The summer after my senior year in high school was an idyllic time: instead of laboring on roofs in the hot Florida sun, I worked at a Silver Springs, Florida motel. It was great! I didn’t have to be at work until 11:00 in the morning and I had a girlfriend.
I would finish work early in the evening, pickup my girlfriend and we would head to the movies. In Ocala, there were four choices: the Marion Theatre, the Ritz Theatre, the Ocala and Skylark Drive-Ins. As far as I was concerned—being a 17 year-old with raging hormones—the drive-ins were the only choices.
Since it had a better concessions stand and movies, the Ocala Drive-In was my favorite. There, along with a BBQ sandwich, came a whole paper bag full of frenchfries. As for movies, it was the summer of the “spy” film: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold; the Ipcress File and Thunderball. Great movies, but with so much excitement, often my girlfriend had little time for me.
After the movie, stopping at the Big D, a local drive-in restaurant, was obligatory. The restaurant had curb service on one side and parking on the other. It was the custom to cruise around the restaurant until you found the ideal parking place and then, while looking over your shoulder with your right arm on the back of the seat, rapidly back your car into the parking space. If you misjudged and had to try again, your date would hide her head in shame, as a cacophony of car horns would announce your failure.
There was plenty of business that summer. Ocala was the hub of a number of major U.S highways and, tourists traveling the roads to the Florida sun, passed numerous billboards urging them to see Silver Springs. Forty-five years before the advent of Disney World, Silver Springs was one of Florida’s top tourist attractions and there was a high demand for motel rooms.
Bob had purchased the motel from his dad and was determined to make a go of it. My job was “guest relations.” I would show guests to their room, help them with their luggage and fetch ice. When not working with guests, I cleaned the pool and ran errands.
When a prospective guest asked to see a room before renting it, I would be detailed to “show” the room. It didn’t take long for the owner to discover that whenever I showed a room, he rented it. That’s when my job description changed; I became the desk clerk and Bob handled guest relations and cleaned the pool.
I was learning to overcome sales objections. Someone would complain that the room didn’t have wall-to-wall carpeting; I would proclaim, “We ripped it out to make sure the room was really clean.” No telephone; I would exclaim, “Why do you need one when you are on vacation?” The room rate was higher than that printed in the AAA book; I would angrily exclaim, “Dadgum it, we asked them to correct that mistake.”
I was also learning the power of a pleasant smile and greeting. While my boss—mimicking the stereotype of New Jerseyites, who he refused to rent to—was sometimes caustic, busy and unfriendly; I tried to be the epitome of Southern charm. With a concerned look, I would listen to tales of long drives, hot days and high prices. I would greet the wives, pet the kids on the head while pointing out the swimming pool and try to charm the teenage daughters. That summer I was the motel room sales king.
The summer between high school and college, working at a motel, I learned more than I would in a classroom. I discovered that selling is about connecting: listening; understanding needs; overcoming objections; providing service; following up and a warm smile. Without connecting, selling is about price alone: a sales strategy that can only result in low margins and failure.
“Revolve your world around the customer and more customers will revolve around you.” -Heather Williams