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The Man in the Polyester Suit

They say you should not judge a book by its cover.
The same goes for judging a story by its title...
or a man by his appearance...

Monday morning...the New York Gift Show...Booth #1124 Heart's Content.

I was hurriedly getting the booth ready for the show opening in half an hour. Sunday had been a madhouse.
I was rearranging the displays when I noticed an elegantly dressed man
walking in my direction.
Probably another exhibitor, I thought and went about my work.
I looked up a few moments later to find him standing in front of me
with a kindly smile and a twinkle in his eye.
"Can I help you?"
"No," he said with a warm smile, "but perhaps I can help you!"
With that, he reached into his jacket pocket and took out a piece of paper
and handed it to me.
It was a check made out to my company for $35,000!!
Eyes wide and uncomprehending, I said "What is this?!"
"I am prepaying our order with your company."
"But what order? What company? Who ARE you?"

"You don't remember me from yesterday, do you?
It's perfectly alright. I'm not surprised.
You were busy answering questions in every direction."
I was embarrassed to say I didn't recall him.

He reached into his briefcase and handed me a purchase order...
a rather large one!
"Think you can handle this?"
I took a deep breath and said "Yes! We can!"

Then he handed me his business card.
He was the head buyer for one of the largest wholesale giftware
companies in America. How did I miss him?
Here he was giving me the biggest single order I'd ever received,
prepaying the whole order in advance without ever having done business
with us before...and he wasn't even asking for a discount.

Then, with that twinkle in his eye again, he explained his unexpected appearance that morning.
On Sunday, he had canvassed the entire exhibit hall searching
for new suppliers for his company.
He knew from prior experience that if he dressed well and wore his company ID, he would be singled out for preferential treatment.
He also knew that he would be promised the world by vendors anxious
to do business with him.
He learned long ago to scout out suppliers based on a different set of criteria.
Over time he had refined his techniques.

So by the time I met him, it was his habit to dress rather shabbily
on the opening day of a trade show.
He wore a slightly wrinkled, short-sleeved shirt open at the collar,
sans tie, ill-fitting polyester pants and scuffed well-worn shoes.
His badge gave no indication of the company he represented.
When he approached a booth, he was typically elbowed aside
by his better-dressed counterparts.
Travelling incognito had its advantages, though.
He could cover a lot of ground quickly, no one pandered to him
and he could take his own measure of people.

Then he told me that he had scouted my booth and was considering
our product. I was particularly busy with several people trying to get
my attention for questions and orders.
He had stood off to the side watching my interactions with people.
He came a bit closer when he was ready to act.
Somehow he caught my attention from the fringes and asked me
a few questions.
I did remember a kind of 'average Joe' asking some questions.
But I couldn't link him with this well-dressed man...

He went on to say "Even though you were very busy with all the important people, you accorded me the very same attention and respect that you gave them. I was dressed like a poor man, but you treated me with dignity
and kindness.
That is what set you apart from the others. That is what we look for in our vendors. We know that you will treat us right. You are the kind of people
we choose to do business with..."

He shook my hand and flashed me a big grin as he turned to leave, saying,
"I just wanted to get your day off to a good start!"

a lesson I will never forget...

(1998 Fortune magazine recognizes Russ Berrie as the 34 th Most Generous Philanthropist in the country.)