“Look what I have,” Clarence said. He placed the book on the table. “We have some more competition.”
Joe looked at the book. He turned it over.
“Oh, those guys.”
“You know them?”
“They make a run at upper Ohio every now and then. They send out a rep with a nice samples book, peel off some bars and bowling alleys. Then the rep quits or finds another line selling brushes or shoes and they’re gone for a while. Who’d you get this from?”
“From the company itself, actually,” he said. “They sent me an offer.”
Joe sat back. “They did.”
“I thought you would know more about them.”
You’re a cold, strange man, Joe thought. But honest. “They’re big, no doubt about that. National, like they say, but that’s not our turf. The local stuff is what we’d do but they have restrictions. I remember taking a look at their book, and it was full of things they couldn’t do. They can give you a stock cut on one side, but not the other. They can give you girlies, but you’re stuck with straight print on the front. However they tailor it, it’s cookie-cutter.”
Clarence thought this over. “Of course, I’m on the sales end. Not the artistic end, as you’d call it. And a lot of the smaller clients don’t particularly care about those restrictions, I’d assume. They’re interested in price and selection.”
“They are. And we can beat these guys if we go head to head. Plus, we got the patriotic angle. Buy Ohio. Clarence, I’m surprised at you. What’s the difference between a house with a hundred stock cuts a house with fifty who also does custom work? We can offer anything they want. Anything. Those guys, if it’s not in the book, forget it.”
“That would presume you mention custom work. Why pay more when these time-tested illustrations will do the job, as I’m sure they would say?”
“Your customers know the difference. A stock cut made for a thousand different places is an ad, nothing more. Best service in town. Really? You took a poll? Didn’t I see this matchbook when I had a flat in Arkansas as they took two hours and left greasy marks on the door? A custom job is a promise. I’m saying this because I mean it. Because I choose to say it.”
Clarence nodded again. He picked the matchbook off the desk.
“I am curious about the space distribution plan.”
“What does it mean?”
“I don’t know.”
“There you go. They can’t even explain what they do on the matches that explain what their matches do. Trust me, Clarence. You go with them, you’ll get a note saying it’s time to push the foil line this year, and you’ll be out there hating yourself for that. They’re the reason we don’t offer foil unless someone insists, you know - you weren’t here for that, but we had a few years where the foil came off after you opened the book a few times, split the paper. Looked rough. Gave the whole line a bad rep. Big companies, though, if they say it’s foil for ’59, it’s foil.”
“All right,” he said. He put the matchbook back on Joe’s desk, nodded, and went out the door to his office off the hall.
Joe looked at the book. He was certain Clarence hadn’t been approached out of the blue. He’d called.
He’s taken the job already, Joe thought. And he’s going to take my clients with him. Then he shook his head: no. He may be a bit odd in his scientific way but there’s something of the . . . the iconoclast about him, if that’s the word. He’s not a corporate man unless he’s running the corporation, and only then if there’s no board to get in the way of his theories and ideas. He’d feel smothered in a big shop.
Or he’d see it as a place where he could advance quickly and make more money and have more authority. It’s not like there was a lot of room for maneuvering around here.
Ahhh, this is going to drive me nuts. Go ask.
He went down the hall, knocked on the doorframe. Clarence looked up from some invoices.
“Did you take the job?”
Clarence pushed his glasses up. “No.”
“If you look at the map” - he turned around in his chair and pointed his thumb to a map of the state on the wall; the shaded area indicated the parts he’d been traveling - “you see the territory outside what I’ve done for Atomic isn’t exactly rich with prospects. And it’s farther out. Not too many day trips.”
“Why couldn’t you sell inside the territory you’ve been handling?”
He blinked. “Those were jobs I got while in the employ of Atomic. If I showed up again and insisted that these were the matches they should buy now, they’d wonder if I was lying when I offered your products and said they were superior. They might think I’d been discharged. They might think I was just in this for myself.”
“And you’re not.”
“Of course I am.” He pushed his glasses up. “That’s why I’m not going to Matchcorp.”
Joe nodded and went back to his office. That was the most honest thing he’d heard in a while. And for some reason he didn’t trust him at all, anymore. Not at all.