The producers over at ABC must think they’ve hit on a gold mine. I can just hear them saying (in bland L.A. non-accented voices), “Wife Swap’s working out ok for us, ratings-wise. What if we swapped … other things? Husbands! Bosses! Second cousins once removed! Parakeets!”
Yes, this week instead of having culture wars under the veneer of swapping wives, we’re having the war of the sexes under the veneer of swapping bosses. Is an improvement on the wife-swapping? You be the judge. I personally am holding out for the parakeets.
Stuart Silver runs Specialty Motors, a used-car lot in Los Angeles. It’s not just any used car lot, though – Stuart specializes in high-end luxury cars. Why anyone who could afford a Porsche would want a used one is beyond me, but hey, whatever revs your engine. Stuart gets a rush off making a sale, although his role in the actual deal seems to be coming in at the end to get the customer to sign the papers; it looks like other salesmen do the work of approaching customers, getting them test-driving keys, and hustling them into Stuart’s office. I hope nobody works on strict commission here.
Stuart encourages a cutthroat, high-pressure work environment. His staff must clock in right on time, and if they’re late they don’t get to work the shift at all. They work 12-hour days under the watchful eye of Stuart, who monitors all activity through the 32 security cameras that spy on every corner of the place. He’s fired five salesmen in the past year, and when I say salesMEN, that’s exactly what I mean – there are no women on Stuart’s sales staff. He won’t hire them (hello, Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, are you listening?). Women at Specialty Motors are in receptionist jobs. The adrenaline is fed during down times through high-stakes poker games.
Yet Stuart is willing to give up all this. He thinks he can be successful in any business, and wants to go try a new one to improve it.
Kari Caden owns and operates Caden Concepts – just five miles down the road – with her sister Lori. I hate company names that give you no clue what the company does. Caden Concepts, apparently, organizes promotional giveaways. So, if you want to put your company’s name on a thousand pencils, Caden will do that for you. Or get someone to do that. Or whatever. Evidently there’s a lot of demand for this sort of thing, though, because 14 staffers work for Caden Concepts. All of them are women. They stroll into work when they feel like it, take off early on Fridays to shop, get weekly massages, hang out together outside the office, and are under no pressure to compete with each other or, it seems, to actually make sales. This sounds like my kind of workplace.
Kari hopes the swap will teach her … something. What, I don’t know – either she was vague, or I chose that moment to put down my pen and take a swig of wine.
Boys and Their Toys
Proving that Stuart isn’t the only car salesman whose attitude toward women is stuck in the 50’s, the first reaction of the Specialty Motors salesmen toward Kari is thankfulness that at least she’s pleasant to look at. Kari gauges the situation quickly, and sums it up with, “all boys, all toys.” Yeah, pretty much. She’s shocked to find they work till 9 p.m., though.
Stuart walks into Caden Concepts, and you can see him just building a protective wall of testosterone around himself. He’s not sure he can work with an all-female staff – he even says something about “double D’s,” and I missed it and as I feel Stuart gets ONE pass, this is his pass and I’m not going to check the tape. But I’m watching you, boy.. He reads in Kari’s manual that all the women in the office get PMS at the same time, and plaintively asks when that would be, fervently hoping he can manage to be in Majorca by that point. (Scientific fact #1: women who are around each other a lot DO wind up on the same cycle. Just a PSA if you didn’t know.)
Stuart also does not understand how “non-competitive” and “sales” are not an oxymoron, and says he thinks that leads to “laxadaisical” sales staff.
Not JUST a Pee. A Luxury Pee
Kari starts her first day by finding Stuart’s second-in-command, Kevin, sitting in Stuart’s chair. Recognizing this for the “put the girl in her place” power move that it is, she removes him, although not without first sitting in his lap (striking a blow for respect for women everywhere, I’m sure).
Having claimed one throne, Kari is appalled by another – the bathroom is nastay, and she runs screaming, almost literally. The scuzziness of the facilities – not just the bathroom, but the entire building is dirty and cluttered -- does not speak well to the quality of the merchandise. “You’re buying a luxury car,” Kari explains. “Have a luxury pee.”
Five miles down the road, Stuart is livid the first morning, when the women wander in around 10 a.m. He complains to Lori, and they discuss what a reasonable hour would be. Not 8 a.m., Lori says. She tells us she wouldn’t really mind having a more structured, rule-heavy environment, as it would make the office feel more corporate. As she is wearing a stretch tube top as she says this, I’m taking her words with a grain of salt.
Stuart’s first task is to put together a presentation in three hours. He comes up with putting a logo on blow-up bullfrogs, or something like that – there is a definite toy frog on the table – and for whatever reason (likely due to the thrill of being on TV, which is far better promotion that you’ll ever get from a frog) the client loves it.
Despite being a friend to frogs (of the beanie variety), Stuart is too stuffy, according to the women of Caden Concepts. His concession to business casual is to take off his tie, and he tells us that the button-down dress shirt and pants that he’s wearing are as casual as he gets. He wears that to baseball games. He probably wears it to bed. He thinks the women would feel better if they dressed more business-y.
My Eyes Are Up Here, Pal
Kari has to make a deal to buy a used car, something she appears to be negotiating in the street where the car is parked. The owner, however, keeps trying to negotiate with Kevin, while Kari shouts, “I’m right here! Talk to me!” Now, it burns me UP when men act like a woman is incapable of handling whatever business transaction is going on. When I went shopping for my first car, the salesman lost my business when he automatically asked my male companion if he could help him. However, I do think this particular car owner was more concerned with making sure the deal Kari was trying to make would be honored once she went back to Estrogen Central. At any rate, Kevin finally just stands behind her, allowing her to think the owner is talking to her, and the deal is done.
Try And Make Me
Since we’re not deviating from the Wife Swap formula at all, apart from inserting “Boss” into the title, it’s time for Kari and Stuart to impose their own rules on their resentful and resistant staffs.
--Flowers in the bathroom, said bathroom also to be cleaned
--Pizza boxes and other crap in showroom to be cleaned up
--No more card games
--A motivational speaker will be coming in. To, you know, motivate.
*Also, while she announces these rules, there is a parrot on someone’s knee. I think the parakeet idea hit close to home.
--A new timeclock, for clocking-in purposes
--No personal calls or emails
--Sales competition: he divides them into two teams and promises $1,000 bonuses each to the team that doubles their sales.
--He installs security cameras, selling them to the women as safety precautions.
*Stuart keeps calling these women “girls.” Grrrr. That is all.
Kari’s first move is to change the signs, from blue to red. Oooh. THAT will lure customers, surely? Not. The men are unimpressed.
Her second move, bringing in the motivational speaker, is also a bust. Why? Because he merely motivates people’s feet to spontaneously kick out toward his crotch. He pisses off Kari from the get-go by saying he’s upset that she’s so young. She’s insulted, she tells him so, and demands – and gets – an apology. (Way to stick to your guns, Mr. Motivational Speaker.)
What happens next is best summed up by Mr. Voiceover: “Having failed to motivate Kari, he fails to motivate everyone else.” I don’t even know what kind of crap Mr. M.S. tried to force on the disgruntled staff, but Kevin says he’s pissed off. I don’t know where Kari found this guy, but it’s evident he couldn’t motivate a starving man to eat even if he was dressed in steak.
When I Say “Equal To” I Mean “Better Than”
Stuart’s rules get off to a bumpy start – one woman, whose name I never learn, says the new regime is unacceptable. And even a nine-months-pregnant woman is forced to stay till 5 p.m. (the horror!) even though she came in at 8 a.m. I guess she skipped lunch hour.
To win them over, Stuart takes the women to dinner, which is a new one on him (socializing with staff, I think, not trying to get 14 women to go out with him). The women unwind and they think Stuart is actually enjoying himself. Let’s see – the only man in a group of 14 attractive women? Nah, he’s having a horrible time.
At any rate, something’s working; the women are trying to earn those bonuses. Sales have skyrocketed, and some of the staff are starting to agree that they were too relaxed before. Stuart himself is learning that he came in with some misconceptions. He thought they cared only about dates and make-up – grrrr – but is realizing the women “want to excel just like men do …. Women are equal to men.” (Scientific Fact #2: Yes. We are. Someone tattoo that on his sloping forehead, please.)
Someone Has a Dickhead Implant
Things aren’t going so well at Specialty Motors, where sales are down 50 percent. Correct me if I’m wrong (ok, don’t, I don’t really care) but aren’t these salesmen at the mercy of whoever happens to wander onto the lot? If no one comes in, that’s not Kari’s fault. I may be naïve, but I don’t think the salesmen would throw deals just to make her look bad. Eh, I don’t really care.
Anyway, who cares about sales when we’ve got a fight?! A salesman named Mike – who looks like he just fell out of the lounge lizard tree and hit every branch on the way down – insults a receptionist by making unpleasant comments about implants. The receptionist goes to Kari, who meets with Kevin and another dude to discuss whether Mike should be fired. The consensus is that he should, that it would be no loss and that he sucked anyway. So Kari fires him, the first firing in her life.
At Caden, Stuart’s tactics have resulted in a doubling of sales – I think he said $100,000 gross, although I suck at numbers. The winning sales team is ecstatic, the women have all taken to calling him “Stu,” and Lori is impressed.
Back To The Daily Grind
It’s reunion time, and in this case that means the bosses reunite with their second-in-commands. Kari and Lori hug like sorority girls who’ve been apart for 10 years, while Stuart and Kevin half-hug, half-back-slap in that way that says, “If I only hug you with one arm, I’m still manly.”
Assessing the experience, Kari says most of her changes were cosmetic. Stuart is appalled at the idea of flowers in his bathroom. But he agrees with her firing of Mike, calling him a “loose cannon.”
Stuart explains that he doesn’t understand the non-competitive environment that Caden Concepts was, and tells Kari about the sales meetings and no-jeans rule and all of it. Lori backs him up, saying that the changes are good.
Kari says she gets stuck in the daily grind, and that it’s good to have a new face and fresh ideas. Stuart says he learned a lot about women being equal to men.
Back at their own offices, the Caden women want to frame Stuart’s rules. And Stuart “sells” a car within 15 minutes of being back at his desk.
It’s a Man, Man
Since the swap, Specialty Motors is running about the way it did before. Sales are back up with Stuart back, but so is the gambling. The clean bathrooms, however, stay. Well, Kari at least scored one for persnickety pee-ers everywhere.
The changes are much more profound at Caden. They’ve kept pretty much all of Stuart’s changes, even the timeclock and the security cameras.
They even hired…a man.
Actually, Geraldo has a copyright on “Parakeet Swap™”. firstname.lastname@example.org