The Gluten Free Gift Horse

It’s all about the numbers.

I remember that admonition from my days in retail sales. From late summer through Thanksgiving of my senior year in high school I sold produce in a tent that sprawled across the parking lot of a family-owned bakery/restaurant. I learned how to encourage diehard Macintosh apple lovers to taste test a Cortland and a Mutsu or maybe even a Jonathan so they walked out with five pounds of apples instead of one. I practiced the art of up-selling so someone who stopped in for just a few tomatoes to buy all the ingredients for a technicolor salad. I proved so adept I joined the indoor bakery sales team just in time for the Christmas season. Bakery girls skillfully moved customers from six donuts to a full dozen, made sure apple pie lovers went home with the large instead of the small and at least a half gallon of freshly-pressed apple cider. If you wanted a loaf of bread, we happily thrust it through the slicing machine for you, talking all the while about the sandwiches you could make on that bread with the delicious meats and cheeses available in the new delicatessen/fish market now open right through that archway.

After moving to Atlanta for college, I sold celebrations and possibilities in a gift/collectibles/glass-and-tableware shop; luggage and fine leather goods in, well, a luggage shop; fine jewelry in a now-gone department store; and even Avon–briefly. In each place, numbers were the goal, even more than the happiness or satisfaction of the customer. The numbers reflected customer satisfaction, the said: the more satisfied, the more the customer spent and the more often they spent it with us, my managers believed.

I often wondered about the veracity of that viewpoint. I remember the little boy who looked all of about six. He came into the gift shop with a sack full of pennies and all by himself.  He said he wanted to buy his mother a birthday present. After spilling the pennies onto the counter, we  counted them together: he had two dollars and seven cents in pennies. They wouldn’t buy much, but I couldn’t tell him that because he thought he had a fortune. His mother liked horses, “But they cost way more than two dollars,” he said solemnly.

I said we happened to have some horses that did cost about that much. I showed him the collection of small animal figurines we had on spinning display racks. His eyes huge, he very slowly turned the display case, looking at each animal. He found three horses, each a different color and in different poses. We put them on the counter so he could compare them side by side. It took five minutes of careful deliberation before he chose the jet black horse in mid-gallop. He said, “She can imagine flying on this horse when she gets sad and it will make her happy.”

“Okay!” I said, smiling, my own heart flying. “One flying horse, coming right up!”

The horse cost four dollars and fifty cents, well over his budget, so I dipped into my purse under the counter to make up the difference, which he didn’t know. I also put it in a tissue paper nest in a small gift box and tied it with sparkly ribbons. That little boy left, beaming, and I swear three inches taller. Just before he walked out the door he stopped and looked up at me (I had walked him to the door). “Thank you, lady. This is the best birthday store ever!”

It was my best sale ever. Not in dollars and cents–I once sold a woman three hundred dollars worth of wedding gifts for nieces and nephews she frankly said she detested–but certainly in a job well done and done for good…for the good of giving.

I thought of this as I was completing my telephone celiac symptom diary last night. I’m able to complete it in four and a half minutes now. That’s fairly efficient. The numbers I report are higher these days: more pain and more symptoms, which should mean more damage to see during the endoscopic exam now scheduled for October ninth. I’m increasing my numbers just as I did as a sales girl. The numbers don’t get me a bigger commission check in this case, but that’s not the payoff I seek. I’m still going for the good of giving. Think of it as a little gluten free birthday horse.