Chapter V • Go West Young Men
Sweet Success • The Albert Sweet Story
Chapter V • Go West Young Men
Having been around in various experimental forms since the 1920’s, the concept of television did not enter the mainstream of American consciousness until its celebrated demonstration at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. Even then, the outbreak of World War II delayed its manufacturing on a large scale until after the war. However, it wasn’t until NBC initiated its first true commercial network broadcast programming schedule that sales of television sets across the country began to soar. American culture, for better or worse, would never be the same.
When television first came out, there was no big splash or sales because there wasn’t anything on the air. But by 1948, there was the Texaco Star Theater with Milton Berle. He was called “Mr. Television” and he was really funny.
Herman Kastner and I were both working together at OK Radio which is where we became friends. They sold records, radios and small appliances. In order for the store to get a TV franchise, they had to buy two things: A television set for the showroom and one for the window. People used to stand in front of the store windows and would watch the test pattern on television. It was that new. When Milton came on, all of a sudden I started selling sets like crazy.
The first sets that came out had long neck picture tubes and they used to break in shipping. It was a very fragile kind of thing. So they started to ship the picture tube separate from the TV set. So we had to learn how to put the two together.
Despite being hired as salesmen, Al and Herman weren’t ones to turn down an opportunity to earn some additional cash.
Once someone bought a set, they wanted immediate delivery. Herman had a car. So we’d lift them into the trunk and deliver the TV’s. The clients were very anxious to get them. We would get a delivery fee of five dollars plus a tip from the client. We made a lot of money from all the jobs. I don’t know if someone else had been hired to do deliveries, but you know, we were smart, we were strong, we had a car, and we just did it. And it was terrific.
But soon, Al and Herman both decided the time had come to move on. They began talking about the prospect of driving from New York to California together. The idea was to see the rest of the country and discover what the world was like outside of The Bronx. However, getting their parents’ blessing for the two of them to make such an arduous trek together was going to require a bit of deception…
Herman and I had the same thing in common – his parents were anti-Jewish and mine were anti-Gentile. So with my name being “Sweet”, I was able to get by as someone who wasn’t Jewish. And Herman, whose name was “Kastner”, well that sounds kind of Jewish. So we were good to go.
We drove across the country and we split all the expenses. I just wanted to see what was going on in the rest of the country. The trip took four weeks. Actually, the most interesting part was the first job we got when we arrived in California.
We both went to work for a company called The Dan Miller Company. They basically sold the same kind of things we had been selling in New York at OK Radio. I went to work in one of their stores on Adams and Redondo in Los Angeles while Herman worked for one in Burbank. And we did very well.
Using a few tricks he had learned from his stint at OK Radio, Al became Dan Miller’s top salesman in no time…
I became the star salesman. I don’t know why, but to me, they didn’t seem too sophisticated when it came to sales. I had learned that you always “cleaned” the floor. In other words, if you’re selling television sets, you just don’t stick them out on a floor all dusty. You get them fired up. You demonstrate them. You make them shine. I learned that in The Bronx.
Unfortunately, showcasing a product in its best possible light wasn’t the only Bronx-related sales technique Al brought with him to the West Coast…
I was a product of the streets of New York. And the culture there was that you don’t tell the customer a lie, but the lack of the full truth was ok. That’s the way it was. I’ll give you an example that I’m not proud of…
I had never sold appliances such as washing machines, dryers, or refrigerators before. I knew nothing of that in New York, but I learned all that out here. So in comes a customer and I sell him a washing machine and a dryer. Now the washer used a hundred and ten volts, like you plug into the wall. But the dryer used two hundred and twenty volts. I was certain his house didn’t have a two-twenty hook up. Well, I wrote up the deal anyway without saying anything.
Later on, the customer came back into the store and asked why the dryer didn’t work and Dan overheard the conversation. Dan asked me what happened and I told him something stupid like I forgot to explain about the power. Dan told the customer that he’d get his electrician out there right away. Then he said to me, “Just remember this – anything less than the whole truth is a lie. You can do better than that.” I told him I’d pay for the electrical service and he said, “No, it’s better that you remember this.” That’s the kind of guy he was, like a father, just a wonderful guy.
With lessons learned, Al’s commissions from sales began to grow exponentially, as did his level of happiness. For the first time he was on his own. Not only that, the sunny California weather was a major improvement over the cold winters of New York. Plans were still on the books for Al and Herman to eventually complete their round trip journey back to New York, but the idea just seemed to constantly get pushed to the back burner.
I was making lots of money, relatively speaking, for my age. I can remember the first paycheck I got. It shocked me. It was for three hundred dollars and I ran all the way to Bank of America. I couldn’t believe it – three hundred dollars. That was the best time of my life. From that point on, I knew I could succeed at whatever my ambition drove me to do.
Al’s faith in his ability to achieve financial success in life had now been solidified. However, unbeknownst at the time, there were two monumental events hovering just over the horizon that would inevitably change the course of his life. For the first time, Al was about to directly experience love and war for himself…