The First Sale


When I first joined the family electrical supply company in Lafayette, Indiana, I didn’t know a volt from a watt. The language of the business with its single-phase/three-phase, motor starter, and load center terms were a complete mystery to me.

It was thought that the best way for me to learn the business was baptism by fire and I was assigned to counter sales taking orders from electrical contractors. Also working the counter was Mike, a young but very experienced employee. Just outside our sales office was a shed that contained the various types of conduit—pipe that was used to enclose electrical wiring. During my initial days of total confusion and embarrassment, I grabbed Mike by the arm, dragged him to the conduit shed and had him point out the various types of conduit and to give me all of their alias names; like EMT, thin wall, galvanized, rigid, PVC, etc.

Our president was an aggressive go getter, and one year after I started with Kirby Risk, the company had an opportunity to open its first branch office two hours away in Columbus, Indiana. The branch would need an on-site manager. I was considered but it was assumed my inexperience and the fact that I had been immediately included in Lafayette society as the son-in-law/brother-in-law of the founder and president, that I would be reluctant to trade those perks for a move to an unknown community.

Little did they understand that my wife’s and my frequent duty station moves in the Navy had shown us the fun and excitement of new places and how to make new friends quickly. When asked if I would consider the move to Columbus, my immediate reply was “Heck YES!” All I would be expected to do was establish banking services, find a building, hire employees, stock the shelves, buy company vehicles, introduce our unknown business to the community, and be profitable. Piece of cake.

The huge ace I had up my sleeve was Mike, the experienced Lafayette counter man, who joined me in Columbus as my assistant. Within a few weeks we found ourselves in our new building, with shelves stocked with inventory. I was sitting at a table accompanied by Mike, our new secretary/receptionist, and our newly hired  delivery driver. On that table was a phone … and it wasn’t ringing.

Mike had a suggestion. “Errr, Jim, why don’t you go out and sell something.”

Good idea. My first sales call was on a local manufacturer of children’s furniture. I was explaining to Paul, the purchasing manager, that Kirby Risk had nothing to do with Kirby vacuum cleaners. Paul, pointing to a burned-out light bulb in his office, asked if we sold those. I had to admit I wasn’t sure, but I knew someone who did, and borrowed his phone to call Mike.

“Mike do we sell 75R30 light bulbs?”

“Heck yes,” he said, “we have a whole shelf of them.”

Paul then asked when it could be delivered. I said, “Paul, I’ve got a warehouse full of product, a brand-new delivery truck, and a new delivery driver. And you are our only customer. I’d guess that light bulb will be here in about ten minutes.

Thus, began a career with a company that now has hundreds of employees, does half billion in sales, and has branches in a several states. What a great ride it was.

6 thoughts on “The First Sale

  1. Jim, You certainly have been involved in many endeavors during your multiple years on this earth. However, I am most proud to say that I am a friend of a former light bulb salesman. Congratulations old pal.

  2. Jim,
    Again another new venture for you. Thank heavens for friends like Mike.

  3. Nice story about a growing company and the start of your career there!

  4. I like your story, but I thought you might have extended it a bit. Surely you had a few “experiences” early on that we all could have chuckles over.

  5. Happy to have been one of those delivery drivers myself back in the day!

  6. Mike’s wife made the best chocolate cookies I ever ate.

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