The Potato Peeler from Union Square: A True Salesman

I love a good story and I love a good character. This man delivered all that. He was unforgettable – a businessman, a charmer, an enigma yet an urban legend. His life told a fairytale and at its core was a potato peeler.

“Never underestimate a small amount of money gathered by hand for 60 years,” Potato Peeler Salesman Joe Ades used to say. Mr. Dapper Debonair wore thousand-dollar suits and lived on Park Avenue. He sold Swiss-made potato peelers in Union Square in New York City. He sat on his little stool and gave captivating demonstrations of his awesome product. It was a show you could not pass up. You watched the show and hypnotically forked over your $5.

Joe died this week.

“That’s the secret of happiness. Not doing what you like, but liking what you do.” Joe was a successful salesman.

He was a one-man marketing machine who earned his prosperity in one of the world’s toughest cities. How? He knew how to sell. He understood people.

In our society, we are programmed to buy – it has become instinctual to us. Particularly when we think we are getting a “good deal.” Without knowing that we needed something, we can be convinced that we not only need it, we want it, we have to have it.

Joe showed us the product directly to our faces. He sold his product with such joie de vivre; you wanted to buy his energy. Even if you never peeled a potato in your life or if you ever wanted to. Even if you already had 3 potato peelers at home. Joe delivered the pitch, gave you the demonstration and closed the deal within 10 minutes. He told you and he showed you and you believed him and you made the buy.

I’ve spent a decade in marketing and advertising analyzing people’s brains and their buying habits. Like the rest of the corporate world, I plug away at a computer, virtually selling products and services and then promoting them in 130 characters or less (on Twitter). In our new marketing world, we have taken the human element out of selling.

But we are all much stronger in person. We can sell ourselves for a job better on an interview than on a paper resume. We can sell a service better in person than we can through an email or on a Website. We can even sell ourselves better at a bar than on a dating site. We are humans and inherently want – and need to connect to other humans.

When Joe wanted to get married for a fourth time he tried to use media’s help. He took out an ad. He got 600 offers, but he met Ms. Right the next evening at a piano bar. Joe was always better in person.

NYC will miss Joe. {font-size:11px; font-family:Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; color: #999; margin-top: 5px; background: transparent; text-align: center; width: 425px;} .msnbcLinks a {text-decoration:none !important; border-bottom: 1px dotted #999 !important; font-weight:normal !important; height: 13px;} .msnbcLinks a:link, .msnbcLinks a:visited {color: #5799db !important;} .msnbcLinks a:hover, .msnbcLinks a:active {color:#CC0000 !important;}

Read more about Joe in this Vanity Fair article. Also – the Gothamist remembers Joe.

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