A Sales Call With Christopher Walken…

WalkenMany years ago I started my sales career in the beer business. I worked for the Christian Schmidt Brewing Company out of Philadelphia, and our flagship product was Schmidt’s Beer. It was a great job, and I recall joking about how I probably drank more beer than I ever sold. I sold beer to restaurants, delicatessens, bodegas, and the dozens of bars located in Astoria, Queens NY. One of my customers was Glenn Walken, the brother of actor, Christopher Walken. Christopher Walken won an Oscar for best supporting actor in the film, The Deer Hunter.

The company I worked for back in the early 1980’s was a wholesale beer distributorship, owned by the Schmidt’s Brewery. Not only did we sell Schmidt’s beer, but we sold dozens of other brands of beer like Schaefer, Rheingold, Piels, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Ballentine Ale. Unfortunately for me, we did not sell Budweiser, Miller, or Heineken. The company I worked for sold ‘off-brand’, or small market beers. In other words I sold cheap beer.

If you can go back to the early 1980’s when the sale of bottled water was in its infancy, Perrier was the ‘Heineken’ of bottled mineral water. Unfortunately for me, my company didn’t sell Perrier. Instead, we became a distributor for a competitor to Perrier called Ramlosa. Ramlosa was a mineral water imported from Sweden, and they hired tennis star Bjorn Borg to be their company spokesperson to promote the product in advertisements.

Every Wednesday we held our district sales meeting, and 35 or so beer salespeople like myself would come to the main office for the weekly sales meeting to meet with our managers, and learn about new products. This particular Wednesday I came to the office and there was Ramlosa mineral water everywhere. No Bjorn Borg, but plenty of Ramlosa water to drink. As our meeting was called to order, the vice present of sales stood at the front of the large room and shouted at the top of his lungs, “If you don’t ask – you don’t get, so start asking customers to buy Ramlosa”!
We had our marching orders…

Selling beer required me to park my car and walk the avenues and streets of Astoria to take beer orders from customers, and call on other places that did not buy their beer from me. I was always keeping an eye out for new businesses because they were an easier sell if I could get to the decision-maker before my competition did.

One particular day I happened to walk down the street and saw the ‘Grand Opening’ sign for the Walken’s Cafe. A big sign saying ‘Grand Opening’ is a very good prospect for me so I went inside. As I stepped inside I saw a man standing in the rear of the cafe with his back to me. The cafe was closed, and there were no customers today. Just this guy with his back to me. I must have walked in quietly because he didn’t even notice that I had walked in. I waited a few minutes, and then politely cleared my throat  with a polite – “ahem”. Then the person turned around and looked at me with a crazy looking stare that went right through me.

At first glance I thought he looked familiar, but I didn’t say anything. I just stuck out my hand and introduced myself, and explained why I stopped in. About a minute or so into my sales pitch about beer, the man stopped me in mid-sentence and said, “Don’t you know who I am”? I told him that I didn’t, but did say that he looked familiar. Then he continued with, “Have you ever seen a movie called The Deer Hunter”? That’s when it hit me. I said, “Hey – You’re Christopher Walken”! “What are you doing here”? Christopher Walken told me that he came to visit his brother Glenn, and it was he that owned the cafe. I found out later that the entire Walken family is originally from Astoria, and Christopher Walken likes to visit the old neighborhood every now and then.
Search Google: “Walken’s Bakery Astoria”.

Mr. Walken and I finished with some small talk, and then we started talking about beer. That’s when someone came in through the rear door of the Cafe. As he got closer I thought I was seeing double! There I was looking at two identical Christopher Walkens! No I didn’t have double vision, the newcomer was Christopher Walken’s brother Glenn. They looked like twins!
Christopher then turned to Glenn and told him that I had stopped by to sell them beer. “That’s all well and good”, said Glenn, “but we don’t have our liquor license yet”. Remembering what I heard in the sales meeting yesterday about “asking for the order”, I quickly explained that they didn’t need a liquor license to serve mineral water, and with that I pulled out the sample bottle of Ramlosa I had in my overcoat  pocket, and put it on the table. After a bit more back and forth I walked out of Walken’s Cafe that day with a 100 case order of Ramlosa.

I think back about my encounter with the Walken brothers whenever I think about prospecting for new business. Today, I think about cold calling as more of an adventure than anything else. I’m always looking for my next ‘Walken encounter’. How about you? Are you dreading the very idea of picking up the phone and making a cold call, or are you looking for your next adventure like me?

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