Carpet Chronicles, Volume One

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Five years ago I was laid-off from a sales position at a Redwood City printing and packaging concern that was going out of business.  For the next 18 months I took unemployment insurance, and wrote for the View. On a Sunday in 2012, with my unemployment insurance at its end, my wife handed me the San Francisco Chronicle’s business section with a job circled in pen: in-home carpet sales.  I called the number on the listing the next day.

The following week I attended a training session at a hotel in Fairfield along with about a dozen other hopefuls.  I was one of only two to make it through the course, passing the final exam with an 86 percent.  I would sell, or at least try to, flooring for the next two years. 

My first call was with a nice Hispanic woman, about 55, who lived, with her 12 year old daughter, in a beat-up house in the Excelsior. I spent extra time on the “get to know you” phase to lower the pressure I felt in the areas I was nervous about:  measuring correctly and pricing.  Hiding my fear, when I sat down with her to go through the three choices – good/better/best – I noticed she was texting as I was giving her pricing.  It turned out she was communicating with her husband, who was hunting in Utah with his buddies.  She’d occasionally tell her daughter, in Spanish, to stick to her homework if she raised her head too long from her computer. 

I thought I might actually make my first deal, but it turned out that the floor beneath the existing carpet under a window had gotten warped and rotted, the result of a nasty rainstorm about 10 years prior.  Because of that issue, we couldn’t schedule the installation.  I ended up making the sale about a month later, for $3,275.

My first sale was to an Indian woman at a poorly built, mid-1950’s row house in Daly City, off Highway 380.  The house was built above a garage, with concrete steps up to the front door at the side of the building.  Although initially pleasant, the woman never smiled. As she explained her situation I began to understand why.  The house was formerly a rental unit for her and her husband who were going through a bitter divorce.  To make matters worse, he was living under the same roof, in the living room, which he’d walled off and installed a padlocked makeshift door so only he could enter and exit.

All the woman wanted was a price for a very small bedroom that was vacant, save for a ladder and drop cloths, as it was being haphazardly painted.  The old carpet to be replaced was a deep blue shag and in total disrepair; stained and worn out.  I priced the deal at $750 based on the type of carpet she chose.  She gave me two $100 dollar bills as a deposit, but ensnared me while we were doing the paperwork by saying that I hadn’t honored the sale advertised on television. When I told her that that sale applied to a different style of carpet, she got upset, but reluctantly signed the contract.

She later called and said she’d only pay $550, not $750.  I found out that the company had the woman in their system as having behaved the same way twice before, which gave me a modicum of relief.

My first pleasant sale was to a heavy-set African-American mother and daughter with two kids at a tenement housing complex off Mission Street, in Bernal Heights.  It was for a very small – about 12 by 16 feet – living room and flight of stairs, so it was quick and easy to measure.  The mother wasn’t yet home when I arrived; the daughter had me wait on the couch.  There were two boys upstairs, Gregory and Espersion, who they just called “’Spersion.” The mother was nice to Spersion and mean to Gregory, shouting at him from the bottom of the concrete stairs. 

After about half-hour the matriarch of the house – grandmother to the kids – showed up and sat next to me on the couch as I presented her samples and went through pricing.  As I was doing this the daughter poured out frozen tater tots from a huge bag onto a metal tray to put into the oven. 

Then a man, around 70, stumbled in through the front door.  He was so out of it that he had to close one eye to look at me when we were introduced, and was very confused at my presence.  During the sale, he kept going in and out of the front door, at one point wondering out loud why he was going to his car.  He then asked if anyone wanted any Popeye, returning with a bag of chicken about a half-hour later.  He asked how it was possible to get carpet installed in such a crowded living room, but I let him know we move furniture and we pulled it off, much to his amazement.

The Carpet Chronicles is a six-part series detailing one man’s experiences selling home flooring in and around San Francisco.