Shawn L. has been a vendor with The Contributor for five years. At his corner outpost at 16th Ave. South near the roundabout that circles Alan LeQuire’s Musica sculpture, Shawn is known for his outgoing personality: He is all waves and thumbs up to passersby; Music Row pedestrians know him by name; and nearby café owners shout his name when he walks through the door. When Shawn hopped in my truck early on a recent Thursday morning, I knew I was going to learn about selling The Contributor from a true master of the art. And when I pulled into the Drake Hotel on Murfreesboro Pike where Shawn has lived for the past six years, he was already out in front of the building waiting for me. He is all business when it comes to The Contributor, and here are some of the lessons I learned from him down on Music Row.
The lay of the land
The first nuggets of knowledge I gleaned from Shawn came fast and furious on our drive from Murfreesboro Pike to Music Row. He pointed a straight shot to our destination, but it included crafty shortcuts, and knowing lane changes and maneuvers that helped us to avoid slowing down for obstacles like parked delivery trucks and construction zones that were blocks ahead of us. I’d have thought he was part psychic, but Shawn’s regular gig on his corner of Music Row has made him like a beat cop or mailman in the neighborhood: always aware of the changing landscape he travels through nearly every day, week after week. Shawn has a car, but it’s currently out of commission, and many vendors rely on busses, bikes or their own two feet to sell the paper at their designated posts. For The Contributor’s vendor, knowing about closures, bottlenecks, construction zones and road hazards can mean the difference between safe, efficient commuting, and lost time, lost work.
Keep it clean
Once we arrived at Shawn’s post on Music Row, he immediately set to work at tidying his space up: he grabbed a few stray wrappers, a plastic bottle and a plastic cup on the grass on the corner and crossed the street to throw it all in one of the trash cans in Owen Bradley Park. Just like a shop owner sweeping the sidewalk in front of his store, or a farmer organizing displays at a market, Shawn knows that first impressions are important for a salesman like himself. Shawn also dresses the part – in his clean bright sports jerseys, he reps for the home teams – creating an automatic icebreaker when meeting a stranger – and counts a number of Nashville Predators and Titans among his regulars. If you’ve seen Shawn in his Easter bunny getup or his Thanksgiving turkey suit, you know how much value he puts on getting noticed by customers.
Here comes a regular
During my day with Shawn, I was amazed at how many people he seemed to actually know in the neighborhood: commuters on bicycles exchanged high fives with him as they rolled downtown; neighborhood joggers offered fist-bumps and were gifted shouts of encouragement from the vendor; drivers pulled over to say hello whether they had the cash to buy a paper or not. The truth is every Contributor vendor earns this kind of loyal customer base by wearing a friendly smile, offering a kindly wave, and showing up on the job on their corners day in and day out until they become as much a part of a neighborhood as the folks that live and work there. If standing on your feet on a street corner for eight hours on a chilly winter day doesn’t sound like a hard day’s work, just try doing it with a big smile on your face.
Keep the faith
Like any successful salesman, Shawn makes a positive mental attitude a top priority. He showed me that it was important to wave and smile and say hello to everyone that passed by his station. According to Shawn, even the rude drivers or dismissive pedestrians got the same treatment as his regulars and old friends. I got the idea that it was important for a vendor to maintain positivity in the face of negative reactions or apathy. Like any cold calling salesman will tell you, sales is partly just a numbers game, but you never know when the next customer might come along. The key is to keep pitching your best pitch over and over again while remaining quietly faithful that the next car will be the one that stops, rolls down the window and brings a new friend into your life.
Image: Vendor Shawn and Contributor film critic Joe Nolan. (Credit: Joe Nolan)