100-year-old sales representative doesn’t plan to retire
LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) — Working on a laptop computer in his office last week, Frank Whitesell retrieved an invoice for a customer who ordered some 2019 calendars. He also examined proofs for an order of 2,000 small memo books with a company’s logo on each page.
Whitesell is one of seven sales associates for Adprint, a Lancaster firm that sells promotional advertising products such as pens, mugs and shirts. He prefers to do business face to face — often taking along doughnuts or other treats for his customers — but had no sales calls to make this day.
“I always felt that if you had a customer you at least had to show your face, let them know you’re interested in them. if you’re not, you lose them,” Whitesell said. “People don’t do business with companies, people do business with people. I think that’s still true.”
And when they do business with Whitesell, they are getting a man with lots of experience. Whitesell turned 100 on Thursday, and his co-workers and customers will help him celebrate at an office party this week.
“People don’t do business with companies, people do business with people. I think that’s still true.”
He still works about four hours a day, driving himself to the office and to sales calls with customers.
“He’s an amazing individual,” said Leon Martin, vice president of Clark Incorporated in Paradise, which buys calendars, bags and cups through Whitesell. “You’re surprised to realize his age. He’s very sharp.”
Whitesell downplays his role at the firm, where he usually calls it a day at 3 or 3:30 in the afternoon. He works on a straight commission of gross sales and admits that he hasn’t been very aggressive lately about getting new customers.
“I could do better if I wanted to go out. I want to keep my hand in it, but I’m not banging around for new business,” he said.
‘Here for life’
But going to work is such a part of his life that he can’t imagine quitting.
“I haven’t thought about (retiring). I think I’ll keep going as long as I have good health, which I’ve been blessed with,” he said. “I couldn’t just sit in front of a television set doing nothing. That’s not my nature.”
Whitesell used to be a partner at Adprint, but sold his share about 10 years ago when his partner, Morey Young, brought his sons into the business. Instead of quitting, Whitesell stayed on as a salesman.
“He’s here for life,” Young said.
Before Adprint, Whitesell had a similar business, A-Z Advertising, which he started with John Zook in 1980, right after he retired at age 62 from Raub Supply Co.
Whitesell had spent 30 years with Raub, a former Lancaster-based supplier of plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical products, finishing as vice president of marketing for their industrial division.
‘Moderation and a sense of humor’
Many of Whitesell’s current customers have worked with him a long time. Among them is Jim Gingrich, a sales manager for Yeager Supply who worked with Whitesell at Raub Supply.
“He came to visit us and of course knowing Frank we started to deal with him and we dealt with him all these years,” Gingrich said. “I’m still amazed, every time he walks in the door — a guy 100 years old making sales calls.”
When he visits, Whitesell will drop off a small bottle of maple syrup and he also sends a handwritten postcard to Yeager Supply from Rangeley Lake in western Maine, where he has spent his summers since 1980.
Whitesell’s son, Steve, who lives near Annapolis, Maryland, has also been going to Maine for years with his dad, and plans to go again this year.
The younger Whitesell — who is 75 and has been retired for about a decade — said his dad has even supplied a furniture store and electronics store in Maine with branded items.
“I don’t want to be alone. I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have something to come to.”
“I think it’s good for him. I think it keeps him going,” Steve Whitesell said of his dad’s continued employment.
Whitesell lives on his own in an apartment in Manheim Township. His wife of 41 years, Elizabeth, died in 2000.
“I don’t want to be alone,” Whitesell said. “I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have something to come to.”
He says his friends are his customers and colleagues, adding that he doesn’t see his former golfing buddies as much since he stopped playing three years ago when he hurt his back on the course. (He shot a 95 that day.)
Whitesell still works on a couple crossword puzzles a day and answers “moderation and a sense of humor” when people ask him the secret to a long, healthy life.
His work habits are probably another reason.
“This has been an enjoyment working here, working with these people, so why should I give it up?” he said, before adding: “They say the second 100 years is going to be the hardest.”
Information from: LNP, http://lancasteronline.com