Thursday, August 20, 2015

Reps with a rep

Photo credit: Denise Krebs

A friend of mine was shopping at a quilt store recently (one very, very far from me) which she said had a great selection. She happened to ask the proprietress about a certain line and was told they don't carry anything from that particular manufacturer. Being the curious type, my friend asked, "Oh? Is it a problem with the fabric?" To which the shop owner replied, "No, it's a problem with the rep."

I remember sales reps from my days as an optician. Depending on the size of the eyewear company in question, the reps' sales territories might cover a couple states or the entire eastern half of the United States plus Puerto Rico. They traveled around with samples of every pair of eyeglasses the company currently carried and would pull out trays of them from their bags to show us and extol the virtues of each. "Now, this frame is made of a special alloy of titanium and cannotpronouncium, which is mined by specially trained Mongolian yaks.  This puke green color was all the rage at Fashion Week this year, and this clunky square shape is trés moderne." This was how we generally stocked the store with new product, except for occasional re-orders of frames that sold well and ones that we ordered at Vision Expo, the eyewear industry equivalent of Quilt Market.

Because the reps wanted us to wear their product, we often got free frames—one of the few perks in an otherwise sucky job. They were also the gateway to POS, which is how we referred to the decorative stuff that you could use in displays. (It stood for Point Of Sale, not Piece Of Shit.) Generally, the more we bought, the more POS we could have, but some reps would pile it on for us, because they knew we'd be more likely to make a dedicated display if we had the POS to go with it.

It's been over 10 years now since I worked in that industry, and I have deliberately shoved large portions of the experience out of my mind in order to maintain a relatively happy life, but I can't really remember having any major problems with one of our sales reps. I didn't particularly love some of them. One guy was kinda smarmy and fake, and I wouldn't have wanted to catch a drink with him after, but we liked the product and he didn't have cooties or anything. Some reps we hugged when they walked in because we truly liked them. Some we wanted to hug because they were hotties, but we didn't because we were both taken and way too shy. One had been my boss once upon a time, and pretty much taught me everything I knew, so he was a favorite too.

Some sales reps we never saw except at Vision Expo. We carried Oliver Peoples when they first came out, and at the time it was trying to position itself as a high-end boutique brand. You couldn't price the pieces lower than their suggested retail, and they weren't supposed to place it in more than one shop within the same area (though they did.) I don't recall ever getting a visit from an Oliver Peoples rep, but we did have an appointment with them at Vision Expo, the year that I got to go. Most frame companies set up booths in the Jacob Javits convention center in NYC, but certain other companies set up in giant suites in swanky hotels. If I remember correctly, Oliver Peoples set up their operations in the Ritz Carlton at Central Park. We rode the shiny elevators to one of the top floors and walked into a giant suite, staffed by models disguised as frame sales reps. It was hard not to feel like Dumpy McHickerson around them, which did not endear me towards them particularly, but they did their jobs just fine. My point being that even though I didn't love all our reps—okay, I may have irrationally despised the models and wished them dermatological problems—I don't think there were any I actually refused to work with.

But I have heard more than one comment from various parts about quilt shop owners hating certain sales reps and refusing to buy from the company they work for. Apparently (and someone can correct me if I am wrong), even circumventing the rep and making a purchase directly with the manufacturer still puts a commission in the rep's pocket, and so some shop owners will avoid doing even that because they don't want the rep to get any of their money. THIS IS FASCINATING TO ME. I mean, what does it take to piss of your clients so much they refuse to carry your company's product at all, even if they love it and would sell the hell out of it? Showing up drunk? Insulting your mother? Sleeping with your spouse? Are they dismissive, rude, unhelpful? What services, besides showing up and letting you see fabric samples, do sales reps provide that perhaps these evil ones do not? I am being very serious here. If you own a quilt shop or work in one and have some insight into what makes a crappy rep, leave me a comment or (if you want to be sure to preserve anonymity) email me at dontdrinkandquilt (at) gmail (dot) com. And conversely, when you absolutely LOVE a rep, what is it that fuels your ardor?  And if, by some chance of fate, there is a fabric sales rep out there who wants to tell his or her side of the story, by all means contact me. What makes shops wonderful or awful to work with? What do you wish shop owners knew about your business that would help you do yours better? (And let me just say here that I am NOT suggesting that all fabric sales reps are awful. I just want to know what makes a bad one and what makes a good one within the quilt fabric industry, so please sheathe your daggers now. I am also NOT looking to out anyone you dislike, so no names or identifying details please.)

Let's dish!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Change your whole life with this ONE WEIRD TRICK

Our summer began with the opening of my store, Clever Notions, and the release of my first quilt patterns, and I had thought that it would be the beginning of a summer of quilting and writing and steering my quilt life in a direction that would actually have, you know, a direction—instead of just a let's-see-if-I-feel-like-accomplishing-something-today kind of thing. As usual, I also made a half-hearted attempt at something like a diet and exercise program. One thing I did was I managed to give up soda (yes, full sugar soda - shut up) for almost a month early in the summer. I also tracked all of my calories and consistently kept my caloric intake under 1800 calories a day, usually more like 1300-1500.

And I gained 4 fucking pounds.

So I threw my hands up. What's the point? Why suffer only to gain weight when my normal awful diet keeps me at a consistent weight? Clearly, I've just reached that age where the entire universe conspires to keep you fat, and maybe I should just learn to accept it. If it means I don't have to give up Dr. Pepper, great. I love that goddamn stuff.

Then my husband decided to train for a 10K.

David is not an athlete by any stretch, though he used to run years ago, back in college. In the past couple of years, he has started exercising in the mornings, a routine of pushups and planks and burpees and huffnagles and I don't know what all. He still has his Buddha belly, and still could stand to drop at least 20 pounds, but he has managed to build a little muscle. His diet has never been full of junk food. He loves all kinds of vegetables and eats a ton of them, but he's never said no to a second sausage either. And if I make a pan of cinnamon rolls, he's right there with me scraping the last of the icing out of the bottom. So, sure, there was room for improvement, but it wasn't like he spent his days in a flurry of Big Mac wrappers and Twinkie crumbs.

I was pretty proud of him for deciding to do the 10k, but at first he was only running a couple times a week. He told me the running was really hard, harder than it had ever been for him, and I reminded him that he was about to turn 50 and I couldn't remember the last time he actually ran farther than the bathroom. Of course it's hard! In fact, I said, if you are serious about training, you really ought to run more often. Run shorter distances if you need to at first, but once a week ain't gonna cut it. In the face of my staggering wisdom, he agreed and tried to start running more often.

Most of these times, I didn't see him, or saw him after he had already walked home from the trail where he runs. He kept saying it was too hard, harder than it should be. Finally, he told me he wanted to see a cardiologist, just to get everything checked out. The cardiologist scheduled an ultrasound, which looked fine, and then a stress test. As the stress test approached, I asked him more about what he was feeling when he ran. It was a tightness, he said, a tightness in his chest and he couldn't keep going, but it wasn't his lungs. Whatever it was, he knew it wasn't right.

They stopped the stress test half way through because they were "seeing something." He was scheduled for cardiac catheterization a few weeks later. Let me just say, though I'm sure I don't need to say it, those were a looooong few weeks.

He went in on Tuesday for the cath procedure. After he had been in for half an hour or so, they told me they had found "a couple blockages" and were inserting stents. And about 45 minutes after than the cardiologist who did the procedure came out to talk to me.

"Both his right coronary artery and his left anterior descending artery were over 90% blocked, one of them was 99% blocked. the remaining artery is currently 50% blocked. This is a LOT of coronary artery disease for such a young man and he was at a very high risk of a heart attack or a stroke at any time."

I have been keeping a game face on for what feels like months now, not wanting to scare David or scare the kids, but this was what I was afraid we were going to hear. It's one thing to find out you're sick, you have a condition, and this is what we are going to do to treat it—it's another to hear you were walking around with a gun to your chest. Or to hear that about someone you love.

But I kept my game face on, because I was in a waiting room full of people whose mothers and fathers and spouses were there for the same reason, and I wasn't going to lose my shit around them. I kept it on when they took me back to see David, and I had to explain things to him over and over because the drugs were still making him woozy and unable to retain information. I kept it on as I sat with him, as the cardiologist came back to give us the Come to Jesus talk, as they transferred him to a room for overnight observation. I kept it on when I went home to get the kids and feed them and then bring them to the hospital to say hi to daddy and then back home and into bed. And except for few moments of crankiness from the stress of trying to get everyone everything they need, I've kept it on and kept it on, and now I'm starting to wonder if I've lost my ability to really let go and express everything that I really feel.

Because oh sweet merciful fuck am I freaked out. A little over 10 years ago, David's younger brother had a heart attack at age 37, and David immediately high-tailed it to a cardio doc and got himself checked out. "You look great," they said. "Everything looks good. Come back in 10 years and we'll see where you are then."

Only ten years later, and he could have died.

He came home on Wednesday, and we have eaten low-fat, low-cholesterol for every meal. I have replaced the half-and-half he pours in his coffee every morning with fat-free, my 2% milk is now skim. I am collecting vegetarian and heart-healthy magazines and books and combing our shelves to get rid of everything that could kill him. I have given up my sodas again and pushed away the breads and crackers that I snack on. In short, I am changing everything I eat in order to help him change what he eats, and so we will be on this journey together. When he is cleared again to exercise, I will do it as well, every day, because I know how hard it is to keep going and it's just a little bit easier when your spouse participates. I want to give him any edge I can, because there's little else I can do.

And if I don't, I know that in another 10 years, it could be me.

So, our summer didn't turn out quite the way I had planned. But that's okay. Because we have a lot of summers now ahead of us.

And just in case it might help someone, here are some of the signs of a heart attack. It isn't always a huge, crushing pain that makes you clutch your chest and fall down, so it's important to listen to your body and get help if you think something is wrong.