If you told Daniel Cook in 1981 that selling vacuums while hitchhiking to and from work would be his key to a lucrative career in direct sales (DS), he probably would have laughed in your face. Cook had been happy to get a job as a junior expeditor with IBM. It was manageable work that provided a decent income and a reasonable amount of job security. So it seemed to be the perfect job for a recent college graduate. Eventually Cook realized he wanted more money, so he took a weekend job with Electrolux selling vacuums.
Cook would be the first to admit that there is nothing glamorous about selling vacuums; but going door to door as a salesman taught him two valuable lessons. First, that he liked direct sales and second that he could make more money doing part time DS work on the weekends than he could working his full-time job at IBM. "I made $42,000 in 11 months doing door-to-door vacuum sales in 1982, so I kept at it," he said.
A year later, Cook found himself in a more trying situation. "I worked 52 miles away from where I was living and I had to hitchhike to work every day for three months because I had no car, but that is what kept me in the field of DS," he said. "I was no longer trying to make a fast buck and sell to my parents and family and friends. I had to sell to strangers, and that's harder -- but it made me persistent."
Taking the leap
In 1982, Daniel took a leap of faith and became a full-time DS rep with Electrolux. He stayed with the company until 1993. His best year was 1992, when he made $179,000 pedaling vacuums to homeowners in Maine. "Sometimes the job picks you," he observed.
After his most lucrative year, Daniel took another leap of faith and left the world of vacuums with his close friend and mentor, Joe Galluccio, to work at Colliers Publishers. "I had problems in school with reading comprehension and that's really where the pressure started. My background is in teaching and coaching, so I like to help students."
Less than a year later, Colliers Publishers was sold to a European company that gave Galluccio the exclusive rights to sell educational products (encyclopedias and educational materials). Galluccio called his DS company BrainstormUSA, and Cook began selling their educational products -- just as he had once sold vacuums.
Daniel invested $150 in start-up costs. For that money he got a kit that told him about BrainstormUSA products and how to sell for them. Across the country there are currently over 200 reps selling these products. According to Daniel, "most of our reps are full time, as this is not your average weekend gig."
How BrainstormUSA works
Direct Sales companies today have a different face. With the creation of mega malls, shopping plazas and the ability to purchase anything on the Internet, door-to-door salesmen are obsolete, so BrainstormUSA generates its leads by giving away scholarships and working with local schools.
"When a school participates in our program, each teacher gets free software products from our company to use in their classrooms for an assigned project. We select the winning projects. It helps prepare kids for college and offers students exposure to the software we sell."
Sales reps make their money by cultivating leads from schools, visiting with students' parents, and using referrals, exhibit programs and educational fairs.
For $14 per month, the BrainstormUSA software offers educational content to students who want to work at their own pace on the same material they are studying in school. Parents can also be involved by tracking their child's progress with the schoolwork and helping the child in problem areas.
Pros and cons
To Cook, the biggest pro is that he gets to help students, which makes him feel that his work is meaningful. "The products I am selling are making a huge difference in people's lives, as compared to a vacuum."
On the downside, Daniel says, "some people often look at me like any other guy trying to sell them something, and I have to explain to them that I am selling something that invests in them. Its hard. Today's consumers are very educated, and salesmen have to be as well. Also, the DS sales reps at this company often meet with parents and educators in the evenings and on weekends, which not everyone likes to do." Cook notes that "when the schools are in, I work long days; but in the summer I get to spend a lot of time with my own kids -- so it evens out."
Advice for others
Cook 56, is the VP of expansion for the Western United States for BrainstormUSA, and has more than 50 people on his team learning the DS business directly from him. Here is his advice for finding success in DS.
- Have a passion and a plan. First, do your research and remain open-minded.
- If you have to make a large investment upfront to work with a company, be wary, because if the company is that good, they should invest in you.
- Set yourself a trial time limit, such as 90 days.
Next up in our series is the story of a persistent single mother who finally found MLM success with Partylite.