Thursday, July 18, 2013

Jobs that are no more

When Mercury staff writer Caroline Sweeney started work on the series, "Jobs I never had," tackling summer jobs she had never tried, we started talking in the newsroom about the summer jobs that no longer exist.
As it turns out, none of the summer jobs I worked are an option these days. 
Back in the '70s, the region's factories provided the most lucrative employment. I worked for a time at the former Kooly Kupps plant outside Boyertown as a Styrofoam cup inspector. The job involved white cups going by on a conveyor belt with a light shining from below. If the light was visible through a spot in the cup, we discarded that cup.
By the end of a shift, we were covered in white Styrofoam and surrounded by damaged cups.
My second factory job was at the former Gudebrod plant, the one on Old Reading Pike near Flagg's. I worked third shift on a thread spooling machine, paid by the number of spools produced in a shift.
The musty building was hot, even from11 p.m. to 7 a.m., and I walked non-stop from one end of the spooling machine to the other packing spools of various colored threads as they came off the machine.
Neither of those jobs, nor those buildings exist. Thread isn't spooled and Kooly Kupps aren't manufactured around here anymore.
But my best summer job that no longer exists was selling Wonder Ware, the cookware designed to make great cooks out of unsuspecting young people as they graduated from high school or college.
"We're visiting ALL the girls ..." was the first line of our sales pitch.  In other words, if you didn't have an eager college student pitching pots and pans in your living room, well, you just weren't part of the crowd.
I worked for American Future Systems, lugging pans in a faded blue suitcase in and out of houses in the Pottstown area. We prospected sales leads through high school yearbooks and then worked referrals from one girl to the next.
The competition was tough: If another company's salesperson got to a school population first, I had no chance. I made a few sales in Pottstown and Owen J. Roberts, but I hit roadblocks with households already visited. Then I started in Phoenixville, where I quickly learned I was the first salesperson in town.
For July and the first half of August, I schlepped up and down the North Side, the East End and what is now the business district, giving my pitch and selling pans.
I learned how to cold-call, how to talk my way inside the door of a house, how to overcome objections and how to close a sale.
I delicately stood on pans to prove their durability and aptly explained the heat conduction advantages of three-layered copper, stainless steel construction.
I navigated the slumps and peaks salespeople come to know, and I kept going through nights when the car overheated and days when I would rather have gone to the beach than pound the pavement.
As it turns out, I'm pretty good at sales. I made more than $3,000 in six weeks, a small fortune in 1975 dollars; won a sales-incentive bonus of a weeklong trip to Bermuda, and even got a plaque as the fourth salesperson in the company.
I was the top sales rep in the Philadelphia region.
That's a job that is no more. No one is selling teens $330 sets of cookware for their future.
Caroline's "jobs she never had" won't include Kooly Kupp inspector, third-shift spooler or cookware sales. That's a shame.  There were lessons in those three endeavors that have served me well.

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