I give him a few minutes of my time? “Certainly!” I replied. I’m all for imparting some of my wisdom to the younger generation. I imagined a school assignment that required interviewing a person old enough to remember Herman’s Hermits and love beads. I’d definitely fill that bill!

Nay! Turned out the lad had a different agenda. He was out to sell me Cutco knives. I flinched because I’ve been down that road many times before. My premiere foray into the world of razor sharp kitchen implements was a presentation by a young actor who was working for us and yet, surprisingly, falling short of making a decent living. So he shilled for Cutco.

Next came the daughter of a woman I hadn’t seen, no joke, in 20 years. She, too, arrived on my doorstep with an assortment of cutlery. More recently, our dear young friend Hannah came a calling. She had a refreshing attitude: just let me cut some rope in your kitchen, blurt out my spiel, and we can all go back to our lives. Halfway through her Cutco speech, her cell phone rang. It was the offer of a better job! Hannah literally threw her knives in the bag and then and there called it a career.

Now, I am sure Cutco makes a product far superior to anything found in my kitchen drawer. For the record: my knives are old, and not as sharp as they should be (but then, neither am I). But I am emotionally attached to each one of them — paring, chef’s, serrated — and have no intention of, or budget for, adding to my little collection. However, Cutco pays the salesperson something for every booking, even if nothing is sold, so why not listen to the kid? I thought.

This encounter brought back many memories from my childhood. My father, Tom Cunningham, was a furniture salesman, and not a good one. He made a very modest living selling Danish Modern sofas and tables to stores. We ended up furnishing our various homes with his samples, our living room adorned with chairs of black leather and chrome that you’d need a crowbar to get out of, and Rya rugs so thick that you wanted to mow them.

He was on the road throughout the South every single Monday-Friday, each week hoping he would interest a store or two in this very contemporary furniture. In those days the prevalent taste down in Dixieland was for much more traditional stuff, and Dad was not exactly the Great Persuader; that was a bad combination. So, for years I watched him come back from his weekly road trips, tired and defeated. Then he died of a stroke at the age of 67 in 1994. I miss him a lot … When I grew up, I vowed I would never sell anything.

Yet here I am, selling myself at every turn. Buy my books! Buy my articles! Book me as a speaker! I loathe this part of the business and wish I could hire someone to take my place. It gets really old. I wish I had a better product to offer. I lack the confidence to pound on doors, to cold-call, to do what I know it takes to successfully hawk wares. It’s a hard-knock life, being a salesperson, and I applaud those brave enough to attempt it.

And so the Cutco Kid arrived. He opened his sales kit and showed me how his butcher knife saws through wood. I sat, listening patiently, as I wish others had sat for my dad, long ago.

Elise Seyfried is Director of Spiritual Formation at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland. She is also an actress, wife, mother of five and co-author (with husband, Steve) of 15 plays for children as well as of her self-published book, “Unhaling: On God, Grace and a Perfectly Imperfect Life,” a collection of essays, humorous but with a spiritual focus, based on her life as a mom and church worker. The book can be purchased for $15 plus shipping through www.eliseseyfried.com. (Also from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, although they add an extra charge.)

  • Katie

    Keep up the good work, sales can be challenging, but the journey is more interesting than lots of other career choices. Thanks for the intriguing article.