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Voluntary Work and Marketing, Powerful Lessons From A Grocery Bagger

By Edited Feb 12, 2016 1 0

A Surprise Encounter

She didn’t tell me her name, she didn’t need to because it was on her ID tag – Sharon.  She never asked my name.  She didn’t care.  It didn’t matter.  In less than four minutes Sharon convinced me to do some voluntary work.  It wasn’t hard work and it only took me about five minutes to complete when I got home, but she was so persuasive it shocked me.  I shouldn’t have been shocked though, as I found out Sharon did product demos in addition to bagging groceries.  She had spent hours talking to people and learning how to connect to sell products.  With me, she wasn’t selling anything – she was buying and buying for free.

But I Only Came To Buy Groceries...

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What She Was Buying

What she was buying was my time, skills, and effort.  Here’s what she wanted.  She wanted me to convince the local food court manager to post better signs for the handicapped table and to keep young people who are not handicapped off the table.  But the way she did it was brilliant.

  Most people would have made a little small talk and then asked, “could you help me convince the food court manager over there to label the table better and keep young kids out?”  And I would have said that I was in a hurry and didn’t really have time to look into it.

  That’s not what Sharron did.  While we were talking she mentioned she had bagged groceries for a long time so I asked her long it had been.  She said since the mid 1980’s.  I asked her what she thought.  She explained that she worked to supplement her social security and that she also did product demos.  She explained that baggers actually pay 60 cents an hour to bag groceries.  That money goes to the head bagger who sets up a system that lets adult bag till four and students bag after four.  She went on to explain she often doesn’t get tips and then she told me how demoing products in grocery stores work (they get paid for their time, not by commission).  First, she was very transparent – right on the border of too honest with me.  That really connected with me because she gave me lots of new info and I understood her situation.

  She then told me about her friend, an 86-year-old vet who fought in Korea and Vietnam.  She said he is an amazing man and a friend who she wants to help.  You see, sometimes they go to the food court together and there is no table for him because younger people sit at the handicapped table and watch sports.  “This isn’t right, our vets deserve better, don’t you think?”  She spoke to the purpose behind the action she wanted to do – she didn’t just speak to the actions.  Purpose is powerful.

The Twist

This is where she got really clever.  “What can I do to fix the problem?”  I explained that the food court has a website that has a comments section and I know the manager responds to comments people leave and actually changes the food court in response to legitimate issues.  She’d need to find that website and leave that feedback.  “I don’t do all that.”  I was sort of expecting that and I was about ready to leave when she made the sale.

The Sale

“Could you do that for me?”  Pause… “Yes, I’ll do it when I get home.”  I went home and I found the website, explained the situation, and asked them to label the table better, and make sure it was only used by the handicapped.   She connected by being really honest, talked to the purpose behind her actions, had me in detail lay out what she needed to do, then she looked me in the eye and asked if I would be willing to do it instead?  The most persuasive discussion I’ve had in a long time.  I gave her the tip for carrying my groceries, she purchased my voluntary work for free, and I asked the food court manager to help her disabled vet friend.  I think I walked away from the experience gaining more than she did.



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  1. "Volunteer Rates - States." National Conference on Citizenship. 20/January/2014 <Web >

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