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The Flea Market Salesman

Furniture World Magazine


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It doesn’t matter if you are selling a cracked pitcher for $2 or a $2,000 sofa; honesty makes a big impression.



A Smile

A smile costs nothing but gives much. It enriches those who receive it without making poorer those who give it. It takes but a moment, but the memory of it sometimes lasts forever. No one is so rich or mighty that he can get along without it, and no one is so poor that he cannot be made rich by it. A smile creates happiness in the home, fosters goodwill in business, and is the countersign of friendship. It brings rest to the weary, cheer to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and is nature’s best antidote for the troubled. Yet, it cannot be bought, begged, borrowed, or stolen, for it is something that is of no value to anyone until it is given away. Some people are too tired to give a smile. Give them one of yours, as no one needs a smile so much as he who has none to give. (Anonymous)


I enjoy going to flea markets. I’ve always considered them the poor person’s (and at times the not so poor person’s) Smithsonian. There you can find an extraordinary number of artifacts, most of them long obsolete: egg beaters, hand drills, glassware, used fishing rods and reels, typewriters, electric shavers, old radios, a medley of furniture items, and a plethora of other oddities. On Wednesdays and Fridays I especially like to walk through the outdoor flea market in Cass Lake, Minnesota on Highway 2 North West about a mile from my rambler house on Little Wolf Lake. The vendors, virtually all of them retired senior citizens, set up their stands – not two of which are even remotely alike – along the highway on the grounds owned by a service station.

On a recent Wednesday I drove to the station to fill the tank for my outboard motor. Of course, while there, I decided to stroll past each stand to see what I might find. It didn’t take me long to spot a lovely pitcher selling for two dollars, something I had been looking for. From my mother I had inherited an aversion for plastic drinking vessels. She insisted that plastic vessels spoil the taste of their contents. The least expensive glass pitcher I had seen at discount stores cost considerably more than two dollars. But where was the vendor. One man from an adjacent stand saw me looking around and quickly shouted out: “Here comes Bob. See him there?” As he pointed in Bob’s direction, he added: “That’s him with the cane.” Within seconds Bob arrived with his twisted lacquered wooden cane.

“Hi, Bob, I’m interested in this glass jar. I was going to try to beat you up on the price,” I said with a look that belied any ability I might have at bartering. In the same breath I added: “But since you’re holding the stick, I guess I’ll have to settle on the price. My name’s Peter.”

Bob smiled a great big warm smile. I immediately knew I’d enjoy doing business with him.

“Before we close the deal, Peter, let me point out the crack at the top of the pitcher.” In truth, I hadn’t noticed the crack, so tiny it was.

“Thank you, Bob. I appreciate your honesty. I don’t mind that tiny crack as long as the pitcher doesn’t leak.”

“It doesn’t,” he said. I gave him the money. Then he put on a one-minute seminar on honesty in selling.

“I wouldn’t think of selling you that pitcher without first telling you about that crack. Everything else you do to make the sale goes down the drain if you’re not honest. Honesty gets you referrals because only happy customers send you their friends.” He went on to add a few more gems on honesty.

“Bob, when I get home, I am going to put together a short article on honesty in selling and send it off to Furniture World Magazine.”

As I drove home I could not get my mind off what had just transpired. Flea market vendors sell things that rarely sell for more than five dollars. Nothing has a written warranty. Everything is sold as is. Bob’s merchandise was different. The warranty was written on his honest heart. If only all salespeople were like Bob. The words “Let the buyer beware” would soon become as obsolete as the goods those vendors sell.


Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD.

Furniture World is the oldest, continuously published trade publication in the United States. It is published for the benefit of furniture retail executives. Print circulation of 20,000 is directed primarily to furniture retailers in the US and Canada.  In 1970, the magazine established and endowed the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library (www.furniturelibrary.com) in High Point, NC, now a public foundation containing more than 5,000 books on furniture and design dating from 1620. For more information contact editor@furninfo.com.