“Kirby man” keeps going

CNJ Staff Photo: Kevin Wilson
Lawrence Riggins shows his “100 Percent Kirby Club” pin received during 50 years working with the company. He received the pin for 16 sales of the vacuum cleaner and a stone for each additional 16 sales.

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ Staff Writer

Lawrence Riggins once sold a vacuum cleaner for a prize pig, then sold the pig to his friend the next day.

In addition to taking livestock as payments from farmers, he also received store
credit from area business owners. He figured a $50 credit for groceries was as good as cash, and it made his customers feel like they were getting a good deal, too.

His deal-making ability, which earned him the name “Dollar Stretcher,” kept him successful with the Kirby Company for nearly 50 years.

And at 79, he has no plans yet to retire.

Riggins doesn’t know just how many vacuums he’s sold, and he doesn’t remember the exact day he joined Kirby. He just remembers that he didn’t think of a long-term job when he first talked with a salesman at a coffee shop, a conversation that led to a trial job for Riggins.

“I told him I’d do it for a few days,” Riggins said. “If I didn’t like it, I’d do something else.”

He never did anything else, and dedicated his days to interacting with customers and showing the features of many models of vacuums.

He started selling in 1956 with the Model 516 and has sold 13 other series of vacuum cleaners since.

While the models’ features changed over the decades, Riggins’ sales philosophy never did.

“The biggest thing is, you’ve got to demonstrate the machine to sell it,” Riggins said. “If you put on a good demonstration, the machine will sell itself.”

For every machine he sold, Riggins would earn about $75, and the commission would be pushed higher if he sold well during a particular month. He worked on a commission-only basis, which could mean dry spells.

“You put a little bit of money ahead if you have one of those good months,” Riggins said. “But I found that usually when you have a slow month, it’s because you don’t get out and work enough.”

In his top year, Riggins said he sold 168 units — considered a high number by many in the field, but a figure that Riggins said became realistic based on a goal to sell three machines a week.

Most days began the same for Riggins, with a pep talk that reminded him he started every day as a man without a job.

“I’d tell myself, ‘You’re unemployed,’” Riggins said of his days as a door-to-door salesman. “‘You’ll be unemployed until you get in front of the first customer.’”

His positive attitude earned him the nickname “Smiley,” but mostly he’s known as the Kirby Man. He still clocks in six days a week at Hilltop Kirby, the only authorized dealer for Clovis and Portales.

Selling thousands of vacuums has helped Riggins raise four children and purchase his home, but he said he works now for fun rather than for financial necessity.
“I love this job, and I love working with people,” said Riggins, the office manager and service technician for the small shop in the Hilltop Plaza in Clovis.

Just as Riggins is happy to have the job, Hilltop Kirby owner Bobby Alford is happy to have him. Alford, a Portales native who first worked for Kirby as a high school student, said Riggins helped teach him the business and keeps his shop worry-free.
“I’ve been associated with him for 23 years, and I’ve never heard a negative thing from anybody,” Alford said. “There aren’t many people in this world you can say that about.”

Alford said he’d be happy to have Riggins for another 50 years, but said he and Riggins agreed he would quit working if “the Lord took him” or he reached 100.
“If you get out there and talk to the people,” Riggins said, “you’re going to sell something.”

Riggins facts
Hubert Lawrence Riggins
Born: Jan. 14, 1927, in Hereford, Texas.
Family: Wife Neva, sons Steve and Scott, daughters Darla and Lori, and 12 grandchildren, ranging from 4 to 19.
Positions held: Salesman, authorized distributor, office manager and service technician.
Honors received with Kirby: 100 Percent Club pin for 16 sales, with 12 diamonds representing 16 additional sales each; Honor Man 1958; Honored Field Counselor for four months in 1968.
Notable: Riggins has been a member of Central Baptist Church for more than 50 years and is an ordained deacon. Riggins owns a used Kirby he acquired in a trade.
Hobbies: Fishing, dominoes and solitaire.

Golden anniversary celebration: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Kirby shop in Hilltop Plaza, Clovis.