Man on the Street: Flyer Salesman

By Jocelyn Richards, March 17, 2016

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Man on the Street is a regular series where we talk to someone doing an everyday job, in order to gain insight into the lives of normal Chinese people.

Gym! Swimming pool! We’ve all encountered the overzealous plea. Walking straight ahead with your eyes glued to the pavement doesn’t help. They will follow you, tap you on the shoulder and shove a pamphlet in your face like gangsters. And they are, kind of. Flyer gangsters.

In China, handout brigades generally fall into one of two categories: the passionate proponents and the underpaid oblivious. 

The first group is admirable, made up of volunteers collecting support for a meaningful cause. The latter, however, is like a swarm of wasps, comprised of young, ignorant college kids that will stop at nothing to promote a new exercise space or fast-food joint.

Rounding the corner of Jianshe Liu Malu in Yuexiu District, it’s hard not to spot the army of neon green shirts slyly hanging around the front of H&M. Flyers in hand, the 20-somethings ardently await passersby, ready to pounce on unsuspecting prey.

One member of the team, however, is decked out in leather. He too carries a stack of blue leaflets describing the We Young Fitness Club, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at him.

“Hello miss, gym?” He approaches swiftly, inching a little too close for comfort. We ask if he’s with the neon green team, and he nods. 

“I chose to wear this jacket today because it’s cold,” he explains softly, turning towards his coworkers. “I’m at a higher level than them.” 

A recent college grad, Xiexiang majored in sales and marketing, unlike most of his sidekicks. Handing out leaflets isn’t easy – he’s required to stand outside from 10am until 10pm every day, six days a week – but Xiexiang says it’s part of the process of moving up in his line of work.

“We have a saying in Chinese: there was a little soldier who wanted to become a general, but he knew that in order to become a general, he had to first be a little soldier. You have to be patient.”

Xiexiang is paid commission based on how many clients he signs to the gym, which usually averages RMB2,800 a month. Beginners make as little as RMB1,500.

“The government supports our job,” Xiexiang continues. “See, Chinese people only like to work, eat and sleep. They don’t like to exercise. So the government is trying to promote exercise by supporting gyms and health clinics. They give tax cuts and other benefits to companies like ours.”

The extra financial support allows private gyms like We Young Fitness Club to hire and maintain a low-wage promotional team, regardless of how productive they are. 

A native of Guangdong, Xiexiang went to school in Guangzhou and plans to stay in the area for the unforeseeable future. Establishing long-term guanxi, or relationships, is key in China, and even more so in marketing. Moreover, since Cantonese is his first language, Xiexiang believes he has an advantage working in the south.

“You have a year left at your fitness club, right?” he frowns slightly, returning to the sale. “So… that means you can definitely consider joining our pool! Your club doesn’t even have a pool. And you should purchase access for a full year, like all the other foreigners here.” 

We pry ourselves from the exchange, waving goodbye and promising we’ll think about it – or at least tell some friends.

READ MORE: Man on the Street: Street Calligraphy Artist


Monthly salary: RMB1,500-2,800

Days per week: 6

Hours per day: 12

To read more Man on the Street click here.

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