With the rise of social media and e-commerce, selling your wares by hand, person to person, may seem like an outdated approach. But it’s worked for Randy Kearse (pictured), a former drug dealer turned author and motivational speaker who’s sold over 20,000 copies of his self-published book, Changin’ Your Game Plan: How to Use Incarceration as a Stepping Stone to SUCCESS.
Half of those copies sold underground — literally — because Kearse rides the New York City subway for hours every week, pitching his book to commuters. He also sells books during speaking engagements, to church groups and youth programs, even while driving through tollbooths. How did this unlikely entrepreneur hone his pitch and master the art of hand-selling? Kearse shared these tips with the Intuit Small Business Blog.
- Understand timing and location.
Rainy or hot days put people in a bad mood so they’re less likely to buy. Ditto on crowded subway cars, so although it may seem counter-intuitive, Kearse looks for cars that aren’t packed with people. Weekends are hit or miss, because tourists are often afraid of subway scams. But Thursday and Friday is usually payday, “So those are the days I’m going to stay out longer,” he says.
- Don’t assume someone is disinterested.
Although Kearse tries to size people up by reading their body language, he adds that they can appear aloof and wind up buying his book — or can seem interested and then turn him down. In fact, a subway rider whom Kearse described as standoffish handed him his business card and wound up profiling the author for The New York Daily News. “You can always be fooled,” admits Kearse, so it’s best not to write someone off completely.
- Dress the part.
Whether you’re selling something on the subway or in other settings, appearances matter. Kearse goes for business casual with a polo or other collared shirt. “You have a lot of people on the train begging for money so if I look unkempt, people will think I’m telling a sob story,” he says. “I disarm people by the way I look.” Then he launches into his sales pitch, which piques riders’ curiosity while acknowledging the many annoyances subway riders expect: “Don’t worry. I’m not begging or borrowing. I’m not selling candy or bootleg DVDs.” His sense of humor doesn’t hurt either.
- Be ready to haggle.
Kearse charges $10 a book on the subway (cash only), but when someone says “I only have eight bucks,” he’ll cut them a deal. Instead of selling a brand new copy, he’ll offer one of the pawed-over books he’s passed around to prospective customers. “I try to use those books for people who want to haggle,” he explains. Kearse also offers a bulk discount to groups and negotiates speaking fees to include a certain number of copies. That allows him to be flexible and seal the deal without discounting a pristine copy.
- Don’t fear rejection.
Back when he was dealing narcotics, Kearse learned to be fearless. “You weren’t afraid to approach people because you were trying to get rid of your merchandise,” he explains. Although those days are behind him, he’s applied that go-getter mentality to his new business venture. “The worst thing that can happen is somebody will tell you no,” he says. “They aren’t going to shoot you.”