"Did you measure the ceiling?" Ellen asked Thomas.

Tad Troilo "The ceiling?" Thomas asked in return.

"You have to measure the ceiling," Ellen scolded.

"You didn't tell me that."

"Who doesn't know you have to measure the ceiling?" While she grilled her protégé, Ellen unrolled a set of plans. She and Thomas were discussing the latest house being built by Klein Custom Homes, one of our good customers. "You did check the floor, didn't you?"

"Yes, there will be a floor," Thomas answered proudly.

"Of course there will be a floor," Ellen snapped. "But what kind of floor will it be?"

"Plywood," he stammered, clearly flustered.


"The floor is definitely plywood."

"What will it be when the house is done?!" Ellen screamed. Then she jabbed at the plans on the desk. "Look, you can get the ceiling height from the elevation."

"The what?" Thomas asked.

"The ceiling height."

"The elevator?"

"The elevation."

"I didn't get the elevation, either," Thomas admitted, cringing as he spoke.

"The elevation is on the plan!" Ellen said through clenched teeth.

Thomas looked at the plan and pretended to understand what she was talking about. He couldn't fool Ellen, though. Frustrated, she rolled up the plans, grabbed the job file from Thomas, and stormed out of the new showroom, muttering, "I'll take care of it myself," as she went.

They say that those who can, do, and those who can't, teach. I was beginning to believe one other adage: those who can, can't teach.

Ellen was a superstar. She single-handedly started our first kitchen design center, selling custom cabinets to our builder accounts as well as designing and selling residential remodeling projects. Ellen had a great rapport with homeowners and contractors. She knew what it took to run a successful, profitable department and, in fact, preferred to run hers alone.

When we opened our second lumberyard, naturally we wanted to duplicate Ellen's successful department. Ellen was very interested in participating in the expansion and was made the manager for both departments. Of course, she would be responsible for training the new sales person in the second location. And that's when Ellen's only weakness was discovered.

The first sales person we hired for the new department lasted three days. "He doesn't pay attention," Ellen explained. The second lasted three weeks. "She's not very bright," Ellen told us.

I thought Thomas stood a good chance at making it to three months. He has a background in furniture sales and interior design. He also worked part time in a countertop shop, so he had a good amount of tangential experience. And he struck me as a fast learner.

Ellen, it seemed, disagreed.

"This just isn't going to work," she told me, calling me from the Klein jobsite. I began writing the help-wanted ad in my head, when Ellen surprised me.

"It's not his fault," she said.

"But I heard your conversation," I told her. "He didn't measure the ceiling."

"I never told him he should," she admitted.

"And he thinks the floor will be plywood," I reminded her.

"How would he know that even matters to the cabinets?" she asked. "I never taught him about that, either."

I stopped writing the ad.

"I can't be the manager," Ellen told me. "I don't know how to teach anyone. I just know how to do it all myself."

And as if to prove her point, Ellen went on to have her best year ever, working alone out of the department that she started.

Ellen was always a fantastic sales person, but she truly impressed me by being a fast learner about herself.

Tad Troilo is a manager for Cranmer's Kitchens by Design in Yardley, Pa.
E-mail: [email protected]