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When They Call You "The Silver Fox" You Better Live Up To It...

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In the course of your lifetime, you'll meet some people you'll never forget. They'll impact your life and change your way of thinking. 

It was 1984. I was 28, had just reset my career for the hundredth time, and found myself shelving my plumbing tools for an opportunity to become a high-earning clothing salesman in a New York City showroom on 131 W33rd. It was a radical change, but I was determined to succeed…

I worked in a smaller showroom with my direct boss, but there was a much larger showroom next to ours where 90% of the business was done. One of the salesmen in that showroom was Sherman Lowenstein.

Sherman was in his mid-70s, a native New Yorker who had been a salesman in the garment industry his entire life. He knew his way around…

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He showed up for work every day looking like a million bucks. In the morning, he always had his silver hair combed perfectly by a salon, and they sprayed it so it never moved and looked just as good at 5:00 in the afternoon as it did at 7:30 in the morning. He was nicknamed "The Silver Fox,and deservedly so.

Sherman wore expensive suits tailored perfectly to his tall, slender physique, and his shoes were equally expensive. I went out and bought a new pair of fashionable shoes in an attempt to emulate him. When they hurt my feet, I went to Sherman. He said I bought the wrong shoes, explaining there were "walking shoes, standing shoes, and sitting shoes." He laughed and said I had bought sitting shoes. He told me to throw 'em out, that they'd never fit even if I had them stretched. I had 'em stretched, and he was right, they never fit. I tossed 'em and bought a pair of comfortable shoes…

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Sherman walked around the showroom holding a Styrofoam cup full of black coffee with a noticeable bounce in his step. He had a confident gate, one that belonged on a much younger man. Like many New York salesmen, he got his nails manicured, something I would never do. As a plumber, I was proud of my calluses and natural fingernails. But in his world, Sherman was the poster boy, and he wore it well. He was the "Boy from New York City" all grown up and then some.

He knew when to speak up and when not to. I watched him carefully, intending to learn the ropes from one of the best…

It was the first day of my first market week. I had shown my product line to many buyers, most of whom were owners of small mom-and-pop clothing stores and some from small department stores across the United States. In my opinion, I had done well. I knew my product, showed it confidently, and got great reactions from the buyers.

After a long day, I was on the elevator with Sherman, heading home. I had a big smile on my face, one that said, "I had a great day," when Sherman asked, "How was your day?"

I said with great confidence, "I had a great day!" 

"Oh…" Sherman responded. "And how do you know you had a great day?"

"The buyers loved the line," I replied.

"How many orders did you get?" Sherman asked.

"I haven't received any yet. They said they'll send them next week when they return to their offices," I proudly said.

That's when Sherman said, "You fucking Putz! Those buyers are gonna be in showrooms all week, and the other salesmen are not gonna let 'em leave without getting ink! They'll get orders, and when you call them to get yours next week, they'll have no money left to spend…"

My jaw dropped, and my confident smile disappeared. I was shocked. I knew Sherman was right. He exited the elevator with pep in his step, shaking his head from side to side, acknowledging my obvious failure.

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On the second day of market week, I changed my strategy, pushed for orders, and got "ink." Lesson learned.

One day, Sherman asked me how I liked New York, and I said I liked it. He said, "People can spend ten years in New York and be eating at all the wrong places." He was right. You had to know a native New Yorker who could recommend restaurants. In his own unique way, Sherman was offering to help, and he became my go-to guy when my wife and I went out in the city.

The new owner of the company was a millionaire who was a complete and total narcissist. He didn't have a problem demeaning someone in front of coworkers. And when he did, he did it at close range, an in-your-face humiliation. He had a habit of unintentionally spitting when he did, but the receivers of his lambasting took it without saying a word, afraid of how he'd react. Getting a face full of the boss's saliva at close range and taking it like a man was a rite of passage, an initiation into the club. 

One day, he was up in my face, and the salespeople in the big showroom were all watching. At one point, I interrupted, "You're spitting on me, Sir…"

He paused, looked at me hard, and said, "I'm sorry…"

After he left the showroom, Sherman went crazy. "You got some big fucking balls! That was impressive!" The rest of the showroom staff started applauding me. It really wasn't the size of my testicles; I was young and naive, and I had no idea what I was doing. I took the win and the accolades anyway, and for a while, I was a showroom legend.

When I watched Sherman work, I marveled at how effortlessly he worked with customers, most from the biggest department stores across the country, and how easily he got "ink." He moved like a cat and had a silver tongue to match his silver coiffe…

I didn't stay in New York. Instead, my wife and I moved back to more comfortable and familiar surroundings in Massachusetts, and after working for UPS, I got back into the plumbing trade. 

It has been many years, but I've never forgotten the lessons learned from The Silver Fox, who more than lived up to his nickname. RIP Sherman Lowenstein.