The Hard Sell

At this point I would like to tell you about a book which I think should be read by every trade show magician. I suspect it may well also be of some use to sales people of any kind. The name of the book is “The Hard Sell” and the co authors are Colin Clark and Trevor Pinch.

I have already talked about the relationship and the similarities between a svengali pitchman and a trade show performer. This book was written by two sociologists who accidentally came across what are known in Britain as “market pitchers” although the term “market grafters” are often used as well.

I suppose I had better explain what a “market pitcher” is since the concept does not seem to be prevalent in North America from what I have seen.

This may get a trifle complicated. The word “pitch” in the UK has an entirely different meaning than it does in North America. And yet both meanings are relevant to the work of the grafter/pitchman. In America to pitch means to sell. In the UK it refers to the location that you work from. And to complicate matters even further it has another meaning. It means the actual crowd in front of you.

Now I have to explain the “grafter” thing. In America they have a word called “grifter” which does NOT have the same meaning as the word “grafter” A grafter is what Americans call a “pitchman” and a grifter is what  North Americans call a scam artist. However just because you are a scam artist does not make you a grafter since a grafter gathers a crowd and sells to them. So a grafter can be a grifter (and sometimes is)  but he doesn’t have to be. And a “grifter” doesn’t necessarily have to be a grafter since there are lots of ways of scamming people without having to draw a crowd.

And just to complicate matters even further in the US and Canada the word “pitchman” often means any kind of salesman rather than the most accepted one of a salesman who draws a crowd and sells to them.

This description is getting very complicated and I wish I hadn’t started it!

Let me take a deep breath and try to continue. To clarify matters there are two types of grafters. Actually there are three but one of them are jam auction or run out workers which are in a category of their own and there is actually an entire chapter devoted to them in the book I am discussing.

There are the regular grafters who demonstrate and sell one or two products only such as kitchen knives, paint pads, or vegamatics. And yes, svengali decks. They are demonstrators but they are not market pitchers which are a separate breed entirely and I have never seen them in America. Now this type of demonstrator often works in a market but he isn’t a market pitcher.

I am dreading this but I suppose I will now have to explain the word “market”. There are all sorts of outdoor and a few indoor street markets dotted all over the UK. The nearest equivalent over here is flea markets but they are not quite the same thing as British street markets. I am not going to explain the difference in case I have a nervous breakdown trying to explain it. Suffice it to say that it is the nearest equivalent.

Market pitchers are still grafters but they are a different type of grafter. Instead of one product or two they have a massive range such as toys, radios, electrical goods, household linens etc;. They don’t work from a counter as you can well imagine.Instead they work from either a massive stall with a very large frontage or more often from the back of a lorry (truck). They have assistants who hand them up the goods, serve customers and generally assist. They draw massive crowds which are far bigger than a regular grafter (demonstrator) does.

With witty patter and showmanship they sell the big variety of goods that they have on display.

This post is already taking up far more space than I intended so for now I will stop here. In my next post I will explain more about how this wonderful book relates to the art of gathering a crowd and selling to them and how all this relates to the trade show environment.

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