In the 1980s, Evian was the #1 bottled water in New York. #2 wasn’t even close. But, #2’s new Sales Manager was determined to kick Evian’s ass – maybe since Evian had just fired his ass. I was hired as one of his ass-kickers. My job was to visit delis and bodegas all over Manhattan and persuade the owners to give #2 more shelf-space. (In the retail food racket, shelf-space is the name of the game!)
In every store I visited, the enormity of my task became apparent. Evian bottles were prominently displayed at eye-level on the shelves while my brand wasn’t.
Oh, wait, here they are, way down here at back-breaking, floor level.
My brand’s bottles were buried down in the cockroach graveyard.
There is no more stomach-turning sight in a food store than flies and roaches pushing up daisies. A Londoner asked me why I always washed the top of soda cans before opening them. “Ah, the survival behavior of a native New Yorker,” I explained. “You see, cockroaches lay their eggs on can tops – don’t ask me why – and their eggs roll into that small depression around the can top. If I swallow a roach egg, it will grow inside me like the Alien. I have never seen a cockroach in my many years in London but I still wash my can tops.”
Evian was a big moneymaker for the storeowners and #2 was a big waste of time. How welcome do you think I was on a scorching summer day? How much time do you think they wanted to devote to my tedious survey questions when they had a long line of impatient joggers waiting to pay for their Evian?