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There's No Business Without Show Business
By Harvey Mackay
There's not a lot of difference between showmanship and
salesmanship. When you get down to the nitty gritty, they may well
be one in the same. We're always interchanging the terms. An
exceptional vocal stylist "knows how to sell a song." A first-rate
salesperson "delivers a helluva performance."
A lot of us make our livings selling through showmanship. As a kid,
I loved to go to the State Fair and watch the pitchman who
demonstrated kitchen gadgets. What could be more boring for a
10-year-old than peeling potatoes? Yet how many zillion times have
we walked with glazed eyes past the counter where they sold veggie
shredders? They still draw bigger crowds than a public hanging. And
the bigger the cornballs they are -- the more stupid the
mother-in-law jokes they crack, the more worthless the "absolutely-free-magic-slicer-I'll-throw-in-for-nothing-if-you-buy-right-now"
gizmo -- the more people gather round.
Of course, when you get the peeler/shredder/juicer home and try it
out yourself, you can never do the same tricks with it that the
midway magician who sold it to you did.
But so what? In your heart of hearts, you knew that before you
bought it. You paid for the performance, not the product.
With the birth of cable TV came various shop-till-you drop channels,
where more refined hucksters hawk their wares. It's like being at
the fair 24 hours a day. My favorites are the infomercials where
high powered pitches pump up the virtues of swartzeneggaresque
muscle machines, magic moisturizing creams and, most compelling,
spray-on-hair in a can.
Both the latest -- and oldest -- trend in the restaurant biz is
showmanship. Chains like "Planet Hollywood," "Harley Davidson Cafe"
and the "Rainforest" hype atmosphere more than burgers to lure
customers. This strategy has worked since the first enterprising
pizza shop owner tossed a slab of dough into the air like a juggler,
twirling it into America's favorite meal.
In Japanese restaurants they add a little excitement to the cuisine
by making the preparation resemble a good knife-throwing act.
Look at fast food. You can either buy your hamburger and fries
hawked by a red-haired clown with big shoes or a soft-spoken
grandfather figure who also happens to own the company.
Western Union can deliver any news in straight language . . . but
wouldn't you rather hear "Happy Birthday" in a singing telegram from
a costumed character holding a bunch of balloons?
Been to an auto show lately? In addition to models and "performance
teams," there are cars upside down, gyroscoping and chopped in
pieces to show construction or suspension. And lights, jazzy
platforms . . . the beat goes on.
Who said salespeople/showpeople have to wear plaid sport coats and
talk out of the corner of their mouths?
Take the train. I do. And, there's no practical reason, EXCEPT, the
sheer romance of an engineer's wavebacks to a kid by the side of the
tracks in a thousand train movies. Even though I know better, for me
this slowmo means of transportation will always be a romantic and
mysterious adventure. A mysterious stranger lurks behind every
sliding door. The lonesome whistle blows. Unbeknownst to his fellow
passengers, Harvey is on a secret mission only Agatha Christie could
There are trains, and there are cranes. Both have a soft spot in
this guy's heart! A crane operator on a big time, big bucks downtown
job is another hidden performance artist. Demolition or new
construction both set the stage. The operators know timing is
everything -- they always save the best show for noon when the
largest crowd of sidewalk superintendents are in attendance. BOOM.
Something smells fishy? Have you ever been on the docks when the
fishing boats come in? The crew who are assigned to the cleaning
duty invariably do it where potential fishing trip passengers can
watch them at work. What a fabulous sale/show -- cleaning the catch
and throwing the entrails to the most attentive members of their
audience, the pelicans.
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