Judge Not: A Tale of Two Appliance Stores


The experiences we have over our lifetime are what form not only our opinions, but also form our belief system. They also form not only how we value what we do, but more importantly, how we value others. Recently, I was sharing an example of a life experience with a team member who has joined our team in the last couple of months. It surprised me that as I walked through this example from my life I became choked up as I was going through the story with him.

This is not my first career. I have been doing this for the last 35 years, but like many people after graduation, I tried different things and learned what I should really be doing in life. What I do now is really a calling. It’s not a job. It’s not really a career either. It’s something that I am invested in every day on a very personal level with each and every person that I have an opportunity to touch, to touch their lives and make a difference.

In a previous life, as I often will say, in a previous job that I had, in a galaxy far, far away… I was in the broadcasting industry. For about 5 years, I actually worked On Air. But after realizing that that was not going to make me any income to be able to have a family and pay for the bills that I was likely going to have in my life, I needed to do something different. A gentleman convinced me that I should get in to radio advertising sales. So, I moved our family from Fairmount, MN where I had worked in a very small market, to Winona, MN. Previously, I had never been in any kind of advertising sales in my life. I had never been in any kind of sales process before in my life, but I was told that I would get the education that I needed, and I would get mentorship, and I was sold on the idea. So, I moved.

Here I was on my very first day and I really did not know what I was doing. I was learning on the job as it were. This was an entirely commissions-based sales job. Every single day, I had to go speak with advertisers and tell them about the media group that I represented. I needed to put together proposals and ideas. The local radio station had given me a list of 40 local clients that I would see on a regular basis.

The very first day out of the chute we had a staff meeting where you got all excited about going out and meeting your clients and so, unannounced, I went out to meet with my clients and the very first appointment that I had was with a small-town appliance store. This was before the Best Buys; this was when the mom-and-pop businesses sold washers, dryers, refrigerators, televisions, radios, etc. This was about 8 o’clock in the morning and, unannounced, I walked in to my very first prospect. As I’m entering the door, I see a woman in the back doing some book-work. Then I saw a gentleman that I assumed was the owner who stood up from his desk and as it was before regular store hours he asked, “And who are you?”. I gave my name and what company I was represented, and he said, “Get Out of My Store!”. I was taken aback and confused. I said, “I’m just here to introduce myself.” So, I gave him my name again and the company I represented, and he said, “Didn’t you hear me, I said get out of my store”. I continued to walk closer to him, and I said, “I’m only here to give you my business card and introduce myself”. At this point, he grabbed the telephone, lifted it up, and said, “I will call the police if you do not leave my store”. I turned around at that time and left the store. I stood on the sidewalk there and I wondered…what have I done? What have I done? I have moved to this new town. I received a list of 40 clients to see and now I’m down to 39 already. How am I going to make a living when this man won’t even talk to me. It was obvious that he had had some sort of rift previously with the radio station that I was representing.

Here's the real story: I was a young man, 24 years of age, married for a few years, no kids yet, and because we had so very little, over the period of the next few years that we would live in that community, I was going to need a washer, dryer, television, and refrigerator. I was going to need all of the products that he provided. Because of the way he had put me off though, I would never buy any of the products that he sold. He had made a judgment call on me based on the company that I represented. He didn’t know anything about me. He didn’t know anything about my values. He knew nothing about me.

Fast forward just a few years. I was 27 years old. I had moved from one media group to another media group in La Crosse, WI. (I didn’t list the name or the business from Winona, MN because I’m not even sure if that person is still living and who knows, maybe he was having a bad day.) When I moved to La Crosse, WI, I was again given a list of clients. One of the clients that I ended up working with was Wettstein’s, which was an appliance store. It is no longer in business; Best Buy and online stores have really changed that type of business in many local communities. At Wettstein’s, I had a very tough client that expected a lot from me. The owner of the business was a gentleman by the name of Dan Wettstein, but it was a very, very different relationship because he valued who I was. He valued the work that I did for him. He was a very demanding client, and I had to see him on a regular basis. He had me and our radio group handle all of the advertising for the other radio stations in the area. We produced and supplied the advertising to the other stations. We produced them in house for him. On a regular basis, I would meet with Dan and find out what he wanted to advertise, and I would put together the proposals and the plans and the advertising.

I remember one particular week; it was the day before Christmas Eve. He called me up and said I needed to drop by the store before I headed home. I was already formulating in my head what he wanted; I thought he wanted me to come in the day before Christmas Eve and he obviously wants to run a promotion right after Christmas. I thought I would have to get the producers and announcers together and write copy and put all this together so that Dan could have his promotion right after Christmas. This was my thinking of what he was wanting. So, I decided to suck it up and make sure it was the last appointment of the day to go to the store and find out what he needed. Again, Dan was very demanding. I went in to the store, and he had this office that was all windows so he could see what was going on in the store at any period of time. What the sales people were doing. What the flow of customers was doing coming in and out. Of course, this is right before Christmas, so it’s chaotic anyways. I came into the store, and I went to his office. His desk was all covered with paperwork and files like it typically was, like a hurricane had just come through, that was what the office always looked like. He was on the phone talking to someone taking care of some last-minute things. He put his finger up in the air and said that he'd be just a moment. He hung up the phone and left the office.  I’m sitting there on a chair in front of his desk, twiddling my thumbs, thinking about what it would be that he wants me to do.

Here is the difference between my first example on my very first day, several years earlier in Winona, MN and now I’m in La Crosse, WI: Dan came in with a huge basket. He had a frozen turkey in it and a bottle of wine. He had cheese and fruit and there was a big bow on it. He gave it to me, and he sat down at his desk. No phones were ringing. For the first time in a long time, he actually paused and met my eyes and he said, “I just wanted to thank you”. Of course, I had this expression of surprise on my face. “I just wanted to thank you for the work that you do because I know that I am very demanding, and I am very short, and I want things done immediately and without delay. I know I could have anyone do it, but I’m glad that you are the one that’s doing it for me because I trust you, and I know you will always be looking out for my best interest. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas.”, he said. I can’t even imagine what I said. I don’t remember what I said. I was literally stunned.

Now, over the period of time that Wettstein’s was in business, I can guarantee you that I bought washers and dryers and televisions. I can remember buying my very first video camera that we would have for when my first child was born so we would have that at the hospital. In fact, Dan told me that if we didn’t have the right one, he would give us his so we would have it for that very first day of life so we would have it recorded forever.

Two very different individuals. The first one was thinking about company, company, company. I don’t like your company, I don’t like you, please get out of my office, and a relationship that was never built upon any kind of trust because it never even had an opportunity. The second was thinking: I respect you, and I respect the company that you work for and the work that you do because I know that you have my best interest at heart. Two very, very different relationships.  

 Why am I talking about this today? It’s because everything that I am, everything that I do, everything that I am all about, it’s all about relationships. When I speak with people to plan for today and plan for the future using the life insurance asset, I can think about all of the different companies that we could do business with. There are many fine companies out there, but at the end of the day, it’s about the relationships. It’s about the relationships that I have with companies. It’s about being able to get things done. It’s about being able to make telephone calls on a client’s behalf. When I say this is Mark Bertrang calling, the people on the other end of the telephone know who that is, and they know what it is that we want to accomplish. As opposed to some companies that I dealt with and I have had to say that I am “837-5”. 837 because that is supposed to be me and the dash 5 is because I am the 5th person to have that number. I don’t say that I’m from La Crosse, WI, I have to say that I am from “C-53”. I’m just a number, literally.

This is a relationship business. This is one of the reasons that I wrote my book Investments Don’t Hug: Embracing the Life Insurance Asset. It’s about the embrace. It’s about making a difference in people’s lives. Yes, it’s also about the numbers. Yes, it’s also about making sure things play out the way that you want them to play out. But at the end of the day, I am not a 1-800 number. At the end of the day, it’s not you sitting there wondering if a telephone call is going to be returned. It’s not an adversarial relationship of back and forth that I think a lot of people have experienced before.  It’s about a relationship and it is about the relationships that I have had with clients that is ongoing and ongoing. When there is a hug, you know that it is a unique experience not only for you, but it’s also impactful for me and to my team. This is the reason that we come in to the office every single day.

If you want to know more about me or about my book, or if you want to bypass all of that, that’s fine as well. You can purchase my book on the Amazon or Barnes & Noble websites. You can listen to it through iTunes or Audible. I would highly recommend either. Here’s the most important thing: if you are ready to have a relationship, if you are ready and you’re tired of all those other 1-800 moments, make things happen today. Go to our website. Connect with me and my team so we can get together so we have an opportunity to take care of your concerns and wants. Explore more at   

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