“How Sweet It Was”
By Jerry Zezima
It’s a good thing I’m not a business magnate because I couldn’t sell refrigerators in Death Valley. If I could, I’d be a refrigerator magnate.
But it turns out that I can sell peppermint pretzels and mint truffles. And I did, in astonishing amounts, when I recently worked for two days as a brand ambassador at Costco.
I got the idea to be one of those nice folks who give out food samples at the big-box retail stores when my wife, Sue, said that if I went shopping with her, she would buy me lunch.
Sparing no expense, Sue shelled out $1.50 so I could have a hot dog and a soft drink in exchange for pushing a cart that was filled with cereal, toilet tissue and so many other household items that I felt like a trucker who had flunked his driver’s test.
On our rounds of the store, which is approximately the size of an airport terminal, except without the luggage carousels, I encountered a friendly guy named Gerald, who was giving out samples of white rice with soy sauce.
“Do you like your job?” I asked.
“I love it,” replied Gerald, who is retired. “It gets me out of the house. And I’m doing something constructive.”
“I’m retired, but I seldom do anything constructive, which is why my wife wouldn’t mind it if I got out of the house,” I said.
“I’m going to apply,” I told her.
The process was long and complicated, requiring me to furnish so much information that I was shocked it didn’t include my underwear size. I felt like I was applying for a job with the CIA, which in my case would stand for Comically Inept Associate.
But it was worth the trouble after I met Saima Iqbal, a very pleasant event manager for CDS (Club Demonstration Services), the company that hires the people who give out food samples at Costco.
After informing me that I had somehow made it through the application process and was being hired — at minimum wage, working six-hour shifts with a half-hour food break and another break of 15 minutes — Saima gave me a blue apron, a CDS visor and a name tag with JERRY in bold letters. Below that was my title: “Sales advisor.”
“This will get me out of my wife’s hair,” I said.
Speaking of which, I had to wear a hair net and a face covering for my mustache. Also, I was required to wear disposable gloves. And I was shown how to prepare a food cart for selling products and how to wash and sanitize the cart and other equipment afterward.
“We place a premium on cleanliness,” said Saima, who started as a sales advisor 11 years ago. “There’s room for advancement,” she added. “But we are going to start you slow.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I’ve always been a little slow.”
That meant I wouldn’t be using a microwave or an oven to prepare food.
“My wife doesn’t trust me in the kitchen,” I said.
“You should also know that members, as our customers are called, may ask you where certain items are in the store,” Saima warned.
“I don’t know where anything is at home,” I confessed.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “Your job is to sell. Good luck and welcome aboard!”
I began on a Sunday, which was very busy. My shift started at 10:30 a.m. and lasted until 5 p.m.
Saima wasn’t working, but I was in good hands with Melissa, a personable senior shift supervisor who showed me how to set up my big metal cart, which contained a bowl, a stand and other necessary items, including the product, Snack Factory pretzel crisps with white creme and peppermint.
I had to put two pretzel crisps in a small paper cup and put several cups of them on a tray under the stand.
“Remind people that they’re on sale,” said Melissa, pointing to an adjacent display with dozens of bags of peppermint pretzels.
I was in the most highly trafficked location in the store, right near the checkout area, so members who were lined up with their carts, waiting to be checked out, stood in front of my cart.
“Wow, peppermint pretzels!” was the typical reaction from members young and old.
“They’re sweet and salty! And they’re on sale!” I gushed, pointing to the $4.99 price tag.
“How much do they usually go for?” one woman asked.
“A hundred bucks a bag,” I answered. “But there’s a special deal today.”
She laughed and put two bags in her shopping cart.
“They’re selling like hotcakes,” an older man said.
“Maybe I should sell them, too,” I replied.
He smiled and took a bag from the display.
The peppermint pretzels, which ordinarily sold for $6.99, were indeed a hot item.
“They could sell themselves, but they can’t talk,” I told a nice mom.
Her small son wolfed down four of them.
“Yum!” he declared.
The hardest part was keeping up with demand. I had to open bag after bag, pour the pretzel crisps into a bowl and put them in the small cups, which I then had to place on the trays. As soon as I did, they were snatched up.
At the end of my shift, I was tired and my feet were sore, but I felt good.
“It was fun,” I told Gerald, who helped me clean up.
My second — and last — day was Tuesday.
Again, I was working from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. This time, though, I was selling Utah (that’s the brand) milk chocolate mint truffles, which are “individually wrapped.” They were on sale for $6.99, a saving of $3.
Saima, who was back to work, was dismayed when I told her before my shift that I would be quitting because of a scheduling conflict and not any dissatisfaction with the job.
“That’s too bad,” she said. “You did great on Sunday and everyone likes you.”
“This must be the shortest career ever,” I said. “Will I be eligible for a pension?”
“Sure,” Saima answered with a smile. “And you’ll get a 401(k).”
“How about a going-away party?” I asked.
“Why not?” she said.
When I went to my previous post in the front of the store, a sales advisor named Lee, who was selling chocolate-covered almonds, told me I was in the wrong spot.
“You’re supposed to be in the back near the freezers,” she informed me. “Look for the display with your product.”
“Sorry,” I said.
“I don’t mean to bust your chops,” Lee said sympathetically.
“Don’t worry,” I replied. “I’m not selling chops.”
I set up my cart and launched into my sales pitch: “These truffles are a sweet treat that’s good to eat and can’t be beat. And they have a hint of mint. I like saying that because it rhymes.”
In addition to scarfing down samples and buying bags of truffles, a lot of people asked for directions.
“Where can I find milk?” a woman inquired.
“In cows,” I told her.
A guy asked, “Where’s Celsius?”
“On a thermometer,” I answered.
“I mean the energy drink,” he explained.
“I have no idea,” I said.
Fortunately, both of them laughed.
One woman looked at a bag of truffles and said, “They’re individually wrapped?”
“Yes,” I said. “They were wrapped by individuals.”
She laughed, too.
And they all bought the product.
Toward the end of my shift, Saima stopped by because she was leaving for the day.
“Goodbye,” she said. “And thank you.”
“How did I do?” I asked.
“Excellent,” she said. “If you want to come back, let me know.”
The experience was excellent, too, thanks in large part to my fellow sales advisors, most of them retirees, including Alfonso, Andrew, Aquib, Christina, David, Frances, Gerald, John, Jon, Lee, Marianne, Nieves and Sondra. They were all very nice and extremely helpful.
Even without the peppermint pretzels and mint truffles, two bags of which I bought for Sue, it couldn’t have been sweeter.
Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima