Bear With Me ...
By William Douglas Little
September 16, 2008
The bear has a history. In fact, I'd venture to say that the bear's life has been more exciting over the past thirty years since the time of his taxidermy.
He began his post-mortem career as a practical joker, turning up in dark closets, immediately behind closed bedroom doors and more than once inside an outhouse at a nearby park. Each time he showed up some unsuspecting family member would run away screaming, sometimes after wetting themselves. Needless to say, when the bear was passed down to me, I was more than a little thrilled.
I try to run a tight ship in my business. The three Ps of paperwork, policies and procedures are big with me, and I don't like dumb mistakes, (though I've been known to make my share). When it comes to the daily grind, however, I also like to let loose and keep things light hearted especially at the dealership. After all, we sell fun there, and the people working in that environment need to enjoy the atmosphere at least as much as the customers.
Several years ago, a tightly wound sales manager looked as though he needed a break. We had recently completed an outdoorsy addition to the facility and added quite a number of mounted animals to the mix. An evil thought crossed my mind and that particular evening I lobbied for the assistance of several employees and a tight customer.
We took my stuffed bear around the back of the building to a small dumpster located at one end of our loading dock. Our customer climbed inside with the bear and closed the plastic lids above him. There he waited for the signal. One of my salesmen, (he was happy to be involved in the scam on his boss), ran inside and told the sales manager that we thought we had a big raccoon trapped in the dumpster out back. The enticement of a wild animal was enough to pique his interest, and he quickly joined the rest of us on the dock.
As our group stood silently before the dumpster, I said to the sales manager, "I'm not sure what it is ... one of the guys said he heard a thumping in there." This was the customer's cue. With a deep, bellowing voice he emitted a barely audible, rumbling growl from the hollows of the dumpster that sounded like a very convincing bear growl. We all stepped back.
"What the hell?" the sales manager asked.
The entire group in unison did a great wide-eyed look of fear, and he was hooked. As if to answer his question, the customer banged the side of the dumpster loudly, echoing a sound like an ancient Chinese gong calling villagers to worship. The sales manager looked at me in surprise.
"I'm not getting near it!" I said with the skill of a great thespian. We looked to the others who were all shaking their heads.
The sales manager, playing the perfect "salesman" role of overconfident, macho stud, decided that he was going to be the man of the group. He began shaking his head in disgust and walked toward the red dumpster. He didn't say a word, but walked to the edge and reached for the lid. My evil plan was coming together.
Just as his hand reached the plastic cover, he paused with perhaps a shred of common sense stepping in front of his macho façade. I used the opportunity to cue our final assault, yelling the pre-planned words, "Be careful! Whatever it is, it's gotta be big!"
The sales manager had time to turn toward my voice with a look of confusion spilling over his brow before the customer shoved the bear's head through the dumpster's top, banging the lid back with a huge explosion of sound and bellowing out a perfect, killer roar! The sales manager's head turned back to find that he was face to face with the snarling, white-toothed mouth of a bear! He emitted a high-pitched scream that would have stopped games at a kindergarten playground, turned toward us and began running across the concrete with his palms open in the air like an old-time flapper dancer on meth. He fell on his knees once, and in a single, fluid motion popped back up and continued his screaming rampage into the building as the rest of us fell to the ground laughing.
The bear has yet to be retired. He's surprised co-workers by sitting in their office chairs, hiding around corners and even once was very nearly shot by a State Trooper who was checking the building when our alarm had sounded in the middle of the night. Two years ago we repeated the trash dumpster prank on a cocky parts kid as well. It works every time.
I try to let the guys ride stuff every now and again, and we joke around quite a bit at the dealership to keep things fun. I constantly remind my salespeople that there isn't an item in our store that is an absolute necessity. Even the hard-nosed farmer who says that the new four-wheeler is just another tractor to him will very likely be found buzzing across a field with a huge smile on his face later on. People buy our stuff for fun, plain and simple. If we properly project that fun, that atmosphere, when our customers are shopping, they are more likely to have a positive experience and keep coming back for more. Of course, there are always times when things build up and get too heavy. That, my friends, is when I call in the bear. Sometimes, I think, he's the most reliable employee I've got.