Don’t trust a book by its cover

imagesThe summer between my freshman and sophomore year I spent the summer working as a flyer at Neiman-Marcus. A flyer is someone who goes from department to department depending on who needs help that day.  It was a great way to experience multiple departments.  I spent time in the food department including accessories, mens, women’s and even children’s.

There was a bit of animosity among the sales people that was created by the person running the store.  Everyone was on commission so all elbows were sharp to grab each possible sale.  Wasn’t pretty and nobody had any interest in talking to me which proved to be a mistake.  I would have been happy to help anyone get a sale if I understood the commission structure.  I was there to learn.

One day I happened to be working the men’s department.  They needed a warm body to make sure the floor was covered. I noticed a woman looking at clothes.  She was wearing frayed jeans, a white V-neck Hanes t-shirt and clunky shoes.  Nobody would give her the time of day because she didn’t appear to be a worthy customer.  I approached her and we started talking.  I was happy to help her pull some clothes together for her husband.

Soon enough it was obvious to everyone on the floor that this woman was going to make a serious purchase.  Then everyone attempted to be friendly with me.  Could they help, perhaps they should ring up the sale?  I ignored them all and did the sale myself.  Ends up the woman was the wife to the ambassador of Mexico.

She pulls a huge wad of cash out of her pocket to pay for the almost $5k purchase.  I was a kid, she was an adult but I said to her that she might want to consider not walking around DC with all that cash in her pocket.  She laughed and said to me “do I look like I have that kind of cash in my pocket”?  Obviously not or I wouldn’t have been the one ringing up this sale.

Bottom line….never judge a book by its cover.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Susan Rubinsky

    Oh, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this story. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Gotham Gal


  2. Donna Brewington White

    Well you live part-time in So Cal (and especially the part you live in) as well as with startup founders so I’m sure this lesson has been reinforced. ;)I can so relate to this story both as the recipient of false impressions and also having to readjust my own perceptions. Living in free-spirited Malibu definitely helped broaden my realm.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Def reinforced

    2. awaldstein

      Ain’t that the truth!Nothing breaks this like LA where nobody looks like who they are.

  3. pointsnfigures

    Awesome story. My friend traded with me. He used to gamble a lot (poker). One day, he walked into a Mercedes dealership unshaven, in ripped up clothes. No one paid attention to him. He was carrying a shoebox. No one paid attention to him. At one point, it looked like they were going to throw him out.He started laying out $100 bills on the hood of the Mercedes he wanted to buy. All of a sudden, people were all over him. When the salesperson asked how he was going to pay, he said, “Shoebox”.

    1. LE

      Fwiw I have bought many luxury cars (5 in the past 5 years alone) and always show up in dungarees tshirt and sometimes unshaven. I have never had an issue at all with anyone paying attention to me. As a matter of fact I’ve had dealers tell me (in Princeton NJ ) that it’s often the guy who looks like he doesn’t have money that has the money and buys for cash. [1] And they get kids from the University whose parents tell them to just buy a car and honest to god they go and buy a Porsche. But this has happened to me other places as well. Never an issue.On the other hand in my own condo complex I have been ignored by the local police and firefighters when they are on site. I guess because it’s a medical complex and I don’t look like a doctor.None of this really bothers me actually. And as a matter of fact in my first business where I never dressed up (except for a short period once) I used it to my advantage. And I got my first big account dressed in dungarees and a down vest (remember those in the 80’s?) and got if from Xerox with their big professional sales force dressed in suits by acting real. This was back when everyone dressed up nobody did business that way. It wasn’t a grand strategy either, I was just more comfortable that way.[1] They don’t like that. They make more money from someone who leases or finances obviously. If anything when buying you want them to think that is what they are doing, more likely to take a haircut on price if they think they will make money financing the car.

    2. Anne Libby

      Great story.A bschool friend who was a top software salesperson — a woman, probably shopping in khakis and a polo shirt or other work-ish “uniform” — had an experience where she was being asked all kinds of subtly demeaning questions. Did she need to call her husband sort of thing. Also in a Mercedes dealership, IIRC. She sort of played along, to the point where she was telling them that she liked a car because of a subtle pinstripe paint detail, asking naive questions…she wound up getting a great deal on the car.At the end she subtly let her profession slip. The guy who sold her the car wasn’t pleased that he had been played.

      1. Gotham Gal


        1. Anne Libby

          To be sure, she tells the story much better than I do!

  4. Rohan

    Such a great story, Joanne. A classic. 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

  5. LE

    In sales I tend toward being a “leave no stoned unturned” type of person but in all honestly sometimes you just have to jump to conclusions and use your past experience to try and narrow down prospects and not waste your time. It’s part of qualifying your prospects. Back in my first business one of my pretty good customers first came around in a rainstorm looking like a bagmag with a trash bag full of things (you have seen guys like this). That was a shock. But quite frankly I don’t think it ever happened again like that. Turned out he was an artist and that is just the way he rolled. And I wasn’t really used to working with artists at that time.This place:

  6. Kirsten Lambertsen

    That is a *great* story.On my very first trip to NYC, the man I was with (who’d been many times) said to me, “The great thing about NYC is that everybody’s money is the same color of green. The richest guy in town could be right next to you on the street in torn jeans and an old leather jacket.” If I wasn’t already convinced it was the place for me, I was after that statement.

  7. JLM

    .Fabulous story and parable.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  8. awaldstein

    I spent 7 years building two companies in LA and still there monthly.If there ever was a place where music, movies, tech, creative intersected and absolutely no one (except studio bosses) looked like who they were, this is it.