“Would you like to try some toilet paper?”

Toilet-Paper-2My previous memories of making snack mix brought to mind the first job I worked at the seminary with Sitko Field Services. Apparently, the population of Ft. Wayne, IN, represented a good cross section of America, so it was a hot spot for market research. Our job (Lisa worked there, too) involved phone and door-to-door surveys and product testing. Sue Sitko, the owner, brought big city marketing experience to the heartland, and helped us pay the bills as I studied to be a pastor.

The world was very different back then. In the office, I didn’t sit at a computer screen waiting for numbers to be automatically dialed for me. We sat in front of a phone with a page from the phone book and a stack of surveys, calling down the list to find someone who would answer some questions for us. More people than you would imagine were willing to talk to us about television shows, over the counter medications and restaurants. The only hard part was finding the right age group of people to talk to for a representative sample.

One weekend my job was to sit and width the NFL Pro Bowl and jot down every commercial. A boring game and a boring afternoon, but it was good money.

The really interesting part was the door-to-door work. Sometimes you walked around with a clipboard full of surveys, seeking a face-to-face conversation at someone’s home. Yes, this was a different time. But other times the goal was placing a product for them to try. I would go back a week later, get some reaction to the products, and leave a different batch for them to try. It was one thing to get people to test crackers, soda or dog food, but imagine some of the responses I got when I asked, “Would you like to test some toilet paper?” It was tougher but not impossible to find willing participants. Especially if they were one of those families who waited till they used the last sheet before going to store for more. When the survey was over, we got to take home some of the extra product, too.

I used to get survey phone calls, but haven’t for a while. When I did, I tried to answer the questions. I guess I still have a soft spot in my heart for those in search of market research interviews.

When you’re praying for me, say a little prayer of thanks for Sue Sitko, who was a part of preparing me for the pastoral ministry.

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