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Product reps

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Some product manufacturers' employees are very useful:

answering questions promptly, faxing you the secrets of eaves ventilation and scheduling in full the complex range of small plastic fittings necessary for the installation of their products. Such people are usually based in Nottingham and can be pictured with a pencil behind the ear, sitting in a room off the shopfloor in a brown janitor's coat, contemplating the scantilyclad girl on the calendar or playing battleships, but always eagerly awaiting the next enquiry about preformed weepholes.

At the other extreme is the Versace-wearing furniture rep, who knows as much about offices or furniture as about next week's winning Lottery numbers. You ask what cable management actually is and are immediately transferred to 'our technical director Bruce, in Salisbury'. They pester you with invitations to lunch so they can spend two hours explaining why their 20kg of plasticcoated chipboard is worth £1,500 when the opposition's isn't. If 65 per cent isn't such a good discount, how come you're eating at The Ivy?

Much hostility towards product reps arises from guilt.

An architect will not hesitate to demand that a sample of slate from Cumbria be delivered to Kent within eight hours. This is a tall order, even if all reps do drive their top-ofthe-range Mondeos like Michael Schumacher in a bad mood, but it is usually done.

Having satisfied such an unreasonable request, it seems fair that the architect let the rep know if he has won the order. Instead, the architect spends the next three months avoiding phone calls, denying to himself the fact that the matter was decided over the third bottle of Chablis with the opposition, and complaining of persecution by pushy salesmen.

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