Who SAYS It’s Christmas BRIBERY?

Who Says It's Christmas BRIBERY
So then…he pours another glass of wine and asks, “Did everyone else get the anti-Christmas letter from Wal-Mart?”

We look up from our rubber-chicken dinners at this industry event — and laugh at Richard’s question.

We’re all salespeople for various auto accessory companies so we call on clients like Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart, and automotive chains.

Todd, a sales guy from Atlanta, says, “Well, it’s not exactly ANTI-Christmas. It just reminds us salespeople that we can’t give any gifts to our Wal-Mart buyers for the holiday.”

I say, “I told my Wal-Mart buyer that shouldn’t prevent HIM from getting ME a gift.”

They laugh. Ten of us are eating dinner at this round table in the hotel ballroom, waiting for the speeches to start on the dais.

Nick, an older grizzled sales veteran (and a New Yorker), knocks back a slug of Jack Daniels and grouses, “It’s ridiculous. What’s wrong with giving gifts to your clients? We’ve done it for years — and now all of a sudden, all these chains are telling us we can’t take our buyers to dinner, can’t take ‘em to shows, can’t –”

“Take ‘em DRINKING?” interrupts Todd.

More laughs. Nick snorts. “Hell, YEAH, take ‘em drinking! What the hell else you gonna do in Bentonville, Arkansas, for God’s sake?”

Several of the men nod, picturing that sleepy little town that houses the Wal-Mart headquarters.

The chains have become very strict about salespeople potentially influencing purchase decisions of the buyers with lavish gifts or vacations. Apparently, back in the day, vendor salesmen were pretty fast and loose with incentives to buyers to ensure their product lines were chosen for distribution in the stores.

Another salesman pipes in, “I get that they don’t want you “bribing” the buyers to carry your product line, but how are you supposed to establish a relationship with a buyer if you can’t even share a meal together?”

“Yeah,” says Todd. “I even told my Target buyer we could split the check for dinner, but he doesn’t even want to be seen out with a vendor in case someone thinks he’s getting a free meal!”

“I heard they have hidden video cameras in the vendor meeting rooms so they can make sure salespeople aren’t bribing the buyers!” says another salesman.

“This summer, I was calling on Wal-Mart to show our new automotive cooler, so I stocked it with snacks and sodas to demonstrate how it keeps things cool,” I say. “My buyer comes in and says, ‘I’m dying of thirst and that soda can looks so cold.” So I say, ‘Help yourself! It’s just for the demonstration!’ He looks around the room – I swear he’s acting like there are cameras in there! Then he says, ‘Well, I should pay for it first.’ Then he digs in his pocket and slides a quarter over to me before taking the soda!”

“No way!” says Todd.

“That’s ridiculous!” says Nick.

“I know!” I say. “I wanted to tell him, ‘Hey, I paid 50 cents for that soda, ya cheapskate!’”

They laugh.

Nick takes another hit of his Jack Daniels and says, “Many years ago, back when I was first starting out in sales – and when the chains weren’t so uptight, I had this buyer at a national auto chain based in Philadelphia. This guy was great – carried tons of our products in his stores – he bought literally millions and millions of dollars of our stuff. We took him out to dinners and shows, gave him some great gifts for the holidays, even treated him and his wife to a few weekend getaways.”

We lean in to hear better. The other tables at this event are pretty noisy.

“So one day, I’m presenting our new line of seat covers,” continues Nick. “And my buyer says, ‘Let’s go try these out.’ I look at him like he’s crazy because he’s never cared about seeing how the products actually work in the car before. But I say ‘sure,’ and off we go. So he’s barely noticing how nice the seat covers are, but he’s saying things like, ‘Hey, let’s turn left up here’ and ‘yeah, swing around to the right.’”

I exchange anticipatory looks with Todd and a couple of the other salespeople at our table.

“Before I know it,” says Nick, “We’re at the river and my buyer points to a new condo building that’s built right there, overlooking the water. He says he’s heard those condos are really great — and they cost $90,000 – and he and his wife have been looking for someplace in the city to move – and how he’s thinking about adding another section of seat covers to the stores. And finally I realize — he wants my company to buy him one of these $90,000 condos!!”

“Oh my God!” I say.

“And we DO!” announces Nick, raising his drink in the air.

“Oh my God!” I say again.

A couple of the guys laugh. A couple shake their heads in amazement.

One of them says, “Wow – well, you certainly can’t do something like that these days!

“Of course not,” says Nick. “You’d never be able to find a condo on the river today for just $90,000!”

— Darcy Perdu

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(Does your company permit holiday gifts to be given and/or received? One of my past companies let us accept gifts from vendors – as long as the gifts were edible and could be shared with all the other employees. But I am not a “sharer” – especially when it comes to Christmas treats! Holla! Share your Christmas gift tales in the Comments!)
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32 replies on “Who SAYS It’s Christmas BRIBERY?

  1. LOL!! omg that guy is a TRIP – it’s hilarious because he doesn’t realize that its because of people like him that these new regulations and strict guidelines are set in place for!! A $90,000 condo by the river? Sign me up – whose butt do I have to kiss for that?! I love the added touch of whiskey, really shows he’s a man’s-man lol Have a great one Darcy! -Iva
    AwesomelyOZ recently posted..A Childlike StateMy Profile

  2. Caitlin said:

    I was a buyer for several years. The holidays were WONDERFUL for all of the gift baskets and bottles of wine that vendors would send. My favorite to this day was the time someone sent us a whole sheet pan (cookie sheet sized) box of baklava. I practically ate myself sick!

    • Baklava Binge! Awesome! And I DO love giving and receiving corporate gifts — aw heck, ANY gifts!

  3. Julie said:

    Everyone has gotten so uptight about everything. I swear. Shit. (see? I swear.) We have become so confounded by being politically correct and the drive to not offend anyone, that it is laughable. Sometimes you gotta call a spade a spade (no pun intended). I generally give gifts to people I appreciate. Regardless of who they are. I also suffer from getting the right gift. I rarely if ever “settle” on a gift. It has to speak to me, and really be for the recipient. A lot of thought goes into my gift giving. To put these rules in place are only to serve the unscrupulous in the first place. If one was tempted to accept a bribe, one will still find a way, regardless of the “rule”. Btw, did you get the check?? bahahaha!

    • Standing by mailbox daily — waiting for your check — can’t wait! :o)

  4. April said:

    My place of business is a little different, so we can’t accept anything from (seriously, I won’t even take a Christmas card from a client) or give ANYTHING to the clients (Correctional facility) and we don’t have vendors. But the employees usually have a little get together and do a very small gift exchange. And a potluck.

    • Now THAT I understand! I’m totally cool with a strict no-gifting policy at a correctional facility!

      And that’s great that the employees have a potluck and gift exchange. When I worked in an office, I LOVED the potlucks! Made working so much more festive!
      Darcy recently posted..Who SAYS It’s Christmas BRIBERY?My Profile

  5. I have a lot of thoughts on the social contract of gift giving. It is such an important glue in any society, but I think we are more disconnected from one another than we used to be, and this causes people to “defect” i.e., not act in a way that is socially acceptable and maintaining of social ties. When someone asks for a $90k condo (wtf!), it makes it so that we can’t even give a vendor a chocolate bar without repercussions. Sigh. Sorry for a bummer reaction to your funny post!
    Deb @ Urban Moo Cow recently posted..The Artist Formerly Known as Henry Does Not Do Santa PhotosMy Profile

    • I understand what you mean. A few over-zealous folks acting wild means that we can’t exchange some reasonable gifts!

  6. Totally wish it was still like the good old days! But totally dealing with the regulation and rules around client gifting… argh!
    Kate recently posted..Cozy up with a good bookMy Profile

  7. I’m a doctor. About 3 or 4 years ago, the pharmaceutical industry adopted a policy that drug reps can no longer give us pens or post-it notes/note pads. Now, I get that it’s not appropriate for a drug company to, like, pay for trips to Hawaii or something (which they apparently used to do), but pens? Really? Actually, we used to have a joke when I was in medical school, “When in doubt, prescribe what’s on your pen” –but it was a JOKE, people! I used to have a pen from my vet’s office and I never once prescribed heartworm medicine to any of my patients.

    • Ha! So glad your patients are safe from heartworm medicine! :o)

  8. When I was a bike cop in a city neighborhood that had a lot of businesses and great residents, the mailman and I made a great haul during the Christmas season. Were we supposed to take the gifts? Probably not, but how rude to tell somebody you can’t if they insist, right? Now would a nice bottle of whiskey get me to respond to your business before I would another where I didn’t get a nice bottle of whiskey? Of course not *winks. Wait! Of course not *winks. Of course not *winks. Well fuck, nevermind. You’re a fine story teller Darcy.

  9. Alex said:

    It’s political correctness gone crazy. If someone spends millions on products why would giving him a condo be worse than (say) giving him a 90k discount for bulk buying? He’ll remember the condo. He won’t remember the discount anywhere near as long! Next thing you won’t be allowed to discount for bulk anymore either… and then where’ll I get my deals on chocolate from? But seriously, the other side is what happens to received gifts – the worst I know about is a law firm where the hoi polloi were expected to hand over any gift to the partners, but a gift basket clearly labelled to be distributed among all the staff was raided by the partners first, and the staff were left with the water crackers and the marmalade the partners didn’t want. And I love promotional pens and pads – I steal them anywhere I can get my paws on them. Umm… I mean I gratefully accept them when offered.

    • oh, man, I hate that! I hate gettin’ to the gift basket when all that’s left are those little funky marinated olives and weirdo marmalade made from fruit I’ve never even heard of!! damn the early raiders!

  10. William Kendall said:

    Very funny, Darcy!

    Nothing good ever came out of Arkansas. Bubba Clinton, Wal-Mart… we need to fence the whole state off. Just saying.

    • You’ve just been disinherited by the entire state of Arkansas, William!

  11. Paul said:

    I worked at the head office/distribution center for a value retailer in Eastern/central Canada that had about 100 stores (at the time – more now) and 5,000 employees. It was owned by the man who started it – Mr. Reid. Management and buyers were allowed to accept for personal use one edible(drinkable)gift under $100 for Christmas only. They were instructed to accept (and encourage) all other gifts and submit them to a central holding area where they were raffled off a few times a year to the employees and the money went to buy winter snow suits and necessities for children in need in the area (they worked through some established charities). The buyers used to have a contest amongst themselves (not official) as to who could get the most out of their suppliers to add to the raffle for the snowsuit fund. The winner got bragging rights.

    • That’s actually a GREAT use of corporate gifts — hold raffles to raise money to help needy kids! I love that! What a brilliant idea!

      • Paul said:

        The best of it was with that many employees, even raffle tickets priced at $1.00 each on, say, a hundred dollar item could raise up to $1,000 for charity – many times the value of the gift.

        • Such a good idea! I’m going to spread the idea around — it would be cool if other places did that too!

  12. Hi Darcy,
    I would just like to say that there is so much food in every corner of our office that I can not remember the sensation of being hungry or even trying to say no thankyou anymore. I’ve been eating about every twenty minutes for the past week and a half and it has mostly been chocolates. Apparently they can still accept food from our vendors around here.

    • OMG – WHAT IS YOUR ADDRESS? I’ll be right there!!

    • Exactly! I’ve been on both sides in my career — client and salesperson — and I like giving and receiving corporate gifts! I mean, I don’t go around buying condos for anyone — but a fancy food basket or deluxe chocolates or a bottle of wine? Hell yeah!

  13. A friend of mine worked for the Receiver of Revenue. One day a man walked in, put R1000 on his desk and said, “Make my tax case disappear.” My friend took the money which was a lot of money back then but now equivalent to 100 dollars. He did not even know who the man was so obviously he never made his tax case disappear. He knew he was safe because he was leaving his job at the Receiver the next day.
    Vivian recently posted..Merry merry and Happy happyMy Profile

    • that’s pretty hilarious! and what is the man gonna do? he can’t exactly report that the employee didn’t make his case disappear! so funny!