An Introduction to the Sales Career via the Book “Caps for Sale”

“Once there was a peddler who sold caps. But he was not like an ordinary peddler carrying his wares on his back. He carried them on top of his head.”

So begins the tale of the peddler who sold caps in the famous book “Caps for Sale” by Esphyr Slobodkina originally published in 1940.

Those of you who read regularly might know that I am a sales rep. Having been in my industry in both the capacity as a buyer and a salesperson I feel qualified to give some input to those that are considering a career in sales. You could read “Sales for Dummies” or “Mastering the Art of the Sale” or one of the hundreds of other salesmanship books out there.

Or you could just read “Caps for Sale”.

Here’s why… see my in-depth analysis below.

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Situation 1. Our main character is a peddler who sells caps. He walks up and down the road trying to sell to customers.

Quote from book: “He walked up and down the streets, holding himself very straight so as not to upset his caps. As he went along he called, “Caps! Caps for Sale! Fifty Cents a Cap!”

Analysis: A good salesperson, as this man is, knows that his appearance is one of the most important tools in sales. He is dressed professionally and he keeps his goods very organized and well-kept on his head. He is self motivated, works hard and has a very competitively priced product which he can deliver on the spot. He is implementing one of the simplest of sales tools; fill a need. People need caps… he has caps.

Take Home Thought: Persistence, appearance, hard work and positive energy pays off.

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Situation 2: One day the peddler just couldn’t sell any caps. So he decided to take a walk into the country and found a nice shady tree and took a nap.

Quote from Book: “One morning he couldn’t sell any caps. He walked up and down the street calling “Caps! Caps for Sale! Fifty Cents a Cap!” But nobody wanted any caps that morning. Not even a red cap.”

Analysis: Sales can be very rewarding some days and very frustrating other days. Even the best salesperson will have days when he just can’t sell anything. The peddler understands that a good salesperson is always planting seeds whether he has made a sale or not. Those seeds often grow into positive relationships with customers. He also knows that on some days  he’ll run into rejection after rejection after rejection. On those days it’s often easier to just take a nap.

Take home thought: Sometimes it’s easier just to take a nap.

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Situation 3: When the peddler woke up he realized he had a serious problem; all of his caps were missing.

Quote from Book: “He looked up into the tree. And what do you think he saw? On every branch sat a monkey. On every monkey was a gray, or a brown or a blue, or a red cap!”

Analysis: A good salesperson knows that success will often involve overcoming significant challenges. The peddler knows that he needs to be very detail oriented and constantly at the top of his game. Even though the peddler felt it was okay to take a short break from working, from past experience he quickly remembered that inevitably, if he is not paying attention, something will go wrong.

Take Home Thought: It’s okay to occasionally sleep on the job but be prepared for the consequences.

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Situation 4: The peddler got up from the ground and knew that he had to address the situation.

Quote from book: “The peddler looked at the Monkeys. The Monkeys looked at the peddler. He didn’t know what to do. Finally he spoke to them.”

Analysis: A good salesperson knows that he will sometimes be confronted with a problem, either with a corporate colleague, another rep, or a customer.  When that happens, its best to find a prompt solution that will minimize damage and that is suitable for all parties involved. A good salesperson also knows that to reach an adequate solution to an issue it’s best to have a face to face conversation rather than hiding behind e-mails or texts.  Phone calls are adequate if there is geographical distance between the parties.

Take Home Thought: Face to face conversations are always the preferred method of conflict resolution.

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Situation 5: The circumstances quickly spiral out of control. The peddler shouts at the monkeys, shakes his finger and stamps on the ground in an attempt to get his caps back. But the monkeys only mimic him back.

Quote from Book: “You monkeys, you” he said, shaking a finger at them, “you give me back my caps.” But the monkeys only shook their fingers back at him and said, “Tsz, tsz, tsz.”

Analysis: A good salesperson knows that when attempting to resolve a problem, what begins as a reasonable approach can quickly disintegrate into an epic battle of finger-pointing, stamping feet and abrasive language. Even though the peddler knows this will only cause the monkeys to become defensive and act in the same aggressive and condescending manner, he let’s himself fall into this misdirected method of conflict resolution.

Take Home Thought: Remember the old cliché, “you will catch more monkeys with bananas than you will with vinegar. Monkey’s hate vinegar.” Don’t let anger get the best of you.

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Situation 6: The peddler gets so fed up that he throws his hat on the ground in anger. In response to this, all the monkeys throw their hats on the ground as well and he is able to collect them all up.

Quote from Book: “So the peddler picked up his caps and put them back on his head – first his own checked cap, then the gray caps, then the brown caps, then the blue caps, then the red caps at the very top.”

Analysis:  A good salesperson knows to take advantage of any situation that ends in a positive result whether the positive result was intended or not. Although the peddler knows his approach to solving this particular problem may not have been his finest moment, he can now put this one behind him and get back to his primary role… selling!

Take Home Thought: Stuff usually works out!

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Situation 7: The peddler regains his composure and gets back into the sales field, working hard, filling needs and building relationships.

Quote from Book: “And slowly, slowly, he walked back to town calling, “Caps! Caps for sale! Fifty cents a cap!”

Analysis:  A good salesperson is resilient. A good salesperson lives to sell another day. The peddler knows that he shouldn’t let yesterday’s headaches affect today’s successes.

Take Home Thought: Never Give Up!

So there you go, pretty much all you need to know about sales.

And in the worst case scenario… sometimes it’s easier to just take a nap.

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “An Introduction to the Sales Career via the Book “Caps for Sale”

  1. I am of the opinion that all you ever need to know to get through life is found in preschool books. The Big Red Bus – teaches about construction and cooperation, Caps for Sale – sales matrixes and naps, Growing Vegetable Soup – farming and great nutrition, Goldilocks and the 3 Bears – patients and burglars are all excellent examples of the learning that can be achieved! Congratulations on applying what you learned in everyday life. As a teacher I am SO STINKING PROUD!!

    • Ha! You make a great point. Remember that book Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? That was a fabulous book. Its true though, all the basics are in these books! Happy I could make you proud Teach!

  2. I have a funny feeling if I walk into a store and throw my money at my feet, it’s not going to work out quite as well as all that.

  3. Very good analysis. I can’t help wondering what he felt when he looked up into the tree and saw all his caps on the heads of the monkeys. Hilarious

  4. What a clever way to discuss sales. Caps For Sale is my favorite children’s book. I read that book countless times when I was little so I was thrilled to see you teaching life lessons with this wonderful book.

  5. You should know you just brought up a lot of bad memories for me. Old wounds. I was ripped off in kindergarten when the part of the peddler went to a blonde-haired, mean kid named Jonny. I soooo wanted that part! But I was a girl. And surely a girl could never play the peddler. Hahahahaha. So Jonny was cute — and he may have had the right parts — but he couldn’t remember his lines. not one. I had to be a monkey. I’ll never forgive my kindergarten teacher for that. Never.

    Still love the book though. And I can still do a GREAT monkey impression. 😉

    • Hahaha, great story! Sorry to bring up all those haunting memories. Perhaps you didn’t have a good enough mustache at the time? Not that you have a mustache now or anything. Anyway, whenever you are ready to do a vlog of you doing your monkey impression I’d be happy to give you a guest post on BRC! 🙂

      • Might have to do it on my Facebook page, but I’ll tag you. TOTALLY! Either that or I will figure out a way to send it to you and let your friends have a good laugh. It comes with arm gestures. Really my whole body is involved. It’s excellent.

  6. This is fantastic. Still giggling. And you had me at take a nap! I may have to do just that – damn the consequences.

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