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Great Neck Notebook: December 20, 2011

The Unexpected Gift

Salesmen who sell lumber and plywood (like me) get few chances to inject whimsy into the ordinary course of commerce. But holiday time is the season of miracles and if not miracles, then tiny surprises.

So it was when I put a phone call into one of my customers in Long Island City last week. I was nearby, but there being few legal places to park in that area, I decided to call and ask if they needed any material. I was disappointed when the customer’s answering machine went on, but in a flash realized this was a golden opportunity.

When the recorded message ended, and the beep signaled that it was ready to record, I sang the following lines (to the tune of Santa Claus is Coming to Town): “ I’m making a list, I’m checking it twice, all my lumber is at the right price, and my delivery truck is heading for you…”

I didn’t think about “my song” again until this customer called me the next day. They had been so amused by the message, that they decided to order some plywood. I could hear the smiles in their voices as we talked on the phone and didn’t mind that they referred to me as the “Hanukkah elf.”  Make that the singing Hanukkah elf, please.

Later that day I was visiting a customer in Deer Park. As you might guess, at this time of year, salespeople give out a variety of gifts as a way of saying “Happy Holidays” and also showing appreciation for the business of the past year. One of my favorite holiday gifts is made by Ferrero Rocher.   It’s a 12-piece package of individually wrapped premium chocolate candies with chopped hazelnuts surrounding a creamy chocolate filling—and has always been a big hit with my customers.

The usual procedure at holiday time is to give these gifts to the purchasing staff and sometimes to the production people as well. As I was walking into the customer’s office, I remembered that there’s an elderly woman who answers phones and acts as receptionist. She’s been with the company for more than 20 years and I make it a point to say hello to her every time I visit.

It occurred to me that most salespeople who call on this company would pay little attention to her—and certainly never bother to give her anything for the holidays. So I decided to be whimsical. As I entered the office, I stopped at her desk first and handed her a package of the Ferrero Rocher chocolates.

Well, you would have thought I had given her the keys to the city or a winning lotto ticket. Her face burst into a huge smile and she stood up and kissed my cheek. I smiled back, wished her a happy holiday, and continued on to greet other people in her office.

For the rest of the day, every time I thought about that “kiss on the cheek,” I knew that I was the one who had been given a gift.