In the grasp of a frigid artic blast this week, I had the opportunity to help some high school FFA students with a practicum, and I must say it warmed me up a little.
I was feeling a little duty-bound when the local vo-ag teacher Gina Anderson emailed me with a request to help judge the FFA district practicum at Lancaster High School, but I saw about 15 familiar names on the list of judges and figured I better not be the one who lets her down. So Wednesday afternoon this week I trekked over to LHS to see what it was I could help judge.
Turns out this was the Agricultural Sales Career Development Event for District 7 with nine teams and 34 students participating. I was assigned to judge the Customer Relations portion of the Agricultural Sales competition. The rule sheet said the CDE could involve returning sold merchandise, defective merchandise or lack of understanding in use of merchandise.
The scenario I was given focused pretty squarely on defective merchandise. Turns out the situation the students had to deal with involved them playing the role of a sales rep for Crop Production Services. An upset customer comes into the office to complain about the Dyna-Grow sweet corn he had purchased from them. What the customer expected was bi-color sweet corn. What he found when he harvested the field was blue corn. Since it was a longtime customer, the student/sales rep had to find a way to solve the problem in the 10 minutes allowed.
I, of course, got to play the role of the upset customer, while Amy Moore, a guidance counselor from Bloom Carroll High School, kept track of the time and made some notes so we could evaluate the students. Tell you what, some of these kids are pretty natural-born salesmen. And I did a pretty job of playing the irate customer I must say.
“We’ve been raising your sweet corn for 30 years,” I said pounding the table. “Never had a single problem until this. That corn is as blue as the jacket you are wearing. You must have hired a bunch of city kids to work in the warehouse. What do you intend to do about it?”
As directed by the instructions, the students were eager to find a solution to the problem. Only a couple suggested I should have looked at the seed tags more carefully.
“Did you check what color the seed was when you planted it,” I was asked.
They all offered a full refund. They offered to exchange the product and they offered to help me market the blue corn.
“I have friend who works for Frito-Lay. I’m sure we can sell that corn for you,” I was told. “We’ll cover your transportation and harvesting costs. How much storage do you have?”
“Here’s what I’ll do,” another offered. “We have a test plot with 20 acres of the bi-color sweet corn in it. I will harvest that, bring it over here and trade you for the blue corn straight up.”
Another said simply, “You know people are going for all kinds of crazy new stuff. Sell ‘em that blue corn. It could be a big hit.”
Don’t worry they were all ready to cover the cost of the seed and most were willing to offer a discount on next year’s supply, too.
“I’ll give you 10% off next year’s seed,” one young lady offered.
“What about 20%?” I replied.
“Nope can’t do 20.”
“How about 15%?” I begged.
“No can’t do 15% either. But I’ll go 12 and half,” she answered.
Several offered to write a letter to each of the loyal customers I had cultivated over the 30 years I had been raising sweet corn.
“I will sign it personally telling them what happened and explaining it was not your fault,” I was told. “It was probably those new guys we hired in the factory. We’ve grown so fast, it’s just hard to find good help.”
The had some good solutions for the competition down the road that was stealing all my sweet corn business, too. “We could just go over their and bump ‘em off for you, if you want,” said one young lady with a sly smile.
Even the most irate customer has a hard time holding back a grin when a future sales rep comes up with something like that. Amy and I were both impressed with the proficiency of these students. Somehow the icy evening air seemed a little warmer as I walked out to the parking lot.