Monday, 22 June 2009

Moving On - Sort of

Thoroughly disenchanted with the bookmaking game. Fed up and needing something new. A half-page advert in The Sporting Life caught my imagination. It was for a new-fangled electronic calculator!

Phoned the advertiser, Ray Norton. He had an office in the Cheam area. Said I'd like to see one of these new electronic wonders. He said OK, come along and you can have a go on it.

Took a day off and drove to see this chap. He was very pleasant and welcoming. Told him what my job was; this interested him. He used to be a salesman for Anka Cash Registers, selling these machines to bookies throughout the UK. He was now trying to sell these CBM electronic calculators. Completely new to the market in 1971 and perfect now that decimalisation was here.

I was smitten with this machine. It was an eight digit display calculator with just the four functions: add, subtract, multiply and divide. Mains operated, no batteries. And its cost: £200. Yes, £200 - and even at that price I thought it was a real bargain. Never before seen in this country and I could see why Ray Norton had targeted the bookmaking industry.

Ray could see I was thoroughly approving of his machine, imported from America. He then suggested I might like to act as a salesman for it. I said yes, but still had to carry on as general manager for Johnno. I said I'd show the calculator to as many people as I could; I had quite a few contacts in bookmaking.

I was paid £15 for every machine I sold. I found it very easy to demonstrate its uses in the bookie game. Ray was pleased but thought I'd sell more if I went full time as a salesman. Eventually we came to an agreement: I would go full time and be paid a commission of 15% for each machine sold, plus a fixed weekly sum of £40. I took the plunge.

Concentrating solely on betting shop owners I went full steam ahead with this electronic marvel. Devised a method of settling all kinds of bets with it. My main demo being how to settle a 'Yankee' bet in just a few key presses. This never failed to grab the full attention of any prospect who saw how easy it was to use.

One day I'd travelled down to the south coast, just cold-calling in any betting shop I came across. Most managers of these shops were impressed. Some placed an order, others said they'd 'think about it'.

One shop had a female manager and the rest of the shop was staffed by ladies. Most unusual in my experience. This lady said she liked the machine but she'd have to speak to her boss. She made a phone call. Her boss said he'd be there shortly, so I waited.

He soon arrived. I left him and his lady manageress to have a good look at it. He too seemed quite impressed with it.

"Tell you what" he said, "If you can demonstrate its full use to my staff then I'll place an order.Provided all my manageress's like it and can use it." I was happy with this and said: "How many people do you employ?" He replied: "I've got fifteen shops and 65 staff - and they're all female!"

Phew, I thought ... that's a new one on me!

Anyway, we arranged to do this demo the next evening in a room he'd hired in a pub.

It went extremely well. The manageress who had first seen the machine was totally sold on it and she had obviously lauded its praises to her colleagues. After my initial demo I fielded loads of questions about its uses. I let them try it out too, but as I only had three machines with me it took some time to do this.

The boss could see how keen his girls were to get hold of this new toy. That evening he placed an order for twenty machines. No haggling, no request for discount: £200 each, making £4000 in total.

This was a terrific result. I'd been selling just one or maybe two machines when traipsing around the betting shops. But twenty in one hit was exhilarating. And it also meant a £600 commission for me! Wowee ... this certainly beat sitting in an office worrying about staff and racing results. Life seemed so much brighter.

I even took Ray Norton and his secretary over to Dublin to demonstrate it to a load of Irish bookies. That was a great few days and we sold plenty of the machines.

Actually our Dublin visit was quite funny to start with. We went in Ray's Mercedes car to Liverpool and then on the ferry to Ireland. We drove off the ferry and had to stop at the Customs barrier. A young Irish Customs chap asked us what we were going to do in Dublin. "Oh, just demonstrating some calculating machines..." He asked us to open the boot of the car and he saw all these boxes of calculators. He then said: "Well, there's a tax to pay on imports like this you know." We didn't know.

Ray Norton said: "Actually officer we're not selling them; just demonstrating them." The young Customs officer said "Oh, that's OK then, just as long as you are taking them back to England afterwards." And on we went. No forms to fill in or anything else.

We had twenty machines and sold them all for cash on the first night of the hotel demo! Quite a night. The Dublin people are all so friendly and helpful. All the bookies and their wives, all in furs and fine jewellery, were at the demo and they all wanted to take a machine home with them. If we'd have hand fifty machines we could have sold them all. We took orders for more to be sent over later. We drove back onto the ferry without a single machine in the car. Nobody stopped us at Customs. A really good trip, and profitable.

However, all good things must come to an end. And selling this 8-digit calculator was to end pretty quickly. Newer, better and cheaper machines were soon hitting the market. In a matter of months the blue skies would be turning greyer. I just could not sell enough of the CBM calculator to make it worthwhile.

The final straw came when I saw an advert in The Sporting Life for a dedicated bet settling machine called the Genie 247. The advert was cleverly worded:

'If you're thinking of buying a calculator ... Hold Your Horses!'

To add insult to injury I learned that it was being financed and promoted by none other than James Lane, the Brixton based bookie and friend of Johnno. The end of the road for the little CBM machine. But we'd had a good run.

My brief encounter with the selling game would soon be ending. What next could I do? No way did I want to go back to the bookie business; no way José.

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