Big Thoughts on the Big Sell

Last month the Denver VOICE challenged staff, board members, and community supporters to team up with vendors for an hour and learn how to sell the VOICE. Though no one expected it to be an easy job, all who took part in the event found selling the paper more difficult than they anticipated. Below, a few guest vendors sound off on the experience of being a VOICE vendor for one hour.

Vendor Rodney Woolfolk teaches executive director Laura Thompson to sell the VOICE. Photo by Jesse Borrell. 

Laura Thompson, Denver VOICE Executive Director

When I donned my red vendor vest on Feb 4, I thought I had an idea of what I would encounter as a guest vendor.  The vendors had warned me that it would be hard and had prepared me for some rejection. But what I actually experienced during that hour threw me for a loop.  I had expected many people to simply say no thanks as they walked by.  What I didn’t anticipate was the number of people who walked right by like we weren’t even there.  All of a sudden I had a small glimpse into what people mean when they say to be homeless is to be invisible.  

What I did learn that day: how hard our vendors work to make a dignified income, how important it is to make a connection—no matter how small—and that a smile and a simple “thank you and have a nice day” goes a long way.

 

Nicole Carlson, President, Denver VOICE Board of Directors

My primary takeaway from the experience of selling the VOICE was how difficult it is to be “on” all of the time in a situation where many ignore you. This is exacerbated by the fact that most of the vendors are down on their luck and dealing with situations many people have never—and, hopefully, will never—experience in their lifetimes. 

To be able to put aside your struggles and replace them with a smile and a clever phrase to attract potential customers is the ultimate showing of strength and the VOICE vendors do it every day. According to my mentor and partner for the event, vendor David Gordon, “You’ve got to have thick skin—alligator skin. You can’t let others take your energy and get you down.” 

Selling the VOICE was a humbling experience. It opened my eyes to the challenges vendors face in their paths to improve their lives, and I am extremely thankful for the time I spent with David learning from him.

 

Andy Magel, Vice President, Denver VOICE Board of Directors

When I signed up to vend the VOICE, I thought it would be easy.  I enjoy meeting new people and engaging them on issues I’m passionate about. Unfortunately, that was not my experience. The most common characteristic of my hour-long sales stint was total rejection. Not only did I make a measly two dollars, but also most people went out of their way to ignore me.

I know sales jobs are hard and everyone has somewhere to be, but I actually felt bad that I had done so poorly. Two takeaways from this experience are: If you take a second and say “hi” to someone on the street, it goes a long way; and Denver VOICE vendors are some of the most determined, hardworking people I know. 

 

Although most guest vendors felt discouraged after the experience, the VOICE vendors who took part had nothing but positive things to say about their students. Editor Sarah Harvey caught up with a few vendors after the event to find out what they thought.

 

Sarah Harvey: How did your students do?

Rodney Woolfolk: Laura did an excellent job. I only made a dollar and she made, like, ten dollars. She was trying to get the catch of it, and once she got the catch of it, boy she was hookin’ them in. 

David Gordon: Nicole was a go-getter; she did great. She had a lot of energy, and I enjoyed working with her. 

Brian Augustine: Gretchen came out 100 percent, all guns to bare. After 15 minutes she started quieting down because of the rejection.

SH: Do you think they got a pretty good snapshot of a typical day for you?

DG: Yes, [Nicole] did. She got an accurate experience of the rejection. I could see for a minute there it was starting to bother her.

SH: How did it make you feel, teaching someone else how to be a vendor?

BA: I enjoyed the experience, but I had empathy for how [Gretchen] was feeling.

DG: These are people who have jobs; they don’t need the money. Think of how a person feels who needs the money. Think about how demoralizing [the rejection] is for that person who needs the money to get on the bus or put food in their tummy. ■