I’ve had about a thousand jobs. I’ve handed out cheese samples in the mall. I’ve hawked frozen pizzas in the supermarket. I’ve taught skiing and windsurfing. I’ve been a grape-picker, a maid and a lifeguard. And, before I got into the drain industry, I spent a lot of time working in restaurants.

Perhaps the job that had the biggest impact on me was waitressing at Foxy John’s, a coffee shop in San Diego. The owner of Foxy John’s was a woman named Jackie. This was back in 1980 and I was 21-years-old. My pay was $2.01 per hour plus tips.

On day one, Jackie told me, “Your employment is dependent on three things. First, you must tell the truth. Lie, cheat or steal and you are gone. Second, do things our way. We’ve got a system here and it works. You are welcome to make suggestions, as you earn your stripes. Third, you must wear the uniform.”

Of course, the uniform was awful. It consisted of yards of thick polyester, the color of poop, and horrible, bright white, nurse’s shoes. Ugh. On my first day, I showed up wearing the dreaded uniform, and promptly tested the limits.  

I cornered another waitress, Alyssa, while she was filling saltshakers.

“So, what’s Jackie really like? She talks a big game, but would she fire you if you didn’t wear these awful shoes?” 

Alyssa said, “The place is always packed and the money is so good. The work is easy and fun. Why risk it over the shoes? What’s the point?”

Suddenly, I felt petty. What was the point? Alyssa said kindly, “The shoes bug everyone at first. Jackie has weird taste. Still, I think you’re going to like it here.”

Every day I bought more of what Jackie was selling. She was a fanatic about numbers. Everything we sold was documented on this huge white board. Total sales, average sales, number of customers. Selling was the game – and there were contests everyday.  What a competitive bunch of women! Once, I bought a brownie myself just to break the tie and win the dessert contest.

In exchange for wearing the uniform and doing things her way, Jackie made good on her promise. I made lots of money and I had a blast. She also taught me about sales. Here are sales tips from the coffee shop:

  • Smile. Show some teeth.
  • You might just be the best part of someone’s day. Talk to them. Give them something good to talk about after you’re gone.
  • Ask questions. Listen more than talk.  
  • Answer questions. Give them what they want.
  • Just offer nice options. No need to push anything.  
  • Support the people who support you. They make your life easier.
  • Take responsibility. At some point, you are going to screw up. Apologize and resolve the problem.

Can we make the connections for the drain world? Sure! Jackie taught me about sales. And discipline. Most importantly, Jackie taught me about leadership. If she could get me to wear that uniform, well, what wouldn’t I do for her?  

Six months later, I graduated and moved away. Now, I appreciate what she taught me.  At the time, I didn’t get how great we were. I assumed lots of businesses operated like Foxy John’s. I thought it was just a typical coffee shop. I didn’t realize how extraordinary it was.  

I try to bring these lessons to work every day at Zoom Drain. I love our team and what we are creating every day. It’s not just drains. It’s extraordinary – what we aspire to do and be, the problems we solve and the opportunity to work with you. Thank you! Xo$ Ellen

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