Thursday, August 9, 2007

My Eyes Are Not Blue

I have often felt the Twin Rocks trading post would be greatly enhanced if Nellie Tsosie and Etta Rock were inclined to give Barry and me a few marketing tips. Nellie blends various ingredients to make Natural Pinon Cream, and Etta weaves sumac branches into traditional Navajo water jars sealed with pitch. Both women are accomplished marketers, and I run into them peddling their products in every nook and cranny of the Four Corners region. If I am in Kayenta, there they are; Cortez, there too; Moab, well, you get the picture. Their market penetration is staggering; virtually every home in four states boasts an Etta pitch pot and a jar of Nellie’s cream.

Nellie’s ointment is also referred to as Miracle Salve, primarily because Duke swears it will cure any ailment and make you younger, stronger, more attractive, wealthier, happier, sexier, more active and a variety of other things not generally discussed in polite company. On occasion, Duke has even suggested people put it between two slices of bread and make peanut butter and pinion cream sandwiches, proclaiming, “You won’t believe the results. It worked for me.” My love of peanut butter and desire to reclaim my youthful energy have made me seriously consider Duke’s advice. So far, however, I have resisted the temptation.

Etta Rock
Navajo Artist Etta Rock

Compared to Etta, Nellie is a relative newcomer. Nellie is, however, more sophisticated when it comes to getting her wears on the market. Etta and her husband Jackson take the more traditional approach, pile into the pickup truck with your goods in a plastic sack; drive about until you either run out of gas or find someone with a few extra bucks he or she is willing to part with; always wear a concerned, hungry look; and never, never, never give up. It is important to remember that if you happen to get stranded on the side of the road as you ramble round looking for an opportunity, you always have trade goods.

Barry and I tighten our belts and hide the checkbook whenever we see Jackson’s truck pull into the parking lot. “No thank you. Sorry Etta, we have plenty of pitch pots right now,” we say, knowing full well that response never works. That is partially because Etta speaks only Navajo, and specifically because she refuses to take no for an answer. In reply, Etta crinkles her face and gives us a melancholy look; something on the order of, “Hey guys, I haven’t eaten for a week and am fading fast. You don’t want that to happen in your store do’ya?” Since Etta is somewhat ample, that tactic is not as effective as it might otherwise be. At the Twin Rocks trading post, however, Etta’s year to year conversion rate is nearly 100%; Barry and I rarely hold up under the strain.

Lately, pinion cream is a little slow and Barry and I have once again renewed our pact to be more frugal, so Nellie has been struggling to siphon off a portion of our cash reserves. Undaunted, she marched into the Twin Rocks trading post last week and proceeded to give Barry and me bear hugs. Now, as a rule, Navajo people are not overtly affectionate, so Nellie’s enthusiasm caught us completely off guard.

Nellie Tsosie
Nellie Tsosie at Twin Rocks Trading Post.

Barry stammered out something about Austin Alice and her hillbilly hugs. I, being significantly more startled than Barry, mentioned that Navajo people just do not go about randomly hugging everybody, and inquired what she was up to. “Well,” Nellie said, “I hug people all the time. Sometimes they ask whether I am really Navajo, but I tell them, ‘My eyes are not blue.’”

As Barry and I fought to regain our composure and decipher the deeper meaning of her remark, Nellie, moving to hug Barry again, said, “Are you sure you don’t need any cream?” Barry, looking at me helplessly, said, “Well, we do need some of the small jars; let’s see what we have under the counter.” Before long, Nellie was walking out the door with a lot less cream and a lot more cash. As they say, “A hug a week ensures sales reach their peak.” I think there is also one that goes something like, “A hug a day and the trader will pay.”

After Nellie left, I rushed to the porch and scanned the highway; knowing full well it might precipitate a crisis if Etta and Jackson were anywhere in the vicinity.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

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