Lee Benson, Deseret News
OREM — He can tell you how to stay cool in the tropics, avoid foot fungus in the jungle, beat the humidity in Rio de Janeiro, and survive a Siberian winter.
So what exactly does David Haden do? Teach geography? Anchorman on the Weather Channel? Work for the CIA?
Nope. He sells suits.
David is store manager at the Mr. Mac clothing store in the University Mall, where he has become a world expert on, well, the world.
His mainstay customers are Mormon missionaries. They stroll into Mr. Mac with their call to Pretoria or Peru or Portland in their hand and their mother with the family checkbook right behind them.
Then they run into David.
It's like running into an atlas that talks.
Name the place, he knows its climate, its humidity, its culture, its topography and whether it has a McDonald's.
If he hasn't been there personally, he knows people who have, and he has made it his life's work to keep all this information on the tip of his tongue so that no matter where a missionary is going he can outfit them properly.
In the process, he has become something of legend in his own time. His boss, Steve Winn, calls him "unbelievable." New salesmen crowd around and watch when he's helping a customer like rookies around the batting cage when Pujols bats. And the people he's served over the years? They're constantly sending him wedding announcements, graduation announcements, birth announcements, even funeral notices.
He's not the guy who sold them suits, he's family.
David tends to shrug off his notoriety as if anybody could do what he does. He is stationed, after all, in the heart of missionary country. BYU and the LDS Church's Missionary Training Center are just down the street. If you can't sell white shirts, ties and two-pant suits and sturdy shoes here, then where?
But nobody has done it for as long and as well as David. He started at Mr. Mac 30 years ago, when he was 29, and he's not even close to burning out.
"I remember after the first week I wondered how long I could do this," he says. "But the more I did it, the more I loved it. I have met some of the most wonderful people in the world in this store."
David's secret, it seems, is first putting himself in the shoes of the young kid he's outfitting. Odds are he's nervous, apprehensive, insecure, not at all sure about his new haircut, and doesn't know a thing about the place he's going to be living the next two years. Not to mention how to take care of his suits.
With that as a given, David springs into action, not just spouting out facts about the destination's climate and culture, but extolling its virtues like the local chamber of commerce.
By the time he's finished, the missionary knows what kind of suit fabric will hold up best, how to hang and rotate his five brand new pair of pants so they will breathe, why he bought wrinkle-free shirts ("Do you really want to spend your nights ironing shirts?), and the neat trick of pulling the insoles out of his shoes at night so they will smell good and last longer.
Plus, he will be of the opinion he has been assigned to Shangri La.
Not long ago, a missionary and his mom came in the store and David could tell the young man was a bit down. He soon discovered why. He lived in Provo and his mission call was to Pocatello, Idaho.
David sprang to action.
"Have you ever been to Pocatello?" he asked. "I have, and it's beautiful. Idaho's best-kept secret. Jackson Hole is just over the mountain and it's spectacular. You're going to one of the nicest places on Earth."
Later, when they left with their suits, shoes and luggage, the mom gave David a hug. So did the missionary.
This happens all the time. Moms and Dads mouthing the words "Thank you" as they leave the store.
He knows where they're coming from. He served a mission himself, to New Zealand, back in the day before he married his wife, Nina.
He was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. Nina is from Nephi, Utah, which explains why David now lives in America.
They met in Melbourne when Nina was there working as a schoolteacher during a teacher shortage.
David first saw Nina from afar at church and told his friend, "I'm going to marry that girl."
His friend said, "But you don't know her."
Doesn't matter, said David, who proceeded to arrange for an introduction with Nina's bishop. One thing let to another and a year later they were off to America, husband and wife.
To this day, David considers it his greatest selling job.
"My grandmother always used to be tell me I could sell ice to Eskimos," he says, "When I was young I didn't know what that meant."
Now he does, as do the more than 18,000 missionaries he's outfitted (about three a day, on average) over the past 30 years.
He's the guy who sells suits to missionaries. And at precisely the right weight.
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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