Memory Mondays: The Pancake Breakfast: The Pre-sale (Part 1)

November 22, 2018

A girl tried to sell me a candy bar in the parking lot of Home Depot on Saturday.

I've sold a lot of things to strangers over the years and it made me smile. Sales is hard, uplifting work. But what made me smile most was remembering something I did almost every year for a decade: the pancake breakfast.


The event was a major operation: doors opened at 6:30AM, things didn't stop until mid-afternoon, usually around 1 or 2pm. And people showed up: the event drew around 1500 people over Saturday and Sunday. The pancake breakfast was produced through a long-running partnership of two Homewood scouting organizations, Troop 342 and Pack 304; a whole-group effort of 30-40 families with everyone pitching in.

Once the date was set and venue secured (traditionally early February, in either the village hall basketball court or the basement of St. Andrew's church), the pre-sale began. Weekly meetings in warm, heated rooms went on hiatus, replaced by an outdoor territorial sales campaign that ran eight weeks and covered every house in Homewood. I remember getting my brown envelope: details of the event with a goofy picture of a guy flipping pancakes on the front, inside, my quota: 40 tickets from the time I was eight years old. We walked in groups of two, ringing every doorbell, block after block, once/week for eight weeks. I did this from the time I was eight or nine to when I was maybe 16 or 17 years old.

In some respects, it wasn't as bad as it sounds. For one, ten-year-olds going door-to-door when it was 20 degrees and snowing does command a certain respect. And scouting in Homewood was a known quantity: you might not participate, but you or someone you know had been to that pancake breakfast, and we'd been doing it some 40 years. ("Would you like to buy a ticket to the 41st annual pancake breakfast?") We weren't asking much; the tickets cost only "$2.50 during the pre-sale, $3 at the door". If you were really good, you'd start to get inbound deal flow from local businesses: I still remember the time Bill Frank, who owned a travel agency, asked my dad for something like 10 tickets. Handing out tickets was a cheap, civic-minded way to comp good customers; people knew that. By the time I was 15 or 16, I regularly sold double or even triple the tickets I was originally assigned.

That didn't make the early years any better, though. I have a lot of memories going door-to-door with my friend Dan, who I still talk to today, trudging through the 12 degree cold with snow on your heads. Go ahead and complain; it won't change the fact that there are icicles hanging from gutters, and you've got a stack of tickets to sell.

I'm glad I learned that lesson when I was young. That, and some things about sales:

  • Prospects want to know you're reliable and not a fly-by-night; I always asked, "Would you like to buy tickets to the 41st annual Boy Scout Troop 342 pancake breakfast?" Who can say "no" to that?
  • Rejection doesn't hurt that much, and is even funny. The best was when someone came to their door after we rang the bell, then tried to act like they weren't home. We'd pitch them right through the door! I don't care, not like I've got anything else to do.
  • Everything got easier with practice: the awkwardness of knocking on doors, the pitch, learning how to handle objections.
  • Repeat business is much easier than cold-calling, but everyone has to cold-call at first.
  • Your attitude matters and people pick up on that. Someone who's enthusiastic will have a much easier time than someone who clearly isn't enjoying it. Though paradoxically, sometimes people took pity on us if we looked miserable, especially if they were out shoveling their driveway or walking their dog and saw us coming down the entire block.

I realized while writing this, it's going to take multiple parts to tell the whole story. Next Monday I'll detail the setup.

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