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North America’s Top Encyclopedia Saleswoman Going Strong After 29 Years

August 7, 1989

MARSHFIELD, Mass. (AP) _ To understand why Joyce Fishman is the top World Book encyclopedia saleswoman in North America, you need only hear the story of the German shepherd.

Fishman, who has spent half her 58 years selling the reference books, was out knocking on doors a few years back when a large German shepherd bolted from behind a house as she came up the driveway.

″I was so scared, my legs were shaking. I’ve always been afraid of dogs,″ she recalled. ″I can remember asking him to please leave me alone. But he went ahead and took a chunk out of my thigh.″

The dog’s owners rescued her, and Fishman asked if she could come in and make her presentation.″It was the fastest sale I ever made,″ she said.

Then she went to the doctor.

Fortunately for Fishman, her sales aren’t usually so hazardous. With her graying hair, print dress and sensible shoulder bag, she looks as if she’s on her way to the library or the classroom. And that’s how most people react to her.

″I’m very low-key,″ Fishman said in an interview Thursday. ″I never say anything that’s not sincere. And I really believe in the World Book.″

Last year, Fishman sold more World Books than any of the other 42,000 representatives in the United States and Canada. Since 1960, she has sold more than 3,500 sets.

The World Book, based in Chicago, is the world’s best selling encyclopedia, says company spokesman Charlie Silverstein. A 22-volume set costs from $579 up to $799 for the top-of-the-line leather binding.

Most sales representatives earn a 15 percent commission, but Fishman earns 18 percent ″because she’s been doing this so well for so long,″ Silverstein said.

Fishman’s sales record - tops in 1986 and 1988, second in 1987 - is even more impressive, given her territory in the coastal region south of Boston. With one exception, her nearest rivals work in California.

″Everything you hear about New England is true,″ Fishman said. ″They’re more reticent, aloof, a harder sell. In California, there’s a wave of new immigrants. To them, education is the ticket to success in America. All you have to do is tell them the World Book will help their children in school.″

The only other non-Californian among the top World Book reps is Judy Sanderson of Raleigh, N.C., the nationwide leader in 1987 and currently running neck-in-neck with Fishman for 1989.

Fishman said selling is far more difficult than it was just 15 years ago. ″Women aren’t home anymore. It used to be they’d be stuck with the kids, and they’d be glad to talk with an adult,″ she said.

Fishman began to sell the World Book in 1960 after she acquired a set for sons Steven, now 36, Gary, 33, and Paul, 31. She and her husband, Sydney, had been losing money on their farm and Fishman decided she had to go to work.

″A lot of people don’t take this as seriously as I do,″ said Fishman. ″I’m a diehard. I just don’t give up. I think it comes across that I believe in what I’m doing. I have more confidence in my product than I do in myself.″

Fishman’s sales strategy is as low-key as her presentation. She targets potential customers by driving around looking for houses with basketball hoops and bicycles, a good sign of families with elementary school children.

If potential customers don’t seem interested the first time, Fishman doesn’t give up. She keeps a log of the people she visits and she comes back. And keeps coming back.

Her longest sale took six years. She visited a housewife with eight children eight times - ″one for each child,″ Fishman said.

″I knew she really wanted to buy and finally it was the right time,″ she said. ″When she finally bought, she told me she felt badly about it because she knew she wasn’t going to see me anymore.″

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