“When I was growing up I didn’t want to go into sales,” says Joey Benaron — who has been a salesman for the past 16 years. “I had a bad impression of the business.” He thought the goal of sales in general was to get people to spend money whether or not they wanted to. Since becoming a salesperson, however, his views have changed. “It’s not about one person winning,” he explains. “It’s about striving for an outcome that is fair to all.” Today Benaron believes that one can – and should – do business in an ethical manner.
He’s been living in Santa Barbara since 2007 and working as an independent sales rep for the boot company Red Wing. “There’s inherent value to the product,” he tells me. “A lot of stuff is manufactured to be disposable. Red Wings can last you decades if you want them to.” He then goes about explaining “conscious consumerism” to me. “When you buy something that doesn’t last, you tend to regret it,” he explains. “People need to curate what they own – and know where their products are made and how they are made.”
Joey grew up in Los Angeles in the 1970s where his grandfather owned a furniture company and became his steady role model. He shares an inspiring story about the time his grandfather contracted a craftsman to build tables and chairs – and pre-sold them. When the chairs kept breaking, Joey’s grandfather replaced the whole inventory to his customers at a total personal loss. “He had strong moral ethics and integrity,” Joey says.
Benaron went to San Diego State University where he majored in psychology. “I like to figure out how people think,” he explains. “I have great empathy for people.” After graduation, he came under a lot of pressure to move into a career field, and took up a job as a salesperson in “furniture components.” But that product didn’t connect with who he was as a person. “It’s always easier to sell something that interests you,” he tells me.
He became a buyer instead for an outdoor equipment company in San Diego called ADVENTURE 16. After getting laid off, Joey decided to become an independent sales rep. “As an independent sales rep, you’re more a master of your own destiny” he tells me. “If you work hard you can make good money.”
When I bring up the current situation in retail, he acknowledges that many bricks and mortar businesses are going through a rough period, but then insists that actual physical stores offer an experience that can’t be recreated online. “Santa Barbara in particular has a customer base that wants to shop at stores that are locally owned,” he says. The Red Wing store on Upper State Street is privately owned.
Joey, who is one of the nicest people I know, is also a novice woodworker and did construction all through high school and college. This came in handy this past year when he supervised the construction of his dream home on the Mesa.
Joey answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your most treasured possession?
My integrity. It’s really how you view yourself, and at the end of the day I want to like the person that I am. We are all challenged at some points in our lives and we will be ready for those challenges if we have practiced integrity regularly.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Greed is an ugly quality in people. The roots of greed are fed by insecurity – the idea that somehow having more than others makes a person better. Greed does not promote fairness because it thrives on being better than others. There is no wisdom, love, or kindness in greed. It’s completely self-focused. Greed is most dangerous when found in our political leaders.
Who do you most admire?
My grandfather is the first person that comes to mind. He passed away many years ago but to this day I still channel him when coming up against dilemmas. I ask myself ‘What would Papa do?’ thus the answer will consist of honesty, integrity and fairness. I was named after my Papa Joe, he was a good businessman, a philanthropist and cared strongly for his family. I wish that he could see the man that I have become and I hope he would be proud.
What is your greatest fear?
I really hate to let people down, myself included. Failure is my greatest fear, failing to be there for friends or family, failing to get my job done, failing to live up to my own expectations. So either failure or getting bit by a shark.
What do you like most about your job?
I have been an independent sales rep for 16 years. This career has allowed me to travel extensively through my home state of CA as well as the southwest. I have met a lot of people and had the opportunity to develop my ability to self-motivate. I currently work for Red Wing Heritage and really enjoy selling a product that is well made and functional, not hype, just a US made boot that can last a lifetime.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I am not sure if I have a ‘perfect’ happiness, I just want to be happy in the present moment. We live in such a beautiful area of California so I enjoy being outside with my wife and dogs. Ideally relaxing on an uncrowded beach or hiking in the Santa Ynez Mountains.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I am still looking for something on which to be extravagant. I think that travel would be an ideal extravagance, to see more of the world and other cultures.
What is your current state of mind?
I feel very fortunate for my life, and I often wonder how I got so lucky. I am married to a wonderful person, I have great friends, I get to live in a beautiful community, and I am healthy. What more could I ever ask for? When I see or hear of the turmoil many people are going through, I feel that it is unfair that I should feel so untroubled. I would say that is my current state of mind, ‘Untroubled’.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Honesty is important but a specific trait that I like most in people is being genuine. To be genuine is to always behave in a manner that is authentic to who you are, not trying to create an artificial persona merely based on the situation. A person’s behavior surely may adapt to their surroundings however the foundation of that person should remain solid.
What do you most value in friends?
A sense of community is what I value most with my friends. Common values are at the heart of friendship. Sometimes families don’t share values, which is why it is lucky that we get to pick our friends.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Having been to a couple of funerals recently I thought of what people would say in my eulogy. I think that ‘helpful’ would be a reoccurring theme, I like to help people, it makes me feel good about myself.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
There is nothing specific that comes to mind however growing up on the beaches of So Cal leads me to use a very Southern California vernacular. Dude, bro, rad; also any word that can be shortened such as ‘sandie’ for sandwich, or ‘fam’ for family.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I would like to be more musical. I think that it’s always fun when someone can play a musical instrument. For me it would be the ukulele. I like the uke because it’s cute, easy to carry, is not very loud and makes people happy.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My age. It does seem that flexibility is tied closely with age, so I guess more yoga would in turn make me younger. Also my memory, I would like to remember more of life, more details, the good and the bad.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Building a house. I did not do it by myself, but I managed the whole process. Working side by side with talented builders and seeing the architectural plans go from theory to reality. It was super stressful but very fulfilling. Big thanks to my wife for putting up with me and supporting me emotionally for that crazy year.
Where would you most like to live?
I really love living in Santa Barbara. However, I would also like to live somewhere with good waves, warm water, and a foreign language.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My dog CaliBu. She is always cracking me up. I am not sure why but sometimes I just watch her and laugh.
What is your motto?
On behavior – ‘Treat others as you would like to be treated.’
On decision making – ‘Make the best decision you can and move forward’
On business – ‘It’s not about one person winning, it’s about striving for an outcome that is fair to all’
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Well this is a fictional character from The Lord of the Rings – Samwise Gamgee. Sam was not the main character but he supported the main character. He was loyal to his friends and had a clear vision on right versus wrong. He did not give up even in the face of strong adversity. I continue to strive to be more like Sam.
On what occasion do you lie?
I don’t like to lie; it usually results in bigger problems. But I have lied when protecting someone I love from information that will hurt them. Sometimes it turned out OK but mostly the lie just postponed the inevitable.