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Tin Men, A Salesman’s Review

A cheeky little movie from 1987, it’s really a tale of the search for revenge between two guys that meet at the scene of a car prang.

Set in Baltimore, 1963, the backdrop is that all the players sell “aluminum siding” (metal paneling for a home’s exterior).

This gives plenty of comedy scope to see all the scams that such door-to-door salesreps can come up with.

Let’s look first at the scams which could ultimately be their potential undoing…

Life Magazine – Where prospects are suckered into thinking their home will be a ‘before’ picture in Life Magazine, with a much more beautiful, but strangely similar home, being the ‘after’.
The Model Home or The Factory Showcase – Where the prospect’s home can be singled out as a shining testimony to the allure of the product, used at will as a reference. For this, a kickback is given to the prospect every time a further sale is made as a result. There’s one cracking scene, where old-time legend ‘Mo’ even starts to place hundred dollar bills in the prospect’s palm!
This Job Is Free – When a sale is given away by one salesrep, only for his partner to knock on the ‘customer’s’ door a moment later, claiming the first guy is having some kind of nervous breakdown and if this form went back to the office, they’d end up without a job, home, food, wife, etc! As the prospect signed, they must want to buy, the only issue being the right price surely…?! “let’s see if we can sort something out”!
You’ve Won An Award – Prospects are hoodwinked into believing they’ve won a prize as “one of only 16 homes in the Baltimore area” to be singled out for free product! And of course, ‘only a nominal labour charge will be levied’. It turns out that this labour charge amounts to roughly the same as a typical job anyway!
Free Extras – One salesrep is known to have implied free storm windows will be included when they never are, another to give an extra $5,000 worth of goods, and one tries to close throwing in a free garden hose.
Short Yardstick – When measuring up for jobs, where the amount paid depends on the square footage coverage required, one salesrep was known to have used a yardstick that wasn’t the full 36 inches. When the measures were totted up, he’d then make extra.
Divide and Conquer – When the husband baulks at the cost, the wife being sold insists (“Honey…!”).

Where are the sub-titles saying ‘don’t try this at home’?  There are some wonderful insights into the mind of a salesrep, too:

  • The understanding is that to make a decent living, you’ve got to get on the phone and develop leads yourself and canvass.
  • They never put themselves in their buyers shoes like you should! The opening scene has “B.B.” (Richard Dreyfuss) squirming when in a Cadillac showroom when he thinks he’s being hustled. Later, “Tilly” (Danny DeVito) comes out of a call, failing to sign a deal, and says “I thought I had a couple tonight, but they just slipped away”. Win-win was clearly not around then!
  • Salesreps are control freaks! B.B. confirms this when he says “I hate the fact I’m not in control of this stuff”.
  • The sheer delight when a prospect calls in makes the whole slog worthwhile “I knew they’d call” (hurray!)
  • Decent front talk cannot be underestimated.
  • They do unfortunately not pitch benefits quite well enough for my money! Their patter is slick though, practised to naturally roll of the tongue. Advantages including “It won’t chip, peel, blister, crack, flake or rust in any way” and “the only maintenance you’ll need is to hose it down twice a year” are good starting blocks. We get better with “it provides much greater insulation which means that you save on heating bills”.
  • Don’t forget to close – although the only one you really hear is “let’s do some business”! There must be more to selling than just closing then…
  • Every time the salesreps make a point, whether in the diner or at home, they colour their ramblings with lots of examples, stretched out where able to paint vivid pictures.
  • They like to determine who has the upper hand when they first meet face-to-face with a prospect, so one way is to light a cigarette, then drop their matchbox. If the punter picks it up, their eyes light up, if the punter waits for the rep to, they know they’re in for a long hard time!
  • They know the value of opening the honesty door early. The trick they use is dropping a $5 dollar bill on the deck in the punter’s home. They spot it and say “hey, you’ve dropped $5!” If the punter says “thanks”, they are in. If the punter says “it’s not mine”, the rep replies “well, I know it’s not mine, you’d better have it!” Either way the punter now thinks they are Honest Bobs!
  • Good salesreps are apparently willing to gamble everything on ridiculous outcomes (two play pool for one’s wife!)
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