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Hitting the fan.
It had been a torturous drive. In the depths of winter and up from Naples, through Rome, across to Trieste then into Vienna, Nuremberg, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Copenhagen and finally Gothenburg. Where we had to meet a man that carted shit. The whole six thousand kilometre or more return trip sharing the driving across mist shrouded mountains and icy death trap autoroutes. Consoling ourselves with the thought that our respective governments were imposing extra taxes upon us for the ‘benefits in kind’ we were enjoying whilst risking our lives and being separated from our families.
After a rewarding four hours sleep in a ‘plastic bed factory’, there we both were, my Scandinavian agent and me, sat in front of one of his prize prospects who made honey carts. Well that’s a bit unkind. A honey cart, as anyone hailing from Norfolk will be only too quick to tell you, is the old horse or donkey drawn vehicle that used to be dragged around the streets of villages such as Docking or Burnham Market and towns such as Swaffham or Dereham collecting the night’s effluent. What our fine prospect did was a tad more modern. His honey carts were based on a Volvo chassis and were powered by a diesel engine. What’s more, the man’s brilliant idea was to heat the ‘honey’ with waste heat from the diesel engine from the point at which it was collected to the point of squirting it into a big tank back at the depot. Why? To get it working and producing loads of methane gas.
Our hero was embarking upon a plan to build and operate a fleet of around two thousand of his super, state of the art cesspit wagons across all of southern Sweden. He would charge for the service of emptying the nation’s cesspits. Lots of which were located in villages too remote to be served by mains drainage. Then using heat recovered from the vehicle engine he would warm the foul brews en-route then collect the resultant methane that was produced and sell it. Double whammy! Bright cookie. Not all that bright though.
To heat the corrosive fluid with exhaust gas required a heat exchanger and as luck would have it the company we represented made heat exchangers. All sorts. We had little ones for such things as oil coolers for car transmission systems, right through to big ones which served as feed water heaters in the world’s nuclear power stations. Like the ones we made for the nuclear power station at Three Mile Island in the USA but which we didn’t talk about too much these days. Like we didn’t talk too much about the ones we supplied to cool the hydraulics on the ship steering gear of the Torrey Canyon oil tanker either but I digress. Anyway, heating shit is a tricky business. It is highly corrosive. Build the exchanger with the wrong materials and the whole thing would fall apart within weeks. Being in the engine bay of a truck chances are that shit would end up hitting the fan big time - literally - and that could make us unpopular.
“You will need what we call seventy/thirty copper nickel.” explained Bo (it was his name so I’ll use that) to our hero shit shoveller extraordinaire.
“Yes, I understand.” replied our hero. “Will we need to service them at all?”
“Oh quite probably but if you get a blockage all that is needed is to remove the end covers and rod them through. That’s about all the servicing they’re ever likely to need.” explained Bo.
“OK, and these end covers they are fastened with what?” asked our eager client.
“Just twenty four 5/8” hexagon head bolts on each end.” said Bo
“What’s 5/8?” asks our victim.
“Five eighths of an inch across flats.” replies Bo.
“Oh no. We need metric fasteners.” says our target.
“No can do.” explains Bo, and continues “It’s an American product and we are simply not geared or tooled up for SI (Systeme Internationale) measurement. It would be impossible and totally unviable for us to re-tool for metric for just two thousand units.”
“Well I must have metric. Your price is good but I can’t buy unless the fasteners are metric.” says our client.
“Tell you what.” chirps up Bo. Thinking on his feet for once. “We’ll throw in free wrench and socket sets in Imperial for each of your depots so then your fitters can service them without any problem.”
“OK, I’ll place an order and you will make them with metric fasteners then?”
“No, I didn’t say that. I said we would make them with Imperial fasteners as is our standard but for goodwill we will give you, free of charge, the tools you will need to service them.”
“Fine. I’ll order two thousand then. At fifteen hundred Dollars each yes?” Our client said somewhat rhetorically as the price issue had been ‘put to bed’ hours ago. “With metric fasteners.” He threw in as a sort of parting shot. This was a mistake.
Bo, like me, hadn’t slept much over the past ten days. We had covered around five hundred kilometres each day in awful driving conditions and managed to see three or four clients each day. Tough, professional, big industry buyers who had all given us a hard time. Although highly skilled and trained ourselves we were basically commission paid salesmen and we were hungry. Times were hard. Money was tight everywhere and competition was stiff. Bo had had enough. He flipped. He stood up then leaned across the desk and grabbed our astonished prospect by the lapels and dragged him out of his chair and halfway across his desk.
Eyeball to eyeball Bo then screamed “Why are you so f*****g stupid?”
I tried to restrain Bo and nearly got a black eye myself for my sins. I pulled him off and settled the now terrified shit shoveller back in his seat.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” I stammered, somewhat inadequately. “My colleague, he’s been under a lot of pressure recently!” (an understatement, Bo had no money, none about to come in unless he concluded this sale and his wife was threatening to leave him taking their two sweet kids in tow).
“OK, OK, give me a pen. I’ll sign the order right now!” uttered shit shoveller.
For students of the art of professional selling techniques Bo’s wasn’t a method that I’d recommend. It worked on this occasion though.
I’ve finished 'repping' now.
For the day anyway.