Dave Kerpen | My First Job: Changing Perception, One Snack at a Time
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My First Job: Changing Perception, One Snack at a Time

My First Job: Changing Perception, One Snack at a Time

“Our intention creates our reality.” — Wayne Dyer

Fifteen lousy dollars.

That’s how much I earned my first night at my first job selling Crunch ’n Munch in the fall of 1996. A 19-year-old college student at Boston University, I was a huge baseball fan, so I had taken a job as a vendor at Fenway Park and the Boston Garden (then called the Fleet Center). I was a snack hawker who walked up and down the aisles selling product.

Now, what most people don’t know is that ballpark vendors are paid only in commission and tips — the more they sell, the more they make. And it’s a seniority-based system — you have to work for years to get to sell the good stuff, such as beer and hot dogs. My first day, as the low man in the system, seniority-wise, I had been assigned a product called Crunch ’n Munch. I sold a grand total of 12 boxes and made the minimum: $15. Not only that, I was a sweaty mess, and a little down. It would be a long time before I earned the seniority to sell a more popular product.

I decided later that night that while it would be fun being at games, I wanted to at least make a decent living hawking Crunch ’n Munch. So my second day, I decided to try to change people’s perception of me. I decided to become not only a ballpark vendor, but an entertainer at work — a little singing, a little dancing, a little screaming, and a lot of goofy Dave. I sold 36 boxes, three times as many as the first night. I stepped up my efforts for the rest of the week, and saw increases in sales with each night that passed by.

I’d be the first person to admit that I had absolutely no talent as an entertainer. I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t dance, and I wasn’t particularly good at any aspect of performing. My only assets were passion, fearlessness, and the attitude to think of myself as an entertainer, not just another hawker. I began to scream at the top of my lungs each night, in an effort to pull attention away from the games and toward the buttery toffee popcorn with peanuts that I was selling.

The attitude change paid off. Within weeks I had developed a persona as the “Crunch ’n Munch Guy,” and regulars at the arena began to take notice. The in-stadium cameramen liked my shtick and began to feature my goofy dancing on the large-screen Jumbotron during timeouts. When The Boston Herald published an article about me, a fan actually asked me to autograph her box of Crunch ’n Munch.

At that moment, I did what was arguably the only smart thing of my entire career in ballpark vending. I decided at that moment to try to again change people’s perception of me — from ballpark vendor/entertainer to local celebrity. I asked the woman to borrow her Sharpie, and I proceeded to sign unsolicited every box of Crunch ‘n Munch I sold that night. On each box, I wrote, “You rule!” I signed my name and then screamed “You rule!” as loud as I could at each customer who ordered a box before delivering it via a toss.

Somehow, I helped change perception in the building by the end of that night — in just four hours, fans began to think that not only did you have to buy a box of Crunch ‘n Munch, but you had to get it autographed by the Crunch ‘n Munch guy.

Over the next three years, I was featured in The Boston Herald, Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Fox Sports New England, and ESPN SportsCenter. Conagra, the makers of Crunch ‘n Munch, flew me down to Washington, D.C., to make an appearance at a Washington Redskins game for Monday Night Football. I may have lost my voice a lot, and I did go through several thousand cough crops to sooth my aching throat each night. But I also sold a lot of Crunch ’n Munch. At my peak, I was selling — and signing — between 250 and 300 boxes per game and earning, with commission and tips, between $400 and $500 per night—an excellent living for a college kid.

There I was, utterly talentless, but using my attitude and others’ perception to generate a very healthy income.

Eventually, of course, three years later with a college degree in hand, I decided to retire as the Crunch ‘n Munch guy. But the lessons remained:

Redefine your attitude, and your job, and you can change the way people perceive you — and become virtually limitless at work.

There are many examples of people “giving themselves a promotion” at work and thereby changing people’s perception:

There’s the salesperson who becomes an expert consultant and whose customers come to him for help — driving sales through the roof. As my friend Mark Roberge says, patients don’t question their doctors when they write them a prescription — and a good salesperson can similarly change his prospect’s perception of him, earn trust, and generate tons of sales.

There’s the marketing assistant who becomes a thought leader by reading countless books and industry articles and then writing for the company blog. Write well and often, and you will quickly change the perception of those around you.

There’s the intern who works tirelessly to solve company problems and quickly not only gets noticed, but becomes indispensable. You can think of yourself as an intern, or as someone there to make a difference, regardless of your pay grade.

There’s the small business owner who becomes a spokesperson for her industry by doing media appearances and writing — creating the impression of having a bigger business — and soon, actually growing a much bigger business. Television appearances have a way of quickly changing people’s perception of you.

No matter what your job title is, you can get creative, choose to see your role differently, take on new tasks, and make a huge positive impression on customers, prospects, colleagues, and bosses.

You can change your attitude and quickly change other people’s perception of you. And perception is reality.

What are you waiting for? Create a new reality for yourself today.

By the way, 17 years, two businesses, a wife and two children later, I’ve long since retired the Crunch ‘n Munch guy dance, and thankfully, I don’t think any video of it exists online. But I’m still happy to tell you and anyone who asks: YOU RULE!


Photos from top: Justin Ide; Bill Swersey

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