Wally Cooper: A life in sales 2012.09.19

Written by David Green. Posted in Feature Stories

wally cooperBy DAVID GREEN

It started off with newspapers in his home town of Gunnison, Col. Next came Bible story books, followed by Fuller Brush products, “Successful Farming” magazine and finally postal uniforms.

Wallace “Wally” Cooper of rural Sand Creek summarizes his career this way: “I’ve been in sales all my life.”

Wally grew up in Gunnison where his father owned a ranch. Both of his grandfathers were homesteaders in the state. Wally suffered a life-changing accident when he was eight years old. He was severely burned and the incident left an enormous amount of scar tissue on his back—a condition that later prevented him from taking many jobs.

After he graduated from Gunnison High School, Wally and his brother took over the franchise for the distribution of the Pueblo Chieftain newspaper in Gunnison. The boys would drive to the airport to pick up the papers, then prepare them for the delivery kids.

He left Gunnison to attend college in Tennessee—Madison College, part of the Seventh Day Adventist church. Eventually he joined a friend in Georgia to sell Bible story books and that was the start of 43-year career.

Wally figures a typical salesperson would stick with the job for three or four years, but he continued for more than four decades.

“That was a lot more than most,” he said. “I wasn’t very good when I started, but I ended up being very good at it.”

There was a reason he stayed with what his church called a “literature evangelist.”

“I really had no choice in the matter,” Wally explained.

It was the accidental burn. Anytime he needed to take a physical for a factory job, he was turned away.

“I knew I couldn’t get very many jobs,” he said. “I did what I had to do.”

Wally sold books in Georgia for five years, and during that time he met his future wife, Dorothy Mae Covell of Morenci. They married and moved to Michigan to help care for Dorothy’s mother.

He brought his book sales job with him. Wally did some door-to-door sales in Georgia—a lot of hard work—but most of his career involved placing the books in doctor’s offices and other locations.

Every book includes response cards and his sales efforts would involve following up on those who sent in a card.

“You can go door-to-door,” he said, “but it’s better to go where someone is interested.”

Wally says that he always sold more than one thing at a time. For example, he became a representative for “Successful Farming” magazine. He would receive the subscription list from the publisher and contact readers about renewals. He also made calls to non-subscribers, with the advice to contact farmers before noon. After that they might be out in the fields and wouldn’t want to talk.

Eventually subscriptions were handled via the internet and that job disappeared.

Wally began selling for the Arslan Uniform company, supplier of clothing for postal service employees, and he visited post offices from Jackson to Toledo. Once again, the internet has pretty much killed off that enterprise. He has only a few regular customers who still buy from him.

Wally is also still selling Fuller Brush Company products, with an inventory that goes far beyond brushes. A new product book with sales items comes out every month and he places books in a few locations in the area. He still supplies a few regular customers who order products.

“Most of my customers are within four or five miles,” he said, including a few in Morenci.

Wally put in a few years working as a security guard on weekends at factories.

“You never get a holiday off,” he said, because when the factory is closed, he has to be on the job.

He worked for the Dura Corporation until it closed its operation in Adrian, then worked at Merillat Industries until it closed.

Dorothy died in 2006 after 38 and a half years and his second wife of three years, Patty, now lives in Indiana where she is near family to assist with medical problems.

Wally’s arthritis forced him to give up his book sales, but he receives retirement pay—something he earned after reaching 20 years of service with the church.

“I liked sales after a while, but when I started it was rough,” Wally said. “I liked meeting with people.”

The array of people he met over his career was varied and interesting.

“You can’t imagine,” he said. “I spent most of the time in Toledo. All kinds of people there.”

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