For me, for many I others too I am sure, getting started with a soap crew was a lot like getting hired for any other job. The job interview was fairly normal – well, with a couple of things that some people might find odd.
It was spring, and I was a college student who would soon need a summer job. One early morning I headed out from Grinnell to Des Moines in a borrowed car. I purchased a Register and a city map (I had never been to Des Moines before), marked what seemed like the best bets, and applied for as many jobs as I could in one full day.
I’m trying to recall for you the ad itself. I think it said you had to be a high energy, self-motivated person. Probably it also promised great adventure and earnings of so much a week, possibly much more. Anyway, I am certain that it said you should see Leslie Leland at the Ramada Inn during the hours of such to such, that travel would be required and a car helpful, but not necessary, and that applicants must be at least 18 years old.
I wasn’t sure to make of this ad which sounded partly like a job announcement and partly like a cruise advertisement. I wondered also whether the name Leslie Leland was a corporate pseudonym. Who would impose on any real child a name with four L’s in as many syllables? I wondered why the Ramada Inn would need people to go from place to place, though it didn’t seem impossible. So I didn’t prioritize this potential job but instead applied for a waitressing job and some others first – I don’t recall all of them.
It was late afternoon when I found the Ramada Inn. The restaurant in need of a waitress, which had seemed my best prospect, turned out to be pretty upscale and I, though somewhat dressed up, didn’t have the most fashionable attire. They had taken my application and said they’d call me back, but I didn’t know what to expect. So there I was at the Ramada, somewhat tired, hoping that wouldn’t show and affect my prospects for this job, whatever it was.
The person at the desk sent me not to an office off the lobby, but to a numbered room. I was a little startled to find it a standard hotel room with a bed in it –okay, so that’s a little odd for a job interview – but the bed was made and there were an adding machine and a lot of ribbon and papers strewn about the desk on one side of the room.
“I’m not Leslie,” said the man in the room. It seemed Leslie was away on some kind of errand, so this other person was conducting the interviews.
It turned out there was a biodegradable, non-toxic cleaning concentrate which, mixed with water in the appropriate ratios, would clean anything better than any other thing I had ever experienced. I probably looked kind of blank. “Have you ever heard of Basic H?” No, I hadn’t. Well, this was like Basic H, only not like it at all because it was much better.
(By this time I had figured out that the job had nothing to do with the Ramada Inn, that some company must have rented space there for these job interviews.)
In thin enough concentrations, this cleaner would not streak windows nor even leave the slightest residue. Slightly stronger, it would clean floors, and a little stronger yet for extreme grime, degreasing, etc. It was safe to use in barns, highly recommended for garages, cars, boats. It could remove stains from clothing, carpet, surfaces – except of course for red Kool-Aid or Jello. It was scientifically impossible to remove a red Kool-Aid or Jello stain, but this product would remove any other stain.
It was called, appropriately Amazing. Its producer also offered an outstanding laundry concentrate (a powder) and a wash and wax concentrate.
Here, take a sample. There weren’t any small vials of samples of products around, but Mr. Matus poured an ounce or so of the Wash and Wax into a disposable plastic cup supplied by the Ramada Inn and handed it to me. I should take it home and wash the car with it and just see how it gleamed. I don’t think he understood that when I said I lived in a dorm, that meant I didn’t have a driveway and a garden hose. Also, I had observed the labeled jugs and crates and buckets in the room, but what kind of company gives you a sample in a plain plastic hotel cup to impress you with their product?
A person could be very successful selling these products door-to-door, town-to-town. You’d have to be a very energetic and enthusiastic person, someone who would relate well to others, ambitious, willing “to work for yourself” to achieve goals, not putting in time to be paid by the clock. Because this was a commission job (hence the phrases in the ad, I realized).
For the first two weeks, you would have the guarantee of a specific amount paid per week since you would be learning the ropes. Soon, selling enough product a day that you’d be earning a higher projected amount. But that was only quota. A person with energy, ambition, and drive could sell above that level and earn whatever you set your mind to. In a commission job, especially an opportunity like this one, earnings were limitless. You were, in effect, your own boss.
This was intriguing but not entirely convincing. I would keep it in mind the next few week just in case.
While Ron Matus was primarily interviewing for sales agents, he did also have some openings for magazine agents. This job would be very similar – except that magazines would be all in town, going to doctors’ offices and such, to sell subscriptions for placements in waiting rooms.
Did I have a car of my own? You could do the job with or without one. It was a little better with your own. You could drive from town to town as well as from farm to farm during your workday. But if not, you could still ride with another agent to each town, and work in towns selling house to house on foot. Without a car, commission would be a little lower, since you wouldn’t be paying your own gas and auto expenses.
I didn’t have my own car, and I did have to be in class for the next several weeks. I really couldn’t just start tomorrow. So Ronnie Matus gave me his business card and encouraged me to call him the last week of classes to arrange joining up with the crew. By that time they would likely be in Cedar Rapids, and I could take a bus out from Grinnell.
I took the card and expressed interest in this new opportunity. Since I was driving a borrowed car, Mr. Matus urged me to wash it with the wonderful sample of Wash and Wax he had given me and see how delighted the owner would be when I returned the car. It was going to be beautiful.
When I got home, I didn’t wash the car or anything else. I thought about it, but I didn’t know how I would mix the Wash and Wax up when I didn’t own a bucket. I probably did not have a suitable rag either.
I held onto the card. The job did sound interesting. I had heard of commission jobs, but no one had ever talked to me seriously about sales work before. Still I also had doubts. It all sounded a little too – well, amazing. I kept the sales job in mind, but I also waited to hear from the restaurant.
Some weeks later, I was calling the number on the card. None of the other leads had turned into a job, and not working through the summer was not an option for me. The interview at the Ramada Inn seemed a long time ago and a little bit hazy. I was almost surprised to have the telephone answered. (As I write this, I wonder how it was. This was in 1983, when there were no cell phones in most people’s hands. Maybe I had called the office and reached him or had reached Sara, the secretary, who had Ron Matus return the phone call. Or maybe he had given me his home phone number because he was doing much of his work from home in Cedar Rapids those days, both his parents being ill. I don’t recall.)
Anyway, I was assured in that phone call that the position was still available, and a plan was set for me to take the Greyhound out to Cedar Rapids and be met at the station there.