Door-to-door book sales­man takes his knocks in Saudi Ara­bia

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

In Saudi Ara­bia where many peo­ple spend a big chunk of their lives on­line, like else­where in to­day’s world, John Gunti seems like a relic from a by­gone era. The In­dian na­tional knocks on doors in the busi­ness dis­trict of the Saudi cap­i­tal Riyadh, hop­ing to sell a 22-vol­ume World Book En­cy­clo­pe­dia that weighs about 25 kilo­grams (55 pounds). Even though times are tough in an oilde­pen­dent econ­omy where ev­ery­one is cut­ting back, Gunti says: “Cold call­ing is my pas­sion.” But what would any­body want with such a tome these days, when ev­ery ques­tion can be an­swered on a smart­phone? As a di­rect mar­keter, rather than just a static dis­play in a book­shop, he is al­ways ready to ex­plain.

“You’ll ask me 100 ques­tions. I’ll an­swer your 100 ques­tions,” says Gunti, 47, who car­ries fold-out pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial in a smart black satchel to help his pitch. After 11 years in the busi­ness, and prior ex­pe­ri­ence in med­i­cal di­ag­nos­tic sales back home, Gunti says it doesn’t mat­ter what prod­uct is be­ing sold. “If you want to sell a stone, you can sell it. If you want to sell sand, you can sell it. What mat­ters is at­ti­tude: I have to sell this prod­uct,” he says. Still, Gunti be­lieves books have their place, even though sales have slumped to al­most noth­ing.

Lonely busi­ness

Gone are the days when his com­pany, Pi­o­neer House, had about 20 sales­men, all of them from South Asia, who even came to blows over cus­tomers. Not the fast-talk­ing Gunti, though. He says he never re­lied on fists but only on his power of per­sua­sion. Gunti once had three or four sales­men un­der him and got a share of their in­come as well as his own. “I worked on com­mis­sion all these years.” The more pros­per­ous era ended about two years ago, co­in­cid­ing with the col­lapse in Saudi Ara­bia’s oil rev­enues and en­su­ing cut­backs through­out the econ­omy.

“It was good some time ago but now... the de­mand has gone down,” leav­ing only Gunti and one other Pi­o­neer House sales­man hunt­ing for cus­tomers. Ac­cord­ing to him, theirs is the last surviving Riyadh firm in this busi­ness. Gunti de­pends on the roughly 25-per­cent share he earns on each 2,000 riyal ($533) World Book En­cy­clo­pe­dia set he sells. He also of­fers the more costly En­cy­clo­pe­dia Bri­tan­nica, chil­dren’s en­cy­clo­pe­dias and mul­ti­me­dia ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams from which he also gets a cut. “There were times where I sold five en­cy­clo­pe­dias or six en­cy­clo­pe­dias a month,” says the well-spo­ken Gunti, glasses perched atop his head.

“The ideal ra­tio is that if you make five presentations, you need to close one deal.” Now it takes 100 meet­ings to make a sale, so “you need to make more ef­fort to meet more peo­ple,” he says. “Ninety-nine per­cent are ‘nos’.” Some of his busi­ness comes from re­fer­rals but most of his time is spent on cold calls.

Tough times

He rides el­e­va­tors up and down the tow­ers of Olaya Street and King Fa­had Road in Riyadh’s busi­ness dis­trict, ring­ing door­bells. Ex­pe­ri­ence tells him who to tar­get. “If I go to an of­fice I don’t just ap­proach ev­ery per­son there.” Gunti, who speaks some Ara­bic but makes his pitch in English, says he has the best luck with Jor­da­ni­ans, Syr­i­ans, Egyp­tians and Pales­tini­ans from among the mil­lions of ex­pa­tri­ate work­ers in the king­dom. Saudis and other Arabs are less likely buy­ers. “I’ll ap­proach and I’ll in­tro­duce my­self in a friendly way so that he gets friendly with me,” Gunti says.

“Then I start my pep talk and get his back­ground about his chil­dren and their ages and ev­ery­thing. “Then in my mind I de­cide what (prod­uct) to present to him, so ac­cord­ingly I’ll make a pre­sen­ta­tion. “Then I’ll close the deal.” That is the tricky part-get­ting a stranger to part with 2,000 riyals. “It all de­pends on how you make your pre­sen­ta­tion,” says Gunti. “He buys be­cause of John, not be­cause of the prod­uct, not be­cause of the com­pany. Be­cause of trust in John.”

Ev­ery cus­tomer asks why he should buy the printed en­cy­clo­pe­dia, to which Gunti an­swers: “A book is more com­fort­able” than on­line and “has its place”. The sales­man says he en­joys a job where he can help chil­dren learn, and he still be­lieves “there is a big mar­ket”. But the king­dom’s eco­nomic slow­down has left him barely get­ting by. “It’s (a) tough time for me,” Gunti ad­mits, his busi­ness shirt show­ing signs of wear. “I’m un­able to send any money back home” to his wife and two grown daugh­ters in Hy­der­abad. “This month I may earn only 2,000 riyals. Or even there were times I earned only 1,500 riyals.” He doesn’t know how much longer he can keep go­ing. “I’m re­ally plan­ning to quit,” he says. “I have plenty of tal­ents-peo­ple skills and pre­sen­ta­tion abil­ity-that could be use­ful else­where.” But Gunti firmly be­lieves that, far from dy­ing out, doorto-door sales is some­thing that will sur­vive eco­nomic down­turns. “Door-to-door is a sys­tem,” he says. “Di­rect mar­ket­ing will never die.”

— AFP pho­tos

A pic­ture shows In­dian sales­man John dis­plays ex­plain­ing ma­te­rial about a chil­dren’s learn­ing pro­gram he of­fers for sale, dur­ing a demon­stra­tion of his sales pitch in the Saudi cap­i­tal Riyadh.

In­dian sales­man John Gunti leav­ing after vis­it­ing a cus­tomer in a busi­ness dis­trict in the Saudi cap­i­tal Riyadh.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.