There are natural born salesmen. And then there is Kike Seda, who parlayed a lemonade and fruit stand operation in front of his home as a young boy into a series of sales-oriented positions throughout his life.
The entrepreneur bug bit him hard in 1989, however, with the Puerto Rico native opening a postage meter and shipping system company in Columbus. That was after a nine-year stint -- you guessed it -- as a sales representative with the postage equipment giant Pitney Bowes.
Nearly a quarter-century later, Seda, 71, is a force in the industry with his son, Skip Seda, by his side as president of A-1 Postage Meters & Shipping Systems. Chris Jeffcoat is vice president.
The ride for the elder Seda has included being inducted into the Junior Achievement Hall of Fame and the Neopost Hasler Hall of Fame (named after the postage equipment distributor). He also is a recipient of the Sam Walton Small Business Man of the Year Award.
Today, Seda is chairman of the company and, not surprisingly, an avid salesman who still gets a big kick out of checking on his longtime customers. A-1’s territory stretches from Columbus east to Macon, Ga.
The Ledger-Enquirer talked with him recently about his job, how technology and the economy have impacted him, and his penchant for peddling products to people. This interview is edited for length and clarity.
How did you get into the postage meter line of work?
I worked for Pitney Bowes, then decided to go into business for myself and give them some competition. I started the company in 1989 and about a year later they closed their local office ... I thought if I’m ever going to be in business, I might as well get into it now. It’s been so far so good.
Leaving Pitney Bowes was a critical moment for you?
I told them that I was going to quit and go to work for myself and compete against them. They told me that they would shut me down, that they would send 10 people out of Atlanta everyday, and that they would make sure that I go broke. My response to that was I don’t think you can find 10 people to outwork me, so bring them on. The first year I took 83 customers from them. They only had 709 whenever I quit. I have over 60 percent of the business here now, so that speaks volumes.
So you were a sales natural?
My mama said I was ... In my family, we’ve got teachers, we’ve got bankers, chemical engineers, aerospace engineers. So I asked my mom how come I’m the only salesman in the family. She said, remember, we used to have lemons, avocados and all kinds of fruit. She said you’ve been selling all your life. You put your little stand in front of the house and you would sell.
So you just kept on selling?
I also used to go to the ballpark with all of my equipment ... I would mix up bottles of Tang to drink myself, but would sell them to other people. Back then I was selling them for 3 cents apiece. My grandfather also was an author and had some books of poems. I would go from door to door, selling those books for $1.25. Then, in my first real job, I sold cars and did real well with that. In two weeks, I was the number one salesman in that company. I didn’t realize it through the years, but I’ve been selling all my life.
So various pieces of equipment are the tools of your trade?
I don’t sell copiers or fax machines. I sell anything that has to do with processing paper (postage machines, envelope inserters and shipping and receiving systems). And I don’t sell to individuals, just businesses.
Give an example of how technology has changed things?
When I started, the postage meters used to go up to 19 cents. That shows you how long I’ve been doing this. So when postage went to 20 cents, we had to get new postage meters. But now we can print a stamp for $1,000. Our meters can go up to $100,000.
How has the economy impacted you?
We had three bad years -- 2008, 2009 and 2010. I was a little worried. You didn’t know what the future was going to bring. So we started workingsmarter. The year before last was a good year and last year was a very good year. We were No. 9 in the (Hasler Neopost) company. That’s not bad.
How much do some of your machines cost?
We’ve got small ones that are rented for as cheap as $46.99. That’s for somebody who’s not doing a whole lot. But we have sold some for $150,000. Our average is probably about $3,000 or so. It depends on what the person needs.
What’s the key to selling to someone not just once, but multiple times?
We talk to the customer and ask them what their needs are. We sell to needs. If the person doesn’t need the product, that’s what I tell them. Some people think I’m crazy, but there are some folks who I’ve told they don’t need a postage meter. I say, you just need to lick and stick. The big thing is don’t try to sell them something they don’t need. We’ve got customers that came to me when I started and they won’t go anywhere else. It would kill me if somebody said I didn’t treat them right.
Why is it important to get involved in the community?
When I first started I didn’t have a whole lot of money. I used up my savings. (Coming from Barnesville, Ga.) I didn’t know a soul when I came to Columbus. So I joined the chamber of commerce and the Better Business Bureau. At one time, I was on 24 boards of directors and committees. As I got involved, more and more people got to know me, and realized that this guy could help me.
Are there any concerns or worries for you in the industry?
This may not sound right, but I made up my mind that I was just not going to join in the recession. I’ve got a positive attitude. I’m sure there are going to be some changes, but we just have to adjust ... I’m working harder. I used to make a certain number of calls a day. Now I just have to make more.
You confided at one time to being a workaholic?
I used to not take off at all or go anywhere. When I started my business I worked seven days a week, 17 hours a day. That was for seven years. Not anymore. But I truly love what I do. It’s really not like work. I love talking to our customers and finding out what’s new with them.
Name: Eugenio “Kike” Seda Age: 71 Hometown: San Juan, Puerto Rico, although lived 22 years in Barnesville, Ga. Current residence: Smiths Station, Ala. Education: 1959 graduate of Gordon Military High School in Barnesville, Ga.; attended Gordon Military College in Barnesville Previous jobs: Has sold cars and insurance, and sold equipment nine years for Pitney Bowes
Family: Dale, wife of 33 years; son Skip Seda and his wife, Kathy; stepdaughter Karla Brown and her husband, Dale; stepson Kent York and his wife, Donna; stepson Kevin York and his wife, Connie; four grandchildren, Ben Hollingsworth, Abby York, Michael York and Billy York
Leisure time: Enjoys playing senior league softball
Of note: Is among six owners of the Columbus Lions, a Professional Indoor Football League team; sits on the board of directors of Columbus Community Bank on Whittlesey Boulevard at Columbus Park Crossing