In the summer of 1968 a man walked into Dad’s saw shop gushing about a guy making beaucoups of money. College was out for the summer and I needed a job. The next thing I know, Dad and I were sitting in Augusta’s Bell Auditorium waiting for pitchman, Glenn Turner, whose company, Koscot Cosmetics, needed door-to-door salesmen, the gullible preferred.
From the back of the auditorium a chant took rise … “Money!” “Money!” “Money!” “Money!” “Money!” “Money!” and then men cut cartwheels down the aisles all the way to the stage. It was like the scene in the Blues Brothers where a rapturous Jake Elrod somersaults his way to James Brown’s pulpit. Following them, men and women rushed onto stage clapping hands and chanting their money mantra. They acted like cheerleaders. They were cheerleaders. This brazen spectacular must have set afire the dreamers with riches swirling through their heads. Damndest thing I’d seen at that juncture.
It made for good theater. Turner, ahead of his day, was good at painting a rosy picture. Some, in fact, refer to him as the first great super salesman. Think of Billy Mays, Anthony Sullivan, and that ilk …. Con men? Maybe. As for me, my time in Bell Auditorium ranked as one of the more ridiculous things I’ve seen. Even so, we all fell under Turner’s spell.
Come listen to a story about a man named Glenn. He was born in 1934 in South Carolina to an unwed mother whose prenatal scarlet fever gave him a clef palate and hair lip. When a tot, surgery tried to rectify these problems. Even so, people noticed him, especially kids, some of Earth’s meanest people. They teased him so unmercifully about his hair lip that he dropped out of the eighth grade. Later, much later, he got into the Will Lou Gray Opportunity School in Columbia, South Carolina, a school for dropouts. That proved to be a turning point.
Turner said the school saved his life. Said it gave him the inspiration to finish school and something else, gave him confidence. Full of himself, he went to work. He sold sewing machines door to door. Then he crossed paths with Holiday Magic, a multi-level marketing (MLM) cosmetic sales company. Some folks refer to multi-level marketing companies as pyramid schemes. Today the law doesn’t look favorably on pyramid schemes. Bernie can tell you all about that. Back then they were ok. Maybe Bernie was born too soon.
Glenn Turner borrowed $5000 to become a distributor for Holiday Magic, and in no time he became the number one distributor. He made a quarter of a million dollars in his first eight months. At the age of 26, he left Holiday Magic and started his own cosmetic MLM company: Koscot. In three years he grew it into a $100 million enterprise and the word spread all the way to Dad’s saw shop.
The show at Bell Auditorium worked magic. Dad urged me to join the cause and I did. The secret ingredient in the cosmetics I was to sell was mink oil. Got a cavity? Mink oil will give you a crown. Bald? Mink oil will grow your pate a pelt. Mink oil was good at softening up new boots and it was even better at softening up pocketbooks and purse strings. Other than the hype, I forget many details because this experience wasn’t one to remember. With no sales experience and no experience in the world of work to speak of I was an easy mark for fast talkers. I recall that we had to buy a $20 sales kit that looked something like the chemistry sets Santa brought me as a boy of the 1950s. A metal case with hinges, it opened up to reveal an array of Koscot samples.
As part of the multi-level marketing structure, I reported to a higher up but his name left me long ago. He would make a commission of my sales. Equipped with my sample kit I ventured into the world of fame and fortune. I got up the next morning and headed toward Double Branches but instinct directed me to turn left at Martin’s Crossroads. I drove toward Maxim. On the left on a hill stood a rusty mobile home, the proverbial wobbly box. I parked and with kit in hand stepped up two stacks of concrete blocks. I was about to learn that a rather ponderous woman lived there.
I knocked on the door.
(????? What to say … my training had not prepared me for identifying myself … Thinking quickly I said,) “Oh it’s just me.”
“Okay, I’ll be right there.” I could hear footsteps and the trailer shook. The lady opened the door and in I went. I was on my way! She invited me to sit and she sat on a sofa all wallowed out and more than a bit concave. I remember hearing air gush from it. Right off I told her that the cosmetics I sold contained mink oil.
“Mink oil! Is that so?”
“Yes,” I replied and it will make your skin as soft as velvet.
“You know that’s right or you making that up?”
“Softer than the fur on a newborn kitten,” I said. “Why don’t you try some samples?”
“I believe I will,” she said, and she tried every one, applying them, using them, smelling them, looking at them, but always putting them on a table out of reach by her sofa.
With just one call, my sales kit was shot. Done. All used up.
“So, what would you like to buy?”
“I got all I need for now.” And with that she showed me the door.
I got in my car and drove off. I had no more samples and spending $20 for another kit was out of the question. I made a command decision. Reaching across the front seat, I rolled the passenger-side window down and hurled my empty sales kit into a ditch. My career as a cosmetics salesman was over. I hope some kid found that case and suffered disappointment. “Shoot, a used-up chemistry set.”
I applied for a job at Elijah Clark State Park and soon I was working as a garbage collector. From would-be millionaire to garbage man. That’s how far and fast I fell and I could not have been happier.
As for Glenn Turner, he went on to amass a lot of money and for sure he donated a lot to good causes. Check the record. He helped a lot of folks and organizations in need. He ran afoul of the law though and went to prison. The once flamboyant businessman became an ex-convict after serving more than four years in Arizona prisons on charges of conspiracy, fraud, and illegal pyramid sales. He was convicted in 1987 some twenty-one years after a man walked into Dad’s saw shop all abuzz with the dream of easy money.
It wasn’t instinct that made me turn left toward Maxim but divine intervention and it saved me. When that big-bottomed woman took all my samples she diverted my life into another direction. Suppose she had made a big purchase? What then? She was my school of opportunity you could say and Gene I’m sure would agree. I owe her a thanks far bigger than her substantial bottom.